Commentaries on Events in Our Society That Are Related to Anger, Abuse, and Violence
- The OJ Melodrama Draws Attention From The Real Victims (June 1994)
- Where Are We Headed? (March 1996)
- A Double Standard for Violence? (December 1997)
- The Loss of A True Leader (October 2002)
- A "Blast From the Past" (June 2006)
- A Little Less Violence, Please! (November 2007)
- The Shame-Blame Game (November 2011)
- Just Another Senseless Shooting In Our Country (June 2017)
The week that the "OJ spectacle" began, a man completed our domestic abuse program. He had been in this therapy group close to 30 weeks. He had been violent and abusive with his wife and others for 30+ years.
In his final assessment of the progress he has made over the past seven and one-half months, he voiced his gratitude that he had become involved with the program (he was not court-ordered). He also mentioned that he had seen news accounts of the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a male companion who was with her at the time, at her home and was not at all surprised.
Months before, in one of the group's educational units on male socialization and how men learn to be controlling, abusive, and violent, he had read a newspaper article about OJ Simpson's brutal assault on his wife on New Year's Day in 1989. Statements by OJ and his attorney in this article offered the same sorts of well-worn excuses and rationalizations that I have heard from many of the abusive men with whom I have worked over the past 10 years. In a classic example of minimizing the domestic abuse, his attorney stated, "O.J. and Nicole were in an argument that 'got out of hand,' but neither party intended any harm to come to the other. Their marriage has been and continues to be strong." OJ commented, "My wife and I had a fight, that's it. We put it behind us."
He pleaded "no contest" to this beating and was not arrested again despite the fact that police were called to their home at least eight other times. His "consequence" for this single arrest was "telephone counseling," an apparently brief and meaningless intervention that had little or no positive effect on his deep-seated controlling and abusive attitudes and behaviors. Now, four and one-half years later, two people are dead, brutally murdered. OJ, the football hero, movie star, and successful businessman, has been charged with the crime.
What amazes me, however, is the huge outpouring of sympathy and support for OJ at this time and our national obsession with his every word, thought, and movement. Hundreds of fans, packing highway overpasses and waving and "urging him on" in his nationally televised "chase" on the highways in Los Angeles. Then there were the fans gathering at his home and erecting a "shrine" to him and wishing him well.
Where in this whole spectacle is a sense of anger and outrage that his abuse was allowed to continue long after that January 1989 beating that came to the attention of the national press? Where is the acknowledgement that he received no significant consequences, including no jail time that might serve as a message that violence, even when perpetrated by a wealthy and famous superstar, is not okay; and no meaningful therapeutic interventions that might have helped him address and change the controlling and abusive attitudes and behavior that appear to have led to these vicious slayings.
Why does it seem so difficult to see the real victims in this whole drama, the two human beings who have been murdered, the families of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, and the two young children who will carry the legacy of this atrocity to their graves?
When will we as a culture decide that "enough is enough?" When will be decide that the violence needs to stop and that the controlling attitudes that many males hold about their female partners need to change? Batterers do, in fact, "intend" to do harm to their victims. They do not batter because they "love their partners too much." They are not "out of control." They do make clear choices. And their choices involve intending to dominate and control their partners, sometimes at any price.
Marriages where battering is occurring are not "strong." It is an unending nightmare for the women who are being victimized. And, unfortunately for Nicole, that distant New Year's eve "fight" was not "behind" them. It was only a small step in a long process that escalated and continued over the years until it ultimately led to her death at the hands of the man who claimed that he loved her.
First we had OJ. He was indicted for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ronald Goldman. He was found not guilty last fall. More recently, OJ has made statements that he never hit his wife and that pictures of her bruised and battered face actually reflected her attempts to "pick at her pimples." Now, we have a new example of our society's attitude toward domestic abuse as the Warren Moon trial has drawn to a close. Moon was found not guilty of perpetrating misdemeanor assault. His wife, Felicia, served as his staunchest ally in the courtroom and ended up taking full responsibility for all the violence that occurred last July 18.
