Prisoners of Hate (2000) Aaron T. Beck
The Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence, by the Father of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
People who are driven to hate and anger do so because of their own lack of confidence, fears of abandonment, lack of pride, or whatever other factor ails the self such that they feel inferior. The human mind is very egocentric in its interpretations of situations, an evolutionarily adaptive characteristic for self-protection/promotion, to avoid social danger of rejection or loss of status, as well as actual danger; we also think people interpret situations as we do. Avoiding actual danger is evolutionarily adaptive to be overcautious than under. Thus, people will pre-empt situations where they feel their honor/virtue/what-have-you is in question, to make sure that you know that they are powerful/smart/whatever. They will me “he thinks I’m X” (projected self-image) with violence, in retaliation to their wounded ego, at a wrong to them, either real or perceived. People have the ability to perceive a wrong where there is in fact none; people who are prone to hostility are more likely to do this, and we are likely to attribute malevolent characteristics, based off selective past memory or wrongs. Abusive people often have defective self images, compensating by attempting to intimidate others. People also have the capacity, when they step back, question, and evaluate, to gain perspective on their initial reactions, and correct them. People’s beliefs underline their automatic processing, which is prone to over-generalizations. The “tyranny of the shoulds” (Horney) define people who demand to be treated a certain way (with low self-esteem and a ‘thicket of rules’ to protect themselves), and want to punish those who antagonize them, for their malevolent behavior. Social constructs can lead to rigidity, causing more distress than they are designed to prevent (says author). We must eliminate the evildoers (a primitive impulse), “the enemy,” and satisfy our feelings for justice. I.e. the Germans were the victims of the Jews, the enemy, in the Nazi pathology. Massacres, lynchings, etc., focus on the enemy in this manner; dehumanized and demonized evildoers. When people feel threatened, or their sacred values, they revert to dualistic thinking, and move to attack from the perception of transgression. The aggressive driver views the slow driver as interfering with its legitimate goals; aggressive people perceive their rights superseding those of others. “A major problem in human relations is that our words and actions convey unintended meanings to other people, just as their words and actions have unintended meaning to us.” We over-interpret others’ comments as put-downs. “Many religions often reinforce people’s tendencies to judge themselves and other people in biased ways: good versus evil, benevolent versus malicious.” People do not use experiences to learn when their self-esteem is hurt; the psychological pain, however, like physical pain, calls attention to a problem that demands correction. “When we perceive ourselves as powerful, efficient, and competent, we are motivated to tackle difficult tasks. When we have a self-image of helplessness and powerlessness, as in depression, we feel sad.” “The person with an avoidant personality simply minimizes her social interactions in order to protect self-esteem”. If you think you can overpower an attacker, you will mobilize to attack; if you think you cannot, you will experience anxiety. The possibility of being talked down to causes people who are insecure to fear authority, encroaching on their autonomy. People are prone to feeling vulnerable in situations where they are to be evaluated (I.e. public speaking); many can be deeply hurt by unflattering judgments of others. Camaraderie can evolve in response to crisis (fire/flood); group bonding can also occur in instances of looting or rape. Most normal people think themselves responsible for good things that happen to them, and others for bad things; depressed people attribute failure to themselves, and success to luck. Primal thinking impels us to focus on the one cause of events and exclude other possibilities; people have the capacity to override this, with thought, using reflection and judgment. “Our brain has developed a capacity to create for us a world of our own making and imagination. Very few of us live in the real world. We live in the world of our perceptions, and those perceptions differ dramatically according to our personal experiences. We may perceive anger where there is none. If the distortion is ever enough, we may think we are living among enemies even while surrounded by friends. Willard Gaylin, 1984” Maximum reactions which were evolutionarily programmed today often represent overreactions. People enter marriages with glorified sets of expectations and rules; when these are not met, they become anxious, angry, etc. Violent offenders see themselves as victims, and others as victimizers; they are hypersensitive to social confrontations, I.e. domination or disparagement, as a result of personality and his social environment growing up. Dichotomous ways of thinking lead to “if I’m not clearly dominant, I’m submissive, if I’m not in power, I’m powerless.” etc — these are the ways people think under depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Harsh parenting and