The Psychology and Neurobiology of Violence
This book is based upon the premise that the evolution of amounts of interpersonal violence, terrorism and war is dependent upon the evolution of historical personality types, which I call "psychoclasses." This evolution, in turn, depends upon the historical evolution of childrearing modes, as shown in the charts below. The evidence for the evolution of childrearing has been the subject of seven books and over eighty scholarly articles by myself published during the past four decades, backed up by the findings of over fifty psychohistorical colleagues which I have published in my scholarly journals, The Journal of Psychohistory and The Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology.
The evolution of childrearing is an uneven historical process, both within societies and in different areas of the world, so each nation today has all six personality modes — which I term "psychoclasses" — within it, forming its various levels of political behavior from reactionary to progressive. Nevertheless, the evolution of childrearing modes and historical personalities — which I term "psychogenesis" — has improved personalities over the centuries in almost all areas of the globe, reducing the violence produced by abusive and abandoning parenting. This historical evolution of childrearing is reflected in the opening sentence of my 1974 book, The History of Childhood:
The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused.
Since I will be showing in this book that childrearing is the origin of both personal violence and war, this improvement over the centuries in childhood in the most advanced societies should show a steady decrease in personal and group violence. The chart below demonstrates this decline in human violence, based upon actual rates of the various forms of violence as shown in the historical record. It reflects a steady decline of those dying from infanticide (infanticide is not usually counted as murder), homicide, suicide, war and democide (state killing of its own population) from about 75 percent in tribal groups to under 2 percent dying of violence in developed democratic societies today.
As we will see in forthcoming chapters, the rate of childrearing evolution for most of history crucially depends upon the amount of love and support give to mothers, who have been the primary caretakers of children in their early years. Psychogenesis depends upon parents not reinflicting the damage done to them by their own families. It usually goes unrecorded in the historical record, occurring as mothers decide not to use her child erotically, not to tie it up so long in tight swaddling bands, not to turn her back or call the child "demanding" as the child tries to relate to her. A mother who was badly abused herself as a child, sexually, physically, emotionally, can hardly be expected to be able to give love and empathy to her own child — she is severely "post-partum depressed," as most mothers were in history and as a third or more of mothers still are today in more advanced nations (up to 80% have "baby blues.") Mothers are human, after all, and since most females in history have been routinely tied up, genitally mutilated, beaten, raped and subjected to daily abuse (as for instance most Muslim women today still are), one can hardly be surprised that as mothers they are not able to be loving caretakers of their children. As we will see in later chapters, it is after historical periods when girls and women are given new rights and opportunities to grow that they improve childrearing and that when the next generation becomes adult it introduces new political freedoms and economic opportunities, changing society for the better as they become more independent of old ways.
THE FORMATION OF THE MIND AND BRAIN THROUGH ATTACHMENTS
The mind and therefore the emotional content of the brain are created in the first few years of life through the attachment bond between the infant and the primary caretaker. (Fathers can be perfectly effective primary caretakers too, of course, although few historically have chosen to do so.) From the very beginning, the mother's emotionally expressive face and eyes are the most important objects in the infant's world, and the infant's wide pupils evoke the mother's gaze and increase her oxytocin, stimulating her attachment and especially her empathy, as registered in her mirror neurons. (As we will soon see, loss of the ability of mirror neurons to feel empathy is crucial in the formation of violence in the brain.) A mother who is too depressed or too busy or too angry to respond to her child's emotionally expressive face is laying down the foundation of all later violence. "The baby sees his own self when he looks at the mother's face and what he sees there is vital for the feeling of 'I am seen, so I exist, feel real, and my existence has been proved.'" It is mainly the right hemisphere of both mother and infant that regulates early emotional states and copes with stress. Romanian orphans put in cribs at birth and fed regularly but not smiled at or "sung to" usually die, since they have "black holes" in their brain scans rather than healthy, functioning right hemispheres. Even rhesus monkeys who are separated at birth from their mothers' gaze grow up fearful and violently attack other monkeys. Insecurely attached children actually display nine times as much aggression as their securely attached peers. Obviously the degree of infant-maternal attachment crucially affects the amount of violence later acted out in adults.
In the first two months, the infant who is properly cared for experiences what Stern calls an "emergent sense of self," during which the "looking into the eyes that are looking back into his is a central event around which everything turns…The baby's brain is literally tuned by the caregiver's brain to produce the correct neurotransmitters and hormones…The infant discovers that he or she has a mind and that other people have minds as well." Experiments showing how depressed or angry mothers regularly produce insecurely attached infants who grow up to be violent adults — the so-called "Ainsworth studies" of emotional neglect in childhood — now run into the hundreds worldwide. Severe maternal neglect can be seen in most mothers who are post-partum depressed or who drink alcohol daily or smoke a lot or are maritally dissatisfied or who are lone caretakers (only one in six children see their father once or more a week in America, and the majority of American children today live their lives in homes without fathers). Insecure/disorganized attachments are "attempts by the child to resolve the paradox presented by a frightened/frightening attachment figure by assuming the role of the caregiver…[When the caregiver's actions are designed] to humiliate him or her into submission…the child seems motivated to protect the parent by being excessively cheery, polite, or helpful." It is this reaction to authoritarian/abandoning parenting which has been the rule during most of history that gets repeated so often in political behavior, where insecurely-parented nations cling to Punitive Parent Leaders in response to their demands for submission.
