Part 4: Violence Within and Without.
SINCE THE BOSTON MARATHON . . .
The Boston Marathon Bombings were tragic – for everyone. Not just for those who were killed and injured. Not just for those who lost people dear to them. Not just for those who were walking or eating or studying nearby. Not just for that day. And not just for that week. It was tragic for all of us near and far. It was tragic not only in its occurrence but in its aftermath, too.
Whether you’ve watched the news, listened to the news, read the news via hard copy or internet, talked with people, witnessed and experienced events first hand . . . here’s what we’ve seen and experienced most frequently, most consistently, most openly since April 15, the day of the bombing.
Yes, we’ve seen courageous, quick-thinking, quick-acting people tend to the injured, even save people. We’ve seen people help those who have been hurt and traumatized. We’ve seen people act lovingly towards each other. But as the shock just began to wear off, we began to see also . . . defenses against the pain and fear rising and growing. The face Boston presented was Boston Strong – we’re tough – “they can’t keep us down.” Resiliency is a true and needed gift, individually and communally. But not hardened as a mask against vulnerability. They showed people rising above the vulnerability of the experience, above the real feelings to the defensive feelings, postures, and actions. And there was a lot of finger pointing, blame, and hatred, not just in Boston, but definitely in and around Boston. According to someone dear to me living in the Boston area, people were vicious and blood thirsty . . . people in public, people in the workplace, people on the media. Not all people, but so many! It was like a re-run of post 9/11 – the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” And instead of feeling the grief and vulnerability and allowing it to be the place from which we moved forward, turning someone into the enemy, building defenses, and fighting. Instead of finding out what is our responsibility and what is someone else’s and holding both accountable – pointing our fingers outward at someone and spewing hatred and blame at them . . . at as many others as we need to in order to not look at ourselves and our own responsibility.
Of what I heard, there was one sane voice in the crowd in the aftermath of the bombings. That of Tom Brokaw. On Meet the Press the Sunday afterward, he said that we need to get to the roots of it; we need to look at our part; we need to see the part that our drones play in the feelings others have toward us and the actions they take; and we need to use this opportunity for all of us to take part in a discussion about violence in our culture. Thank you, Tom Brokaw! It’s a good start. A brave start. Saying things that when said by others caused them to be attacked for being unpatriotic. But you have the credibility and respect to say it and pull it off. Although . . . there wasn’t very much said about your having said it. Except in a couple places I saw, it was kind of buried underground.
Still you said it, Tom. And I do thank you. But we have so much further to go. I wish you would join with me, Tom, to help people go farther, go deeper. For if we don’t go to the roots – even deeper roots than you were speaking about – we will just have more of the same. We will just see more of the same. We will just create more of the same.
I want to give credit to Noam Chomsky, too. Though two plus weeks later, he said it again, in an Alternet article on May 2. He said it a little differently . . . even more graphically:
“On April 23, Yemeni activist and journalist Farea Al-Muslimi, who had studied at an American high school, testified before a US Senate committee that right after the marathon bombings, a drone strike in his home village in Yemen killed its target.
“The strike terrorized the villagers, turning them into enemies of the United States – something that years of jihadi propaganda had failed to accomplish.
“‘His neighbors had admired the US,’ Al-Muslimi told the committee, but ‘Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.’”
I say to you also, Noam . . . Thank you. But . . . we have so much further to go. Please join with me to help people go deeper. For if we don’t go to the real roots, we will just have more of the same. We will just see more of the same. We will, to our own disbelief and horror, create more of the same. And we will continue to believe it is outside our control . . . disconnected from us.
Because we are so disconnected from ourselves.
The violence has been increasing. It has already been expanding and escalating. Look what’s been in the news since the Boston Marathon tragedy:
Jodi Arias was convicted of the first degree murder of her ex-boyfriend. Ariel Castro was caught for kidnapping, raping, holding captive, and torturing three teenage girls. Jeffrey Krusinski, head of U.S. Air Force sexual assault prevention unit was charged himself with sexual battery for allegedly groping a woman in a parking lot. Sexual abuse in the public amongst citizens; sexual abuse in our military; sexual abuse in our religious communities was revealed in the Catholic Church long ago; and sexual abuse in our politics and government. That isn’t all. But that in itself shows the pervasiveness of violence – in this case sexual violence – that occurs in our society . . . not just in and by “those people out there.” People in another country, another state, another community, another ethnicity or culture, another family. But also sometimes in people close to us and in us, too.