All of this can be very confusing. At least it was to one of the clients in a domestic abuse group that I was facilitating last month. He is a man in his 30's who came to our clinic with an extensive history of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse toward his wife of five years. He has been in our program for the past six months. He brought a local newspaper to group and, in his "check out" at the end of the group time, asked if other group members had heard about Moon's acquittal. He felt disgusted and disheartened by the verdict, clearly recognized the domestic abuse dynamics that were occurring, and said with a hint of both anger and sadness in his voice, "Well, I guess if you're rich and famous, the same rules don't apply."
This is not a man who is court-ordered to our program as a result of a domestic assault prosecution. Rather, he made the decision, albeit with pressure from his wife, to pursue domestic abuse counseling. He has made significant progress in acknowledging, taking responsibility for, and beginning to change his controlling and abusive attitudes and behaviors. But this has come only after a hard look at himself, his wife, and the culture in which he lives. It has also involved his being willing to learn some new ways to handle his disrespectful and explosive anger and his desire to control his partner. Why do we get the sense that Warren Moon hasn't done that and probably never will?
The pattern that the OJ and Warren Moon situations represent reflect an increasingly disturbing trend in our society. When Moon's violence last summer first came to light, he stated emphatically, "It was not a case of domestic violence. It was a domestic dispute." Granted, he later moved in a somewhat more positive direction at a news conference when he said, "I made a tremendous mistake. I take full responsibility for it."
But, what happened to this "full responsibility" during the actual trial? From the beginning of his trial, the defense strategy hinged on targeting his wife as the real "culprit" in this "domestic dispute" and the other violence that had occurred over the years in their marriage with one another. And she cooperated fully. She testified convincingly that, in fact, she was the one who started the "dispute" and that she was the one to blame. She even conjectured that it was her long acrylic fingernails that had most likely created the bruises and scratches on her own throat, neck, and shoulders. She was angered on the witness stand by the notion that what had happened was "wife beating" despite reporting to police immediately after the abusive incident that she had been struck in the head and choked to the point of near-unconsciousness by her husband.
Moon continued this line of testimony when he stated that "she went kind of ballistic" and contended that he "was only trying to calm her down," "get her under control," and that he "just wanted her to shut up." Those are very similar statements to those I frequently hear from men when they first arrive at our clinic. What did it take for Moon to "get her under control?" Only grabbing her around the neck and choking her to the point where she nearly passed out.
Felicia is convinced, and says, that "women do have rage." She plans to begin speaking about this issue rather than focusing on domestic abuse as she has in the past. And I certainly wouldn't argue with her about the idea that women can be angry. Women may feel rage about living in relationships with partners and in a culture where they often feel controlled, demeaned, harassed, intimidated, and frightened. Or their rage may have to do with many other factors, including a woman's own upbringing.
Of course women can be rageful, hurtful, disrespectful, explosive, and abusive in their relationships with partners. And their anger and abusive behavior need to be addressed directly, as they are in our clinic's women's program. There, women also have the opportunity to learn new and more effective ways to handle this anger. It is not "okay" for women to be abusive and violent either. Women's violence is also against the law. But this really isn't the point of what has transpired recently in the Moon trial.
Women becoming abusive and violent does not mean that we as men then have a "right" to respond with violence of our own to "calm them down." When we as men make the decision (and it is a clear choice) to "up the ante" to use physical force with our partners, in the vast majority of cases, we will then be completely "in charge." Men's violence is truly different from women's. Because of size (Moon was 210 pound and a professional football player; his wife weighed 120 pounds: sounds like a bit of a "mismatch"), musculature, hormones, and acculturation, we are going to be able to dominate a physical struggle. This was vividly demonstrated as the Moons' incident progressed. His wife was no longer "ballistic" when he stooped over her with his hands around her neck as she lay on the floor. That's an effective way to get her to shut up. And it worked.
