No one's born violent

In the fall of 1946, a boy was born into an unstable and abusive family. His mother was a teenager, a single parent who relied on her parents to raise her child. The boy’s grandfather was abusive, and grandmother mentally erratic. By the time he was in middle school, the boy began to display disturbing behaviour patterns. As a teenager, he was charged with larceny and fraud. At 27, he committed his first murder. In the following years, the boy, Ted Bundy, turned into a hardened criminal, who killed over 30 people before he was arrested and executed in 1989. Even after his death, his name haunts not only the victims’ families but the world at large.

Bundy’s violent streak stemmed from his disturbed childhood, where there was hardly any love and a whole lot of abuse. Even though young Bundy was good at academics and had enough work opportunities when he grew up, he remained aloof from society. While none of these factors can explain away the mercilessness with which he committed crimes one after another, it sure does explain the psyche of a violent person.

The first thing to understand about violence is that no individual is born violent. It is the grating circumstance that gives birth to it. Behavioural psychologists say, the absence of love and affection during childhood leaves a hole in the heart, which gets filled with hatred and angst. In her personal blog, US-based psychologist and independent forensic consultant Dr Kathryn Seifert explains, “Sometimes, the adjustment of a few factors such as establishing a close relationship with a supportive adult, receiving pro-social peer encouragement, or getting protection from a violent family, is what makes the difference between whether a person becomes a violent offender or a mentally-stable contributing member to society.”

A recent WHO study reveals that domestic violence affects approximately one in every three women world over, which is more than a quarter of women’s population in the world.

This being said, not every violent person ends up a coldblooded murderer. Sometimes, violence manifests itself in forms less severe, yet equally scarring. Incidents of brutality occurring in households or on the streets may not lead to homicide, but they just as well can destroy families and societies.

Strong family ties shape an individual. But at times, an inharmonious family becomes the weak link leading to violence, such as domestic violence. A recent WHO study reveals that domestic violence affects approximately one in every three women world over, which is more than a quarter of women’s population in the world. Dr Lisa Firestone, Director of Research and Education for The Glendon Association, has dedicated her career to studying domestic violence and the reasons behind it. Explaining its root, she writes, “There are two emotional dynamics that contribute greatly to domestic violence. One involves a destructive thought process that abusers experience both toward themselves and their partners. The other factor involves a harmful illusion of connection between a couple… that feeds into a sense that another person can make you whole and is responsible for your happiness.”

Violence can find people anywhere. Sometimes at home, other times on the streets. It just takes a misguided individual acting on a whim or out of pure resentment. “Hateful beliefs such as racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny allow whole groups to be dehumanized. The more any group is misunderstood, the more the unknown can fuel fear and misunderstanding. Fear and misunderstanding can lead to hateful words and violent behaviours,” explains Dr Bruce D Perry, Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy, in his blog.

Respect for one’s own life and that of others is the starting point of changing violent behaviour. “People can learn more about other religions, cultures, and worldviews. Prevent degrading, humiliating, or bullying behaviours. Don’t laugh at jokes that use hateful ideas—and certainly don’t repeat them,” says Dr Perry.

Violence impacts not only the person who is subject to it but also those who inflict it upon others. Eventually, it affects the society, as a whole. The effect of violence may envelop communities and societies, but its cause lies within the individual. And, it boils down to the individual’s choices and actions. It is about making the right choice, even if it is the harder choice to make; it is about waging a war with the inner demons, until the calm quells the noise within.


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