In fact, it could be anyone. A doctor, lawyer, teacher, minister, priest, rabbi, banker, government official, world leader. A father, mother, brother, sister; aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather . . . In fact, it could be anyone who was abusing and anyone who was abused. In the 1950’s, there was a Miss America named Marilyn Van Derbur. She was from an upstanding family in Denver, Colorado, with a father who was a pillar of the community – a philanthropist, socialite, businessman, and board member. Some years later it was discovered that he had sexually abused Marilyn and her sister, Gwen, for years. (Her two other sisters have declined comment.) She had completely split that part of her daily experience off from her conscious awareness. So . . . anyone could have been abused. Anyone could be being abused. Anyone could abuse others. That is to say that anyone could have violence in his/her experience or potential.
Here are some more examples since the Boston Marathon bombings:
The police were caught – this time in Baltimore, Maryland – once again brutalizing someone – in this case, a woman who filmed their abuse, while her 2 year old child looked on, all alone in the car; the police threatened to take the woman’s daughter away, and refused to call the woman’s mother to take care of the child.
A man in Washington State, in ongoing dispute with his neighbors, bulldozed their homes down and cut the power to thousands in the community for up to 12 hours. Neighbors said that he could be the kindest person and in seconds turn on you. How many people could say that about one of their parents?
There are reports that the suicide rate in the US has jumped . . . sky rocketed. For example, the rate has jumped from 1999 to 2010 for 35- to 64-year olds: an increase of 50% for men in their 50’s and an increase of 60% for women between 60 and 64.
The numbers on child abuse in the US are staggering. Approximately 681,000 children were victims of maltreatment (unique instances) in 2011 alone. More than 78% of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim’s parents.*
According to Unicef: “A small group of countries – Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland and Norway – appear to have an exceptionally low incidence of child maltreatment deaths; Belgium, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Hungary and France have levels that are four to six times higher. The United States, Mexico and Portugal have rates that are between 10 and 15 times higher than those at the top of the league table.”**
In the home: There are 35 countries in which corporal punishment of children by their parents is outlawed. The United States of America is not among them. And none of the states in the U.S. has prohibited corporal punishment outright, although as the result of the wording of its child abuse laws in 2012, Delaware has effectively, though subtly, “banned” it.***
In the school: There are 113 countries prohibiting corporal punishment in schools. The United States of America is not among them. **** In US schools, 30 states have banned any form of corporal punishment. But that means there are still 20 states in our country that allow corporal punishment in school. ***** Of course just because a law is passed, doesn’t mean it’s followed in the privacy of a home, or less so of a school; and it doesn’t mean that law is held in high esteem.
It is 2013, and there is only a single state in the United States of America that has legally banned the corporal punishment of children in their homes by their parents! It is 2013, and there are still 20 states in the U.S. that allow corporal punishment of children in schools! The meaning of this goes deeper than most people can or perhaps want to imagine. But we all need to imagine and know.
So many of us in the US consider ourselves so civilized – individually and as a country. And yet, we inflict such violence – by commission or omission – upon our children. And violence inflicted upon children ends up coming back to haunt not only the children themselves, but also our society . . . and our world. Not only today, but for generations and generations to come. I was going to say, the violence haunts those in contact with the children once they’ve grown. But it seems the children are acting out the violence younger and younger as time goes on. Look at just a few of the most widely known violent events by young people in the past months:
* Adam Lanza, age 20, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut.
* High school football players in Steubenville, Ohio rape, photograph, and transmit the photos of a 16 year old girl they “handled” like a mere object.
* Three 16-year olds from Saratoga, California, raped 15-year old, Audrie Pott, photographed the attack and spread the photos online and off; Audrie killed herself.
*12-year old Bailey O’Neill, died after being brutally beaten by bullies in his school in Philadelphia.
Not only is the violence escalating and expanding and coming more and more out into the light of day . . . the ways of helping people deal with their experiences of violence are being distorted and constricted. The kind of therapy that could help deeply heal what has created the violence and what is now creating the violence is being pushed aside in the U.S. by the APA, NIMH,****** and the prevalence and encouragement of short-term, “quick fix” therapies that help people “just function” and “just manage” their symptoms, in lieu of uncovering and revealing the cause and healing to the root.
With so much violence escalating in such a short time, we need to look back to ourselves…
Too many of us just turn away and don’t deal with the violence . . . don’t take in that it’s occurring and growing. Don’t look to see the cause, or to resolve it. Yes, it’s painful, but we can’t just ignore it. We can’t just hide from it. We can’t just bury it again and again.
