Aggression, Culture, death, Fear, Judgement, Terrorism, Violence, Worldview Differences

Good vs. Evil in War, Violence, and Terrorism: An Ambiguous Perception from the Fishbowl

Humans do not come into the world with a predetermined fixed worldview, but instead their worldview is shaped by their personal experiences, culture, natural environment, and social environment, which constructs their perception of the world (Burr, 2004).  While perhaps many believe that the construction of what constitutes “good vs. evil” is universal, in reality the construction of good versus evil is created through the interaction of the individual with their social environment, cultural indoctrination, as well as individual experiences through time.  In many ways, we are like fish trapped in a fishbowl that have a limited view of what we see, often encapsulated by glass barriers that expose us to a narrow current of the vast resources of water.  In addition, the inner environment of our fishbowl  affects our formation of the world from the amount of space we are allowed freely to explore our own internal world and environment, to the availability of nutrients, clean water,  oxygen, and our  fellow fish determines our level of aggressiveness and perceptions of the world.

As the world continues to struggle with acts of aggression, war, and violence on a collective group scale, the world also continues to struggle how to define legitimate aggression in defending  our own collective group vs. terrorism (Bongar, 2007; & Nacos, 2012).   Acts of aggression and violence in the human species has plagued our entire existence, with the perceptions of who is “good” or “evil” a subjective reality that is often colored by the glass of our own fishbowl existence.   One human’s view of an act of aggression or violence carried out defending a group’s worldview is pious and good, but is viewed by another collective group as pure evil.  This view of “good vs. evil” of the collective group is dependent upon the group’s values, beliefs, and collective group interests regarding resources, safety, and security for themselves and their allies.  Just as many fish species travel together in “schools of fish”, we as human often organize ourselves into little swimming schools that are often determined by social groups as religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, or other ideologies.  We have created a world of competing “schools of fish”, where survival of the fittest is propagated in terms of an “us” vs. “them” paradigm.

Globalization in the last century has created a new type of environment, in which as a species we have failed to master creating waters that  support diversity in terms of acceptance of different worldviews .  Until the last century, humans had limited cultural contact, but with the advent of more efficient and mass modes of transportation, as well as advanced technology such as the internet, our small-contained fishbowls have turned into gigantic aquariums.  We have now been dumped into this giant aquarium where different cultures, societal beliefs, values, and religions have been immersed together,  while trying to establish a food chain of who “eats” who.   While the big fish are trying to establish their power hierarchy, it is often the “shrimps” or innocent civilians, trying to carve out existences that become consumed in the whole process.   Consumed in either fear of others in the world, or consumed as they become the civilian casualties of others jockeying for their own supremacy.

Often in the media and in social conversations, acts of terrorism are often considered to be carried out by “crazed lunatics” that are perpetrated by evil villains (Norris, Kern, & Just, 2003).  Personally, it is often easier to provide explanations in which mental pathology provides some type of explanation for behavior that seeks to annihilate, hurt, or kill another human being.  Focusing on the pathology of the individual is an easy way to rid the collective responsibility of social conditions that foster an environment where acts of violence are fostered.  Research examining individuals who have carried out acts of terrorism suggests that in reality the majority of these individuals do not meet the criteria that has been suggested to indicate psychopathology or a history of being evil in other facets of their lives (Borum, 2004; Cottee & Hayward, 2011; & Kruglanski, & Fishman, 2009).  Research has suggested the life experiences, social influence, cultural influence, and historical context where shame and humiliation have been major themes serve as a catalyst for a “good” individual to go down a path of carrying out acts of evil (Borum, 2004; Waller, 2005; & Zimbardo, 2004).  In understanding the evolution of a path functioning as a “good” person to an “evil” person, the individual’s experiences, societal, and cultural factors must be all examined not in isolation, but as a cumulative experiences, that facilitates a path of violence (Kruglanski & Fishman, 2009).

