Part I: Why Do We Have so Much Violence in Our World and How Do We End It?August 23, 2012 • By Judith Barr, MS, LPC, Power: Healing to the Root Topic Expert Contributor
We have so many questions about violence: Why do we have so much violence in our world? Why does it seem to be escalating? Why aren’t our efforts to end the violence working? What can you and I do to help end the violence? What stops us from doing our part?
Let’s explore each question.
Why do we have so much violence in our world?
The violence in our world erupts out of the pain and trauma we experience in our childhoods and bury deep within us. We bury the pain itself, along with our feeling responses to the pain—fear, anger, hurt, confusion, sorrow, hopelessness, and more. For most of us, nobody helped us build our capacity to feel our feelings when we were children and in pain; so if we felt the pain or our feeling responses, we wouldn’t know what to do with it. It might just feel unbearable.
We need a parent to hold us literally and emotionally when we’re youngsters in pain. To hold us with compassion, love, understanding, and a place in them where it really matters to them that we are in pain. We need a parent to accurately name our feelings for us even before we can talk. We need a parent to teach us what to do with our feelings. “That’s ok, you cry it all out.” Or “Use your words. Tell me ‘I’m mad.’ Don’t bite or punch or kick me.” And we need a parent to teach us when to act on our feelings and when to just talk about them. “If I won’t buy what you would like in the grocery store, don’t scream and scream and scream to get me to buy it. But if someone is hurting you, you can scream and scream to get me to come protect you.”
But most parents don’t know how to do that for their children. Most were not taught that by their parents. Most did not receive that from their parents. So a cycle is created:
John’s parents were hurt as children and buried their feelings.
They grew up and had John.
When John had feelings as a child, it triggered his parents’ buried feelings that they didn’t want to feel and were afraid of feeling.
So they lashed out at John to stop him from feeling and stop their own feelings as well.
If John doesn’t have the help with his feelings, he will grow up and do
the same . . . with his children, perhaps with his partner, perhaps with
his friends, perhaps even with strangers.
If the pain we feel as children is unbearable to our child self, and if we’re too young to understand yet or be able yet to do what a parent teaches us to do with our feelings . . . we will find a way to get away from the pain. One of the ways children get away from pain is to strike out—to kick or hit or bite reflexively. And if, as we grow, nobody teaches us how to simply feel the feelings, how to talk about and express our feelings safely, how to know when it’s safe to act on those feelings . . . we will continue to strike out when our early feelings of pain are triggered again. This is true whether our child feelings are evoked by here and now pain or they are evoked by something that isn’t really painful in the here and now, but the current event is triggering the young pain. For example, 9/11 was a painful event in 2001, but it also most certainly triggered early pain for people, usually without their having any awareness of it. On the other hand, I could be talking very seriously with you, and without your knowing it you may be looking at me but having memories stirred of when your mother yelled at you when you were very little. The current event itself is not painful, but it is stirring up memories of a past experience that was very painful. If your response as a child in any of these situations was to strike out, you might very well strike out today or in the future in response to situations like these.
Another way children might have responded to unbearable pain when they were young . . . they might have turned their response inward. Instead of striking out—kicking, hitting, biting—they might have pulled their hair out, scratched themselves up, or banged their head against the wall or even their crib. If nobody helped them with those feelings, they might have grown up lashing inward, even to the point of hurting or killing themselves.
This is the root of violence . . . our not having been taught how to feel and respond to our own pain when we were children and our developing ways to defend against our own pain that weren’t good for us or others. One of those ways was to strike out—to be violent with others. And one of those ways was to strike in—to be violent with ourselves.
Then when we grow up, we still have those early feelings buried and those feelings can be triggered by things in our adult lives. In addition, we still have those same ways of defending ourselves against our feelings . . . only now we’re in adult bodies with adult personalities and the ability to create far more active violence and harm than when we were in a child’s body with a child’s personality.
This is why we have so much violence in our world.
NOTE: See Judith’s article next month to continue learning the answers to the questions she’s helping us ask about violence.
