Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

2. Violence – Terror in the Mind

woman blurred head

So talking about the “Short, Fast Story” …

I was saying that violence is overwhelmingly a psychological affair so let me clarify what I mean. Violence is an act of aggression and yet it has relatively little to do with pain, injury or even force. We might stub our toe, fall off a bike, scald ourselves, be on the receiving end of fierce rugby tackle, or bash our head on a low doorway. The pain goes, the injury heals, we get on with our lives and forget all about it. Compare this with someone coming up to you and poking you in the chest, or spitting in your face. No real pain, injury or force – and yet you might be troubled by this for a long time.

Now let’s think about force a little more. Many of us feel that we would be at an immediate disadvantage because we are not particularly big or strong. Yet size and strength turn out not to be particularly significant – at least not in the way you expect. My best friend at school was huge – and well built – and yet he got bullied relentlessly by kids who were even smaller than me. I would tell him, “Rich, if not for you, for me, next time they do that to you – just sit on them” but he wouldn’t – his size and strength were his enemies, not his friends. Indeed when I consider some of the scariest people I have encountered, a lot of them have been remarkably small – but still scary!

Okay, many of us still say we are scared by violence – and yet the truth is that violence isn’t particularly scary and sometimes isn’t scary at all! What is scary is the fear of violence – the dreadful anticipation of what might happen as your sympathetic nervous system prepares you for the worst. When the violence takes place there are a whole host of emergency psychological processes that can take over – emotions can be de-activated, time can expand or collapse, dissociative processes engaged and the whole experience can feel unreal. After, of course, there is the trauma – the shattered belief system, the constant ruminations, the nightmares and flashbacks, disturbed arousal, avoidance and the feeling of pervasive danger. The violence itself is the least troublesome part.

The reason we fear violence is because it throws us (psychologically) into the “unknown.” Reason, understanding, reflection and problem-solving – the bed fellows of much of our professional practice – leave the room. Instead of reflecting, we are called on to react – faster than we can think, with little margin for error and possibly catastrophic consequences. We are lost, on our own and without a map.

Well that is where I come in (www.dangerousbehaviour.com ).

In the next posting I will begin to lay down the theoretical foundations to a new approach to understanding and responding to violence – or if you are impatient you could always buy my book! (www.facingdanger.com).

Finally if you want to learn about violence through a fringe theatre style training workshop, Mosaic Training are putting on “Difficult, Disturbing & Dangerous Behaviour” in London on 27th November. Click here for details.

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Filed under: Impact Training, Other Mental Health, Uncategorized, Violence, , , , ,

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