Monday, January 7, 2013

The Root of All Abuse and Violence - Insecurity

In the aftermath of the massacre at Newtown, CT most of the discussion has centered around how to lessen the risk of such events happening through better gun control measures, including improved data bases to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally disturbed.  While these are important measures that need to be taken, they avoid the real issue ... why is it that so many people are killed in the United States each year by guns.

In addition to the well-publicized random mass shootings, there is a far greater problem out there.   In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans.  Roughly 20,000 of these were suicides; the rest were intentional homicides.  Only 5% were accidental shootings. In addition, 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010.  

These numbers are huge.  They evidence a significant problem in the psychological stability of Americans.  I include in this group not just those who perpetrate mass shootings or commit suicide, but also those who commit intentional homicide.  One does not kill another person if one is emotionally stable.   

But the vastness of America’s psychological problem is far greater than evidenced by gun deaths.  If we look at the extent of domestic violence, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that between 960,000 and 3 million people are physically abused by their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend per year.  Other sources report estimates ranging between 600,000 to 6 million women and 100,000 to 6 million men per year.  Even taking the more conservative DOJ figures, the problem is serious.

There are no statistics for those who suffer verbal/mental rather than physical abuse.  But as anyone who has observed friends and family, as well as strangers, the numbers if they were available would be frightening.

Whether someone verbally abuses a spouse or child, or physically abuses them, or commits suicide, murder, or a mass shooting is a matter of degree, both as to the severity and nature of their psychological disturbance.  But in most cases, whether the disturbance is mild or severe, the root of the disturbance is insecurity.

What has caused this epidemic of insecurity? The cause lies in the simple fact that children, spouses, parents, and siblings are typically not loved unconditionally, or certainly do not feel so loved. To most people reading this, this will sound like rubbish for a variety of reasons. First, people think that it is quite right not to love people unconditionally; the very idea sounds like nonsense. Second, it sounds like the ultimate example of permissiveness, which rightfully would be viewed negatively.

The first reaction arises because most of us have no experience with, no role models for, unconditional love.  We have not experienced it ourselves, either from our parents or spouses, nor have we seen that trait in others. A recent cartoon in the New Yorker showed a mother with her arm around her young son, saying, ““Heavens no, sweetie – my love for you has tons of conditions”  Take away the hyperbole and that states the basic fact of much child-rearing, at least in America (I can’t speak to other countries), and not just currently but probably for a good century and more. 

This is not a judgment of parents.  Most parent are good people who would never do anything intentionally to harm their child.  But parents are people who are a function of their own upbringing and learned experience. They have their own fears, frustrations, angers, and desires. And they see things through the lens of that experience and those emotions, which in turn impacts how they interact with their children. 

And so, as children we have been exposed to conditional love at home and conditional respect among our peers. The result is an epidemic of insecurity.  And not just among those who receive negative “reviews” from family and peers.  Those who get positive feedback are also insecure because they realize that their approval is based on their status at that point in time; should that change ... whether it’s ones looks, ones grades, ones wealth, ones physical ability, ones talent ... they will lose their position at the top of the social pecking order.  They know that their approval is very conditional and the fact that they have so much to lose makes them even more insecure, which they mask with huge egos and bravado.  This is what accounts for so many people at the top being imperious and often belittling others ... whether it’s “mean girls” in school or financial titans.

As to the second reaction, it stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of unconditional love.  Unconditional love is a Buddhist concept that pretty much means what it seems to ... that one loves someone, whether child or spouse, for who that person is.  And so regardless what that person does, they are still loved because it does not change who they are.  An example of this are parents who accept a child who turns out to be gay because it doesn’t change who the child is in their eyes and thus doesn’t change their love, as opposed to those parents who ostracize such children because they have committed an abomination or at least unpardonable social behavior.

What it does not mean is that one does not provide direction or criticism to a child.  An important factor in the development of a child is receiving direction on a large variety of matters from its parents.  To love unconditionally means to provide that direction or criticism within the context of such love and when one gives it, to couch it in such a way, to use such words and tone of voice, so that it is clear to the child that the direction or criticism does not impact the unconditional love that they are given.  If one loves a child unconditionally, one never yells at a child or calls them “bad” or other negative labels.  That would be an example of not speaking with loving kindness, which is the opposite of unconditional love.

As an aside I should note that unconditional love also does not mean that if one finds oneself in an abusive relationship that one stays in it.  One may have unconditional love and compassion for the abusive spouse/partner, but if your mental or physical well-being is threatened, one should put as much physical and legal distance as necessary between yourself and the abuser to protect yourself, and if you have children, your children.

Assuming that to some degree at least you agree with my assessment, you may well ask how this problem can be addressed?  If generations of insecure people are raising insecure children in a vicious cycle, how can it be broken? The answer is by making prospective and existing parents aware of this problem and encouraging them to take steps to both raise a happy and secure child and at the same time make their own lives better as well.  Bit by bit we must start with individual parents and have the effect spread outward.

To that end I have written a book which has just been published, Raising a Happy Child. While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of ones religious affiliation. It is available through as well as through the major online retailers and your local bookstore by special order.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to the website.

Next, “Insecurity as the Cause of Social Conflict and International War.”