The infanticide, tying up, starving, battering, torture and rape of children that has been routine in history will be examined in more detail in later chapters of this book. Even today, however, most children in most nations are badly abused and neglected in their early years. This is denied by most people. A recent survey of British doctors, for instance, said they believed the child sexual abuse rate was "probably less than one percent," while careful studies of U.K. childhood sexual assault showed two-thirds of girls and one-third of boys had been used sexually. The figures for the U.S. are about the same. Physical abuse is even more prevalent; two-thirds of British mothers said they routinely hit their infants in their first year of life, and in the next two years 97% said they hit their children "at least once a week…most a good deal more often," using straps, belts, canes and sticks on the boys. Figures for less advanced societies are even higher, where, for instance, many Islamic societies still raping the majority of both girls and boys, and "infanticide, abandonment of babies, to beating, shaking, burning, cutting, poisoning" are found to be common. Since Islamic females traditionally have had their genitals painfully cut off as young girls (in Egypt today, for instance, 97 percent of uneducated families and 66 percent of educated families still practice female genital mutilation), it is hard to be surprised that they grow up to be less than effective mothers.
Most mothers in history and a majority of mothers even today experience post-partum depression, which badly affects their ability to take care of and show love and empathy for their babies. It is bad enough that child care is itself so demanding: A study of 900 American mothers found that they most enjoyed "socializing, praying, eating, exercising, watching TV and cooking" more than "taking care of my children." Even more crucial are the studies that show that 80 percent of mothers experience either (1) mild "baby blues" for months after birth, (2) postpartum depression for up to several years, or (3) puerperal psychosis: "They feel low, anxious, tearful, and irritable. They have rapid mood swings…feel hopeless…experience panic attacks...feel worthless, inadequate…have suicidal thoughts and thoughts of harming or killing their children." They regularly think: "I had Holly in a carriage, going onto the escalator, and I remember thinking, 'if I let go of this carriage, she'll probably be dead at the end' or 'I could drop Jamie right in the lake and he'd be drowned.'" They confess they are "afraid to be alone with my baby." Depressed mothers are "about 40 percent of the time unresponsive or disengaged, whilst much of the rest of the time they are angry, intrusive and rough with their babies." Some psychiatrists call postpartum mood disorders "the biggest complication of birth today. Yet despite the epidemic proportions of such illnesses, they fail to receive the attention they deserve." It is understandable that careful studies have found that "those children whose mothers had been depressed in the months after childbirth were more violent than other children." And, since mothers are the main caretakers in the family, it is not surprising that mothers or mother substitutes are still today responsible for more of the cases of violent physical abuse of children than fathers or father substitutes.
Although depression is recognized as usually caused by an overexcited amygdalan fear network and a reduction of the calming hormone serotonin, postpartum depression is not in fact caused by maternal hormone changes after birth. Abusive mothers are either depressed or angry, and the cortisol levels of both depressed and angry mothers are elevated both in the mother and in her child. There are two sources of depression, child abuse and neglect by parents: (1) the kind of parenting the parents themselves received in their own childhood, and (2) the lack of assistance they receive as parents from their families and societies in caring for the child.
The parents of the caretaker are still present as "ghosts in the nursery" when the child is born, in the form of dissociated persecutory alters (alternative personalities) — internal objects and voices that repeat the traumas and fears the caretaker experienced as a child, since "The hurtful parent was once a hurt child." Parents often believe that when their babies cry they "sound just like my mother, complaining all the time" or "just like my father, a real tyrant!" They themselves repeat exactly the same words and feelings their own mothers always yelled at them: "You're so selfish! You never think of me!" The mother experiences herself as the good, persecuted mother while the baby is seen as a primarily bad, utterly persecuting and justifiable object of hatred." The helpless, vulnerable child experiences this reenactment of maternal fear and hatred as ending in abandonment or death. As Joseph Rheingold says, "Most mothers do not murder or totally reject their children, but death pervades the relationship between mother and child." These death fears become the basis for all later violence, both personal and social. Fay Weldon puts it succinctly: "Once you have children, you realize how wars start."
The second source of post-partum fear, anger and depression in the mother is the lack of assistance they get in caring for their children. When the mother must work and gets no help in caring for her children, when the father is violent toward her or demands constant attention, when there are deaths or severe illnesses in the family, when economic or military disruptions or dozens of other sources of maternal stress that are the norm in families throughout history occur, caretakers simply cannot offer the time and energy and love that are required to form secure attachments to their infants, so they grow up to be insecure, disorganized children who are irrational, out of control and violent later on. In European nations today like Austria where the government provides mothers three years of paid leave for each child plus other daycare help, mothers are far more able to be effective caretakers, and rates of youth homicide and suicide and drug abuse have declined dramatically.
