In my last article, Part I: Why Do We Have so Much Violence in Our World and How Do We End It?, I talked about why we have so much violence in our world. In this article I’m going to answer some of the other important questions about violence.
Why does the violence seem to be escalating?
We could talk for days about why the violence seems to be escalating. At the root of it is this: We are living in extremely challenging times.
Challenges can create pain, trigger pain, or both. Challenges today include things such as financial difficulties, loss of homes, loss of jobs, extreme weather destroying crops, bullying (a form of violence in itself), people suffering and dying in wars all over the world (war as an extreme form of violence), and many forms of war (war on terror, war against drugs, war against poverty, war against women). All of these things create pain for people, trigger pain for people, or both.
That pain brings forth the defenses people have built early in their lives to hold their feelings at bay. And just like our country’s defenses are so often violent, so also are our individual defenses often violent. (In fact, it actually occurs the other way around: our country’s defenses are so violent because our individual defenses are violent. Our country is, after all, made up of individuals.) And the greater the challenges are, the longer they continue, the more pain people feel, the more defenses that were perhaps never used before may erupt into the open. For example, while one child might have—as his primary defense—actually bitten mommy or daddy when in pain, another child might have had some other primary defense, like numbing himself or scratching himself. But this second child might have had striking out as a secondary or tertiary defense, and if pushed to the brink of pain . . . he might have bitten, too. Or maybe he might have just fantasized about hurting mommy or daddy, or about their dying so he wouldn’t have to be hurt so much . . . never dreaming he would or could ever act on that. But maybe as challenges grow in his adult life and his primary defense doesn’t work so well, maybe he will resort to one of his backup defenses to get away from his feelings.
In addition to this deep root, there are other factors as well, feeding the escalation of violence.
We have the vicious cycle of generation upon generation upon generation of people who do not have the capacity to feel their feelings and know what to do with them in a healthy way. And we have the defense of people against their own early pain and often their own early powerlessness, by holding, exerting, forcing their power over and against other people. Both of these are coming more and more out into the open. This form of violence—and it is a form of violence—causes others to feel powerless. They may feel here and now or triggered long ago powerlessness, but either way it causes them to defend against their powerlessness, often with more violence.
Also, we live in a time where our communication systems enable people to see the violence others are using as a defense against their feelings. Some, when seeing others’ violence, “rip off permission” from what they are seeing for their own uses of those violent defenses . . . whether they copy what they see or make their own variation. And others take permission in an anonymous internet culture to comment violently. The number of violent comments on the internet in response to blogs is heart-wrenching.
This is why the violence in our world seems to be escalating.
Why aren’t our efforts to end the violence working?
Very simply, our efforts to end the violence aren’t working because we are doing things that don’t work, can’t work, and often include violence within them. For example, punishment for violence doesn’t work. Laws outlawing violence and then punishing it don’t work.
Gun control—although it may prevent guns from being used for violence in some cases—won’t work to end the violence. People who are defending against their pain with striking out will just find another way to strike out. And praying for violence to end—although it may be a useful, even necessary help toward ending the violence—will not work all by itself to end violence in our world.
What can you and I do to help end the violence?
You and I can honestly look to see if we have the capacity to feel our feelings healthily and to discern which feelings we simply need to feel, which feelings we need to safely explore back into our childhood for healing, and which feelings we need to allow to lead us safely into action.
We need to be honest with ourselves, and if we don’t have these capacities, we need to find someone to help us develop them. A good, integritous therapist who, among other things, is not afraid of feelings and does his/her own inner exploration and healing can help with this.
You and I can honestly look within ourselves to find what defenses we have created to defend us against our own feelings.
We can discover, for example, if we have a defense of striking out at others or striking in at ourselves. And we can once again get the help to build our capacity to feel so we won’t need to defend against our feelings anymore and can allow those defenses to dissolve. (We won’t break the defenses down, we’ll do the exploration and the healing process in a way that is safe for us.)
In addition to building the capacity to feel, and in addition to preparing to let our violent defenses dissolve, you and I can honestly discover what is in the violent currents of defense within us and heal those currents themselves. In fact, they won’t be able to dissolve until we do this. Not only will the defenses be unable to dissolve until we fully explore the violent currents within us, but also we won’t be able to transform all the life energy that was stored in the violent currents and the defenses and used to hold tightly onto the defenses. We won’t be able to transform that life energy into new, truly healthy uses. Just know for now . . . we can find the roots of those currents—the pain that caused us to react with violence—and we can work to heal both the violent currents and the roots.
I know this seems like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. And it’s not an instant fix, so wanted by so many in our world today. But . . . without this work, we cannot change the fabric of our own individual lives. And we cannot change the fabric of our culture. Both of these are absolutely necessary if we are going to end violence in our world.
What stops us from doing our part to end violence?
What stops us from doing our part has similarities for all of us and differences for us individually. Some of the common elements:
Many of us don’t want to do a lot of work. Most of us want it to be easy and quick. Most of us are afraid of our feelings, especially the ones from long, long ago that were and still are so deep and intense. We have spent a lifetime defending against those feelings, working hard to keep them buried. Most of us are afraid to look at the places within us where we have violent currents and the potential to act on them. Many of us don’t want to need someone else to help us with this or to ask someone else to help us. Many don’t know how to find a right person to help or the resources with which to do the work. And many of us don’t want to invest our time, energy, money, and mental and emotional resources working on our inner life. We don’t realize that we create our outer lives from our inner life even if we’re not aware of that truth. And we don’t realize that we not only create our own individual outer lives from our inner life, but we also co-create our outer communal life from our inner lives.
We have a choice. We can keep creating the same fabric of our lives as we have been—individually and communally—or we can begin the journey of creating something new, something more healthy, something more grounded, something more real, something more in truth, something more peaceful—not false peaceful but truly peaceful from the roots of our beings, from the inside out.
How to start?
Begin by making a firm commitment to yourself to do the work. Know that when we make a commitment, two major things will happen.
- Whatever within us needs to be healed in order to fulfill that commitment will come up for healing. We may think what’s coming is an obstacle. We may use it as an excuse to break the commitment and stop the process. But we may also come to see it as the next thing in us calling for healing and choose to keep the commitment and do the healing.
- Our commitment will draw to us, from within us and all around us, the help we need to keep and follow through with the commitment. We may not see, hear, or feel the help consciously, but it will be there somehow, somewhere. If you give up because you can’t sense it or because it isn’t coming the way you think it should or in the timing you want, you are undermining yourself, your own commitment, your own healing.
Remember the movie, Field of Dreams? And the message Kevin Kostner kept getting in his role as Ray Kinsella? “If you build it, he will come.”
I can tell you this from decades of doing this work with people . . . if you make the commitment—a real commitment—to do your part in ending the violence in our world by doing your own inner healing work . . . you will be “building it.” And if you build it . . . the healing will come.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Judith Barr, MS, LPC
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