The relationship between the self-concept and psychological violence

Por: Markus Gerber e Uwe Puhse.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Even tough violence is not the most frequent kind of odd behavior at school, students suffer considerably from these experiences. Therefore, one may assume that the individual coping strategies with psychological violence and the self-concept must be closely linked (Hurrelmann 1998). According to Grewe/Wilmers (2003) the self-concept tends to function both as a seismograph and a motor of violence.
For that reason, this study aims at investigating whether or not there exists a relationship between the general, social, emotional, academic and physical dimensions of the self-concept and some indicators of psychological violence.


The sample includes 166 students (97 girls; 69 boys) from grade 8 and 9 of a high school in Basel (CH). The mean age is 14.04 years (SD ± 1.28). The self-concept was examined by means of the SDQ II (Marsh 1990), the physical self-concept through a questionnaire of Brettschneider/Bräutigam (1990) and Mrazek (1988). For the measurement of the psychological violence an own instrument has been applied.
By help of a cluster-analysis (of the two scales: victim/violator of psychological violence) four different groups were determined. Subsequently, ANOVA’s and post-hoc tests (Bonferroni) tested the self-concept differences between these groups. Since there were no gender-specific differences between the clusters, the calculation was done for boys and girls together. The first group includes students who have made no experiences with psychological violence (n=109; 65.7%). The second cluster consists of 20 victims of psychological violence (12.0%). The third cluster comprises 24 students (14.5%) that used actively psychological violence, whereas the forth cluster is made of 13 students (7.8%) that are at the same time victims and violators of violence.


The findings point to multifold differences between the four clusters. Generally, those students without any experiences of psychological violence have the highest self-concepts, whereas the victims are characterized by rather low self-perceptions. In contrast, those students who use psychological violence actively do rarely have more negative self-concepts than their peers without any experiences of psychological violence. The differences are particularly obvious for the general, the general academic, the foreign-language, the same-sex, the opposite-sex, the emotional, the physical fitness, the physical self-acceptance and the physical appearance self-concept. Eta2-values prove that especially the peer self-concepts (same-sex and opposite sex) are suitable to predict differences between the clusters.


The study shows that experiences of psychological violence leave relatively deep marks in the self-concepts of adolescents. Moreover, it becomes evident that the victims suffer most, whereas students without any experiences of psychological violence have the most positively colored self-concepts. The active violators occupy however an intermediate position. Even though psychological violence is often considered as a weak form of violence - such experiences may have severe consequences. This is mainly due to the fact that the development of a positive self-concept is among the most important developmental tasks during the adolescence (cp. Erikson 1981; Havighurst 1972). On the other hand, the study illustrates that there is not only one single factor that characterizes the different groups. Therefore, the findings support the ‘package syndrome’ hypotheses for the development of violence (Cairns & Cairns 1994).
For that reason, we come to the conclusion that programs to prevent and to reduce violence should not only consider the expressed behavior, but also the social environment (peers), the academic performance, emotional and physical characteristics of the youngsters. Hereby, it is not the intention to remove the responsibility from the acting individual to the social world, to psychologize the problem and to play down the consequences of psychological violence. We rather tend to extend the focus to several directions and to aim at a holistic intervention where physical activities also can play an important part.


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