The primary aggressiveness serves to demarcate us from a life-threatening danger; we know it from the animal kingdom. In humans it is – as a helpful form of behavior – the physical expression of the state of psychic primary rage. Aggressiveness in order to distinguish oneself from others and to stand up for one’s life, has also been a prerequisite for survival in humans for millions of years.
We come into the world equipped with appropriate ways of reaction, the fight-or-flight behavior is anchored in our instincts. This primal aggressiveness is related to the primary self. It is used above all to preserve one’s body integrity.
As can be shown in animals, aggression can also be lived and experienced as a motor of meaningful change, as a high-energy form of curious contact (Latin aggredere – to go towards someone or something). Going towards someone, touching him/her includes the need to let someone come towards you, to be touched.
Whether such an active, “aggressive” approach is perceived as pleasurable or as painful depends on the question whether the contact is mutually desired or unilaterally forced.
Rage to ensure survival
Rage as desperate aggression (for self-protection) shaped by ancient instinctual behavior also arises when the space to live is restricted below a genetically determined level. As it happens every day in the overpopulated cities with millions of inhabitants and as CALDOUN has already shown 1950 in his rat experiment:
A group of rats is kept in a limited territory which successively is being reduced. Soon the animals become restless and aggressive, terror spreads, the sexuality becomes chaotic, the fertility sinks and at the same time weaker ones and newborns are killed and eaten up. This is going on until the numerical ratio of the rats per surface unit has adjusted itself again to a “livable” level.
We humans have been able to live remarkably well with the reduction of our living space over the last few millennia, i.e. since the increasing socialization has made the coexistence of ever larger gatherings of people possible. However at present, the exponential growth spurt of the last century seems to overwhelm the adaptive mechanisms of our bio-system.
Rage arises as a reaction to physical or psychic existential threat when the homeostatic resting state (as a quality the basic state of being love) is lost. This primary rage is the immediate consequence of primal pain; it urges action.
An energetic, physical response to the existentially threatening deprivation of love
The psychic primary rage expresses itself highly energetically as a spontaneous and intense physical reaction because of a deprivation of love. It is experienced as existentially threatening, as a signal of the primary self that cannot be ignored. “When in the early days of life the tension increases and is not relieved by a final union with the satisfying object, impotent rage is the result of it.”
Except in the raging infant, we probably encounter this “hot” rage most impressively in autistic children who have not yet totally withdrawn from the world. Anger is here an expression of the will to autonomy, as a desperate attempt by the infant to defend its self-will against a nurturing behavior that does not respect autonomy; to defend itself against adverse circumstances.
In autistic children this seems to be of significant importance. The violent aggressiveness experienced as a result of a violation of the primary self – as a threat to physical or psychological existence – is only one form of primary aggressiveness.
In her description of the depressive position, MELANIE KLEIN speaks of “destructive ideas/fantasies” which are supposed to accompany the love impulse in the infant in connection with an innate destructive instinct.
MICHAEL BALINT as well as later HEINZ KOHUT have pointed out however, that destructive impulses of the infant need by no means be innate, but can be explained on the basis of real rejections. The infant, unlike its parents, lives distinctly in the present and is therefore not influenced by imaginative wishful thinking. Nor should it be forgotten that at this stage there is an immense power imbalance between the all-powerful mother and the infant who, with his “belly rage,” stands up for its rights.
The infant’s belly rage and the mother’s role
An empathetic mother will find it easy to find a balance between frustration and satisfaction through lovingly measured responsiveness to her infant’s “desirous needs”, which will have a socially desirable effect as a learning process for the infant as well.
However in order to take a happy outcome there is an absolute condition: the mother needs to be fulfilled in her love experience and is not herself needy or even bitter. ANNEGRET WIESE has worked out this problem in her book “Mothers who kill” and pointed out the enormous amount of mothers who show destructive tendencies. The child’s development is only undisturbed if the mother responds to it coming from an emotionally satisfied attitude. The innocent-natural primary belly rage that serves the toddler’s self-assertion is later often overlaid by narcissistic rage, the violent anger of people with narcissistic personality disorder. These people had to adapt to the needs of their environment too early in order to receive the love of their caregivers. Put in another way: they were not acknowledged enough in their own personalities as an infant.
The resulting self-alienation leads to a lasting dependence on external recognition and a constant search for validation from others. Narcissistically disturbed people – there are countless in our society – react with intense, impotent rage even to slight psychic insults. Depending on the basic psychological attitude, this anger is directed at others or against oneself.