© Copyright 2012 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
LangleyAugust 23rd, 2012 at 12:37 PM
There has always been violence and I am sad to say that I think that there always will be. Ending the violence will be about changing the way that the entire world participates, and that’s a pretty daunting task that I am almost positive we can never achieve.
Judith BarrAugust 23rd, 2012 at 2:48 PM
Thank you for your comment, Langley. I’m not saying ending the violence the world over will happen tomorrow, or next year, or in our lifetimes. And you’re right . . . it is a daunting task. However . . . I see all the time that every time a single person ends the violence within himself or herself, that helps the movement toward ending the violence in his or her part of the world – perhaps in a family or a group of friends or a workplace. And then that touches other people in ways that have an impact – whether obvious or very subtle – starting another round of movement toward ending the violence in other people’s parts of the world.
At some points there are big shifts that take place, that emerge out of the growing mass of healing that has taken place in more and more individuals. Think of the healing that took place in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Think about the healing that is taking place in Ireland because the Archbishop of Dublin is truly doing his part to help heal the damage caused by the sexual abuse by priests.
I hold a vision of the positive possibilities that can occur. And I hold a vision of people doing their own inner healing work to do their part in the ending of violence . . . one by one by one and from the inside out.
I hope this is helpful to you, Langley.
cardeezaAugust 23rd, 2012 at 3:19 PM
I agree with the author of this piece- up to a point.
but I think that we all know that there are some people who are just plain evil, nothing has ever happened to them other than they have been raised by a family who loves them and still they either make the choice to hurt others or to hurt themselves. Sometimes there is no explanation, no excuse that is sufficiaent. How then do you address that? If someone is harmed as a child, then it is a little easier to understand. But in these other situations where there is no reasonable answer, that makes it so hard to accept.
DanielAugust 23rd, 2012 at 8:48 PM
I’m someone who is always thinking about this-“Why is there so much violence in this world?” and try to find the answers.
Honestly,what’s mentioned here answers that question to a fair degree.
@cardeeza:its not that simple to know or see what lies beneath a person’s raging fury or violent behavior.someone who had no such problems as a child could have had others-maybe a person was from a poorer neighborhood and when riots break out he has this sadistic thought of destroying things or hurting people-to teach ’em rich folk a lesson! its just one example,and there could be numerous others.
I think whenever there is any negative behavior from a person, it stems from something in the person’s past. and because we do not see, identify or address the issue, this can grow and can also be passed on to future generations. it is a rot no doubt but it can certainly be stemmed. it needs conviction from every person. while its not possible to do that with everybody at the same time, any start is a small step taken towards the goal of universal peace and a world without hatred or violence!
COLEAugust 24th, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Violence is not just acts of violence, it is much beyond that if you ask me. There is just so much hatred and so much of cold shouldering out there sometimes I ask myself if we are actually moving away from our core humanity!
Ask a random stranger for some help by doing which they lose nothing,and chances are that you will not recover a favorable response.It used to be better even a few decades ago but things only seem to be getting worse.
When I think about it I feel there will (hopefully) be some tipping point beyond which people will start to change for the better after all this heading into the wrong direction.What do you think?
FlorenceAugust 24th, 2012 at 3:59 AM
I am so saddened to think of a child going through this horrific childhood and as a result never being able to escape that which he has experienced. It is something that obviously stays with him forever until the time comes when he now feels the need to act out irrationally against others or even harm himself. Very sad that there are adults who could set up this child for a future of uncertainty and hatred, when in actuality it is so much easier to show love and compassion than it is hate.
GinoAugust 24th, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Violence is created by the stupidity of others
You do something to inflict harm,that will come back to you
We have to stop hurting each other if we ever want to stop the hate and the violence
But who is going to be strong enough to be the first one to turn the other cheek
It becomes a contest of wills, and while you may win on a very personal level, winning at those kinds of battles only continues to stoke the fires of the war
V.N.BAugust 24th, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Unhealed wounds lead to such attitude.People tend to make the wrong choices when there is hurt inside them.Problem is most of us do not know how to heal.