THE FEAR OF BEING KILLED BY YOUR MOTHER
Whether the mother is depressed and withdrawn or dominating and angry, the extremely vulnerable baby and young child fears being killed or abandoned by her, and this fear of imminent death is embedded in the brain in a dissociated alter in its right hemisphere, where it is unavailable for correction as the child grows up. Beginning with two path-breaking psychiatrists writing in the 1970s — Joseph Rheingold (The Mother, Anxiety, and Death: The Catastrophic Death Complex) and Dorothy Bloch ("So the Witch Won't Eat Me": Fantasy and the Child's Fear of Infanticide) — psychoanalysts have begun to address the fact that many of their patients continue to fear and defend against early death-dealing Killer Mother alters that remain in a cut-off dissociated state in their psyches. Rheingold emphasizes the child's terror of being violently killed by their mother who wishes him dead, and shows that he concludes that it must be because he is bad and that "by dying he appeases her and hopes to gain her affection." Rheingold sees this as not only the source of suicide and other self-destructive behavior but as the ultimate source of religion in rebirth fantasies such as the Christian and Islamic wish to die and be merged with God/Allah, shouting "Allahu akbar," "God is Great," the Killer Mother is Great, where "mother's love is the prize of death." Rheingold reports on Despert's studies of the dreams of preschool children, which are "almost always sadistic [and] concern being chased, bitten, and devoured [by beasts, identified with the mother] never pushed, hit, scratched, or kicked, all hostile acts that he might have actually encountered." Even when Sylvia Anthony "asked normal children of 2 to 5 years of age to tell a story [of any kind, they told ones] of aggression, death and destruction and fears…of wild animals like lions, wolves, and gorillas, of ghosts and witches." Rheingold's work backed an earlier statement by Freud that he found a "surprising, yet regular, dread of being killed by the mother" in patients, a clinical finding that he soon explained away by positing an inherited "death instinct" rather than destructive mothering. Since children have little fear of normal dying of old age, Rheingold emphasizes that "the child does not fear to die; he fears being murdered…thoughts of punishment and death come readily to the minds of children." Being unloved means being killed for being bad.
Dorothy Bloch is one of the first psychiatrists actually treating young children, and she was startled to find that her little patients constantly feared that she "or their parents—might kill them. That the fear of infanticide might be their central preoccupation? Absurd. As one child after another admitted me to his world of fantasy, however, I witnessed a terror of being killed that varied only in its intensity." As she discovered that the world of little children "abounded in beasts of terrifying mien, in cruel witches and monsters who pursued their victims with unrelenting savagery," she became convinced that "the identities behind these imaginary, terrifying figures are the child's own parents…[Although] children's fantasies appeared to concentrate on the fear of being killed, the displacement of terror onto monsters was obviously designed to preserve an idealized image of their parents." And when the displacement onto monsters is investigated further, she found they picked up the mother doll and "stated with deep feeling, 'She wants her child to die!'" And, of course, she regularly found the mother was violent toward the child or constantly said things like "I wish I never had you" or even that the parents were violent toward each other, with "the intensity of their fear depending upon…the degree of violence they have experienced." Even maternal depression alone convinced the child that they were worthless; indeed, maternal withdrawal regularly produces more insecure attachments than maternal domination and anger. Bloch constantly found that her patient "idealized his parents [and] convinced himself that his parents wanted to and were capable of loving him, but that it was his worthlessness that made them hate and even want to destroy him. The investment in this distortion seemed universal." After the child is convinced he is bad and deserving to be destroyed, every incident in his life becomes proof of his responsibility for unhappy events: "Is there a death in the family? — he's a murderer. An accident? — he's the secret perpetrator…His 'badness' causes his mother to leave him for a job…and drives his father to absent himself on business trips…he is the subject of every quarrel and the author of every disaster [even of] divorce."
And when boys regularly draw and play soldiers and warfare, they reveal their "concern with murder and annihilation" as their "response to their fear of infanticide."
Other psychoanalysts have picked up the themes of Rheingold and Bloch and shown by careful statistical studies that "securely attached individuals report less fear of death than insecurely attached individuals" and that the expectation of death as punishment for being "bad" is caused by insecure or disorganized attachments. Stern, Anthony and others have confirmed that "dreams are full of death symbolism" beginning at eight months of age when babies begin to experience pavor nocturnes attacks and nightmares when "sleep is interrupted by intense terror personified by an attacking monster." Various Jungians have written on the child's fears of the Terrible Mother or devouring Dragon Mother. Dozier's book, entitled Fear Itself: The Origin and Nature of the Powerful Emotion That Shapes Our Lives and Our World, concludes: "From ages four to six, the fear of death and imaginary threats come to dominate the child's mind [including] fears of monsters, ghosts, murderers, tigers, lions, or other predatory animals." Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests found that "children consistently identified death itself with punishment and violence." Kahr found his patients in a British psychiatric hospital all told him their parents wanted to kill them and that furthermore he "soon discovered that many of my patients had experienced profound death threats and attempts on their lives in childhood and adolescence. The bodies of these patients remained alive, but the souls had suffered untold destruction." And Masterson found children of borderline mothers felt that "the only way they could please their own mothers was to kill themselves" and that their mothers actually often told them "I'd be better off without you" and "I could kill you."