Very early the child learns that his aggressive self-assertion comes into conflict with the self-assertive tendencies of others. Aggressiveness is poorly tolerated in our society, even in a child. That the immediate outward moving expression is increasingly constricted and suppressed leads on one hand to repression, on the other hand the interest shifts more and more towards fantasies and substitutes, which are richly offered by the media and the market.
Violence as a special form of secondary rage is not triggered by an immediate existential threat.
Its motives and triggers lie in the past, it is predominantly about psychic insult or about frustration rage and about the resulting needs for revenge.
Hate and violence are directly related to the condition of secondary rage. The suffix “secondary” indicates reference to the secondary self and thus to the psychic processing related to memories.
In everyday life we often encounter more or less subtle forms of violence. It is used purposefully, well-dosed and rationally; it offers the opponent as little target as possible. Accordingly, harshness and unkindness have become characteristics of people in Western society.
The deeper reason for subtle forms of violence
Violence arises from experiences of frustration beginning very early in childhood, when the expression of excitement has been suppressed. It can also result from chronic lack of the experience of being love (i.e. in of intimate nurturing safety).
The psychic pain associated with past injuries and experiences of deprivation is all the more devouring the more deprived the early childhood period has been experienced by the person in question. The coincidence of intimate frustration accumulated over many years with an intensified influx of excited energy leads to highly explosive outbursts and acts of violence – whether in individuals or in entire nations.
According to the researches of A. AICHHORN neglected people and people who consider themselves disadvantaged by fate always show a great deficit in love intimacy. Experience shows that they are more likely to commit criminal acts; repressive re-socialization measures further encourage this tendency!
Apart from previous experiences of psychic insults the frustration tolerance may be reduced by a spoiling upbringing or as a result of constitutional factors (the causes of which are under dispute – inherited or caused intrauterine by noxious agents of various kinds).
From self-suppression to other-suppression
Looked at from the level of society, the individual fates concerning frustration add up. From self-oppression to other-oppression – this is the central theme that runs through history. The justified belly rage of the infant for self-assertion has developed a potential for violence, which is lived out and thus passed on from adults to children and from men to women.
If the indirect gratification fails, frustration rage occurs, which is related to narcissistic rage. Frustrated people, who often self-limit their expression of life, force themselves via discipline and unbending will to meet their high moral or performance standards. This can only be accomplished via self-aggressive behavior.
Permanent self-denial and constant experiences of frustration lead to enforcing the same behavior on others and to being aggressive and ruthless against co-workers, business competitors and even one’s own family. This behavior however brings only temporary relief. In the longer term it is likely to lead to relationship conflicts, as it creates much resistance on the other side.
Women and Rage
Female socialization does not accept the acting out of anger, leading to tremendous unconscious potential for violence as the following jealousy drama from the “Accidents and Crimes” section of the daily press shows:
“Daniela T. (30) shot two bullets into the body of her boyfriend Walter (26). One from behind past the spine, the second aimed from above through his head. Then the woman set fire to her dead boyfriend and buried him in the run of her beloved horses.”
In a more mundane example we encounter a ninety-year-old woman. This telephone conversation unexpectedly reveals a tragic background:
Somewhat distraught, she calls me, worried, not knowing what day it is. Then she tells me how the last few days have gone, that she has been visited by several friends who have been worried about her – actually she is doing well …
As she is about to hang up the phone, she says:
“Something else is strange – every day, for two weeks I’ve been waking up at seven thirty and then I’m always so nervous, I don’t know why.”
I ask if it worries her, “because she has to do something again”.
(Earlier, she had told several times that she was startled in the night because her parents admonished her that she “had to be at school on time” or even that “she should still put a ham in the oven for guests”.)
She denies. I inquire if she had trouble breathing and therefore felt anxiety. (Her heart had already worried her several times during the night, so that in order to breathe better, she had to get up and take medication.)
Once again, she denies it and suddenly says:
“Yes, I have palpitations, but it’s more – I have such a rage then!”
It makes a lot of sense to her, as she hears, that occasionally when we are not strong enough to keep our emotions under control, “old stories” come out. People in therapies would then bang their fists on pillows and shout loudly … “But I can’t shout, it’s not proper, the neighbors would think I’m crazy!”
Ninety years of suppressed, repressed anger! It is the pitiful conclusion of a “successful life in the performance society”. She was said to never have cried. That shows how well she had a grip on her control system.