At the same time, so many of us find ourselves riveted to the television reports of violence, while simultaneously bemoaning the violence we’re seeing. Pointing to the “perpetrators” and calling them “the evil ones” and “the monsters.” Even supposed television “psychological experts” acknowledged that Castro in the Cleveland tragedy must have been horrifically abused and sexually abused as a child, yet insisted he is “a monster.” In fact one purported expert, used “monster” as his “diagnosis” for Castro. Even the experts, like the one mentioned above, feed the violence – blaming others and not taking responsibility for their own part in the violence in our country and in our world.
Have you ever wondered why you are so riveted to the reports about the violence? It is because of the violence within ourselves. The violence we experienced as little children, up close and personal and also nearby – whether on the television, in the neighborhood, in our country. It is because of the violence we experienced in relation to our own families, our own parents – even our own mothers. It is because of the wounds still alive within us related to violence somehow, but rooted in our earliest experiences.
The riveting is because of the meanness, the cruelty, the abusiveness, the violence . . . that was normalized one way or another, in our homes and in our culture. A few examples: I’m not being mean; you’re just too sensitive. How else am I supposed to control you? Get you to do what you’re supposed to do? I wouldn’t have to discipline you, if you would be a good boy/girl. This is how we do things here. Turning things around against the child. Blaming it on one’s “job” as a parent. Doing it under a guise, like “discipline.” Citing the laws and mores of the culture. You can’t imagine how many conversations I hear or hear about where people are justifying their yelling at, spanking, hitting, pinching, their children. Verbal, emotional, physical, and spiritual violence, too – all accepted, all excused, all dismissed as okay in “our world.” This kind of violence causes a child to shut down his/her feelings, burying them, giving them a place to fester and become violence later in the child’s life.
That riveting is because of violence within . . . unresolved. If we can look at the violence outside us and keep our attention on it . . . we don’t have to focus on the violence within us. The violence that perhaps we experienced or witnessed as children. Some of it conscious and some of it buried in our unconscious minds, our hearts, our bodies. And the violence we feel in response. Some of it conscious and some not conscious at all. Some of it we may have acted out in our lives; some of it we may fantasize; some of it we may try to keep from acting on; and some of it we may one day act out . . . harming ourselves and others.
Whatever our individual relationship with violence – past and present – we need to explore and heal it to the root. Otherwise, it will create our relationship with violence in the future. It will create our individual relationship with violence. And it will participate in co-creating our communal relationship with violence in the future. It will show up somehow – subtly or blatantly – in our violence with our children, our partner, our peers, our selves . . . with everyone in our world. And if we don’t heal this to the root . . . we will get caught in a vicious cycle of escalating violence. We already are caught in that vicious cycle. But we are not yet so caught that we can’t free ourselves. We need to extricate ourselves from the cycle of violence in a healthy way – by healing it one by one by one in those who have experienced violence in their childhood – and to dissolve that cycle fully.
This is not about people who are deemed “mentally ill.” This is about all of us. We all need to pay attention. If we don’t pay attention, we will continue to feed the cycle of violence, individually and on a large scale. We will continue to be wounded, violent people; we will continue to “create” wounded, violent people, and we will continue to create a wounded, violent society and a wounded, violent world.
If you grow up with violence – blatant or subtle cruelty – you will have within you many feelings, including anger and hatred, both of which are feelings that are warranted in those situations. Both of which need safe expression for your health. Neither of which can cause any harm if they are simply felt and safely expressed. But that kind of feeling and expression is not safe in a family where there is child abuse, violence, and cruelty. Alice Miller talks about this at length in her book For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. There are so many excerpts from her book that I would like to include in this article . . . too many to be possible. But here are three quotes that stand out amongst the crucial understandings she offers:
“Since the path to safe, verbal communication based on a feeling of trust was blocked for them, the only way they were able to communicate with the world was by means of unconscious enactment.” – p. 241 [My note: What she called enactment is also often called “re-enactment” or “acting out.”]
“Not until the end of the drama is reached do these enactments awaken in the world feelings of shock and horror. The public at large unfortunately does not experience such intense feelings upon hearing reports of battered children.” – p. 241 [My note: So . . . the Newtown tragedy got our attention, but the mistreatment of Adam Lanza at his school did not. And in similar manner, Ariel Castro’s kidnapping and raping of three girls and particularly their escape, got our attention, but the abuse Ariel Castro suffered at the hands of his parents and the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an uncle when he was young . . . did not get our attention. We need to see this in individual cases, but also in the societal norms, when the patterns of child abuse don’t get our attention until they are somehow acted out in horrific enactments.]