One explanation of how individuals are influenced from a societal level is Hofstede’s (1984) concept of collective versus individual societies has often been used as a classification system to explain cultural worldviews and the social norms, values, and expected behaviors.  Individualist cultures are described in terms of valuing self-independence, concerns for the individual and their immediate family, as well as having loose social structures in the community.  In contrast, a collectivist society values social connectedness, extended family and communal relations, and an emphasis on the group needs versus the individual needs.  Although nations and cultures have typically been classified as more individualist or collective in nature.  Oyserman, Coon, & Kennelmeier (2002) have proposed that both elements and cultural values run concurrently in a society, but depending on the situation, one cultural orientation may be more prominent, as well as there are individual differences among individuals.  Collective identities of belonging to a group can be fostered in a group by the creation of an external threat.    Kruglanski & Fishman (2006) asserted that collective societies are more likely to use terrorist acts as a form of aggression to initiate social changes that in their perceptions benefit the group.   Both terrorist groups, and recognized governments have monopolized on the collective identities of the masses, rallying individuals using fear to engage in acts of violence, that under normal circumstances these individuals would not most likely engage in.

Just as individual factors alone cannot account for the creation of terrorist, societal and cultural factors cannot fully account for an individual going “good” to “evil”.  If the environment alone accounted for acts of evil, large groups of people would engage in terrorism, and dissenting voices condemning acts of  terrorism, both from within and outside a group of people, would not occur.  Just as different cultural and social factors may spawn an environment that is conducive to the creation of terrorist, individual experiences, individual differences in cognition, perception, and levels of tolerance exist within individuals providing both vulnerabilities and protective factors of who goes down the slippery slope of engaging in terrorism.  The concepts of “good” and “evil” are ambiguous constructs, which are influenced by both societal, cultural, and individual lenses.  Who is the feared shark and those different lenses of subjectivity shape who is perceived as the  shark hunter.

References

Bongar, B. (2007).  The psychology of terrorism:  Defining the need and describing the goals. .  In B.  Bongar, L.  Brown, L Beutler, J. Breckendridge, & P.  Zimbardo (Eds.)  Psychology of terrorism.  New York, NY:  Oxford Press.

Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

Burr, V. (2004). Constructivism. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 186-187). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n165

Cottee, S., & Hayward, K. (2011). Terrorist (e)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(12), 963–986.   Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Hofstede, G. (1984). The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept. The Academy Of Management Review, 9(3), 389-398. doi:10.2307/258280

Kruglanski, A. W., & Fishman, S. (2006). The psychology of terrorism:“Syndrome” versus “tool” perspectives. Terrorism and Political Violence, 18(2), 193-215.

Kruglanski, A. W, & Fishman, S. (2009).  Psychological factors in terrorism and counterterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis.  Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 1–44.

Matsumoto, D.  & Juang, L.  (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Nacos, B.  (2012).  Terrorism and counterrorsim (4th ed.).  New York, NY:  Pearson Education.

Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: The news media, the government, and the public. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 3-72. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.3

Waller J. E. (2005).  Becoming evil: The making of terrorists. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 42(2), 167–188. Retrieved from https://www.whitworth.edu/Administration/InstitutionalAdvancement/UniversityCommunications/WhitworthToday/2007_Spring/PDF/BecomingEvil.pdf

Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. In A. G. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil: Understanding our capacity for kindness and cruelty (pp. 21–50). New York, NY: Guilford.

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Aggression, Bias, death, Fear, Judgement, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, parenting, prejudice, Stereotypes

When the World is Vulgar……

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?

Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?

Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!

Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.

A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.

 

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?

“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!

How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?

“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”

Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?

The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!

The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!

A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.

Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.

 

I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital.  I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face.  Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell.  As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes.  The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare.  The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm.  The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes.  The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.

I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology.  My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”.  My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me.  As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”.  I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions.  Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed.  My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be.  Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.

Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories.  As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes.  I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes.  Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body.  The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but  from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of  brainwave activity.  I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell.  I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments.  I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.

The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened.  The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day.  As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention.  I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”.  Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment.  I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”.  Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar.  The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.