The Root of Violence
We encounter the most consequential form of violence that man has been capable of developing with the keyword substitute. It is likely that this trail leads directly to the root of violence: as I illustrate using the cascade of psychic insult, our highly differentiated socialization system with its increasingly complex psychic insults, has created a compensatory system for love (i.e. a coping system for the extremely unpleasant psychic pain following the experience of deprivation of love or the loss of love).
Instead of the real “soul food” love, we offer to the growing child as part of socialization efforts ever new compensatory satisfactions, with which the individual increasingly identifies. It is not surprising that the individual person who is alienated from his basic needs expresses more or less openly his frustration and his anger. In the interest of his self-esteem it must be expressed, if his unconscious sense of guilt is not so great that he prefers to become self-aggressive and to harm himself. (However, this will only partially, temporarily or in mild cases compensate for the accumulated aggressiveness).
The more civilised man is, the more pronounced he develops the ability to repress as well as to satisfy his secondary needs by substitution. According to SIGMUND FREUD he has no other choice. A large extent of social recognition works as a reward.
But the price for this advantage is high:
Individually it means the loss of the ability to experience pleasurable primal physical joy and intimate love. As a collective we are no longer inhibited to destroy our basis of existence.
Love and Power
Love and power are not on the same level and therefore cannot be compared. Indeed love is a crucial human quality. However, everyday life is often shaped by biological and economic factors in which power determines being or non-being.
Originally, power is in the service of the struggle for survival. It is – in the sense of an either-or – uncompromisingly about one’s own interests in the struggle for the primary needs of territorial preservation, food and reproduction. The biological reality of life (vitality) forces each individual to struggle “for himself” and for his “horde”. In this form power is coupled in its original intention with primary excited love.
The circumstances are not quite so simple when we examine the implications of secondary excited love in the context of power. In its close association with the possibilities of the mind, terrifying manifestations of violence occur. As will be shown in the following section anything will go, “there is nothing that does not exist”.
A rather underestimated influence comes from the power of the family: BERT HELLINGER has come across legalities in his family constellations which – he speaks of orders of love – fatefully influence emotional life not only genetically, but also through family entanglements. The “power of the clan” and heredity thus take on a new dimension.
In the economic and political spheres, the significance of power is particularly striking and frightening. FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE’s critique of the double standards of the bourgeois’s small-mindedness culminates in a description of a world of members of the master race that corresponds exactly to the state of our neoliberal globalized world. Phrased in the language of today: “The winner takes it all!” As an extreme form, we find the polarization between overpowering perpetrators facing an army of powerless “victims“.
The strictly hierarchical communication behavior based on preconceived opinions and critically rating the opponent, is far from the “win-win” position envisioned by transactional analysis.
How people behave:
Loving or with power
In emotionally stressful as well as in therapeutic group situations, it is exemplarily shown that human behavior is predominantly characterized by two basic attitudes: either I meet my fellow human beings from an attitude of love and mutual respect or I rely primarily on my power.
The film “The Experiment” by OLIVER HIRSCHBIEGEL has taken the findings made by PHILIP G. ZIMBARDO, professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, gained in 1971 in the course of the so-called prison experiment, into the form of a psychological thriller:
It shows how the overwhelming majority of volunteers, who were sought by a newspaper advertisement and who by drawing lots exercised the role of guards, without hesitation use the most brutal means of power against the “prisoners”, who were also volunteers. (That the majority of the victims, by their submissiveness, do their part to increase the sense of entitlement of their tormentors is a tragic consequence not only of this experiment, but of the whole history of mankind.)
Even two thousand years after the message of Christian philanthropy, the answer to the question “love or power?” is of crucial importance.
However, no simple answer can be found to this question. At the “power” level of the secondary self, information is received dualistically. The counter-position is the state of being love, which lies outside of this level; it is no longer about an either-or and therefore not about an “either you or me”. Once the “communicative quantum leap” of non-evaluation is accomplished, this opposition becomes irrelevant, the philosophy of the struggle for survival invalid.
Whoever tries to integrate Zen reality into everyday life and to put the values of the conscious state of being love in place of preconceived opinions and competitive thinking, is smiled at by the successful of our performance society. At the same time, the great interest in meditation seminars indicates a secret longing for these values. However, if meditation is to serve primarily to enhance performance, its central concern once again falls victim to commercialism.