“For parents to be aware of what they are doing to their children, they would also have to be aware of what was done to them in their own childhood. But this is exactly what was forbidden them as children. If access to this knowledge is cut off, parents can strike and humiliate their children or torment and mistreat them in other ways, without realizing how they are hurting them; they simply are compelled to behave this way.” – p. 262 [My note: If we hide our own young experience in our own unconscious – under the guise of idealizations, illusions, normalization, or just plain denial – we also hide our cruelty toward our children behind those same walls of silence and defenses against pain.]
Going back to last month’s Mother’s Day newsletter article and looking ahead to Father’s Day in the month of June. . . This is what a loving mother or father would teach us. And the most loving thing a mother or father can do. They would do their own inner healing work with their experience of violence . . . with a commitment so strong that nothing would get them to break it. Although painful, they would want to know and work through their own childhood experiences of violence. Although painful, they would want to know and do their part to work through the consequences that their childhood experience of violence had on others in their life later.
Truly loving parents would want to help us see our experience of violence and our acts of violence, as well. Truly loving parents wouldn’t just – under the guise of love – let us keep up our hardened defenses against our early experiences of violence, and wouldn’t just – under the guise of love – let us keep up our own acts of violence, however subtle or blatant, and be silent about it. Truly loving parents wouldn’t just use a mask of love to “make” us feel good about ourselves, instead of truthfully bringing us face to face with the parts of ourselves that need healing and with the real fulfillment that can come from our being willing to heal.
Truly loving parents are self-responsible parents and teach us to be self-responsible. Truly loving parents would offer to help us see ourselves and our need to heal . . . and love us through the healing. They would join truth and love together. Without real truth, love is just a wishy-washy imitation. And truth can be just a brutal battering, a form of violence in itself, if we don’t join it with love. Truly loving parents join love and truth together and love us through wherever it leads us in our healing and our becoming our fullest, most positive potential self. . . . individually and communally.
© Judith Barr, 2013
MY NOTE: After I wrote this article, but before I posted it, the tornados in the mid-west occurred. So many died in them. And so many children died in the tornado in Oklahoma. It is tragic. My heart breaks for everyone who suffered from the tornados. I send many blessings.
My heart also breaks for this: Why do so many parents feel the vulnerability of their children when they go through a tragedy like the tornado or like Newtown, but don’t feel their children’s vulnerability on a daily basis in their own homes . . . where they yell at their children, ridicule their children, spank their children, or otherwise do harm to these same children? If your heart breaks when I ask this question, I encourage you to reread this article. I encourage you to re-read the quotes from Alice Miller. I encourage you to read Alice Miller’s book. And I encourage you to find a therapist who can help you reconnect with your own vulnerability in your childhood and heal the wounds you experienced and affect you and those around you still today.
* At the time this article was initially published, The National Children’s Alliance posted the statistics for 2011 mentioned in this article. They have since removed that page. You may view the most recent statistics (2013 and 2014), which are alarmingly similar, here: https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/media-kit/national-statistics-child-abuse.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
TO HELP MAKE YOUR AND OUR WORLD SAFE . . .
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
This month, commit to helping end the cycle of violence in our lives and in our world, by beginning to explore your own involvement in the cycle of violence – both conscious and unconscious. By beginning to explore your own history with violence – both receiving it and acting it out. By beginning to explore your own currents of thoughts and feelings of violence within your psyche. Or if you’ve already begun, by taking the next step.
How do you feel when you hear reports of violent events that have happened in our world? Do you join in the castigation of the perpetrator . . . the labeling and naming of the person as a “monster”? What do you do with the fear, sorrow, anger or hatred that wells up within you? Do you act on it? Do you silently indulge it? Do you try to repress it? Or . . . do you try to safely explore and feel it?
This time . . . instead of acting on, indulging, or trying to bury those painful feelings . . . try to trace them back, as far back as you can go in your life. When have you felt that particular ‘flavor” of feeling in your early life? Can you recall the first time you felt that anger? That fear? That sorrow? That hatred? Who in your very young life would you have called a “monster” – if it had been safe for you to do so?
The delicate exploration and healing of the violence and hatred within each of us often requires the help of a trained, professional, integritous, and caring therapist, to help us tease apart the here-and-now feelings from the ancient ones. To help us be and feel safe enough to explore, talk about, and feel. If you need help to heal those currents within and would like to explore doing that with me . . . I would welcome your email.
We can truly heal violence in our world . . . if we are willing and committed to healing the violence within.