It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me.  The differences between these two events are as follows:

  1. One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
  2. One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
  3.  One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
  4. One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.

The similarities between these two events:

  1.  A child died.
  2. The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.

Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place.  This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death.  This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security.  This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others.  This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.

My question is:  How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”?  How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action?  I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years;  how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?

When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.

 

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Aggression, Humanistic Psychology, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, prejudice

Palestinian/ Israeli Conflict: What Would You Do?

As spectators, outside of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, some question the continued bloodshed that has occurred on both sides of the human constructed boundaries that divide the land and people.  Others take on the cause of one side of the people living in the region calling for continued death and destruction to the opposing side, often based on religious or ethnic affiliations.  Glancing at social media, I was hit with a barrage of gruesome images of decapitated children, mutilated bodies, and typically biased opinions of the situation.  I signed off my social media accounts, with the hopes that I would be able to close my eyes without the garish images haunting my dreams of the death and destruction that has ruled the region for almost 80 years.  Fighting that has left generations scarred with pain, hate, helplessness, and hopelessness.  Those living amidst the destruction do not have the luxury of closing their eyes to their immediate surroundings.

My own mixed cultural experiences have shown me that it is personally hard to hate another human being once you have had meaningful contact and developed an understanding of their worldview.  I reiterate with this statement that I am referring to people, and not an entity such as a government.  My experiences have also taught me that evilness does not lie in individuals based on their religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or some other human constructed social group; evilness lies in greed and the need for power and control.  Our everyday contacts with the world, as well as the pictures that are prepared and fed to us by media shape our views of how the world works.

My daughter came home the other day with her nose swollen and told me how she had been hit in the nose by another child.  The other child through the years has inflicted physical pain on my child, but it is a situation in which I have been told, “They are just children”.  In this situation, I am unable to respond, and yes, there are situations in which this can occur, because of the repercussion that can occur.  We all catch ourselves in these situations where the cost of responding to an unjust and unfair situation only makes the situation spiral out of the context far from the original conflict.  Out of frustration, I told my daughter “The next time she hits you…take her down and beat the hell out of her until she cries, she will think twice next time she decides to hurt you!”.   Moments after these words flew out of my mouth in a state of frustration because of my inability to protect my child from pain, I felt I had betrayed my own ideals and values.  I have always taught my children to play nicely, fairly, and take the pacifists route of peace, and yet I had just encouraged, and yes, instructed my 11-year-old to “beat the hell” out of another human being.

While the dilemma of my child does not have an ounce of the gravity and seriousness of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict, and by no means do I mean to equate it with childhood squabbles, it does illustrate some of the basic dynamics that have fueled the continuation of this gruesome, unjust, and humanitarian crisis.  In the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, more powerful international players have remained in silence, or justified the continued aggression and expansion of Israel against the Palestinian people.  Their silence and support has fueled the situation not only by neglecting to deal with their own actions of the past, but also the material benefits that are reaped by keeping the region destabilized.  The old cliché “Divide and then conquer” has much relevance to this situation.  The Holocaust indeed is a black period in the history of humans as millions of innocent people lost their lives under the fanatical thinking and actions of a lunatic.  Just as a child that has experienced a traumatic event should not be given free rein to hurt others because of their history, neither should a government be allowed continuously to act out aggressively to a group of people.  Making excuses and keeping silent does not fix an issue, but only escalates a situation in which the root of a problem will never be addressed.

As humans, we have both the gift and curse of memories that leave a lasting imprint in how we view our world, others, and ourselves around us.  How we interpret and remember our memories is not only a product of the event itself, but also the feelings we associate with those memories.  I recount my own reaction to my daughter’s event, of encouraging her to hurt another human being; my response was not fueled by this event alone, but a history of feeling that I had been marginalized, taken advantage of, boundaries crossed, and silenced.  The human species has the unique ability to communicate, where not only our own unique experiences become a part of our memories, but also the memories of others as they are recounted become part of our collective self.  The histories of both those that identify themselves as Muslim Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews have experienced atrocities throughout history and into the present.  Although currently, the number of Palestinians suffering death, loss of property, freedom, and destruction in their homeland is considerably higher than that experienced by Israelis.  Although both sides, the number of Palestinians, who are mostly the innocent and vulnerable to the situation such as children, continues to mount on a daily basis.