Least it be objected that most of these studies are from clinical populations, further studies must be cited to show that even in an advanced population, an upper middle class New York City area, most of the preschool children are full of fears of being killed by their parents. One study was conducted for several years by Stephen Joseph, and shows convincingly that "Young children are afraid most of the time, so afraid that they find it difficult to learn, to think, and to grow." Joseph simply sat on a chair on one side of a nursery school, and told the children he was just there to talk to them, not supervise them. He found that although they generally tried to hide their real feelings, they were hourly "preoccupied with death and death games." Monsters, ghosts and witches were constantly out to kill them, and when they weren't actually fighting between themselves, "they played war games or cops and robbers…Most were battles between the good guys and the bad guys [with] constant ordering of alliances and coalitions…they seemed more like governments in world politics than children in nursery school." They constantly looked for the answer to the question: "Will you 'dead' me, or kill me, if I act bad enough?"
When Joseph spoke privately to each of the children, they told him of their obsession with their fears: "When I tell people, 'Some day I'm going to be dead,' they say, 'Now look, kid, stop making jokes. I know you won't die.' You see? I can't tell anyone what I think about dying, because no one will listen to me!" Talking about death with parents or teachers was taboo. They revealed that they dreamed about being killed "hundreds of times." They concluded that even thinking about death would make them crazy, or even make them dead. No one wants a "morbid, disturbed child." So when Joseph told them "If you are thinking about death, I can try to answer some of your questions." They responded, softly: "I think about it a lot."
He found that whether the incidents children react to in their daily life with death fears consist of being hit at home or watching endless deaths on TV, they told him it raised the question, "If they punish me for something small, will they kill me for something big?" They were "obsessed with death as a punishment for not conforming, for daring to think, for asking questions, and for not obeying the authorities." The children asked Joseph: "Why do grownups make up stories to scare kids, if they aren't real?" They ganged up, teased, tormented and fought other children in games they called "The Monsters Kill the Children." They told of nightmares of being killed that they had similar to the games that they played. God played a major role as Killer Monster, and those that went to church told him the wafer "tasted like a real body" when they ate it. Their parents and their society convinced them that death was not only real, it was imminent, and it was because they were bad.
FUSION WITH THE "KILLER MOTHER" ALTER AND SPLITTING OFF THE "BAD SELF" ALTER
Children who cannot depend upon their caretaker to work through their daily fears have to "swallow down whole" their deadly abusers and store their abusive personalities in their brains, in a dissociated part of the right hemisphere's amygdalan network, a persecutory personality termed an alter. Its purpose is to hold the early terrors of abuse and abandonment in a split-off form that allows the child to not have to express his pain and humiliation to the parent (usually the mother) for fear of completely losing her and being killed. The alter allows the child to blame himself for the abuse, then splitting himself as victim into two additional internal alters: the Hero Self, who clings to his Killer Mother Alter and protects her, and the Bad Self, whom he must punish to avoid having the mother completely abandon and kill him. The dissociated alters being in the right hemisphere explains why "left-handed males [right hemisphere dominant] are disproportionately represented in delinquent and criminal groups."
The child from the first months of life is able to form dissociated alters. An example of just how early this splitting can take place can be found in the case of a fifteen-month-old baby girl, Sarah, whose babysitter took a series of pornographic photos of her. The photos were discovered, and showed her "naked and being touched by an erect, adult penis." Three years later, Sarah draws pictures for her therapist of naked babies and says, "She's my doll. She's laying on the bed naked. I cover her up. I'm yelling at the doll. She was bad! I yell at my doll…'You! You bad thing!'" Even as a little child, Sarah blamed herself for her sexual abuse, then internalized and reenacted the abuse while feeling fused with the abuser.
Alters are the time bombs embedded in the right brain during childhood that are the sources of all later violence. Because they are dissociated modules, the adult can seem to be any personality mode, even passive or withdrawn, but when they act out the earlier hurts and fears and rages against a Bad Self victim they can become a murderer or terrorist or soldier massacring thousands without guilt. It is the dissociated aspect of social violence and war that allows so many psychologists to conclude that men like Goering or Auschwitz guards or bin Laden are "perfectly normal," since their left-brain personalities are well organized, not "psychotic," while their right-brain dissociated alter modules periodically take over and commit their violence.
Violent alters are introjects present in most people throughout history as a result of their extremely abusive and neglectful childrearing, even though the concept has only recently begun to be investigated in connection with the inner voices of multiple personalities and schizophrenics. Because these alters are so well denied and defended against, we don't recognize them as the voices of past abuses, accusations and humiliations that they really are. When psychoanalysts know about dissociated alters, they can often observe them as they are being formed in families. Richard Kluft, for instance, describes how he "observed mother and son together. Whenever mother switched into an angry alter the son switched into the 'scared' alter. The boy's [conscious] personality denied being abused and could not believe his mother would beat him…suppressing his angry alter for fear of enduring even greater abuse."
