How Fear and Anxiety Cause Violence

How Fear and Anxiety Cause Violence

The world has achieved brilliance without conscience.
Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.
We know more about war than we do about peace,
more about killing than we know about living.

~Omar Bradley~

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? Not too long ago I suggested a possible connection between fear and violence. Let’s look at this closer.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) or avoiding it if it seems more powerful than you are. This kind of fear and response to it follow a direct and immediate threat of an attack such as by a wild animal or a wild person. You don’t have time to think about it but react almost automatically.

Related to fear is anxiety. The feared object might not be immediately present, but we can worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. We become anxious about our own welfare or that of our families, the possible behavior of other people or the course of the society in which we live.

If we are unable to find any way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside us and remain unknown to others unless we find someone whom we trust with our concerns or act on our anxiety. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that we all have a breaking point where we feel forced to act in ways not typical of us.

Perhaps some people seek violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear. The result can be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if we see it as responsible for our predicament. If we could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in our world would not seem quite so senseless.

But what can we do about it? Perhaps the best place to start is to realize that our technology has resulted in amazing inventions allowing us to contact others around the world in a matter of seconds. Yet overload of immediate communication has resulted in separating us rather than bringing us closer together.

In the process of becoming immediately connected we seem to have forgotten what communication is for. Its purpose is to help us understand each other and learn to work together to find harmonious ways for us to exist together. Instead, we use our channels of communication to try to persuade others to think as we do. We use them for entertainment and for advertising and of course to get as many electronic “likes” as possible.

Although our technology to a small extent helps us understand each other, we need to do much more to appreciate each other in our search for meaningful lives. People who tend toward violence may not have had goals much different from our own, but might have had their dreams crushed along the way. They no longer see any path toward a fulfilling life.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Use the media at your disposal to understand the history of the society you live in.
  • Learn about other societies through the same methods.
  • Meet others with backgrounds different from yours.
  • Find out what you and they have in common.
  • Think of ways to bridge cultures at least on an individual level.

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