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Monday, July 25, 2016

Voices That Support Violence: Aggrandize and Blame "Those People"


The propensity of seemingly knowledgeable people to commit violent acts is appalling. Victimization of innocent people has created a present environment of fear in America – fear of terrorists, fear of criminals, and a general distrust of strangers. No doubt, victims of violence suffer tremendous physical injury and psychological distress. Bureau of Justice statistics (2014) reported , overall, 68% of victims of serious violence experienced socio-emotional problems as a result of their victimization.

"What's wrong with these people? Why is there 
so much violence in our world?"

It seems every day more and more violent tragedies sweep the nation, leaving in their wake a questioning nation asking “Why?” The roots of violence run deep and reach toward many directions. Still, although it may be impossible to determine exactly why people turn to violence to settle disputes, arguments, and simple concerns, Dr. Lisa Firestone – clinical psychologist, author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association – has developed The Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts, a screening instrument to measure the "voices" that incite violence.

In her research, Firestone found that voices that contribute to violence include those that support social mistrust. She explains her belief …

“These paranoid, suspicious thoughts encourage people to assume a self-protective and defended posture from a perceived danger. Because the paranoia and misperception makes the threat seem real, people feel justified in acting out violence to protect themselves. The paranoia is supported by negative voices about other people being different, strange and bad. It is easier to hurt someone who is perceived as 'not like you.' These voices contribute to a person's suspicion and mistrust of the world at large. An example of these types of voices is: They are out to get you. Don't trust them.”

(Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. “The Inner Voices Behind Violent Behavior.”
Psychology Today. March 03, 2011.)

Other voices that lead to violence include the following:
  • Voices that support people feeling victimized and persecuted – supporting blame by others
  • Voices that are self-depreciating voices – supporting feelings of being unlovable
  • Voices that are self-aggrandizing – promoting a view that a person is superior to others and deserving to be treated as such
  • Voices that are overtly aggressive – encouraging taking violent action

It may be true that many risk factors for violence can't be changed, but Firestone says, “A person's thinking is a risk factor that can be. By monitoring the decrease in a person's violent thoughts during treatment, we are able to assess their improvement. Moreover, in offering violent people an understanding of the thoughts that underlie their tortured thinking, we are providing them with a means by which to take up arms against the voices that lure them into acts of violence.”

When do these voices reach a tipping point and act out with violence?

Dr. Kathryn Seifert -- an expert in the areas of violence, mental health, criminal justice and addictions – says, “Each factor of a person's life or make up can affect and be affected by another factor. When the accumulation of negative factors (such as maltreatment, chaotic neighborhoods, or psychological problems) and the absence of positive factors (such as opportunities to be successful, adults who provide encouragement, or a resilient temperament) reach a threshold, that's when violence is more likely to erupt as a means of coping with life's problems.”

(Kathryn Seifert, Ph.D. “Why Do People Resort To Violence?”  
Psychology Today. December 23, 2011.)

Violent tendencies often reveal themselves in childhood and continue to escalate as a person ages. At some point, dark forces become uncontrollable. Yet, Seifert believes that “sometimes the adjustment of a few factors such as establishing a close relationship with a supportive adult, receiving pro-social peer encouragement, or getting protection from a violent family, is what makes the difference between whether a person becomes a violent offender or a mentally-stable contributing member to society.”

I hear people complaining about social services and the money spent on programs to improve mental health and living conditions. I would much rather see taxpayer money put into expanding social programs that cut the need for large budgets for penal institutions and elaborate weaponry. We have a violence problem largely because the family unit ignores the demands of guiding children and monitoring their positive interpersonal growth. Abusive and indifferent environments breed violent individuals. We all – yes, even those with wonderful, loving, and non-violent families – must deal with this problem.

Isn't it evident that we should not victimize people, not shun those different from us, not preach that one segment of the population causes all the ills, and not encourage anyone to believe that violence is the answer to meeting violence? All good faiths and positive creeds preach equality, justice, and, above all, love. None acknowledge the acceptance of animal-like behaviors and violent actions.

However, just listen to the rhetoric of many leaders and spokespeople who actually encourage violence through their constant scapegoating and fear mongering. They do this in the name of security and protection, yet these smokescreens are nothing but excuses so that they do not have to face the real issue – cutting violence by reducing fear and distrust.

This can only be accomplished by “getting to know” our own people in an ever-changing society – all of them. Understanding differences among those with which we live and improving trust are tall orders. But once great efforts are expended, we can not only accurately expose problems but also work positively together to find solutions – solutions other than taking violent actions against each other.

If we conclude that violence is just genetic behavior, we commit the greatest injustice. We cannot afford to keep mouthing phrases like “bad guys are always going to be around” or “those people are worthless scum.” The refusal to better understand all environments that breed violence in order to effect needed change perpetrates a cycle of violence that will surely continue through countless future generations. America is only as good as its poorest ghettos and its worst hovels of rural poverty.

Voices that blame, attack, humiliate, and promote isolation may sound as if they are justified in their “Make America Great” bluster. But, the emotions these voices seek to ignite are filled with revenge, distrust, and violence. The voices that have healed our nation have used words of reason and understanding to speak out against inhumanity, not to encourage division and strife. We need leaders with such voices and such visions now in these very violent times.

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.


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