Moon's attorney said in closing arguments that "(Moon) did not intend to cause these injuries... and he was not aware he was was causing injuries to her and consciously disregarding them and going on." That's the problem with violence. Once a decision is made to perpetrate physical abuse, it can end anywhere...even in death, as it does for 1400-1500 women each year at the hands of their partners according to FBI statistics.
Especially distressing in this entire process were some of the reactions of the jurors in the case. One juror, a nurse, stated "I'm sure all of us have some violence in our marriages that just hasn't come out." Another argued "(this) case was not spousal abuse...There were just some little scratches...He didn't beat her." Are we now as a culture moving toward acceptance of "some violence" and "some little scratches" in our relationships with partners?
I feel saddest of all for their young son, Jeffrey, who made the 911 call and told police that "my daddy is going to hit my mommy. Please hurry." This little boy thought his mother was in real and imminent danger (and, in fact, she was). This little boy was there and saw what was happening. Seven-year-old boys don't capriciously call the police to report concerns about their parents' behavior. Jeffrey was terrified for his "mommy," his "daddy," and himself. The twelve adults on the jury dismissed his fear and his reality.
What truly terrifies me is to think that we, as a culture, seem to be moving backward in many respects, but especially regarding violence in the home. It wasn't so very long ago when English common law gave a man, as the head of the household, "the right, nay even the obligation, to chastise his woman, his children, and his servants" (in any manner that he saw a "appropriate"). I don't much like the idea of returning to that way of looking at things. The thought of "a little violence" in my home or anyone else's doesn't sit all that well with me. How does it sound to you?
As a psychologist who has worked with issues related to anger, domestic abuse, and violence over the past 15+ years, I have been following recent events in the National Basketball Association with interest and concern. In a practice on December 1, guard Latrell Sprewell of the Golden State Warriors, a three-time all-star and the team's leading scorer, started the current "brouhaha" by choking and threatening to kill his coach, P.J. Carlesimo. As if this wasn't enough, Sprewell then came back 20 minutes later and threw a punch at his coach, landing a glancing blow to Carlisimo's neck.
What was particularly surprising and gratifying to me, however, was the response of the team and the league to this brutish behavior. Initially, Sprewell was suspended by the Warriors for at least ten games without pay. The team then made the courageous decision to void his 32 million dollar contract, the first time this had happened for "insubordination" in NBA history. The league then followed up with their own well-deserved consequence for Sprewell, ruling that he was banned from the entire league for one year, knowing full well that there would be plenty of teams who would jump at the opportunity to sign him despite his violence, all in the name of winning. In addition, Converse, a shoe company, decided to drop Sprewell from a lucrative contract as a spokesperson for their products.
Sprewell's first public response the incident was to say that he made a "mistake," but he refused to apologize to Carlesimo, justifying his attack by claiming that he was "provoked" by the coach's "verbal abuse." Eventually, he got around to apologizing to Carlesimo more than a week after the incident and saying, "I know this conduct is not appropriate in society or in professional sports."
You're right, Mr. Sprewell, it's not okay to assault someone else. In fact, there's an epidemic of violence that plagues our society today. Domestic abuse is rampant, violence related to "road rage" incidents is escalating, workplace assaults occur more and more frequently, and we also have the old standard, murders, rapes, and muggings that are simply part of the nation's crime statistics.
How we respond to Sprewell's violence, in the context of all the societal violence, is an important issue. Now the focus of this assault has been shifted to the "punishment" he is to receive. Surrounded by a legal team at his public "apology," Sprewell stated that he wasn't given "due process." And, some of his peers, led by Charles Barkley, the Houston Rockets forward who is also not a stranger to assaultive episodes in public, are considering a boycott of this season's all-star game or the world championships next summer.
The message is loud and clear. "We as professional basketball players are 'different' from everyone else. We don't have to play by the same set of rules that other people do. We make a lot of money, we're famous, we're popular, and we're entitled to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it."