Surveys of healthy people reveal 39 percent admit they hear 'inner voices" regularly in their minds. One psychotherapist, Robert W. Firestone, practices what he terms "voice therapy" by getting them to access their "parental or child voices" and seeing how they affect their daily self-accusations. Firestone discovered that all his patients — and even his neighbors and fellow therapists in discussion groups — contain these voices. One way he recovers the angry voices is to ask the person to recall when during the previous week they became angry at themselves and what triggered the self-attack. They report feelings like "I'm such a failure," or "I'm so incompetent at work" or "I'm so inconsiderate of my wife." He then asks them to rephrase these self-accusations in the first person, such as "You'll always be a failure!" or "You're such a selfish person" or "You're always so inconsiderate!" or even "Why don't you just die!" — often in the voice of their mothers. They then realize where their fears and lack of attachments originate, and answer the voice, challenging its accusations. He finds his therapy works both with violent and self-destructive persons in limiting their acting out and with self-limiting people who "act as their own jailers…people at the mercy of the defense system that they originally constructed to protect themselves when they were little." Only by breaking "the Fantasy Bond that originates as an illusion of fusion with the idealized mother" are patients able to be independent and innovative and empathic toward others.
The alter created in fusion with the Killer Mother is not just simple "identification" or "internalization" as Freudian psychoanalytic theory imagines. It is a powerful defense against death fears — an act of desperation not love. It involves both the extreme idealization which is evident in nations or religious groups with a need to act out the original death fears by dying as a martyr for your grandiose Motherland or for your almighty God or Goddess. All violent groups are formed by the fusion of the Heroic Self alter with the Killer Mother alter, just as all suicidal behavior has been found to contain a "oneness fantasy" where "the individual believes that part of the self will survive [death] in a fusional relationship with an idealized mother." The power of this fusion fantasy can be seen in a simple experiment that has been repeated over and over again by Silverman and his group. They showed subliminal messages to hundreds of people, and found that only one — "MOMMY AND I ARE ONE"— had an enormous emotional effect, reducing their anxieties and pathologies and their smoking and drinking addictions measurably. "Daddy and I are one" had no effect. The power of this fantasy from earliest childhood on can be seen from the fact that the majority of three-year-old boys said when they grew up they wanted to be mothers. It is a fear of revealing this basic need to be fused with the mother that is responsible for boys playing separately from girls from the age of four and for their fears that they might "change into a girl" and so must dominate girls (and women and enemy nations) to avoid becoming a "sissy," a "wimp." Yet the fusion with the Killer Mother fantasy continues, since, as Masterson puts it: "The patient's feelings of infantile deprivation are so fundamental, so deep, and the feelings of abandonment so painful that he is willing in therapy, as he was as a child, to sacrifice anything to fulfill the fantasy of reunion."
Furthermore, as the Masterson group is nearly alone in emphasizing, it is during actual "experiences of psychosocial growth, including moves toward separation-individuation" that the fear of being abandoned by the mother are most powerfully re-experienced, producing a renewed "wish for reunion that relieves the feelings of abandonment." It is, observes Masterson, when patients make good progress in therapy and in their lives that they suddenly find themselves "engulfed in a feeling of freedom" and then panic. Patients say: "Going beyond what my mother wanted me to be makes me feel like I'm falling apart, disintegrating, and sets off a minefield of attack, destruction, and killing." They are experiencing what I have termed "growth panic" — fears of success and independence and new freedoms and challenges. Growth panic is experienced periodically in historical periods of progress and new political freedoms, leading to renewed needs for fusion with their Killer Motherland and a creation of Bad Self enemies, and finally then wars against any out-group that is willing to fight and die for their Killer Motherland. As we will see in the next chapter, it is growth panic that accounts for why nations go to war far more often after periods of success and social change than after periods of economic distress, as is often claimed.
That enemies —either personal or group — are Bad Self alters rather than just objects to hate to express an inherited "aggressive instinct" is not recognized by most students of violence. But none of the characteristics of a relationship with an enemy conform to the instinct notion. Enemies, like your Bad Self, are usually vulnerable. Neither bullies in a playground, who pick on the most helpless kids, nor war-prone leaders choose strong enemies to fight. They even speak of enemies with infantile images like "They're stinky" or "They're about to devour us" or they speak like their punitive mothers and, like George W. Bush, say "They only respect force" when starting wars. The Nazis first killed helpless German children In gas chambers, not Jews; over 70,m000 "undesirable children who were late in being toilet trained or had used dirty words were deemed "undesirable bad babies" and gassed in 1939, before the Holocaust. Enemies everywhere are tortured while naked, as if they were babies, from the naked torture rituals of antiquity to those of Abu Ghraib. For that matter, Greek soldiers in antiquity often fought while nearly naked as a baby, except for their shields — which had Athena embedded on it — as if they could only sacrifice themselves for their Killer Motherland while dressed as babies. Other examples of war enemies as babies are legion: the Turks for instance used to infantilize the Armenians by making them strip naked like helpless infants and march until they died. Furthermore, little boys recognize early on their need to be martyrs for their Killer Motherland. The majority of boys questioned in one study admitted openly that they were willing to die for America. Not die for any worthwhile American war goal — the study was done in 1974 when the Vietnam War was thoroughly unpopular. Just willing to die for America, their Motherland, to become martyrs, like Christ dying for his God. They need to die to renew the Killer Motherland: "The souls of nations are drinking renewal from the blood of fallen soldiers. [The soldier ] dies peacefully. He who has a Motherland dies in comfort…in her, like a baby falling asleep."
THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF HOW FEARS ARE STORED IN DISSOCIATED ALTERS
Schore, Le Doux and other neurobiologsts provide massive evidence that the neural circuitry of the infant's fear system is located in the right brain in two main affect regulators: the prefrontal cortex (the regulator) and the amygdala (the fear system.) When children experience maternal abandonment fears and maternal abuse, they release cortisol, which shuts down their prefrontal cortex and makes their amygdala hyperactive, "indelibly imprinting, burning in" the memory of the threatening mother in their amygdalan module. "The role of the amygdala is to remember a threat, generalize it to other possible threats, and carry it into the future." "Human subjects whose brains were electrically stimulated in the region of the amygdala reported a sense of being reprimanded by an authority." Only major dangers imprint themselves in dissociated form in the amygdala. Amygdalae of insecurely attached children are hyperactive and larger than those of securely attached children, plus their prefrontal cortices are smaller, and so they are less able to control their fears, angers and other irrational emotional reactions in response to later interpersonal difficulties. As LeDoux puts it, "They are probably with us for life."
This early imprinting of dissociated alters in the right amygdala of humans is the main source of violence in later life. Brain scans reveal that "an enduring pattern, associated with destructive, defensive rage, is imprinted into an immature, inefficient orbitofrontal [cortical] system [and amygdala] during relational trauma in early childhood." "The child uses the output of the mother's emotion-regulating right cortex as a template for the imprinting of circuits in his own right cortex." Later, "when adult human subjects are shown fearful or angry faces, it immediately depresses their right cortexes" and activates their right amygdalae — as when they are racially biased white subjects who are shown faces of African Americans. The right amygdala has been measured to be larger and more excitable in psychotics, depressives, anxiety disorders and murderers — plus, presumably, if they ever would allow us to measure them, in terrorists and war lovers. In addition, all these violence-prone products of early relational trauma suffer from elevated norepinephrine (acting-out neurotransmitter) levels and depressed serotonin (calming hormone) levels.
Finally, one further important area of the brain becomes damaged during early stress: the insula, a deep area of the cortex that contains most of the "mirror neurons" that make people capable of empathy of the emotional states of others. It is the cutting off of access especially to the right insula that occurs when mass murderers switch into their violent alters that allows them to kill myriad numbers of strangers without guilt. And it is the cutting off of the empathic mirror neurons of the right insula that allows SS men to gather together French women and children, "hug them with tenderness" and treat them "with utmost kindness," and then switch into their violent alters, put them in a church and set them afire and burn them to death. Indeed, the turning off of the empathic insula is responsible for all in-group/out-group splitting when people enter their violent alters in wars. Without this turning off of empathy in the war trance, mass violence is impossible. But when Hutu and Tutsi who have been friends living next to each other and intermarrying for decades switch into a war trance for internal emotional reasons and cut off the empathic mirror neurons in their right insula, they suddenly find themselves able to chop off their neighbors' heads and arms without guilt.
Neuropsychiatrists have examined abused and neglected children with brain scans, and shown the damage done that affects their need for violence later on. Bruce Perry has published a huge number of studies showing abnormal brain development following neglect and abuse in little children, including significantly smaller brains, decreased activity in their prefrontal cortex, hippocampal damage and amygdaloid overexcitation that produces "electrical storms" similar to those experienced by patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, seizures that cause hallucinations and violent behavior. As we will see shortly, nations starting wars undergo emotions that are similar to individuals who are having epileptic fits, and violent religious leaders, like Mohammed, often experience actual epileptic seizures. Brain-wave abnormalities are found in both prefrontal and amygdalan areas in those who had been traumatized in childhood. The medial prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain just behind the eyes — which has been termed the site of the "moral-decision module" and the "sense of self," is so damaged by early mistreatment that all impulses are released from control, both violent impulses and sexual impulses — which accounts for why soldiers on a rampage so often not only kill but also rape the innocent victims they encounter. As Konner puts it in his study of "Human Nature, Ethnic Violence and War": "…child abuse [produces] frontal lobe damage that contributes to violent tendencies…epileptics…with seizures in the amygdala have aggressive outbursts. People with records of criminal aggression have more EEG abnormalities than others…reduced brain serotonin activity lowers the threshold for aggressive reactions to frustration…Impulsively violent and antisocial individuals have low levels [of serotonin]." In addition, a prefrontal cortex with low serotonin means the subject experiences delusions and hallucinations, which because of early structural damage means they cannot catch errors and correct them before they become violent in reacting to imaginary threats. This delusional outcome for neglected and abused children is very important in nations starting wars, which as we will see regularly begin with delusional threats from neighbors they imagine are about to attack. Since the brain damage done by withdrawal of the mother is even worse than that done by her anger, the effects of the universal swaddling and other abandonment practices throughout history — where the infant is left alone in its crib "to avoid it becoming a tyrant" — embed dissociated violent alters in their right hemispheres that make them profoundly violence-prone later in life.