Power, violence and gender
As I have argued above, violence is a form of secondary aggressiveness and thus a typical behavior of the secondary self. It is not triggered by an immediate, existential threat, its motives and triggers lie in the more or less consciously remembered individual past. It often hides in great fear. (Anger serves here as a cover feeling. It is seen in the fight-or-flight scheme, as the flight forward: the fight.)
Sexual Violence – Phallic Power
Underlying sexual violence is a form of power that HIGHWATER has described as phallus power. It is a physiologically given body superiority of the man over the woman. It is in this context that sexual violence must be located.
Surprising is the different behavior in the encounter of man and woman. When men and women meet they hardly ever look in the same direction. Camera recordings demonstrate that women predominantly look at the upper parts of men’s bodies, while it is predominantly the middle and lower parts of women’s bodies that attract men’s gaze.
Also the context of the encounters is often experienced differently. As a result of projections, (one’s own state is usually transferred onto the other) the lack of empathetic assessment of the opposite-sex – which is typical of male approaches – results in a great potential for misunderstanding.
It thus does not surprise that spontaneous encounters are often interpreted differently by the persons involved.
The biologically role-appropriate behaving man must assert himself with as many women as possible, regardless of whether these women are highly sexually excited or not. From his point of view forced coitus should be considered as adequate behavior (in today’s society, of course this biological factor is of course no more a justifying argument).
Not biologically determined are socialization patterns “of the man, how he has to be“. Images or needs that do not correspond to the ideal image of male identity concepts are thereby suppressed with all their might. The exaggerated ideals from old and new heroic sagas are based less on a real paternal role model than but on cliché ideas of the “Macho” who would rather sacrifice his life than get through life happily as a “softie”; the modern man is ideally a doer who performs and also does a good job in bed.
The weaker the self-esteem, the stronger is the psychological need to identify with extreme roles. Qualities attributed to the opposite sex (familiar from the mother) are associated with “womanish” or “gay” and repressed.
Addiction and Aggression
In this context it is interesting to note a 1998 study by the Swiss Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, which investigated the question of the protective effects of sport in relation to addictive behavior in adolescents. Contrary to popular belief, it showed that a protective effect could only be demonstrated for those sports that did not include aggressive behavior or that could not be classified as dangerous.
For typical male sports, the study demonstrated greatly increased addictiveness concerning smoking, hashish use and alcohol consumption. In other words, athletes heavily under the influence of testosterone were less successful at keeping their aggressive tendencies under control without anesthetizing themselves with drugs.
Testosterone, the sex hormone produced primarily in the testes in males, brings us back to the biological basis of our feelings and to roles that – embarrassing as it may be to us – we largely share with our closest animal relatives (over 98.5% of our genetic makeup).
The kinship however, goes far beyond the great apes, as demonstrated by the showing off strategies used in all species of animals on the basis of “all too human” strategies in the struggle for survival. From intimidation of opponents to physically hard-fought duels between two competing lovers, males adopt many of these behavioral patterns.
Physically the imbalance between men and women is obvious. As for the traditional insistence “that man’s psychic gifts shall also be superior” there might be a deeper underlaying cause: man’s primal fear of the all-powerful mother (and in the unconscious probably of any woman) This is likely to be a fundamental reason for the enormous pressure on men to exercise power. In addition this pattern of behavior brings many practical advantages; such as the delegation of the hardly rewarded household and educational as well as social work to the woman. On top of it brings relief from complicated emotional conflicts, “as women are better suited” for “these unpleasant forms of communication”.
On the other hand however, the influence of the so-called “weaker” sex (women’s power) in this millennia-old gender struggle must not be ignored. (see NANCY FRIDAY)
OSHO takes the view that in sexually repressed people the act of love often degenerates into an act of violence:
“There will be much aggression in the act of love. Because never you watch each other in sexuality, you do not know what is happening and you can not know what is happening to you, because you almost always live in a very aggressive state.
That’s why deep orgasm through love becomes impossible, because deep down you are afraid … great fear of your own anger. The next time you have sex, observe it: You will make the same movements that one makes when one is aggressive. Watch the face, have a mirror at hand so that you can see what is happening in your face! All these distortions of anger and aggression will be there!“
The fact that many couples can only “satisfactorily” make love after a violent argument would thus be explained in a simple way. The more fully anger is acted out, the more open we seem to be to the needs of intimate love.
Violence and sexuality for reconciliation
An unusual behavior related to violence and sexuality is exhibited by bonobos. These great apes IN close relation to the chimpanzees show a completely different, less aggressive behavior. The behavioral scientist FRANS DE WAAL reports:
These highly developed primates use effectively sex, also in the sense of the “heavy petting”, for the solution of conflicts both between opposite and same-sex animals. Through intimate physical contact they repeatedly reassure each other of their mutual goodwill after conflict-ridden disputes, often beforehand, and in this way spare themselves the unnecessary use of violence.
