Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence are increasing in our society. Many have described these incidents as senseless, but is it really? Psychologists Sean Seepersad, Ph.D., Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., and Amanda Taub, who holds the unusual title of Senior Sadness Correspondent, and human rights expert, approach various aspects of society in a quest to make sense of the senseless.
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence are all symptoms and not the disease, according to these experts. Their separate conclusions weave a cohesive picture of a society breaking down because the building blocks of that society, namely people and relationships, are eroding.
Fear, isolation, and a need for control seem to be the unholy trinity of all modern ills, based on the work of these experts.
Citing police shootings, ISIS terrorism, racism, and violence, Sean Seepersad, Ph.D., in his recent Psychology Today article, readjusts the discussion about division away from blame, and toward discerning the reasons for the overwhelming sources of tragedy in society.
“It is sad indeed that it is not only easy to come up with these examples of divides within our society… They have become viral, venomous, and numerous. The point of this post is not to argue for one side or another, but rather to ask the question, why?”
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, deadly violence, and a host of other ills, including racism and various divisional aspects in our society, are the result of fear, loneliness, and isolation, according to Sean Seepersad, Ph.D.
“One thing I think contributes to it, is… the continued fragmentation of society. Drawing from a few different studies, in prominent loneliness research Cacioppo argued that rates of loneliness have been increasing in society. One can also think of other trends contributing to society’s fragmentation: people are more likely to be living alone, the age of marriage is increasing, less people are getting married, and the increasing rates of narcissism.”
Could police shootings and ISIS terrorism be caused by a breakdown of interpersonal relationships? Any third grader knows that the primary building blocks of society are individuals, family, and community. Only when these are established can any understanding of local, state, national, and world affairs be fully comprehended. Sean Seepersad drives this point home.
“It seems to me more and more that it is becoming harder to establish and maintain relationships. People are becoming much more focused on their own individual needs and desires, less likely to compromise or empathize, and as a result, are becoming more distrustful and fearful of others.”
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, by nature, may include an absence of empathy. Disconnecting from society may also be leading to fear and mistrust, according to Dr. Seepersad.
Fear is a driving force in our society according to Dr. Lisa Firestone in her article in Psych Alive. More specifically, the fear of emotions drives addiction. She cites a desire for detachment because it hurts too much to feel. Could it be that not only are people isolated from one another, they are also closing themselves off to their own feelings in order to avoid pain?
“Do we seek vitality, love, passion, compassion and the unpredictable roller coaster that comes with being engaged in life and emotion? Or do we engage in behavior that detaches us from the inherent pain of the human condition? When we choose the latter, anything that cuts us off can seem appealing, from cell phones to social media, pain killers to pornography, Coca-Cola to cocaine.”
Though police shootings, ISIS terrorism, and domestic violence are not mentioned in Dr. Firestone’s article in Psych Alive, because the article addresses addictions specifically, with addiction as widespread as it is in our society, it is hard to discuss any sort of societal function or dysfunction without considering addiction and its causes. Addiction, especially when including things like cell phones and Coca-Cola, as Dr. Firestone does, are intrinsic to life on planet earth in 2016.
“Working through our emotions helps us to learn, grow and develop. It increases our resilience and makes us more alive to our experience. Conversely, our attempts to cut off may render us emotionally immature and often, far less functional. Moreover, we cannot selectively numb pain without also numbing joy. Turning to addiction can leave us feeling frozen or numbed to all our feelings. In this state, we risk losing a sense of our true identity. We disconnect from our real selves.”
How are police shootings, ISIS terrorism, domestic abuse, and various forms of violence related to this disconnection with the self? How could the fear of feeling be connected to a visceral act of mass murder? Being disconnected from society, disconnected from neighbors, and finally cut off from one’s own self, seems to fit the profile of many serial killers, terrorists, and mass shooters.
“Because we are torn between feeling and not feeling, we are all divided between our real self, the part of us that wants to live, pursue goals and experience life and what my father Dr. Robert Firestonecalls the ‘anti-self,’ which seeks to isolate us, cut us off from feeling and even obliterate or destroy us. Our anti-self aims to protect us from the natural pain or fear that comes from caring about or investing in life, but it winds up limiting and hurting us in countless ways, for instance, by steering us toward addiction.”
