Most of us would never look at a tiny baby and predict that he or she would be destined to be a terrorist or murderer. We all hear that children have to be taught to hate. We also hear that those who are bullied bully. Those who were abused become abusers. Although these generalizations are not always true, there certainly is a measure of validity to such thinking. There is enough truth here that in combination with scientific research, we can generalize that the seeds of violence for human beings may come from violence inflicted
upon our vulnerable little ones. As we know each person’s unique garden and how those seeds were planted and the trajectory of their violent expressions, we definitely see that a common pattern of early abuse often results in abusive people. I have explored these ‘gardens’ through the years with individuals who have lived with the results of early trauma. I have talked to hundreds of violent people for almost 45 years and have struggled greatly with how we reach them and how to diminish this violent expression from within them. There are also those infants born with a damaged brain or physiology that makes them more susceptible to violent responses and possibly even predisposed beyond their control. When we look at those who create terror among others in the world, we have the tendency to think that it sometimes has to do with their promotion and advocacy of an issue. But what if we look at terrorism as another one of the many manifestations of violence in mankind. Violence might be seen as it has been erupting towards others in many ways from tiny children’s temper tantrums, or as bullying, gang banging, murder, rioting, familial abuse, misuse of social and financial power, and even societal destruction. All have roots within the individual as fear and even terror. There often is not an issue to be seen in their present day life to logically and fully explain their actions, especially given the usual consequences of extreme actions of violence. To look instead at the roots of violence, in all the ways that it manifests from early trauma, is to better understand all human beings when they are suffering. Even in healthy, highly functioning people, we see that anger has little rhyme nor reason in the present. Without a reservoir of their past pain, present day stressors are far more easily managed. Mostly, anger is early pain exploding outwards onto others or towards oneself. We see that seeds of trauma and suffering may produce different fruit, but the process of human beings becoming violent beings is pretty similar the world over and has been throughout time. Looking at the roots A preface…even though someone’s violent actions are a result of trauma inflicted upon them, the victim, it does not mean that their dangerousness can be ignored or that their violence is not a cause for appropriate security and consequences. Security measures must be taken because undoing early anger responses is not easy. Sometimes, rageful and abusive people are not safe to release into society until they are reliably healed. And, early trauma is not the only precursor to violent behaviors but it is significant. No matter what the etiology, when people are violent and dangerous, we must protect them and others from their rage. Here are some clues about how to intervene in young lives before they become bullies, killers, abusers, and, perhaps, terrorists championing any one of many causes. 2 The brain template is the potential foundation for the rest of the life of each person. When a child is born, their genetically predisposed brain and physiology is a template of potential laid down for their future. Everyone has gifts and obstacles on the road of life. Beginning with that initial union of their parent’s DNA, there will be likelihoods of expression that might be enhanced by life or be a trip-wire for horror. We do know of experiments showing a possible sociopathy gene, but we also know that some have that gene and it was never expressed in their life. We are learning a lot about life acting on and activating genetic predisposition. That little ovum begins right away building its' brain structure. The brain takes this genetic material and then its' creation is influenced by its' multi-faceted environment within mom. Perhaps, they have a stressful womb experience because mom lives in fear. Does mom drink, smoke or do drugs? We truly know that even in the first few weeks, and even worse, throughout her pregnancy, if mom drinks or ingests toxins, the developing fetus suffers brain trauma. What can build on that initial template is different if mom introduces handicapping substances. The child will never have the benefits in life it inherited if that early template is damaged by alcohol and other cell destroying substances. Even if not a major factor, toxins in early development may bring about a brain where anger is expressed as a dominant part of their personality, but they originally had the potential to have a more peaceful personality. Ideally, we want a mom to live in peace to provide optimal fetal brain development. We hope for all infants that she eats a healthy diet, gets her exercise and is happy. The best of one’s genetic start is enhanced in this way. Also, with that good and healthy head start, if other traumas unfold later in childhood, a young one will have more resilience to handle difficulties and to ameliorate stressful events. Some of these events might be inflicted on the child by parents and some might be totally unpredictable. Everyone would agree that when an infant is born, living in a home with molds or lead paint and other toxins can cause harm to the brain and biochemistry. We also know that a chaotic home with abandoning, inattentive parents, hearing yelling and screaming a good bit of the time, or experiencing mom and siblings’ fears because of a terrorizing dad will also influence a newborn. Along with the effects