I have heard such rhetoric as “the Palestinians lost their own land and need to deal with it”,  or “Arabs have fought with each other for thousands of years and just cannot get along with others”, or “Arabs are terrorists”, or “When Palestinians care more for their children and quit making them terrorists peace will happen”.   These superficial statements give no weight to the experiences of the people.  In the past 80 years, Palestinians have lost their lives, home, property, and ability to move freely in a land that they have inhabited for thousands of years.  It is an innate response to defend those aspects of our lives in which we are able to obtain sustenance to survive.  For example, if China decided to move into the United States and take over the homes and natural resources, limit the movement of United States citizens, and bomb the civilians, would we call the people that retaliated back with aggression “terrorists”?  No most likely they would be labeled as heroes, fighters or truth and justice, protectors, or defenders.    Who is labeled a terrorist is dependent upon the worldview of who is viewed as superior in a situation, and who should have rights and access to material goods.  Moreover, the people of Palestine, both Jews and Muslims existed peacefully until other world powers sanctioned the creation of “Israel”, disturbing the natural peaceful co-existence of the people of the region.

I admit that I am neither intelligent enough, nor arrogant enough to propose a solution to this gruesome conflict that has raged for years, but I do know that no people as a group are collectively or inherently evil by their religion, nationality, or ethnicity.  My heart aches for the people of Palestine, but it also aches for the parents of Israelis who have lost loved ones in this conflict as well.  On both sides of the boundaries, the average person, family, and community is trying to live, thrive, and love regardless of their beliefs or ethnicity.  For most humans, our motivations and behaviors are driven by the need to connect to others and have affiliation with others in which we feel accepted, loved, and nurtured.  On the darker side of human nature, we also have those that are driven by greed, power, and the need to control.  As governments and popular media outlets (which are often controlled by those who have their own agenda) leak a story to the general public, listening closely to what they report, the words they use to report, and the images that are shown generally can illustrate their self-claimed “unbiased reporting”.  Their reporting arouses feelings of hatred and anger among individuals that are typically compassionate human beings, but again, when an individual feel that they are in danger, they will collectively organize among socially constructed groups, spewing hate and violence of the “other”.

On a more positive note, I do see a glimmer of hope as individuals from both sides of the conflict have crossed over to foster human connections and support for their neighbors.  The continued marginalization, murder, and imprisonment of the people of Palestine serves no other purpose than to continue profiting those that have benefitted from the situation in terms of economics, power, and control.  These same individuals have manipulated the public through fear to resort to violence and hatred against others, using either religion or ethnicity as a base of whom “they should hate”.  While I do not condone violence, I also understand the behaviors of Palestinians who send small rockets and shells into Israel, in which they generally pay a thousand times over from the strong military force of the Israeli government.  When an individual feels threatened, manipulated, disrespected, imprisoned, and has watched as not only their history and continued existence threatened, striking back with violence is a reaction that most of us would make as well. Peace to all and may we learn to exist with our neighbors and respect our diversity, without the darker forces of human nature interfering with each individual human’s right of safety, love, and peace.

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Aggression, Betrayal, Existential psychology, Personal Growth, Psychology

Choosing the Role of a Victim or a Survivor

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Tragedy, heartache, failures, and unhealthy relationships strike most of us at one point in our lives.  Death, broken trust in relationships, accidents, and life changing experiences can alter our way of living, alter how we see others, and even alter how we view ourselves.  When events occur, that may be either partially out of our control, or completely out of our control, the first response is often “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do to deserve this?”.  Questions that can often never have a resolution or answer that give us some reasoning to the feelings of pain and helplessness. 