This sense of entitlement has always been a part of the angry and violent men with whom I have worked in therapy. They always, at least in the beginning, find a way to justify or explain away what they have said and done. The victim of their attack "wouldn't stop nagging me," "cut me off on the highway," or "'dissed' me at the party." The other person "provoked" them. That's supposed to make the violence understandable and, in some very real ways, "okay." That was the first strategy that Sprewell tried. Fortunately, up to this point, it hasn't worked too well.
But what if it does mean to our society if this strategy does work, and Sprewell becomes the "real victim" in this episode? What messages are we giving to other people in this society who feel entitled to control a situation they don't like with violence, especially the young people who buy the Converse shoes that Sprewell used to promote? How many of us could physically assault our bosses at work and remain employed because we said we were "provoked" by them? How many of us could be violent with anyone in a public setting and not get arrested and experience legal consequences as a result of the violence? The issue of the illegality of what he did isn't even getting addressed in the current furor.
These are the sorts of questions that are absolutely critical to ponder and, hopefully, ultimately answer. The reality is that consequences are one of the most important factors in helping angry, abusive, and violent people begin to realize that disrespectful and abusive behavior will not be tolerated. Very few of the hundreds of men with whom I have worked came to therapy "because I knew there was a problem and I really wanted to do something about it." The vast majority come because someone else pointed out the problem to them. It might be a spouse, it might be an employer, or it might be the court system. Someone gave them the strong message that their behavior needed to change. And, for those who really make the effort needed to change how they experience and express their anger, this starts the change process.
I hope the team and the league hold their ground. I hope the arbitration hearing reinforces their stand. There are plenty of examples where those with money, notoriety, and power "beat the system" and are held to a set of standards that are very different from the rest of us. Let's not let it happen this time around. Let's communicate clearly to Sprewell and others that violence is not okay and won't be tolerated. What a surprising and positive message for professional sports to be sending to our society.
Minnesota, our nation, and our world lost an outstanding leader and human being in the small plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, three campaign aides, and the plane's two pilots. But it seems more personal to me. The wrenching reality is that I lost a friend on Friday.
I didn't know Paul Wellstone personally. I never met him face-to-face although I was fortunate to meet his wife, Sheila, in my work as a psychologist related to her efforts to address the issue of domestic violence. But from everything I have heard in the news reports of his death and life, and from everything I knew about him related to the reasons that I strongly supported him as Minnesota's senator for the past 12 years, this was an extraordinary man.
This is a time in our history when cynicism and fear abound. It has become crystal clear that terrorists and murderous snipers, greedy and dishonest corporate executives, selfish and self-absorbed multimillion-dollar athletes and entertainers, and slick and unprincipled politicians and leaders have very little regard for those of us struggling to live our everyday lives. Yet, in the midst of all this, Paul Wellstone seemed to be a breath of fresh air, a man who, at his core, really did care very deeply about the people around him.
He worked with untiring zeal for the principles and beliefs that he felt were important to our society. His unbridled and infectious enthusiasm and optimism to change the things about this nation that he felt were wrong and unfair and to do this with a smile and a laugh and a hug were unusual, refreshing, and courageous. And all this was done in the shadow of his personal medical problems that most likely would have slowed or stopped even the strongest among us.
He leaves a legacy of honesty, integrity, genuineness, energy, passion and commitment that make him a role model and a hero at a time when genuine heroes are few and far between. Thank you, Paul Wellstone, for your efforts to make our state, our country, and the world a better place for everyone, no matter what their station in life. I (and our country) will miss you!
The men in the domestic abuse group that I facilitated were incredulous. Several had seen an article in the local newspaper the previous day about a "brand new" mental illness called Intermittent Explosive Disorder. One of the men stated his interpretation of what he had read when he said, "I guess they're telling us that we aren't really responsible anymore for our angry and abusive behavior."