“Unresolved ownership – when jostling for food or for a toy box at the zoo – leads to fights in most monkey species. Not so with bonobos,” writes DE WAAL, “... they react with sexual activity and thus – mostly by rubbing each other’s genitals – relax the situation. If a Bonobofrau hits a strange child, then its mother rushes in in order to pay it back to the aggressor. Afterwards, however, she will reconcile with her through intense genital rubbing.“
The extent to which this form of violence avoidance would be applicable to us humans is an open question. A behavior in sexual respect less coined by possession claims and narrow moral conceptions would reduce with large probability alone over hormonally adjusting mechanisms the readiness for violence. It is possible however, that, as between bonobos and chimpanzees, we humans are also dealing with a genetically determined, hormonally transmitted difference in behavior.
The holy wars; a Masspsychologic phenomenon
At least as fatal for the masses as for the individual are the social effects of authoritarian-repressive belief systems of religious, pseudo-religious, but also other ideological manifestations. With their symbols heightened to the absolute, whose truth content is not verifiable for the followers (because sensual perception has been superimposed by ideological indoctrination) every war is justified, in the name of religion proclaimed as “holy war”.
In 1933 WILHELM REICH has published his study “Massenpsychologie des Faschismus”, a writing that has lost nothing of its topicality even after Hitler and Mussolini. REICH shows that the basic fascist attitude, beyond right-wing radicalism, is also widespread “on the left” or “in the center” and especially as religious “fascism”.
Unless one is able to recognize the sexually repressed fascist in oneself there is no chance to be immune against this “mental plague”. Otherwise, he/she will “turn the gaze upward, fight ‘the others, the inferior and dirty’ in the name of a higher chosen being. And in paradoxical misjudgment of the actual situation he/she will identify with the oppressors, the authoritarian patriarchal structures in family and society“. Thus these people, as seemingly independent adults, give up their personal freedom for the second time.
During follow-ups in the U.S. and England it became apparent that the majority of soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder had never been in contact with the enemy, so the breakdown was caused by fear of death and stress. In contrast, the majority of men who had internalized years of killing, upon their return to civilian life carried on their daily activities without scruples and apparently unharmed, without attracting attention by criminal acts or by mental instability. (After all, according to GROSSMANN, 18-54% of Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD, i.e., 500,000 to 1.5 billion of the 2.6 billion involved in the Vietnam War.)
Crucial to mental well-being was solidarity with the group, being “lifted up in an intimate crew with reliable comrades, under a superior whose affection could be earned with proficiency”.
The self-legitimation for the use of violence was facilitated by supporting ideologies in the sense of the projection of “evil” onto the alien other, who was racistically stamped as non-human for racial, religious or other ideology reasons and whose death was accepted without hesitation.
Projection leads to a division of the world into good, kind friends and inhumanly violent enemies (who will stop at nothing). It serves as a justification for one’s own atrocities in order to avoid responsibility for the violence one has carried out. Anyone who does not participate is a fouler of the nest because he questions the perpetuation of the projection.
Women are by no means excluded from this behavior. However, their exercise of violence generally does not take place in the collective, but happens in their closer environment. According to CLAUDIA HEYNE, mothers abuse their children about as often as fathers, both physically and emotionally; violence against the elderly is even predominantly committed by women.
Violence through environmental degradation
Violence is not only directed against people and not only against “enemies”. Also the environmental destruction belongs – like industrial animal husbandry – into this category. As with enemy projections, a justification is sought for one’s own violent actions.
This is how one of the most consequential “exoneration carousels” occurred: We inhabitants of the first world unburden ourselves at the expense of the environment – and additionally at the expense of the inhabitants – of the third world. Our environmental impact becomes smaller in comparison to the additional consumption of energy and we export to distant countries the waste that remains and could burden our environment.
Driven by the power mentality of our performance society, additionally praised by greed for money and power, the ultimately self-destructive spiral of consumption turns around the entire globe at an ever-increasing speed, not sparing even the last ocean depths and the most remote and inaccessible forests.
HATE and ANGER
Frequently hate is defined as the opposite of love. For me psychic primary pain is the immediate psychic reaction to the loss of the state of being love, to the deprivation of love.
