Violence and Shame: Be Prepared for Your Irrational Machinery. The Peculiar Nature of Self Blame and Shame in Assault Cases
Shame being generated following an assault has always struck me as very unhelpful, on behalf of the brain. This falls into the broad category that I have come to refer to as an “emotional seizure”; as like an “anxiety attack” or a “flashback”, it seems likely that this is exactly what we are dealing with at the neural level. Shame following being assaulted is well documented. This is a peculiar situation which is reported under various headings and sub types within the literature (publish or perish after all), but really only a couple seem relevant. These include what will be referred to here as “biographical/narrative” shame (BNS) and “flaw” shame (FS). An argument for why these responses are a genuine and natural system reaction which should perhaps be expected shall be put forth. It will be argued that it is not the new psychological base state that is maladaptive, but rather the old that was ill prepared and inappropriately reinforced socially.
Biographical-narrative shame (BNS) is the feeling that the narrative of the story should be changed in the past, and the biography of the lead character has to be altered due to the event. The narrative side is the feeling of wanting to change the past: “why didn’t I fight back”; “why didn’t I run”; “why did I fall for that”; “why didn’t I tell someone” ect.
The biographical side is about character “why me”; “am I weak?”; “What if it is, then it is my fault”; “This never would have happened if I hadn’t …(walked home down a dark ally at midnight on new years eve…screamed n*ggars go home in Compton on a Saturday night…F*ggots suck d*ck during gay pride ect whatever. They’re all pretty bad examples, which will be a theme to this piece).
The key for the second part is “if it is me… it is my fault…if its my fault will it happen again?” (or can I even stop it).
Flaw Shame (FS) is the taking on of shame as a stable flaw of character that goes beyond causal to deserving. It has some biographical elements (it was Compton, it was Saturday night: I must be some kind of idiot). Often, as in the Compton example, the answer is yes: you are an idiot and as far as that reaches deserving as well as partially to blame for what followed. There has to be a truth in it for it to be so in highly effective.
Forgiveness is the key here. It is similar when those in abusive relationships seek out identical douchebags for the next partner or call the fellow that they just had the police remove 15 minutes later. Feeling that one is unlovable or that some douchebag can be forced to take responsibility for the child they had together in a helpful way (which also often has an under current of “and also stay; even though I don’t want them here”).
This is a trick of chemistry. Pulling in a more dangerous situation or inviting an old one brings an illusion of control, an illusion of safety. It can then be reached back to the original situation as well, “I never lost safety ‘cause why would I invite the threat back if I did? Really [I deserve it; I like it; I’m pretending to believe it won’t happen again; it’s not them its only when they drink; its my life wateva]”; but all of this is insane, of course.
It is an overactive control = safety circuit. But false control, then, only = false safety; which is to say either none or actually more harm. The systems that can see this insanity fight against the system trying to be “safe” by being unsafe: the result in the middle (since we can’t actively choose a negative outcome, by definition) is FS.
It is an attempt to make the negative a positive and bring control over something we had no control over. The only trouble is it doesn’t make sense.
But a further trouble is you can be reading this thinking “that shiz don’t make no sense” while with the other hand sending the text or signing the form that will engineer the next situation.
Chemistry has to be changed slowly through action, self observation and adaptive replacement where possible.
It Is Never Your Fault
Humans are biologically wired to encode negative events with a heavier weight than anything positive, and to reinforce the negative circuitry from exposure to far less severe events. It is one of those “it helped my ancestors so now I have to suffer it” type dealio’s.
Now, cliché though it may sound, it is never your fault.
Anyone getting struck out of nowhere can not be ready; struck for the first time in a relationship, can not be ready; anyone fighting multiple opponents; or larger older authoritarian opponents; or someone who came out ready for a fight; or facing someone with a weapon; or a parent poorly handling their own lot in a variety of maladaptive ways: these are just not good situations.
