Understanding Violence

Violence is a public health issue and should be treated, not punished. A person does not just become violent, the behaviour is the physical expression of a deeper problem, the only way to cure violence is to understand its root causes.

I once worked with a young man serving a rather long prison sentence. One day a friend of his got attacked and a fight broke out. The young man I was working with, put a tuna can in a sock and went for the other young man that was attacking his friend.

This is violence in one of its more extreme forms. My aim is not to glorify it or traumatise the reader but to stop for a moment and think about what else is happening in this moment of extremity.

A few days after the incident I sat down with the young man and asked him to give his account of what had happened. During a rather lengthy conversation a key phrase was spoken, one that I have heard time and time again in similar incidents. “He is my friend, I had to do it, what else was I suppose to do?”

On the surface this does not sound like a reasonable explanation, but lets take a moment to venture into the depths which are complexities of the unconscious mind.

This is a young man, early twenties, not on his first prison sentence for a violent offence, continuing his violence now within a different context – on paper you see how bad it sounds.

But what did he mean though when he said “he had to do it?”

In this case the “had to” meant there had to have been previous experiences of violence, the “had to” had become a habit, it was the ‘go-to’ behaviour pattern for this particular young man. For there to have been a behaviour habit, there had been a choice made at some point to react with violence instead of non-violence.

So we must explore further back, to find the moment the choice was made. He was five. His step- father had knocked his mother out in front of him. He felt helpless, he could not do anything to help her.

This was when the behaviour seed was planted into the unconscious mind. As this seed became rooted, it’s flowers blossomed every moment the child and adolescent felt himself in a situation he could not control. He then began taking back control the only way he had been shown how, physically.

At first physically meant moving around whenever he became anxious or overwhelmed with thoughts, but as he developed so did his behaviour. The first fight happened in his first year of secondary school, due to a situation that made him feel helpless and not in control. This wouldn’t happen again, he would not be a victim, he would be in control. He would be the aggressor.

This behaviour repeated itself over and over again, throughout his teenage years and into adulthood.

Up until our conversation, this whole process had been unconscious for the young man. He truly believed he “had to do it” and didn’t know “what else he was suppose to do”. He did not know that the belief was coming from a very hurt and very traumatised part of his mind, that had never received the support to process what he had experience. He did not know that his mind was unconsciously searching for situations where he could regain control in order to help him process his trauma.

He also did not know that he had the power to take control of his thoughts and anxieties, so he did not feel overwhelmed when things didn’t go his way.

Violence is a language, to stop violence we need to become curious to what is being communicated.


This article was originally published on The Huffington Post

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