The primary rage respectively the primary fear is triggered by the elementary mechanisms – flight or aggressiveness –which avert these immediately painful consequences. Thus, the central question concerning hate is not about its connection with (primary excited) love but with rage, because hate is, as I understand it, an emotion engaged with extraordinarily violent revenge needs.
The lower the proportion of admitted primary rage, the more the secondary rage of the secondary self is identical with cold hatred. The rage about the inflicted ego insult constitutes the main part of the released energies. Mechanisms of the ego based preconceived “opinions” or beliefs come into play.
Primary anger is usually not completely repressed, so primary and secondary anger are often mixed. The less the will control functions, the “hotter”, i.e. more emotional will be the hatred fed by the primary abdominal rage; the more “head-controlled” the offended person is, the colder and more calculating his reaction will appear.
The primary hatred of the fetus during abortion attempt
From prenatal research there is clear evidence for severe psycholic effects on the still unborn when an abortion is attempted. Theoretically, it is conceivable that in the fetus this could create a nonspecific desire for annihilation. I would speak in this case of primary hatred, which in addition to the primary rage includes an absolute urge to destroy emanating from the primary self. At its root is what i have called primary psychic insult.
An early form of hatred in the sense of imperative annihilation against others (and at the same time covertly against oneself) is encountered in autistic children, but also in borderline personalities. One can also speak here of primary hatred.
Even in the fetus the emergence of a secondary hatred can be postulated if the feeling is not a reaction to existentially experienced prenatal threat, but rather the adoption of feelings of the mother, (who is in many ways connected to the fetus) .
The same process (co-directed over hormones) would come into play if the mother carries an abysmal hatred of whomever as a permanent state within herself. In that case the embryo or fetus overtakes secondarily in the sense of a “psychic infection“. A later form of an adopted and thus secondary hatred is the adoption – in connection with a family entanglement – of a “clan feeling” (HELLINGER) possibly unconsciously passed on over generations.
That according to SIGMUND FREUD a destructive death drive or according to MELANIE KLEIN a primary hateful sadism is supposed to be innate in humans, has – according to me – hardly anything to do with a basic human disposition. Also the experience of BERT HELLINGER according to which at least half of the relationship problems are to be explained over the entanglement and/or identification with family members of earlier generations, does not speak for heredity.
The process of identification also happens through socialization. For years I have raved in group therapies to release blocked energies; I am convinced that the cause is not innate but reactive, however far back the injury may have occurred even intrauterine. Anyone who has ever seen or experienced how a temper tantrum – a physically dramatic raving fit – explodes in an adult person will share this impression. The tremendous energies that lead to the triggering of a temper tantrum remain stored unchanged in the body for twenty, fifty and more years and thus remain blocked. It is obvious that repression and sublimation are cheap solutions.
Either, the accumulated energies can express themselves in a protected setting, in the course of therapy, or they lead to all the “incomprehensible” minor and major physical and psychic acts of violence that the media disseminate under the heading of misfortunes and crimes; these “messages”, consumed as substitute fantasies by countless aggression-inhibited people, constitute the core business of the boulevard press, their product runs daily into the billions.
In order to get in contact with the enormous power of the accumulated energies this may be useful in a first phase. However really healing is only possible when the underlying pain over the deprivation of love is allowed to emerge.
SUICIDE as violence against oneself
EDWIN SHNEIDMAN not only argues “that the usual stimulus for suicide is unbearable psychic pain”. He even creates the word psychic pain for his standard work “Suicide as Psychache“. He mentions frustrated psychological needs as the cause of this pain. His attempt to define these needs in more detail, is not very successful. From a large list of over twenty possibilities (to MURRAY) only the term “Succorance” (“support”) seems to be conclusive in our context.
“Support: This means to satisfy needs via the empathetic help of another person. Being cared for, supported, sustained, protected, loved, counseled, guided, pampered, forgiven, comforted and cared for. Being close to a devoted protector. To have someone to support me.” (How complicated, when the simple word love is only indirectly available as one of many adverbs.)
roots of violence
Acts of “blind” – psychologically induced – violence, i.e. violence not triggered by the immediate need for existential physical or psychological self-defense, are basically not directed against partners, children or any “enemies”, but against the parents.
I have come to believe that acts of blind violence, in the sense of the thesis, are ultimately directed against the parents. These in turn, as executors of socially sanctioned educational tasks act in the interest of socialization.
They pass on – often without hesitation – what they themselves have witnessed, they create the “field of secondary influences within the framework of the clan” from which the primary self of the child in its openness cannot escape.
