Violence Raises Violence
Updated: Nov 3
When acts of violence happen within our communities, its is easy to blame the individuals who commit the crimes, easy to point fingers at social media, pornography, bad influences, violence in video games and films. The real challenge and discomfort is faced when we attempt to look within the family home. But to understand the mental health of a teen who has become violent, this is an essential root that needs looking at if social change and collective healing wants to be achieved.
In this post I am using the term violence to refer to physical or verbal abuse, also emotional violence which could be recognised as guilt-tripping and shaming. This acknowledges that feelings can be weaponized and used against someone. When this happen it can result in someone's mind turning against themselves, resulting in violent self-talk or self harm: ‘I deserve this because I am a bad person’ or ‘I blame myself because I have done a bad thing’. Over time this can erode self-worth, self-respect and in-turn, a persons ability to be open, trust and connect to others with empathy.
Consequence of violence and abuse in the home: When someone experiences violence or abuse from a parent, partner or caregiver, it can result in many feelings and emotions that need to be processed. A victim who becomes reactive in self defense and retaliates with violence or abuse towards a violent or abusive parent, could be experiencing many different internal issues; an overloaded nervous system, a tipping point of tolerance, cognitive dissonance or a survival instinct. It is important for the one with the power, the parent or caregiver, who has a tendency of being violent or abusive to recognise their part in creating a lasting reality of disruption within another person. It is also important to know that the triggered reactive behaviour of the child/teen will become a pattern that could possibly affect their entire life.
To be in any relationship where someone is repeatedly causing you pain, physically, emotionally (both) and we can also include mental pain (stress) and spiritual pain (anguish of the soul), we are likely to experience not just one but a cluster of feelings and emotions in response this situation:
Upset and overwhelm from the pain being caused.
Helplessness and hopelessness from the repetition and our inability to prevent it.
Panic ad worry due to threat or anticipation.
Anger outwardly sent and at oneself for not being able to stop the situation and stand up for yourself as well as the internalise anger that has been projected through the violent or abusive actions.
Stress from the build up of pain and the inability to release the pain and escape the suffering. As well as the ongoing stress of living in an unsafe or unstable environment.
Disappointment that someone you love is treating you this way.
Shock and confusion that this person lacks the awareness that their actions are causing so much pain - this can begin a glitch in the reality which in turn prompts cognitive dissonance: self blame to rationalise the situation, escape through fantasy and a desire to seek connection and soothing through alternative sources.
Sadness which results in low self worth: ‘I do not deserve to feel safe’, ‘I don’t feel understood’, ‘I don’t feel cared for’.
Shame from feeling that you don't deserve love so you must be a bad person. This can also arise through self blaming.
Hate toward the experience that won't stop.
Guilt for feeling hate towards someone or some situation, that can then feed back into shame confirming self-talk. ‘If I hate someone then I must be a bad person’.
If you don't know how to process these feelings,what starts to happen?
Every individual is having a unique experience and so there will be a unique cluster of feelings and emotions linked with each situation. It is true that some people process faster than others and some people are more sensitive so it is not very helpful to take one rule for all and set a standard that should be considered as normal. Some people may feel hurt when others do not, or rather find way to process pain.
This cluster of feelings, if there is no safe way to let them out, will build up and begin to affect someones mental health. If the situation continues over time, at some point the mind and emotional body begin to fragment and survival personalities can form and take over someones identity. These personalities or masks can continue as an expression throughout the teenaged years and into adult life. The wheels are set in motion that the cycle of pain and some form of abuse continues. So the consequence of the violence, abuse and anger of a parent in a family home can have a lasting impact on the quality of the child's life. These disruption can continue into their adult life and have a detrimental impact on relationships and social abilities. When left unmanaged, these behaviour patterns are passed down onto the next generation.
In general, most cases of abuse in the family home tend to be minimise and the impact of violent and/or abuse from a parent left unacknowledged and unspoken about. We can also include negligent behaviour, a parent who is physically present but their attention is constantly focused away from a child (a common cause is too much screen time), can inadvertently be sending similar signals to a child. Disruptive and low value behaviour at home perpetuates the idea that unacceptable actions within relationships are allowed. What is accepted and allowed within the family sets a pattern of what may never be questioned about behaviour expressed by a partner. To step out of these patterns of disruption, it requires behavior modification which is not easy and takes dedication, practice and time but lasting results can be achieved. To take responsibility for ourselves in the relationship we engage in, I believe it is essential to do this work and to grow beyond those patterns of disruption so that young people can learn about respect and consent.
Within the emerging culture of trauma healing, some awareness is given to the holistic nature of a person's experience. Gabor Maté's work explains how our childhood environment and relationships play a huge factor in the formation of trauma and addiction. I feel that social change will come about when individuals have access to education that enables them to address the root causes of personal and collective shadows (unprocessed feelings and emotions). Within the family home education could be provided relating to whole-person development and socially, we can each take some responsibility to shift our collective patterns by doing our inner work.