Most of these men have been in the domestic abuse program for anywhere between six and twelve months (the program can last up to 60 sessions and more). What they had been learning since their first intake session was that they were, in fact, making clear choices anytime they became abusive with their partners, their children, at work, and when they were driving (although they may not have been very aware of these choices in the past prior to coming to therapy). They were surprised that someone (i.e. some highly esteemed educational institutions) seemed to be offering them a "way out" when they were learning and finally truly understanding and accepting that they were, in reality, completely responsible for the frightening and sometimes horrific decisions they had made in the past to be abusive with those around them.
Sadly, I wasn't as surprised as they were that researchers at Harvard and the University of Chicago had decided to resurrect a "mental illness" diagnosis that has been with us for decades. As a psychologist who has been working with anger, abuse, and control issues since 1985, leading batterers' groups, and, in addition, counseling thousands of angry men and women in workshop and therapy settings, I remember that diagnosis from the time I first started working in this field.
In fact, I used this diagnosis briefly early in my career to try to understand what was happening in domestic abuse and road rage situations. I quickly started to have misgivings about using it, however, because it didn't make much sense in terms of the actual people with whom I was working. After my clients had begun a counseling process, the vast majority of them became much more clear about how they escalated in the situations they described and how they had made decisions throughout that escalation process. They were not "out of control," which is a major criterion of this diagnosis as it appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the "bible" for psychologists and psychiatrists in attempting to describe what they see in their clients.
One of the assignments in the domestic abuse group asks men to go through what is described as an Abuse Inventory, in which they write out and present a history of all their threatening and abusive behavior toward others. On scores of occasions, when men were describing violent incidents with partners which often involved grabbing, pushing, and slapping, I have asked them, in the midst of their presentation, "Why didn't you just haul off and punch her in the face as hard as you could." To that question, they have, to a man, stopped "dead in their tracks," looked at me, and responded, "If I had done that, I could have really hurt her." This has provided, time after time, crystal clear evidence to me (and to the men themselves) that, even in the midst of the rage they are experiencing and what they researchers call "uncontrollable anger attacks," these men were acutely aware of what they were doing and had drawn "lines in the sand," beyond which they would not cross. This has also included situations where men threatened their partners with weapons but did not actually use them and perpetrated even more serious violence toward their. partners (which has included occasions of actually using weapons). Even men who murder their girlfriends and wives often take very clear steps and make clear choices to reach that ultimate horror.
Much has been done over the past two decades to help men and women understand how they reach the point of acting out their anger in hurtful and destructive ways. It is truly disturbing to me, as a professional, that some people are attempting to "turn back the clock" to the time when domestic abusers, road ragers, and angry people in general were "out of control" and "didn't know what they were doing." Our society does not need more "victims" (of their brain chemistry, their upbringing as children, the culture in which they were raised, our historical legacy of victimizing women or anything else).
We sat in the group and talked about the article for several minutes. I felt grateful that these men, at least, did not appear to subscribe to what seemed to be the gist of the research and the information presented in the article. They understand themselves and their anger and abuse issues far better than the researchers seemed to really give them credit for. Their lives and the lives of their partners and children have the potential to be significantly better and more healthy as a result of their learning about the decisions and choices they are making that bring them to their ultimate abusive and violent actions.
It was with consternation and just a wee bit of despair that I picked up my hometown newspaper on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to find the front page covered with "vital" information about a relatively new phenomenon called "mixed martial arts." With the headline screaming out, "The Baddest Sport In America," this form of sport fighting combining boxing, wrestling, kick boxing, jujitsu, and other martial arts is our country's "fastest-growing professional sport" according to the article. It is currently experiencing huge popularity among many of our citizens, especially males between the ages of 18 and 49, notably labeled by the newspaper as advertising's "golden-goose demographic."
I think that we are still engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a battle against global terrorism, a presidential campaign that is heating up, a national health care fiasco that continues to plague our society, the current housing crisis, the prospect of global warming, an ever-increasing gap between the "rich" and the rest of us, and volunteer efforts like Habitat for Humanity and other truly noble endeavors undertaken to improve the condition of humankind. But I guess that these "secondary" issues that affect our country and the rest of the world are probably not as important to the general public according to the notoriety afforded to this new "sport" by the editors of the paper.