Family – basis of violence
The hidden and up to now largely tabooed violence within the family most likely forms the broad base of the violence pyramid. UDO RAUCHFLEISCH has listed in his book “Omnipresence of Violence” an abundance of relevant examples and statistics.
DORNES writes in the context of children affected by violence:
“The problem of abused children and patients is usually not that they fantasize or confabulate a trauma that did not occur, but rather that in their fantasies they deny a trauma that did occur in real life.
The reversal of this denial by acknowledging the reality of the traumatization in many cases is the crucial turning point in treatment.” – “…the significant association between these traumas and later severe psychopathologies such as dissociality, prostitution and drug addiction … points to the great importance of this repressive behavior.”
If they have sufficient vitality, there is a probability that these “early abused” will become xenodestructive. The majority however, will have their spines broken once and for all, thus surrendering to their fate as tamed parts of the great silent majority.
Violence and GUILT
In studies of violent men, a lawful spiral of violence emerges: if underlying conflicts are not addressed but bypassed and avoided, there is no possibility of taking personal responsibility for one’s behavior.
Instead, a feeling of guilt sets in, more or less consciously. In order to “redeem” oneself from this, a vicious circle of unexpected violent breakthrough, intensified feeling of guilt, renewed defense and new violent breakthrough etc. is set in motion.
Instead of clarifying the “guilt” in open discussion and debate and, if possible, getting to its roots, these perpetrators delude themselves that “it” will not happen again – they believe it themselves – until “it” does happen again. Thus the feelings of guilt increase, more energy is bound to this complex. New violence discharges the accumulated energy and brings temporary emotional relief, similar to what happens via compensatory sexual acts.
In the enumeration of this behavior, the early sexual “guiltiness” appears which declared masturbation to be a sin. There, too, “it” should not happen again and yet it has happened again and again – the greater the effort, the more futile the outcome.
To reinforce and accelerate the socialization process, children are taught as early as possible to control their excitement and to feel disgust, guilt and shame at the natural bodily manifestations.
SIGMUND FREUD in 1915 reexamined people who had committed criminal acts such as theft, fraud, and arson during adolescence and pre-puberty.
At the time of the analysis, they had succeeded in socially readjusting themselves:
“The analytical work then brought the surprising result that such acts were carried out mainly because they were forbidden and because their execution was associated with a psychic relief for the perpetrator. He suffered from an oppressive consciousness of guilt of unknown origin and after he had committed an offense, the pressure was relieved. The sense of guilt was at least housed somewhere.“
DONALD WINNICOTT adds:
“Although FREUD refers to later stages of human development, what he writes applies to children as well. … The first (type of antisocial behavior) is widespread and closely associated with the ordinary naughtiness of healthy children.
It shows itself in stealing, lying, in destructiveness and bed-wetting. Repeatedly we find that these actions represent an unconscious attempt to make sense of a feeling of guilt. The child or adult cannot get at the source of his unbearable feeling of guilt and the fact that the feeling of guilt cannot be explained creates a sense of madness.
The antisocial person creates a sense of relief for himself by imagining a limited offense that resembles only in a hidden way the offense in the repressed fantasy that belongs to the original Oedipus complex.”
Instead of seeing that basically it is not the so-called antisocial person who is ill, (who must first create a cause for his feelings of guilt because he is not aware of any true guilt – i.e. that he is secondarily ill) but the society acting through parental education, WINNICOTT supports the idea of the Oedipus guilty complex. This is despite the fact that the relevant ideas could only emerge due to the cascade of repression.
When children are deprived or withheld parental attention for reasons they cannot empathize with (love deprivation / i.e. loss of love), they often do not dare to express their rage over the loss due to fear of further loss of love and thus diffuse guilt feelings arise.
Once anxiety and tension associated with this vague feeling have reached a certain intensity, these children prefer to “clear the air”: they commit an act that they know is forbidden. In doing so, they are guilty “before themselves”, similar to what GAETANO BENEDETTI has described in connection with behaviors of serious sexual offenders. At the same time they “excuse” their educators. – The victim exonerates the perpetrator by making himself the perpetrator.
Violence by CHILDREN and ADOLESCENTS
The causes of increasing violence by children and adolescents are multifactorial. A central motive undoubtedly is fear; accordingly, violence should be seen as a cry for help, a flee forward.
This is not unique to the U.S., where this fear is well-founded; after all, young people between the ages of twelve and fifteen are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than old people! In general, more and more young people feel threatened by the outside world and often by the violence they experience within their families.