A small example-how many of us can and will forgive a person who has hurt us? How many of us can truly get that out of our mind and move on, holding no grudges? I think that would answer the question “Why Do We Have So Much Violence in Our World?”
niecyAugust 25th, 2012 at 7:51 AM
the world started out from one violent big bang
who’s to say that’s not the way it’s meant to end?
nancyAugust 25th, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I don’t quite understand this ‘hurt inside’ theory.if a person is hurt he or she has no right to inflict the same unto others,yeah? that would only turn him or her from a victim to a monster and nobody likes a monster!
RaineyAugust 26th, 2012 at 8:45 AM
@ Nancy- they don’t have the right to hurt others but that won’t stop them from treating others the way that they have been treated because sadly this is pretty much the only way that they know how. Not using that as an excuse but it is just a little insight into why some people are like that
Judith BarrAugust 27th, 2012 at 4:07 AM
Thank you to each of your who has bravely put yourself out there and commented on my article, “Why Do We Have So Much Violence in Our World? And How Do We End It? Part 1.”
To really take what my article is offering, learn from it, utilize it to help you in your healing and growth and to help heal the violence in our world, I suggest this: For each one of you, I invite you to look back on your comment and see if there is any reflection in your comment of the violence that lives within you. If yes, I urge you to explore where that violence in you comes from in your childhood. If no, I urge you to explore where there are other things you do or say, think or feel in your life that offer a reflection of the violence that lives within you. And when you find it to explore where that comes from for you.
This is the first crucial step in the work we each need to do so that we will be part of healing the violence and not part of adding to it, feeding it, perpetuating it.
Thank you again and many blessings,
Judith BarrAugust 27th, 2012 at 4:12 AM
In our society, unfortunately violence has been normalized. People have come to think it is just a normal part of life. Just like you hear people say, ‘boys will be boys’ to justify boys or men fighting, or anything else that dismisses how things are, as simply part of the natural state of things.
Other things also have been made normal, things that really aren’t normal and need not to be seen as normal. But each time, someone needs to help us understand why that ‘thing’ isn’t normal, and we need to be open to listening and learning.
I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 30 years, working with many people, learning and teaching alot about human nature. So I hope you’ll open yourself to this:
No baby is born evil. No child is inherently a monster. If someone grows up to be violent, cruel, destructive . . . it has to do with something painful, cruel, destructive that person experienced in his or her childhood. It may be something obvious or not so obvious. That person may remember it. Or it may have been so painful and harmful that s/he doesn’t remember it at all. S/he may have reflexively buried the memory and the experience in order to try to stay alive physically, emotionally, and mentally after the experience, or through the experience if it went on and on and on occurring many times. S/he may never have told anyone about what happened. In fact, the person s/he might have been inclined to tell – a parent – might have been the person causing him/her such pain.
Once the person grows up, you might have absolutely no indication of what s/he went through as a child. I don’t think we have any idea how many well functioning, successful people in our work world have experienced deep pain and trauma as children, perhaps even before they could think and talk. You can look at someone and just not know.
And we don’t know when someone’s buried pain is going to be triggered, either. In addition we have no idea how they will react when it is triggered. They might not even know. As I have begun to teach in part one of my post, they may isolate themselves and turn in on themselves or they may strike out at others.
Once again, no baby is born evil or a monster. Once again, if someone grows up and does destructive things it was rooted in their wounds and trauma as a young child. That doesn’t let them off the hook. That doesn’t wipe out their accountability for their violence. It just names the root of it and points us in the direction of the deep and expansive need for healing of those ancient wounds and traumas.
I hope this will help people better understand.
Thanks for your comments and questions . . .
MelAugust 28th, 2012 at 4:32 AM
I think that one other thing that we have to realize about violence is that many times the person caught in this act does not see it as being violent at all. For them it seems to be only a natural reaction to something in life that leads them to behave in this way. They don’t see the behavior as being harmful or hurtful, but are maybe doing it to “teach a lesson” or because that’s how they were raised. They have very little regard for the fact that this could be perceived as violent and harmful and that maybe there are better ways available for them to express their outrage or anger. For them all they know is this violent reaction so that becomes their default mode for dealing with anything unpleasant in life.
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