This newspaper that I usually read had decided to highlight on its front page, for three consecutive days, a tale of grown men and women perpetrating significant violence against each other toward the goals of becoming famous, making money, and "being the best." I guess there are no other sections in this newspaper where they could have placed these stories.
As a psychologist who has been working with issues related to violence perpetrated by men (and, at times, women) in family and other settings for over 25 years, this was especially disturbing to me. You see, I have actually been trying for a long time to decrease the level of violence in a variety of places in our society.
Part of my current volunteer time is spent visiting nursing homes with my therapy dog, Nikko. In a visit to one such facility on the third day that these articles appeared, one resident, a former corporate executive at 3M in his 80's, expressed his disgust about the "brawling" and violence that the articles seem to glorify. I could only nod in agreement as he expressed his concerns.
I myself have come upon this form of "sport" at times while surfing channels on my own TV. These men and women may indeed be "finely tuned athletes." But to the "untrained" eye (including myself and probably most of the population), what I have seen looks disturbingly like what many of my clients have described in detail over the years when discussing incidents where they have perpetrated violence at home, in bars, in their neighborhoods, at sporting events, and in road rage incidents.
The combatants in these televised contests throw punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, all in the hope of knocking out their opponent or forcing the other person to "submit" with what is called the "rear naked choke." Ironically, this is not all that different from the goals in domestic abuse or any other physical altercation that occurs between two people. I guess there are rules in these MMA matches but it can be hard to figure out exactly what they are as you watch the "mayhem," blood, and injury on the screen.
When will we have enough of violence in this culture? I can only scratch my head and wonder. I will continue to work in my small corner of the universe to try to stem the tide of destruction that abuse and violence create in the family, in our communities, and in the world-at-large. But it seems that there are a myriad of influences including, as the newspaper put it, this "violent and bloody sport," that teach boys and girls and men and women that violence is an effective way to be successful and to feel good about themelves. I sometimes imagine myself, working with violent people in my office on a daily basis, simply treading water and waiting for the deluge of violence to overwhelm me and the rest of our society.
Our current president has, at times, called for "regime change" in other countries across the globe when he doesn't like what they are doing. Maybe it is now time in my own little sphere of influence to call for "subscription change" when I don't like what my hometown newspaper apparently views as the priorities that we ought to be reading about and attending to.
As a psychologist who has worked with the issue of domestic abuse since the mid-1980's, I very much appreciated columnist Gail Rosenblum's perspective in one of our local newspapers on Viking Chris Cook's recent felony domestic assault charge on Sunday. As she aptly noted, it is very easy, in that situation, to make a "rush to judgment," apply the "blame game," and simply write Cook off as "just another one of those 'bad guys'" who do this sort of thing.
But, in fact, the situation is much more complex. The shame she discusses does not just involve what we do to abusive men when they are arrested for domestic violence. It is also what they do to themselves, long before they ever come to the attention of the legal authorities. We rightly have concerns about how domestic abuse affects children in families where this is occurring today. But people rarely think about where current abusers learned to look at their partners and the world around them in the skewed way that leads to controlling and abusive behavior. It's probably no surprise that they learned it in their childhood, from their families and from the culture-at-large.
Abusers don't just experience shame in the present related to their violent behavior and the consequences it brings. In reality, the vast majority of abusive men developed their own shame through witnessing or experiencing abuse in childhood homes where they grew up; they were the children we worried about 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.
Shame underlies all abusive behavior and is a powerful feeling of inadequacy, powerlessness, and unworthiness, literally "a hole in the heart," that develops in childhood and takes on a life of its own, creating a destructive "life script" that damages the person himself and everyone around him who tries to be close to him. If we are truly going to intervene in domestic violence, this is one of the core issues in treatment that needs to be identified and addressed.