The defense of dissociation begins in insecure infants who "conceive of the parent's mind as simply too terrifying" to relate to, "creating a defensive disruption of their capacity to depict thoughts and feelings in themselves and others." It is effective in handling overwhelming fears: "Dissociation is a method of coping with inescapable stress [allowing] infants to enter into trance states and to ignore current sensory input." Children then only recapture the traumatic images in nightmares (when the amygdala "lights up like a pinball machine") and fears of ghosts and monsters that escape the imprinted violent parent alter. One describes his monster dreams that imprinted his fears of his punitive father that were imprinted in his brain:
I was down in the basement in bed sleeping and it was the terror of all terrors. I knew the ghost was around the corner…I finally decided I would just yell and let the ghost come out and get me. I sat up in bed and screamed as loud as I could. The ghost came roaring out of its hiding place and jumped all over me and attacked me…
Traumatized children often access their terrifying alters by "depersonalizing, going numb, day dreaming, and staring off into space with a glazed look." Because alters are not modified by later experience, "it is not unusual for a childhood dream symbol to continue intermittently for years or even decades." They often appear as imaginary companions during self-induced "hypnoid" trance states, even as fully conscious alternate personalities. I myself as a child used to split off from myself and float to the ceiling when my father beat me with his razor strap. I was so certain I could really fly I told a friend to watch me jump from a second story window and fly down (I of course broke my ankle doing so.) The majority of children even today have invisible companions or selves that are actually alters.
Alters are "activated by strong emotional experiences, whether intensely pleasurable or intensely painful." Dreams and hypnotic states are "increased facilities in enhancing amygdaloid-hippocampal activity, resulting in increased theta wave production." All adults increase their daydreams, reveries and fantasies in cycles of about 90 minutes during the day, as shown by increased EEG alpha wave activity, during which hypnotists find they can more easily reach dissociated alter material. In fact, hypnosis has been described as "controlled dissociation [and] dissociation as a form of self-hypnosis." Children who have been abused are more easily hypnotizable by charismatic political leaders. The child's behavior when re-experiencing the abuse of their punitive alters always contains a self-destructive aspect, even suicidal attempts, which often get acted out later on, since "adolescents themselves preferred death to exposing their abusive parents." Violent criminals, according to Richard Rhodes, "consult 'phantom communities' [alters] in their heads who approve of their violent acts as revenges for past humiliations." According to James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist who has spent his life talking to violent criminals in prisons, reveals that they all were horribly abused as children:
As children, these men were shot, axed, scalded, beaten, strangled, tortured, drugged, starved, suffocated, set on fire, thrown out of windows, raped, or prostituted by mothers who were their 'pimps.' . . . Some people think armed robbers commit their crimes in order to get money. But when you sit down and talk with people who repeatedly commit such crimes, what you hear is, 'I never got so much respect before in my life as I did when I first pointed a gun at somebody.'"
Although violent assault rates in the U.S. today are under one percent of the population per year (with over 30 percent of the population of the U.S. being arrested at least once in their lives), the rates of murder earlier in history were far higher, especially if infanticide rates of up to 50 percent of newborn are considered murder, as they should be. Gilligan calls all interpersonal violence "an attempt to achieve justice" for the childhood harm done to them. Our justice system makes violent people more violent, since, as Gilligan has shown: "Punishment does not prevent violence, it causes it." Murderers are full of shame, live in a constant state of hypervigilance and feel no empathy or attachments for anyone in their threatening world, all the result of the alters that remain embedded since their childhoods. Most when questioned say, like Kip Kinkel, who fired at his schoolmates and teachers: "Voices directed me to kill." Bessel van der Kolk, the most famous expert on dissociated alters, concludes: "People with childhood histories of trauma, abuse and neglect make up almost the entire criminal justice population in the US [with abusive childhoods causing] dissociative states." And Robert Firestone reports all his suicidal patients hear parental voices telling them they should kill themselves.
Most people, of course, consciously consult their punitive alters through prayer, with 90 percent of Americans saying they pray to their hyper-grandiose, demanding, punitive deity on a daily basis. Jeanette Good's careful study of religious belief shows the amount of religious experience in life is correlated with the degree of corporal punishment and shame inflicted by caretakers in the believer's childhood. Praying and other religious activities — like all alter experiences — aims at fusion with the idealized Killer Mother alter, the god who has abandoned one for one's sinfulness, because you as a child were "bad." And, of course, religions, like all in-groups, commit violence by projecting this Bad Self alter onto other believers and persecuting them.
THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF SWITCHING INTO DISSOCIATED ALTERS
The psychodynamcs of having a nightmare, entering into a hypnotic trance, becoming possessed, murdering someone and starting a war are similar. They all are results of switching into dissociated violent right hemisphere alters, terror modules in the right amygdala that are embedded early in life and continue to relive the fears of early abuse and neglect. When young boys "play war," they are practicing switching into their violent alters, practice fusing with their Killer Motherland, and practice the killing of Bad Self enemies. Nightmares and hypnotic states show increased right hemisphere EEGs, which is why hypnotists use "sleeping methods" to switch people into a trance. The switching process in tribal rites begins when the group proclaims individuals are "too successful...they must have stolen other person's yams from their gardens by magic," they must be sorcerers. Their "ghostly self" (alter) is then experienced as terrifying fear, and then, usually after frenzied dancing or other painful "driving" rites that produce tremors and hypoglycemia, they are able to achieve a state of fusion with their Killer Mother alter that feels like "ecstasy" and "awe," since the fusion state releases endogenous opioids that are experienced as morphine-like mystical feelings of grandiosity. Over a third of Americans report they have experienced this feeling; the majority of tribal and earlier historical personalities are able to experience the fusion ecstasy of possession. During alter fusion the possessed person experiences unity with the Killer Mother alter which is often described as "love," but the price of this delusional state is loss of personal self and a splitting off of Bad Self, which soon must be persecuted in some out-group under the command of alter "voices" demanding punishment. Eliade describes one spiritual possession of a shaman who was possessed by "a woman with one-half of her face black, and the other half red. [She first said] 'I love you.' [Then] If you will not obey me, I shall kill you.'"
Bourguignon reported in her cross-cultural survey of 488 societies, that "ninety percent have one or more institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of altered states of consciousness," what Crapanzano terms "possession trances." Possession by alters is reported as beginning in childhood throughout history. In the Acts of Thomas, God himself advised Christians "to avoid having children [since] the majority of children [are] possessed by demons." When fully into their possession alter, Christians often "speak in tongues," repeating the meaningless sounds of early childhood, while trembling with fear. As we will examine more thoroughly in coming chapters, even Greek and Roman thinkers reported possession by alters felt as body parts that they talk to and are moved by "little men" voices like the thumos and kradie and psyche. Even more familiar are the states of possession of oracles, witches, shamans and others in people thought to be invaded by demons or spirits and who had to be exorcised or killed in order to be released from their possession state. Witches in particular were acknowledged as Killer Mothers: "Over and over again in the trial records, the accused women are addressed as 'Mother' …The witch is a monstrous mother."
The same process of switching into violent alters is necessary in order for tribes and states to begin wars. In the following chapters we will show that there are seven separate stages to complete this alter switch into a full fighting war trance. That the people who are most prone to the war trance are reactionaries who have had the worst, most authoritarian, most abusive childrearing is a truth that has many studies to back it up. These begin with a whole series of "authoritarianism" studies, beginning with The Authoritarian Personality by Theodore Adorno and others, which established a "Fascism Scale" that measured those who were uncritical toward authorities of the in-group, who believed in punishing those who violated conventional values, who were preoccupied with dominance-submission relationships and identified with "tough" power figures, and who had generalized hostility and destructiveness toward those who didn't agree with them. All these traits have been shown to be results of resentment about the parents' lack of love, displaced to fear and hatred of the out-group. Studies then followed by Etheredge, Tomkins, Alice Miller and myself that traced this authoritarian personality to what Miller termed "poisonous pedagogy" that acted out the kinds of harsh childrearing discipline that have been the cause of reactionary political behavior. Michael Milburn summarizes his extension of these findings in his asking undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts the following question:
"If you ruined an expensive toy…would your parents have spanked you, taken away privileges, scolded you, expressed disappointment, or not punished you?" …People who reported high levels of punishment…held significantly more punitive attitudes…more in favor of the death penalty, using military force, and were against abortion.
Other authoritarianism studies found that reactionaries "venerated" their domineering parents and had a contempt for the weakness of others, that reactionaries fear death more than progressives, that mother-dominant families were more antisemitic than father-dominant, that parents whose children were "more basically secure" and who were raised with more empathy held more progressive political attitudes. Reactionaries have been shown to have greater death anxieties, entertain more apocalyptic fantasies, see children as sinful and needing punishment, fear femininity more, and are quick to feel humiliation and take vengeance, all results of having powerful dissociated alters. As will be detailed in the next chapter, modern nations switch into their alters about every 25 years in a self-destructive sacrificial ritual in which they act out in the slaughters of war the nightmares that were embedded like time bombs in their brains during their abusive childhoods.
Lloyd deMause is Editor ofThe Journal of Psychohistory, Director of The Institute for Psychohistory, Treasurer of the International Psychohistorical Association, and author/editor of seven books, including The Emotional Life of Nations. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is <www.psychohistory.com>
In the past two decades over a hundred careful studies have shown that violence is the result of insecure/disorganized early attachments. Furthermore, in recent years major advances in neurobiological techniques have revealed how these early disordered attachments are embedded in the brain and are reenacted in later life in personal and social violence.