Isolation could lead to police shootings, ISIS terrorism, mass murder, and multiple forms of violent behavior. Shutting out one’s own feelings might contribute to divisions within the self. The anti-self, represses emotions into the shadow, conceived by Jung. Emotions grow under suppression. Whatever people hide tends to come forth more powerfully the longer they are repressed, requiring more suppression until such point as it cannot be contained. Drugs and other addictions are merely tools in extending the ability to suppress. That could create a pressure cooker of negative emotions.
Amanda Taub sees a connection between ISIS terrorism, mass shootings, and domestic violence. Citing several cases in which a terrorist or mass shooter was abusive to his spouse, in her New York Times article, Taub contends that domestic violence and mass murder are linked. FBI data cited by Taub in the New York Times shows 57 percent of mass shooters were domestic violence abusers. Taub believes that both tendencies stem from a desire to control others.
“Domestic violence often follows a pattern in which an abuser seeks to control every aspect of a victim’s life. The scope and intent of this are hinted at in one name experts use for it: ‘intimate terrorism.'”
ISIS terrorism, Taub contends, is also typified by societal mistreatment of women. She calls the Islamic State, domestic violence on an “industrial scale.” She also contends that terrorist recruiters use their ability to control others, especially woman as a selling point for joining ISIS. They promise to restore male dominance.
“Take this dynamic of coercive violence to its most horrible extreme, and it looks an awful lot like how the Islamic State treats women in its self-proclaimed caliphate. As my Times colleague, Rukmini Callimachi has reported, the group has created a vast infrastructure of rape and slavery in which women are held captive and bought and sold by its fighters. It is intimate violence on an industrial scale.”
Taub points out that mass shooters, whether engaging in police shootings, ISIS terrorism, or other politically or personally motivated violence feel they are righting wrongs.
“A characteristic common to mass killers is a sense of grievance: a belief that someone, somewhere, had wronged them in a way that merited a violent response.”
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, and domestic violence could be seen as an outgrowth of grievances, yet who hasn’t been wronged at some point? What is the difference between those who move on, and those who go postal?
Could police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions and increasing violence all be caused by loneliness, fragmentation, and isolation within our society? Is there really an unholy trinity of isolation, fear of feelings, and a need for control at work in both mass shooters and ordinary people? Dr. Seepersad believes isolation is also the cause of more insidious ills, including obesity and depression.
“When you have a society in which its citizens are becoming more lonely and less trusting of others, it negatively affects not only the individuals’ health in that society (increased mortality, sleep disorders, obesity, increased blood pressure, depression, etc.), but on a much broader level, it seems to lead to a collapsing of society as well.”
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, and so many other societal ills could be best combated by building better relationships, according to Dr. Seepersad. People need to learn to deal with their fears and other emotions, according to Dr. Firestone, while Taub believes it is all about a need to control. Could all this indicate a cycle that starts with fear; fear of neighbors, fear of society, fear of emotion, and then a grievance or perceived attack, that presents a need for a way to control? Taub states that domestic violence is a psychological training ground for violent attacks in which graduation includes mass killing.
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions and domestic violence could be a result of a basic fear cycle described in Science Daily. It is easy to see how all the elements discussed earlier add up to the simple animalistic instinctual cycle described.
“In fear, one may go through various emotional stages. A good example of this is the cornered rat, which will try to run away until it is finally cornered by its predator, at which point it will become belligerent and fight back until it either escapes or is captured. The same goes with most animals. Humans can become very intimidated by fear; causing them to go along with one’s wishes without caring about their own input. They can also become equally violent, and can even become deadly; it can cause an instinctive reaction to rising adrenaline levels rather than a consciously thought-out decision.”
With police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence so prominent in our society, fear begets fear. In addition, there are financial fears like poverty, unemployment, and even hunger. Politics, global warming, new technology, increasing wealth inequality, changes in societal roles, and fear of change, all offer reasons to feel intimidated. It is easy to see how people become fearful, look for a cause of their ills and then explode into a poorly thought out action, just like a trapped rat. Does it all start though with isolation and closing off those fearful feelings rather than explore them?
Police shootings, ISIS terrorism, addictions, and domestic violence could be related to three root causes, isolation, fear of feelings, and a need to gain control.
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