Humans in general are a species that thrive on the illusion of having complete control over their environment, believing that through technology and their own willpower that they can control both natural forces, supernatural forces, and the human forces of others.  If we think about this illusion of complete control, it is quite pretentious and unrealistic that we have created this illusion of control and predictability that is unharmonious with the reality of living.   

Victor Frankl, a renowned psychologist of the existential movement in psychology had always made a profound impact on me through his writing.  Dr. Frankl, not only a renowned psychologist, but also a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, later wrote about his experiences of surviving and the meaning in life that came out of his experiences in the classic Man’s search for meaning”.  All of his family perished during the holocaust, and just one sister and he survived the atrocities of widespread human ruthlessness.  Three of his lessons learned from his detention and torture have forever been imprinted in my mind since the first time I read this book.  The first lesson was that in all cultures, regardless of nationality, race, or ethnicity, two types of people exist:  the principled human and the flawed human that receives pleasure in controlling, dominating, and yes even hurting others.  The second important lesson, is that despite a person’s circumstances, pure unaltered and selfless love is one’s power over adversity.  The third lesson was that no matter what one’s circumstance is in life, the only power and control they have is how they choose to react and behave in the face of adversity. 

Most all of us will face adversity and situations where the concept of fairness and logic of human kindness may be forgotten.  Only those who pass away from life at a very young age may not experience the more painful experiences of living.  While it is unrealistic to believe that we can fully ever control our life, the forms of control we do have are related to Victor Frankl’s insight.  Even though our lives may be momentarily derailed and thrown into chaos by those that have flawed characters in a society, principled people still exist that are worth knowing, loving, and making connections with.  In addition, even though we cannot control the behaviors of others, nature, or accidents, we all have the control within us to determine how we choose to react to these events.  We can sink down into the role of the helpless victim.  We can sink down into the role of planning and carrying out acts of revenge and hate, or we can choose to find our inner strength, understand we cannot control all people in our lives, but we can control how we chose to react to those people and circumstances and move forward to become a survivor of our circumstances. 

The pain of life circumstances that we are faced with gives us all a choice, and that choice is yours and yours alone either to be a victim or a survivor.  The victim either gives away their own self-control, or becomes tormented by engaging in flawed behavior of controlling and destroying others.  The survivor chooses to take a more principled path, choosing love, self-respect, and respect for others to  move forward towards a life of empathy, compassion, and kindness.  

 

References

Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY:  Simon and Schuster.

 

 

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Aggression, education, Emotional abuse, parenting, Psychology, Relationships

Silencing the Generations of Emotional Abuse

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You are stupid!  Your are ugly!  You are fat!  You are nothing without me!  You can’t do anything right!  You are worthless!  You should have never been born!  I hate you!  My life would be so much better off without you!  Why don’t you just go kill yourself! 

If you have had someone tell you these words, you are most likely in an abusive relationship.  People often believe that an abusive relationship occurs when some type of physical abuse is occurring, but emotional and mental abuse is a form of abuse that occurs in relationships as wells.  The effects are just as devastating, in which the bruises, cuts, and scars occur on the internal psyche of the person.  Research has shown that the negative effects of individuals being in an emotionally abusive relationship can be more detrimental in terms of stress and emotional damage than an episode of being in a physically abusive relationship (Theran, Sullivan, Bogat, & Steward, 2006; & Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 2009).   Although these wounds may not be visible for others to see, they are inside the person festering, often never being exposed to the air to have a chance to heal.  As the painful messages continue to be hurled at the person, the individual internalizes these words as part of their self-image.

Emotional abuse in a relationship may not only take the form of verbal insults, but also through controlling the other person’s movement, isolating them from family and friends, withholding of affection, constant criticism,  marital infidelity, withholding of attention,  guilt, and externalizing blame of their problems to the other person.  Emotional abuse is built into the acts of physical and sexual abuse, although physical and sexual abuse may not be present when emotional abuse occurs.  Cultural variation of emotional abuse may occur in which  the abuser also extends the rights of the  emotional abuse to occur by family members (Yoshihama & Sorenson, 1994).