There are plenty of not good situations; just usually we didn’t “enlist” to encounter them. Not having control over all aspects of life and death is one of the great human tragedies, as far as the brain is concerned. For this reason it keeps trying to control everything, which is admirable. But then it will go as far as to pretend to be in control, which is stupid, though the intention is still honourable.
This is why we evolved executive override controls.
So even in the case of you being an “enlister” in life’s problems: it is still not your fault. The biology is overprotective.
BUT, by the same token, assailants are often not to blame on account of some of these very same markers. So where does this leave us? Therefore what?
Therefore, by the exact same amount that it is not ok to be an assailant, it is not ok to be an enlister. Further, if you have a child that you bring a violent situation to, you are a co-assailant, not merely an enlister. All the more reason to do something about it. If you watch violent crimes the news and say “oh how awful, why do these people do such things”: that’s you. You are watching you. You are doing those awful things. If you think they should do something about it, you do something about it.
You can forgive yourself, or forgive your biology, whichever makes you more comfortable.
However; you must take responsibility, quietly and completely, for the parts you can, in order to begin to affect change. With effort, especially with the medical and research tools available to most industrialised nations; the executive brain component can over-rule any other component.
Tactics in Decision Making
The truth is the most powerful thing one can do in any exchange is actually control the situation. However, people do not seem to know what that means. It does not mean do what the people on television do. Ever. It means weigh up energy expenditure versus how much your time is worth and do not expend in an exchange that leaves an energy deficit.
Stay down (or keep walking) if it is in an undirected conflict. Do not do this in a prize fight, obviously (unless you’re taking a dive for cash), but otherwise let the low functioning individual become someone else’s problem sooner rather than later (it will most likely be a few metres further on down the road; you can watch). This is even if you are the most awesome fighter in the world. Dealing with the cops; his friends; some off duty bouncer wanting to impress his gf and break up a fight; retaliation escalation; getting stuck with a needle by a guy my size…er…any size, a pretty big, medium slender build, look doesn’t matter what size the guy is: if it is not an adequate exchange do not expend beyond minimal. This applies across life. If you are such an awesome fighter you just can’t resist, them don’t let him touch you or drop him in the first hit and keep walking.
For the few of us who aren’t the most awesome fighters in the world, especially when sober, though are probably still good, you know, pretty good anyway; the rest still holds. Talk about what you would have done to them, and what went wrong (like how you slipped, cause all floors are slippery), for the rest of the night.
Do not seek revenge.
Do not perpetuate the fight with words to compensate for imagined loss of status in front of imaginary people.
*Do not keep low functioning individuals in your life*. This will be a recurring theme.
These people are not worth the resources (unless encountered often enough that they need to be removed with specificity. But this is a unique situation beyond the scope of this piece and that situation also requires active pre-planning, in any event).
I am not saying don’t know your exits. I am not saying don’t double check locks. I’m not even saying don’t know the useful weapon locations (something chemical, electric and/or with reach and leverage that ideally doesn’t look like a weapon. Nunchakus super skill or the 38 strike night death combination evaporating eye manoeuvre is not going to kick in from your “muscle memory” once adrenaline and hydrocortisone shunt blood and sugars from your brain to only the large muscle groups in your body (and plus the assailant guy won’t stand in the right position from training, they’re bastards like that); masters train for 40 years and still talk about using throws from the first class they ever took in a style they never continued with, when they encountered an emergency. So don’t count on your mad ninja skills if you come home and some dude is holding your TV).
But definitely still do all of these things to prepare, and maybe more. They are reasonable.
Just remember, you are dealing with a chemical protection system over-reaction. While this is retrained to efficient levels, cognition and behaviour must be carefully watched to ensure that the “protection” doesn’t put you in harms way.
I Can Not Be at Peace While Always Preparing for War
A friend once said this to me, and I found it incredibly helpful. Like a penny had dropped. You see, here is our world: there is death, it comes with disease as well, and that is almost a lifetime guarantee; then the violence is just an extra treat.