Violence and the need for space
That violence and the need for space are closely related has been widely documented, apart from CALDOUN’s rat experiment mentioned earlier.
In a large WHO study, it is shown that not only old-age suicidality but also juvenile vandalism increases parallel to the number of floors on which the subjects live in metropolitan high-rise buildings.
Space alone however, is not enough for children to live out their creative energy. Without material, without stones, sand and trees and especially without animals and fellow human beings, the medium through which they can express themselves is missing. The work with perceptually disturbed children according to FELICIE AFFOLTER shows that children who in the early phase have experienced too little physical opposition (among other things in the embrace), perceive soft materials as threatening. Only hard devices provide them with sufficient support, including, if necessary, a misappropriated baseball bat.
In ambiguous situations curiosity – which rises from an important basic need in children and adolescents – may be a cause of violent actions. Ripping off the legs and wings of beetles and “seeing what happens” would then be a harmless youthful sin; however, the combination with feelings of revenge results in a dangerous potential for violence.
Violence in the Media
There is no doubt today that violence on television makes the situation worse. This probably has a double background:
On the one hand, violence is propagated in the media as a problem-solving strategy. This alone is reason enough for concern in view of the great influenceability of young viewers and the enormous suggestibility of the “reality of television”.
A second factor is even more worrisome:
The virtual world appears so real that it becomes increasingly impossible for children and adolescents, who are more and more externally determined and thus no longer self-referential, to distinguish what is played from what is real.
This is true to an even more pronounced degree for video games:
In certain games, the person who has killed the most people gets the most points. Thus, on the one hand, the most heinous crimes become commonplace, on the other hand, everyone knows that it’s just a game, that the blood shown is really just ketchup from a tube, that dead people participate already in the next film cheerfully again …
Parents of youthful victims of violence, who are seeking a ban on the production of these games in the U.S. courts, speak of murder schools. DAVE GROSSMAN, a longtime and respected Army psychologist, speaks of a school for mass murder.
In his exceedingly thorough monograph “On Killing, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” GROSSMANN proves that the psychic ban against killing the same kind is originally very high in humans as well.
To break through the killing taboo succeeds only if preventive suppressive measures are taken as early as possible (i.e. already with young people) starting a mix of drill, group pressure, authority and victory morale. The conclusion that GROSSMANN drew 1995 from his extensive studies over many years (already stated in the title of his work) should be required reading not only in murder-ridden America, but throughout the world: In an uncanny way, programming methods originally conceived for purely military purposes have taken on a life of their own via the enormous impact of media and computer games.
In front of the television, emotional energy is repressed with soft drinks and peanuts; together with other “discount brands”, they pile up into an explosive brew.
A study in the canton of Zurich/Switzerland shows that about a quarter of children and adolescents have one or more psychic or behavioral disorders. Thereby boys are affected twice as often as their psychologically more stable colleagues.
The Carousel of Violence
The typical characteristics of the carousel of violence are evident: The greater the psychological pressure and the unpredictability of parents, the greater the perceived competitive pressure between classmates as well as the perceived control and the pressure on the teacher to perform, the more attention problems as well as anxiety and depressed mood increase.
The lower the self-esteem, the more likely the mood is to turn into aggressivity. This is especially true for boys, as they have a stronger tendency than girls of the same age to avoid problems. They often pass on the principles of the pecking order to “even weaker ones”. Experiences which they have observed at home and experienced on their own bodies.
The increasing pressure on young people to perform and distinguish themselves leads the less successful ones to see violent behavior as a suitable way to stand out.
“Violence is fun” !?
This “trademark” of hooligans and skinheads formulates an extreme form of violence. The behavior is not inexplicable: their own psychic pain is expressed in the victim’s pain in a projected form; the perpetrators themselves were often victims of child abuse.
These grossly pathological forms of violence, also expressed by misguided excited love as rape of the partner or in spectacular sado-masochistic practices, are extreme forms of behavior that are widespread in a socially accepted form – in the individual as well as collectively.
Two world wars, hardly to be surpassed in their brutality, have not succeeded in making the renunciation of violence appear necessary. “Never war again!” slogans, peace marches and the United Nations have done little to change that. Since wars have been waged not only in video games but also in the media-effective global reality (at the click of a mouse from the safety of a desk), violence is obviously fun for many more people – violence as the experience of personal power, leading to increased self-esteem of the frustrated secondary self.