This does not mean that abusive men should simply be "let off the hook" regarding legal and other consequences. Their shame, depression, anxiety, adult Attention Deficit Disorder, or anger are not excuses to justify violent actions. Assault committed toward other human beings, whether they are family members or strangers, is illegal, and it should be. Generally, consequences of some sort are the initial motivator that brings men into my office to look at their abuse. But consequences alone will not bring about real and lasting change. Getting arrested may, for some, stop the violent behavior temporarily, but it is unlikely to address the controlling attitudes and other forms of abusive behavior that ultimately have the potential to fuel an escalation to violence.
Effective domestic abuse programs treat men as people, not merely as objects of scorn and derision (which only adds more shame to the bucket of shame they already carry around with them). Important elements of these programs include things like the following:
1) recognizing what controlling and abusive behavior is and working hard to intervene in the attitudes and behaviors that are part of it;
2) creating awareness of his internal emotional process and how he is reacting to people and situations around him;
3) understanding that he is continually making clear choices about what he does (and that he can make better choices than he has been making up until now);
4) accepting full and complete responsibility for his controlling and abusive behavior and for the impact it has on those around him;
5) addressing historical and cultural issues related to abusive and violent behavior;
6) opening himself to experiencing emotions besides anger (especially the "softer" and more vulnerable ones) and learning to share them honestly and respectfully with other people;
7) recognizing his shame and victimization in childhood and understanding how these relate to his own abuse and violence in the present; and,
8) working at raising his self-esteem and increasing his empathy and compassion for his partner and others.
Real change is possible when it involves more than the "shame-blame game." Abusive and violent men can actually change when there are programs designed to help them do this and if they are willing to make the commitment to themselves and the people they love to work hard at changing the parts of themselves that have been hurtful and destructive in their lives. It is well worth the effort!
Sadly, we here in the United States have just experienced another horrendous shooting incident when Republican congress members, their staff, and security were targeted by a man at a park in Alexandria, VA. The Republicans were practicing for the annual charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats that was to be played the next day. Allegedly, the shooter asked a Republican congressman who had already been at the baseball practice and was leaving the scene whether the participants were Republicans or Democrats before he started his shooting rampage.
As a psychologist who has worked with anger, abuse, and violence issues for over 30 years, this incident was deeply disturbing to me. But, at the same time, I also reflected back on a Republican presidential candidate who, at a rally on January 24, 2016, told his crowd of supporters, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue (in New York City) and shoot someone and I wouldn't lose any voters." I would probably be labeled as "politically correct" by the person who uttered these ridiculous sentiments, but I don't think it is such a good idea to talk about perpetrating violence (very similar to what actually happened with the Republican congressmen) even if it's just bluster, "macho" bravado, or a "joke."
Violence is not funny and "violent talk" (even though it may be protected by the First Amendment, with a few exceptions) is not helpful in having a constructive dialogue about anything, including the many difficult and contentious issues that now divide this wonderful country of ours. Physical violence in the home begins with demeaning and derogatory comments, put-downs and name-calling, swearing and cursing, and verbal threats. Words are powerful and important and have an impact, in the family and in the broader culture.
Also interesting to me was the powerful condemnation of the shooter by Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor (the shooter was alleged to have been a Sanders supporter and volunteer in the 2016 Democratic primary). This stood in stark contrast to another incident by that same Republican presidential candidate in a primary contest who told a crowd after one of his supporters had just "sucker-punched" a protester at a rally that he would "look into paying" for the assailant's legal fees.
That Republican candidate just happens to be the President of the United States at this point in our history. He is, whether he takes it seriously or not, a role model for his "base," the rest of the country, and the world-at-large. If we as a society are truly going to effectively intervene in the abuse and violence that plagues our country and the world in which we live, we need to think about our words and our actions and how these can contribute to or decrease the potential for violence to occur. And actually, when you come to think about it, hopefully this will include the man who currently occupies the Oval Office as well.