Abuse tends to occur in cycles, as well as there tends to be a family history of abuse that occurs.  Often when we look at the individual that is perpetrating the abuse, they themselves came from a family where they either experienced some type of abuse, or watched abuse occur on family members.  This aspect has special relevance to parents who may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.  Not only do our children learn what acceptable behavior is in a relationship, but they also learn to model our behavior of being a victim, or an abuser.  Even though a child may not directly experience the abuse, the vicarious experience of watching a loved one’s pain sends messages to the child of not only their own worth, but also a distorted image of what authentic loving relationships entail.  The children fail to learn to establish appropriate boundaries of protecting themselves emotionally from others.  I learned as a therapist that doing a family genogram, which involves engaging  with the client of constructing a family tree of sorts, to examine relationships of patterns  of abuse, mental health issues, and drug addiction that often these cycle tended to repeat themselves through generations of a family.  This historical representation often helped a client not only understand their family history, but also question their mental framework of what constituted authentic healthy relationships that had been established through their lifetime in taking in their social world around them.

At different times in our life, we may find ourselves in relationships, or loved ones that have become involved in emotionally abusive relationships.  The most helpless feeling is watching a friend, family member, or ourselves succumbing to physical or emotional abuse of others.  Social support for an individual that has been trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship is one of the key elements of that individual reaching out to empower themselves to get help out of the cycle of abuse.  The person may teeter for years on the verge of getting out of the relationship, while then returning into the cycle of abuse.  When abuse in a relationship occurs, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship needs to end, but education as well as psychological services is often needed for all parties involved to begin a process of recognizing the abuse, admitting the abuse, and coming to terms with the future implications of allowing the cycle to continue.  Failure to recognize the issue in terms of the family unit, often relates to parents developing mental health disorders, drug abuse issues, escalating forms of abuse, and children who experience academic and relationship problems, and in the future engaging in the same sort of relationships they witnessed in their family of origin.  Abuse occurs in all societies, and across the different economic social stratifications, and educational levels.

The victim and the abuser often stay in a cycle of denial of the abuse as a way to denying their own shortcomings, avoiding the hard process of change, all the while feeding another generation of pain to come to their children.  Breaking out of this cycle involves the adults in these relationships recognizing that there is an issue, which not only negatively affects them, but also younger members of the family.  If it all possible, keeping the family unit intact is the ideal outcome, while working on reconstructing healthy interaction patterns that establish individual respect, autonomy, and dignity.  In many of these situations, the abuser may not recognize the issue because of the power and control they have gained through the cycle of abuse.  Encourage and support those in abusive relationships to take back their own self-control and dignity to free them from the tyranny of emotional abuse, as well as to develop a “new family legacy” of establishing authentic, healthy, and loving relationships.  It is important for all of us to remember that while physical wounds may heal, the journey of healing the unseen internal wounds on being in an emotionally abusive relationship takes just as much courage and support.

References

Theran, S. A., Sullivan, C. M., Bogat, G. A., & Stewart, C. S. (2006). Abusive partners and ex-partners understanding the effects of relationship to the abuser on women’s well-being. Violence Against Women, 12(10), 950-969.

Wicks-Nelson, T. & Israel, A.  (2009).  Abnormal child and adolescent psychology (7th ed.).  London, England:  Pearson Corporation.

Yoshihama, M., & Sorenson, S. B. (1994). Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by male intimates: experiences of women in Japan. Violence and Victims, 9(1), 63-77.

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Aggression, Bias, Fear, Psychology

Help! Tyrannasaurus Rex Is In My Garden

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       Fear serves a purpose in our lives; it gives us a defense warning system to avoid certain people, animals, situations, or environment to avoid death, pain, or loss.  It is rational to have a certain level of fear, such as crossing a busy street because of the possibility that we may be hit by a car and forever maimed, or worse yet, meet our own death.  It is rational because the perceived risks exist, and serves a purpose in making us extra vigilant in our efforts to get from one side of the street to the other side.  Social scientist describes this as rational fear in which the level of emotional arousal is equal to that of the real danger.  As our autonomic nervous system kicks in, our body is flooded with adrenaline and hormones that make us hyper vigilant in double-checking before we cross, as well as our muscles and limbs are ready to jump into action if the threat of a speeding car is heard or seen.  However, what about fears we all have that have no basis of any real risk?

