The Continuum of Violence

Over and over again, in the last few weeks, months, years and decades we continue to be overwhelmed by the news of horrible acts of violence. Most recently, in a small, quiet town in rural Texas, where “you would least expect it,” it happened again: a mass murder in an unassuming country Baptist church. More than fifty people were killed in cold blood, including children and the elderly. An unfathomable act for most of us trying to process such terror, even as it becomes more and more a part of the norm.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

While many are asking why and debating the gun control issue, therapists realize that these news stories that are becoming much too frequent are really only the tip of the iceberg. We see in our practices the wider spectrum of violent acts, including spousal and child abuse, which are physical, sexual and verbal in nature. We see victims of trauma routinely who present complex, long term symptoms of anguish and pain, sometimes leading into generations of further pain and maladaptive behavior.

It seems as though there may be no end to this stream of inhumane behavior. This may indeed be true, that violence prevails no matter what interventions are attempted. But I believe that as a therapist I have a duty to try to intervene, even if only on a case-by-case basis.

With over four decades in this field, I can’t help but notice the continuum of aggressive and violent behavior. On one end it seems small, almost trivial, maybe “teasing,” or passive-aggressive in nature. Like bugging someone about wearing their favorite baseball cap or the way they wear their hair or calling them names just to be funny. This can grow into more full-fledged bullying, like playground bullying, cyberbullying or workplace bullying. There is a distinction between bullying and abuse, the latter crosses the line into physical harm and violence, but I would contend that this wider range of behaviors can be considered to be those of disrespect and ultimately harmful to some degree or another.

My point here is not to exaggerate the lesser of these acts into major problems on their own, but to recognize the larger picture so that we can more completely study and begin to understand this phenomenon of violence in our culture, our neighborhoods, our families and ourselves. I believe that the lack of respect, or disrespect, can behave like a cancer and grow to become a devastating story, sometimes told on the news. Therapists have an opportunity to intersect and intervene in these stories in a way that few do. I believe it’s our responsibility as professionals and human beings to do so with as much respectful clarity as possible.

Over the next weeks and months I will be returning to this topic of understanding and intervening violence and welcome your input into this discussion.


RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

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