For a living machine with alarms that sound toward any direction closer to death, from a stubbed toe or a popped balloon to an M134 Gatling firing over head; this is a functional problem for modern man.
The alarm system is especially active/sensitive when it is presented with any stimulus related to a particularly unwanted event that has already been experienced. Reinforcing this alarm (or allowing this to self reinforce) to a degree which does not warn of danger accurately anymore, but instead warns of everything between here and danger, will be detrimental to achieving other life goals.
This is where the “science-y-er” perspective of looking to data beyond one’s own experience is required. Is a reaction proportional to probability systems which are applied to other situations? To continue the tradition of poor examples, below are a set of common actions which may benefit from being placed in the “hmm… yeah maybe, or” pile, should you observe yourself engaging in them:
The “hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or…” Pile
1) There is nothing maladaptive about going to the gym or learning martial arts.
But going 7 nights a week, taking steroids to the extent that you can’t point without turning your whole body or starting fights with anyone/thing walking past (especially if they are bigger or a signpost or smaller or a tree or a women or a cop or a horse or a wall or a snow man, what have you. Doesn’t matter). hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or… pile.
All perhaps not ideal options for restoring security settings in a sustainable way. People engage in these activities when they are unaware of what their final aims truly are. And what the systems they are trying to manage are doing.
2) Do more of the things you enjoy. Focus on the things you enjoy and, at your own pace, try and find more things you enjoy, sure. Live for the weekend or the quarterly rave and go large and let off steam, could work. Take daily medication to sleep or to remove the edge from the sharper parts of life…possibly. Ideally not, but most of us do.
Drink a bottle of vodka, a slab of beer and/or two bottles of wine, for breakfast, then put an acid tab under each eyelid and sit down to really think about what you are going to need in order to “really get the party started” of a morning, or comfort eat to the point they put a bench in at work where your office chair use to be, the moon starts following you around, even indoors, and you’re mainlining gravy; hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or… pile.
These things are sneaky too, you have to watch them. One day you’re upsizing a combo on your way to a rave, the next your on a gravy drip sitting on special weight support bench in a KFC somewhere wondering where it all went wrong.
Watch yourself act. Know your goals. Or at least question them as you go. Actively watching yourself make mistakes will change behaviour on its own.
3) Be more choosey about the company you keep and seek solidarity, absolutely.
Join a gang immediately, join the military or join an edge “all loving” suicide cult: hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or… pile. Perhaps sleep on it (pre-kool-aide).
Seeking a protective group better than the one you came from can definitely be important.
But pretending you’ve found one when you haven’t will more than likely only lead to worse situations.
4) Be more choosey about who you sleep with and when, sure could contribute to well being. Work on first being strong alone and then developing towards a total douchebag free environment, absolutely; that is probably a very healthy and helpful approach.
Fall in “love’ with whomever you are currently dating, take a vow of total celibacy to join a nunnery or be president of the southern hemisphere Jonas brother Society.hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or….
Are you seeing the pattern.
5) Or the other extreme of sleeping with anyone or joining a bondage club and posting pictures of yourself on some social network to maximise safety control by maximising risk (maximum out group de-identification for maximised in group inclusion illusion), or dating abusive partners repeatedly with each one worse than the last:hmm… yeah maybe I could do that, or… pile. Everything in moderation, but again maybe sleep on it before the kitty-kat face tattoo or marriage to Jesus.
Once more, seeking a protective group better than the one you came from can definitely be important. But pretending you’ve found one when you haven’t will more than likely only lead to worse situations.
Again, we are dealing with powerful chemistry here. It is not as easy as “just not doing it”, it really really isn’t. But if one is aware that it may be going on, the way a situation is approached may change before it becomes a trauma or even just uncontrollably maladaptive. Like 6 and 7.