              All of us most likely can think of a fear we have that really has no serious threat to our safety.  Social scientist have labeled this irrational fear, because the amount of emotional and physiological arousal that an individual experiences is not congruent with the actual danger the individual faces.  Some of this irrational fear is based on our earlier childhood experiences.  For example, I have a fear of birds.  As a young child playing in my backyard on my swing set, aggressive starlings would dive bomb me, leaving scratches on the top of my head.  Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller The Birds probably did not help this matter as well.  To this day, I keep my distances from birds, unless they are safely locked away in a cage, and even that if I see them eyeing the top of my head, I prefer to move away.  This fear is based on my former experiences and although irrational, can be explained and understood by my childhood experiences. 

       But what about those situations where we really do not know where the hell that creeping feeling of anxiety, fear, and yes, sometimes pure terror is coming from  This past month, I have been fighting a battle with a gecko in my garden.  A gecko, which is perhaps no longer than my hand, even when measuring the creature from the very tip of its nose to the very tip of its tail.  A reptile that does not have the ability to inflict any source of pain to me.  A small creature that I disproportionality outweigh 100 times over and could squash all the life out of his little translucent body with only one small “step” of my foot.  Although every encounter this gecko monster and I have had this past month has resulted in me unleashing murderous screams, mixed with profanities that are only heard when an individual is facing dangers such as the inferno of hell.  My reflexes and muscles go into overdrive.  In the past month, I have hurled a watering can, a book, and this evening, my mobile became my weapon of choice as the miniaturized T. rex rushed me in defiance of defending his territory behind the flowerpot.  Yes, my rival garden inhabitant has been named T.  rex, or Tyrannosaurus rex, which when translated from Greek means “tyrannical lizard king”.  My irrational fear and response is equivalent to what my prehistoric ancestors must have experienced right before the giant T.  rex munched down on their fragile human bodies and sliced through their flesh with his razor sharp teeth (or at least that is how they always portrayed it in the movies).  Although, the miniaturized T.  rex in my garden poses no danger to me, and the likelihood of him even crossing the boundary and taking even a lizardly-lick of me is quite remote.  Still yet, looking at his image, which my oldest daughter captured with her phone (no doubt as entertainment for my four daughters watching their mother scream and visibly shake even with a digital image), is an account of how irrational humans are.

     I am sure somewhere in my past I was exposed to some image that has been imprinted in the recesses of my unconscious of the mortal or even moral threat of some creature that has a resemblance to my gecko  garden enemy.  Perhaps all those Sunday morning of my parents watching the Nature channel on PBS, or the cheesy movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s, where the life of a caveman was depicted by women being pulled by their hair by the caveman, and T.  rex chomping them both for his evening meal.  With that thought, how many other irrational fears do I, or others have of places, people, or things that are based on some brief image imprinted in their memory?  How many times have you caught yourself in fear or discomfort of something or someone that you have never had contact with, and do not pose a real threat to you?  Where does this fear stem from?  From images you have seen on television on the news, movies, or even stories vicariously transmitted to your from a 2nd hand source?  Furthermore, where did the second source get their information?  When I think about it, perhaps I am being unfair to T.  rex in my garden and need to revise my plans of sending my warrior husband off in the morning to do battle and ultimately annihilate T.  rex.  Perhaps instead I need to learn to appreciate the fact that T.  rex, the gecko, is actually eating the insects that pose far more risk to the lives of my plants and myself than he ever will.  We need to question the level of rationality that exists in our fear, and especially when the fear enrages us to look for ways to destroy the other, which is in reality, no threat at all. 

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