“Heal the world, make it a better place…”, sung by Michael Jackson and now #ChewbaccaMom. Say what you will, but her soft, kind heart and joyful demeanor are inspiring.
It amazes me that we are surprised by the violence in this country and in the world. With “Game of Thrones” and “24” being two of the highest watched shows, consumers are letting media makers know that they adore violence. Not to mention the highest rated video games, let’s just say they are all also very violent. This means that many filmmakers and showrunners will follow with more violent media. Many years ago, psychologists demonstrated that watching violence in media creates a violent attitude. But we wanted free press, so we fought for films and TV shows to be able to produce whatever would be successful. Only trouble is, what we watch, we become. And we are seeing it everywhere. (You can google “addiction to violence” to learn more)
But this isn’t an article that is just condemning violence in our media.
The focus of this article is for us to look at how we encourage the attitudes of oppression and violence in our daily lives and give practical strategies for how to eradicate it.
Let’s face it. Many of us in the US and around the world are angry, really angry. And violence is an easy outlet for that anger. In fact, it gets things done. It’s effective. That is why people rely on it so much and why concepts like Ghandi’s peaceful resistance are still rare. To eradicate it, we have to look to the cause. We have to look at the anger, accept it as valid and discover why we are so angry. This is hard, yet valuable because once we are aware, once we accept emotions as valid, then we can act to find real solutions. We’re angry for good reasons, so let’s find answers to the problems that create it. Let’s do this instead of turning to our addiction for violence to displace our frustration and anger over our lives.
People are angry because their basic needs aren’t getting met. We live in a world where many of us can barely house and feed our families, and where oppression still reigns. People are angry because they experience persecution, dismissal and abuse everyday. People are angry because we’ve created an unsustainable lifestyle that leads to too much stress, anxiety, and depression. I see it everyday in the way people treat each other and themselves. We just don’t recognize it anymore because we have melded it into our cultures.
Whether we like to admit it or not, this violence starts with us every day. And when we dismiss it, minimize it, or ridicule the victims for “being too sensitive” or “not being strong enough”; we create monsters. The thing that we aren’t admitting is that the daily attitudes that we have towards each other are abusive. Emotional and psychological abuse breed anger, resentment, and violence. And we may not like it, but they should. Telling people that they should suffer certain kinds of abuse because “they’re a normal part of society” while condemning the abuse they finally resort to in order to find a balance in power is hypocritical. Especially now that we know the effects of dismissing, ridiculing, verbally assaulting, and ostracizing people.
Studies repeatedly show that emotional and psychological abuse have the most detrimental and long lasting negative effects on us. They are the underlying cause of illness, pain, and the breakdown of mental and physical health. They are also oftentimes the underlying cause of violence. Couple this with encouraging people and kids to watch violence, to play violent games, and celebrating those who wield power over others, and we’ve created this world that we find so shocking.
So, what do we do?
We have to start by changing the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. What constitutes emotional and psychological abuse may surprise you. Did you know sarcasm falls into this category? How about ___? I can hear you now. Let the dismissal and ridicule begin. Oh wait, those are abusive too. Yet we resort to these attitudes regularly to cope with uncomfortable situations and feelings.
I see it everyday. We spend a lot of time judging each other for the strangest and smallest of things. We run ourselves ragged and then wonder why we have so little energy to address minor inconveniences and develop creative win win solutions . And yet we’re bored with life so we have to create what has been shown to us as “drama” in order to know we are alive. Life is dramatic enough if we just face it. We don’t need the psychological drama, in fact it’s killing us both directly (gunfire) and indirectly (illness).
How are we contributing to a culture of violence?
Let’s break it down. Here’s a a starter list of everyday things we do that fall into the category of abusive attitudes and behaviors:
- Manipulating and taking advantage of others
- Bullying – using power to control or try to control others
- Dismissing or minimizing violence and abuse (including emotional and psychological abuse)
- Hiding from accountability – not owning who we are and what we are doing
- Using Sarcasm or “it’s a joke”
- Having to be “right” – Believing and acting like our definition of things is the only right one
- Threats (direct or indirect) – and including threats to do what the other person finds horrible, whatever that is. They get to define what they do and don’t want to experience and you don’t to get invalidate that by saying they are “overreacting”.
- Harrassment – systematically using threats or insults to annoy someone into acting
- Dishonesty including omission and avoidance
- Narcissism – believing that your view is the only correct one and that your wants come before others’ needs.
- Using whatever means to make others do what we want
- Win-Lose attitudes
- Entitlement – believing that we have rights over others rights
- Finding pleasure in making others inferior, fearful or anxious
- Invalidating, dismissing, judging or ridiculing others’ emotional reactions to things
This list is a tough one to face and accept. Looking at ourselves and the way we interact and how it contributes to the violence that we see around us is hard. But it’s also empowering. It means we can do something, even on a daily basis that will change things and eventually change the world. Our awareness of our weaknesses, our mistakes, our failures allows us to create new solutions that can turn it around and “make the world a better place”.
I often hear people say that these are normal social interactions and that victims need to just deal with it, but not with violence. In other words, we are saying “I get to be abusive and take away your power, but you don’t get to react and take your power back”. Check out “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” and “Why Does He Do That” for more information. You can also google “emotional and psychological abuse” for more information.
For now, let’s redirect our attention to a positive future.
With what can we replace these negatives?
- Awareness – recognizing and understanding our feelings and why we are experiencing them
- Tolerance – understanding and acceptance of our differences in strenghts and weaknesses, abilities, limitations, values, goals, priorities
- Compassion for ourselves and others who are struggling.
- Acceptance of accountability – owning what we think, feel, believe, and do and the consequences that follow.
- Call out psychological and physical abuse when we see it and find better solutions – no more calling someone a whistleblower or a rat or a fink. No more punishing people for speaking up. Instead congratulate them and thank them for showing us a problem to be solved.
- Creativity – slow down, sit back, bring in other perspectives, and allow our creativity to find healthy solutions. Humans are a species specifically designed for this talent/skill. Stop acting like there are no choices. Find the solutions that realistically work for everyone.
- Find win-win solutions – make sure everyone is happy with the outcome
- Personal Power – know your rights, know how to address conflicts in a win-win solution focused way, know there is no need to use power over others to feel powerful
- Let go of meaning – clarify with others what they mean by what they say and do, don’t assume or try to guess (this leads to some of the biggest fights and arguments).
- Accept emotional experiences – know that your emotions are information, they are like a compass letting you know what direction to go. Build awareness of your feelings, accept that they are valid reactions to your world, let them flow so they can pass, and then pair thm with rational thoughts to make decisions.
- Listen, empathize and validate others when they are expressing emotions.
- Validate and celebrate each other
- Enjoy the positives in ourselves and others and find solutions to the negatives
- Speak from our hearts and allow ourselves and each other a safe, secure place to be vulnerable
As you can see, there are so many ways we can make a difference in our daily lives. And litle by little, it will make a difference in the world. It may seem impossible. It may seem incurable. But since we know that at the core of violence is anger, frustration, oppression, and isolation; it becomes natural that the cure is compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and accountability.
With the tools of understanding about what is really going on, we can end violence.
by Anne Pariseau – Anne is a licensed mental health therapist with a background in psychology and 25 years of experience in a variety of settings worldwide including the Yale Child Study Center and Trinity College Dublin. Through these experiences, she has developed a passion for bringing the lessons of therapy to the larger community, demonstrating how to shift attitudes and behaviors towards health and wellness.