6) There is nothing maladaptive about buying a gun, but don’t use it as a pillow, flap spreader or knob rest at night.
7) There is nothing wrong with avoiding, even actively, dubious situations; but do not simply never leave the house. This is too effective at achieving the avoidance situations you do not want. At first all seems well but later it shows itself ineffective overall, as it blocks outright situations you may want acess too as well. Finally, it becomes completely counter effective as you get blood clots from sitting at your computer reading all day and starve slowly from never going shopping.
Allowing behaviour sets like these becomes reinforcing in the wrong way, like a cheap talisman in a B grade horror film. And the unconscious doesn’t “get” reason, it learns by pair conditioning and emotive training. Like point 6 (above) for example; you may think you are just keeping your gun handy, but your unconscious reads it as something akin to “I was safe when I used my gun as a pillow, therefore the gun must touch my head at all times in order for me to remain safe”.
Yes, another horrible example. But exaggerated examples aside, this is how it works and this type of conditioning is insidious too. No matter how immune you believe you are, in all likelihood, you isn’t.
You Already Belong
The truth is there is a general massive “in group” that you are already a part of.
People will tend to look out for each other, in a general sense. Or at the very least not go out of their way to get in each others’ way; and they will always call an ambulance from across the street.
That’s pretty good. That gives you the chance to become who you would like to be around, rather than clinging at other needy people who will not likely stay when you need them. Or worse; douchebags.
Clingy needy people bound together will put on a lovely display in response to a direct affront, but are very easily splintered or even completely turned against people they “loved” yesterday via a very minor side attack. We all “need to belong” so to speak; so if within that group you can identify a sub group who “need to belong”: then they probably need to belong, and can not be trusted as a result.
I am not saying that they are douchebags, far from it. Often douchebag survivors in the middle of douchebag specific self work themselves. But it is something to watch out for when facing times where you are vulnerable yourself.
The Importance of Doochebag Management
People will tend towards altruism over wanton interference. Unless, of course, they are a doochebag.
This is why both douchebag interaction management and overcompensation reaction management are so important.
Violence is highest amongst douchebags and in douchebag invitation settings. These settings include douchebags and other douchebags douching around just generally douching life up for themselves and anyone in the vicinity; douchebags invited by maladaptive control seeking (ie calling douchebags that are known douchebags); or non-selected douchebag situation placement (douchebag parents).
In only the third situation is it even remotely complicated; and that dynamic doesn’t last forever. Ever. As for the others; even a complete, utter and total douchebag will benefit from striving to keep other douchebags out of their life.
Conclusion: Prepared for Your Irrational Machinery
Be prepared for your irrational machinery. And don’t blame yourself for it. Forgive yourself, blame God. Or no one, there is an acceptance path as well. I know no one is really to blame, I am just saying there are options. But it is a wide reaching rule and it applies to eventualities that you haven’t even been exposed to yet, so don’t be surprised. In fact; you may benefit from being prepared for your irrational machinery to react irrationally. You can do this by working on subsystems and tools to address the situation (for both for during and after an incident; both internally and externally). No one can ever be entirely prepared, but it does pay to be aware that your machinery may well act irrationally and at a time that you need it the most.
At least in this way you will not be surprised, but rather better prepared to observe, and from an earlier stage, in the very likely event of the occurrence and subsequent re-occurrence of irrational machine counter-productive reactionism.
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Breitenbecher, Kimberly Hanson (2006). The Relationships Among Self-Blame, Psychological Distress, and Sexual Victimization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21 (5), p597-611, 15p
*Dunmore, E (2010) A prospective investigation of the role of cognitive factors following physical or sexual assault [Maladaptive Control/Safety Seeking Strategies], Behaviour Research and Therapy Volume 39, Issue 9, September 2001, Pages 1063–1084. (Pretty good).
Jean, A (2009)Shame on who? : experiential and theoretical accounts of the constitution of women’s shame within abusive intimate relationships Massey University.
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