on body, brain, and biochemistry, such influences also model for a baby that this is how to be a human being in their family. They deeply embed such relational influences within as the way to react to life. They are imprinted with messages about how to be in relationships and how to bond to others. All these influences prune the rapidly developing brain as the baby grows. They grow a brain that will help them survive such challenges. They grow a brain that helps handle great stress and emotional violence. And, they learn from caregivers how to react to those stressors and to those they love. If we add a greater level of trauma to the life of a child, such as extreme emotional, physical and sexual abuse, we have a life-long and deeply-coded response to fear that influences the development of all body systems. Such constant fear directly corrupts brain development hampering its' ability to evolve in ways that allow the infant to become a healthy being who could have loved and related to others in lifeaffirming ways for all. Tragically, their brain develops irrevocably differently than normal in response to such trauma. It will be very hard for this child to ever see the world in any way other than that which they experience in this early world as a constant threat to their life. Fearfully vulnerable and always 3 hyper-vigilant to those who would hurt them, their brain focuses primarily on how to survive these horrific challenges. For those of you who have not experienced such levels of trauma, it might be hard to imagine what some children go through. Everyone has had trauma in their lives. For vulnerable children however, when those who are supposed to care for them become the ones who deliver a constant threat to their lives, hearts and souls, they are never free of panic. They must get up and face such threats day after day and there is no choice but to just do it. There is no escape. This is incomprehensible to most of us. I have heard stories of violence inflicted on children, often by family members or those the family knows, that healthy people could not imagine. This does not happen just in the families that look like they are dysfunctional and damaged families. Some tragically violent families are pillars of the community. They are people with power and resources. Many violent parents hold themselves up in visible roles as models for all to follow. Some are the families with the mentally ill or addicted parent, those in great poverty or distress, and those that come from cultural backgrounds where accepted practices are in truth, abusive. But, abuse can happen in any family anywhere in the world. Studies are now indicating that sexually abused children who have been victims of a family abuser for many years suffer greater post-traumatic stress than a soldier who has served in a war zone of great terrors. Abused children may have suffered from one or many traumas along a spectrum of challenging stressors: abandonment, a lack of bonding love, and/or outright emotional, physical and sexual abuse. These children started out with a horrific inner wound that they must live with and compensate for before ever being able to hopefully create a somewhat successful and happy life. Their terror and lifethreatening fear spawns anxiety and rage and self-protection …usually manifest in ways that are ageappropriate to when the trauma was first happening to them. They are forever stuck developmentally at that age in life when abuse began. Depending on the beneficial forces that might have ameliorated some of the negatives, or on some parenting or teachings that offered self-esteem, self-care, and self-soothing, they may have a resilient capacity to grow beyond the multifaceted effects of the abuse. I have seen some who were able to develop a life of intellectual, social, athletic, musical, artistic, financial or other successes. Perhaps, they found they could wall off their early pain…for a time. Often what they found were ways to keep the trauma in check, but it lived as a shadow in their emotional closet. The locked closet door was an addiction or some sublimation that allowed an alternative expression to the pain and rage. But, when the rage and pain begins to leak out, which it most often does, their lives unravel. Often their personality structure is built around the hiding of their great wound and it has a very rocky foundation. A fragile life may be brought down by stress or challenges that pierce the great wound. Lucky children have someone recognize their pain when they are still young. Hopefully they are guided to therapy and support so that they might begin healing. The healthiest people that I have known that have made it to adulthood find their own way to therapy to begin to uncover and release their pain. But many go through very hard emotional and often self-defeating times, despite their successes. At some point, a tragic break reveals their wound and it must be dealt with. 4 Most that I have known lived a continuum of the expression of their rage, pain and despair of their wounding. Many children manifest their violation and fear very early through illness, learning and developmental difficulties, depression and anxiety, alienation from family, joining marginalized others, getting into trouble, doing dangerous activities, turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other self-destructive addictive behaviors, and in other ways and every way, obviously crying for help. Sadly, especially if the abuse is covered up in a dysfunctional family structure where all participate, the child who is manifesting symptoms of abuse is seen as crazy and bad. They are alienated from family, unloving as it is, and often alienated from healthy kids because they are ‘weird’, or they become outright, violent bullies themselves. It is hard to love these prickly kids and they find no solace or support for their pain. Most teens find themselves acting