Behaviors, Attitudes and Other Precursors to Violent Acts in Our Society

By Joseph B. Howell, Ph.D (Anniston, Alabama)

Violence is not only physical, it is mental and emotional. Those who resort to physical violence, have many times been the recipient of emotional violence ( sometimes this violence was perpetrated on them in the distant past; sometimes in the recent past, and sometimes in the current time frame) Their "pay back" to those who rejected shunned or harmed them emotionally, is to "up the ante" to the level of physical violence. Such people can be thought of as mentally healthy by those around them, however they are mentally impaired if they have to release their aggression in inappropriate and dangerous ways.

There are other people who are violent, not necessarily because of any violence done to them. These are people who have certain types of diagnosed mental illnesses. Such mental illnesses are serious, and are on the order of conditions of the mind that can cause psychosis, a diagnostic category for persons who have lost or who are apt at any time, to lose touch with reality. Persons with Mental Retardation, a deficiency in intellectual ability (I Q) are not within a sector of the population that is of high risk for committing violent crimes such as those at Sandy Hook, or Aurora, etc. Persons with intellectual disabilities therefore, should not be confused with persons who are at high risk for violent behavior due to mental illness.

Those who are at risk for committing violent crimes are persons who are impaired either socially, in character development (see personality disorders egs. Paranoid, Schizoid or Sociopathic Personality Disorder), those who are mentally impaired due to mental illness, (such as Schizophrenia, Various Major Depressions etc.) and those who suffer from certain other categories of impairment to functioning such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Impulsivity Disorder, and others.

There is no clear cut profile that can always with certainty be seen in persons who finally commit violent crimes. People's circumstances and stress levels are always subject to change. Changing precipitating irritants (such as job loss, discrimination, marital problems etc.) paired with a deterioration of otherwise intact (though possibly fragile) coping mechanisms, make it very uncertain in predicting who will actually do violence. We do know that most violence is committed overwhelmingly by males rather than by females at a statistical level of significance.

Examples of best deterrents to violent crimes include:

  • to have mental health treatment available to all citizens
  • to have healthy communities which create a sense of real safety and community concern for all its citizens
  • to have a law enforcement component that is well trained in mental health, high risk factors for violence and in creating a safe environment
  • to have churches and other organizations reach out to include those whom others would exclude due to being perceived as defective, inferior or unwanted
  • to foster the development of families that are close and who demonstrate caring toward their members with a sense of connectedness and affirmation

It is known that those who are beneficiaries of connectedness and who have a sense of true belonging are those who will feel welcome to gather help and guidance from others when they feel left out, marginalized or rejected. It is also known that those who are NOT connected to a sense of nurturing belonging, are those most likely to be impaired in how they see others, and how they relate to the world and the multitude of difficulties it presents to everyone.

By the very presence in a community of a soup kitchen, a ministry to the poor or to the sick, a sports scholarship program for less monetarily fortunate children, and other such programs, the community is communicating a bedrock of CONCERN and HELP to its citizens. This is reassuring to people who have very little support and who feel they are in a vacuum. The feeling of helplessness is the feeling that can turn first to anger then to hostility and finally to violence. When one does not feel cared about by their family or community or church or neighborhood, they many times translate that to a feeling that they are worthless. When one feels angry AND worthless, they do not necessarily care about how they release their pent up hostility, after all they "don't even matter" so why do any consequences of their behavior matter, even if that means death and destruction to themselves or others?

Those persons most likely to be violent are those who have withdrawn for the most part from meaningful positive and enriching activities. They are disconnected from organizations or family. They are usually sullen, and have a "darkness" about them... They can be persons who feel they have been slighted, victimized or discounted. They are persons who can also be cynical about life, even critical of self and others and almost oppositional or defiant to any authority. When they lose even more than they feel that they have already been denied, they can no longer contain their fury, their anger, their outright disgust. They have lost all consciousness of their Spiritual nature and connection to their own soul. They are even unconscious of the results of their actions.

Our jobs are to create such an atmosphere of caring concern in our places of business, our churches, and even in the communities in which we live so that all people are recognized and reached out to instead of ignored. This is an act of love that is returned to us in great bounty.

Discover, Develop and Deploy Spiritual Leaders to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.