Speaking to parents: If you have been a parent who has been violent (including emotional, mental and spiritual violence) towards your children, or you are a parent or partner who has a pattern of being abusive or negligent in some way in a relationship: it can begin a healing process of transformation to become aware that the consequence of violent or abusive actions do not end when the temper has calmed and gone away. The consequence of violent or abusive actions, can cause trauma (a cluster of unprocessed feelings) that can impact someone for weeks but more likely years but can also result in a range of other dysfunctional behaviour: avoidance, poor boundaries, emotional repression, anti-social behaviour, isolation, escapism and in the worst cases criminal violence. As a vocal community we are out-raged by the extremes whilst not having open conversations about the spectrum of problems and situations that pass under the radar.
As a child reaches teenage years they are likely to be struggling with some level of emotional pain from childhood and as a parent there is a choice to support someone through that pain or misunderstand the child/teen creating a reality of further alienation. If any abuse or violence continues through the formative teenage years, when the child becomes strong enough or the instincts of the child/teen finds an opportunity to function, a retaliation out of self protection, flight or flight would be a health sign of a functional person. Often a teen will adapt and become a people pleaser or begin to shut down both of these can have insidious effects blocking the emergence of their true nature. It is also usual for the aggression is redirected outwards at others or back into oneself.
At the point when a child/teen fights back or runs away, a parent may feel shocked by the reaction and begin to play the victim. This adds to the breakdown of the relationship as the parent now has permission to exercise a right that the child has never been given. This can add to an increase in intensity of the repressed feelings within the child. In more recent years we are seeing the rise of medication and diagnosis of mental health issues. This seems to be another form of scapegoating: the problem is the child/teen with no examination of their environment. No accountability is taken by the parent for disrupting the development of a whole-person.
As a result we see many coping issues emerging during the teenage years. Self harm, addiction, sexual promiscuity, over-achieving, self abandonment, and possibly the more damaging outcomes is a collapse of the sense of self. This is where the idea of being valued and the desire to be independent has given-up and a life of codependency becomes their fate. Within all of these expressions, the patterns of the parents have successfully made a generational leap and become a condition in the child/teen who is now in a cycle of suffering until therapy and healing can be accessed.
So how can we begin to explore solutions at a collective level?
Accountability in relationships: With the people who we have a desire to repair a relationship with and rebuild trust, it is a requirement to recognise that our actions have had lasting consequences for the other person. This can be really hard to do and is a continual area of development but in my opinion it is an essential practice when parenting as your actions are shaping the formative experience of another being. Accountability can happen through a three step practice: acknowledgement (I recognise that my actions had an impact on you’), emotional validation of the child/teen experience (‘I respect and empathise with how you are feeling’) and curiosity (‘what can I do to rebuild the trust between us?’). Unfortunately it seems common that what usually happens is the shifting of responsibility or denial. As a society we can fall into patterns of moving away from those people who struggle and suffer. Their suffering is a reminder of our own discomfort and possibly the problems that we choose not to face.
I find another good practice to introduce into relationships is checking-in and permission seeking/giving. This stems from the understanding of consent. Asking people we have an impact on: ‘Is it ok for you that I do this?’, ‘Are my actions causing you any problems?’ Whilst affirming - ‘It’s ok to say no, I won’t be offended.’
When we consider introducing these simple statements into our interactions, we start to honor boundaries and the right for someone to give their consent but it also gives us a window of pause to really consider if our actions are necessary, intentional and coming from a place of love. ‘Love is an active process of continually choosing and committing to the growth and well-being of our loved ones.’ Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving,
We can also check-in with others to know which of our actions are challenging and causing the pain. It is an act of love to be able to support someone's needs in the way they request and can fully appreciate you.
The practice of questioning enables self observation. We can identify the ways we are creating not just our own reality but also on the reality of others. In my own unconscious experience, during my addiction I acted in antisocial and disruptive ways. My internalised shame kept me from self reflecting. It was down to childhood pain that I had developed a pattern of escape and shut-down which drove me into isolation and suicidal ideation. As an adult, I have been caught in this pattern to be in isolation with my pain and punish myself from ‘being a bad person’. With self observation we can learn to see how our behavior is having an impact on the world around us.
Making amends with people for those actions which may have impacted them in a detrimental way, is not often a viable solution. But by committing yourself to building your level of awareness and making efforts to restore trust in relationships can change the patterns in our communities even if it is just in some small way. My own ability to relate to others and stay in connection is a continual journey of challenges and growth. I have begun to fully comprehend the practice and process of self responsibility whilst aiming to live with intention and self-accountability. By doing the inner work I am holding myself accountable to my past mistakes and through my commitment to behavior modification I am stopping those unconscious patterns within myself and healing old wounds.
If we can all aim to take more responsibility for our actions, then we are doing our bit to support a future of healthy, supportive connections.