out and ending up in the legal system. Again, many are susceptible to addictions of many sorts and self-destructive patterns. Many repeat in various forms the abuse that was done to them. Many end up in prison and never find the ability to function in freedom ever again in their lives. Some cultures, sects or family structures are organized around violence that has become enculturated for many generations. Such widespread family and community sanctioned patterns of violence, give children a pathway to function successfully as they perpetuate what will be the next generation of abuse in that limited world. The abuse is invisible within those families and communities and maybe even cultures in such multi-generational structures because it is a life-style. Only up against other families or cultures does the violence appear to be aberrant. Perhaps the life-style is supported by their interpretation of an ideology and/or an agenda of power and pursuit of cultural goals. This justification of their enculturated violence might even leave many dead or destroyed in their wake, but it is still, at the root, violence and abuse, destroying the lives of children and the vulnerable. Others who do not have such a path writ large for them to follow, might be enticed by a path to legitimatize or to pursue their raging actions with a psychologically acceptable justification. They may join with others who bond together in a cause or belief system. In aligning with such an ideology, they feel empowered and justified. They might find a gang, or a religious affiliation, or a cause. They are no longer alone and they can rage and terrorize with justifiable and self-righteous permission. Their ego is enhanced and they feel they are one of the good guys bringing about the dream of their fellow crusaders. Instead of feeling like a victim, they are identified with the power of the abuser but as a champion and one of the esteemed. Others may stay loners for life, living lives of violent crime, hurting others in many ways, maybe in prisons or in the shadows, but always consumed by and acting from their deepest wounds at the least provocation. They may live forever lost with the dysfunctional life of an addict or on the fringes, never engaging with others or satisfactorily expressing any of their life’s deepest gifts. They have been tragically left for dead since their abuse. We can see that at the root of all of our stories are people struggling with early, profound unresolved pain. In talking to them, I know that most are desperately looking for a means to let it out in some way – either towards themselves or others. Most are longing always for the pain to go away and to heal. Are there answers that will reach them and bring them healing? 5 First, most cannot heal alone. There must be human contact that feels safe and gives them someone to hold onto so that they may begin to find a path to healing. Those that reach out to them cannot attack them for their chosen venue of expression. They will just switch to another justification or route of expression. Their chosen means of releasing rage is lifesaving to them. To take that away, no matter how heinous, we are perceived as trying to sever that connection to their life support. To draw great attention to the terror of their raging campaign or the morals and ethics of their actions, might well feed their very fragile self-esteem and tell them how important and powerful they are. They will become all the more attached to their righteous indignation when someone demeans this very important ideology or mission. They already have many ways to dismiss or disparage those who judge them, and unless they respect the person who is guiding them, you will only fuel their defense mechanisms. Only when they are ready to give up their rage will they conceptually be able to embrace other more constructive ideological paths or to understand that their behaviors are hurtful to others. They can learn to value others rather than their pain being the totality of their focus. We must help them to build a foundation and a gradual path to trust and healing. Then we can help them to release their deep pain. This takes a long time and true support while they are healing. We can mirror to them who they truly are. Slowly and gently, we can help them to build an inner core of self caring. Then we allow them to work their way back to the trauma, handling only small, bite-sized pieces at a time, while being careful to not re-traumatize them by pushing them to talk about their pain. We can give them vehicles to release the trauma that offer them integration opportunities, such as art work or writing, through which they can see their inner clarity and the beauty of their creativity, no matter how gruesome the topic might be. Know that as they heal, they will be growing developmentally, intellectually, emotionally, and in their life skill capacities. We can help them to conceptualize and understand this evolution as it gradually occurs. One can encourage an acceptance of the ways that they may never be healed or be normal, but give them emotionally patterning that they can emulate, even though those behaviors may never be easy or natural for them. We can encourage them to engage in meditation, compassion practice, physical skills like yoga, music, art, and other means of employing their new growth in self-realization and learn new ways to bring themselves into harmony, equanimity and balance. The healer or practitioner must rest in compassion and acceptance as much as possible, despite the horrors of how the individual has lived their life. Then we guide them through their dark and soul-killing path that they have survived as best that they could. A good life can be found for those damaged in their early years. To do this, we must also create a society of compassion that will enable this healing rather than perpetuate their violence and a society of violence.