a lack of proper role model fails a child; children can become intimidating, dominating, and forceful; thus leading to a chicken and egg scenario with others of people becoming actually wary and antagonistic of them, leading to feelings of being treated unfairly. Misbehaving children can also strike at the heart of insecure parents, causing them to become angry with the child. Points to the two kinds of offenders in society; psychopaths (invulnerable, superior, manipulative, thinking others inferior), and reactive offenders (vulnerable, fragile, others as hostile/enemies, reacting violently in defense). Psychos commit a much larger percentage of violent crimes, and are extremely egocentric; they know the rules, they do not apply to themselves, vs. Reactors who cannot resist striking back to defend his own rights. Some rapists have a cognitive deficit; they do not interpret a woman’s cues accurately, thinking they are playing as part of their game; other offenders experience rape as vindication or revenge for past rejection, the feeling of power neutralizing his own feelings of helplessness. Collective thinking can lead to cognitive distortions, binding a group together, and inducing members to abandon normal morality. Identifying with a group can make people feel personal achievement during group triumph; the desire for personal success and a yearning for attachment and bonding leads to groupishness. Receptivity and responsiveness to other group members emotions are hard wired into the brain. Motives to boost one’s own self-esteem leads people to perceive their group more positively. “It is important to recognize that people may be prejudiced against different races or ethnic groups without realizing it. Most subjects who view a picture of a person of a different race, for example, will subsequently show faster reaction time to unpleasant words and more prolonged reaction time to pleasant words… The rapid reaction time indicates that a person is keyed to make an automatic evaluation.” Thus, negative and positive labeling of out/ingroups is something of an automatic process. “The open mind is characterized by the ability to evaluate information on its own merits, unencumbered by one’s affiliations and beliefs… A person with an extreme commitment to a religious belief, for example tends to ‘sacrilize’ the difference between the believer and nonbeliever and to dismiss all those who do not fit into his hallowed world.” Thinking ones own group good can lead to deceitful actions, justified in the name of the group’s own goodness; groups often try to exclude outside information that might undermine confidence in the group. The paranoid perspective leads to interpretations of bad behavior far beyond objective evidence. “The comparison between militant groupthink and paranoid delusions is useful for the light it shines on the nature of the human mind and its tendency to create fantastic explanations for distressing circumstances.” People become very vested in these points of views; they think they are right, and messianic, in their motives and mission (I.e. to “save the people.”) Points to the Scotch-Irish southerners, like Sowell, as being ready to violently retaliate (a part of their culture), which had economic origin; they were vulnerable to theft of their animals. Thus, they derived a social image of toughness, and a reputation for violent retaliation. Changing community expectations can change behavior of groups; educational programs can help with this. “It is easier for the populace to blame and attack an alien group than to understand the intricacies of economic and political problems and the complexities of a positive political and economic program.” “The disposition to ascribe unfortunate happenings to alien groups has its roots in ancient notions of causality, which ascribed natural disasters such as floods, droughts, famine, and epidemics to the malevolent intervention of supernatural forces.” Members of minorities can become conspicuous because of economic success; they are then thought to be conspiring at the expense of the majority, shadily trying to gain unfair advantage. Hitler’s personality, rhetoric, and program made the Germans feel more powerful. While Hitler may have suffered psychological conditions, there was found no mental illness in the men who participated in the German’s war crimes; it could have happened to anyone (as said Sowell). The Khmer Rouge called for wiping out everything inconsistent with its goals; individualism, stuff, families “the ends justify the means.” Wars from 1850 to 1950 were more influenced by national pride and ideology than pure economic factors, which they were before this time period. When people’s vital interests are involved, normal thinking goes out the door (I.e. thinking across a range of goodness or badness), and people attribute the other as “totally bad” and their group as “totally good.” “A striking feature of biased thinking if the confidence not only that ‘we are right’ but also that our goodness and righteousness will triumph over the forces of darkness.” The self image of the USA as the moral protector of freedom and democracy has shaped foreign policy, as well as the aversion to “bad” communists. Leaders and their states are prone to the same kinds of cognitive errors that people are susceptible to, leading to misunderstandings, war, etc. On the battle field, one who humanizes the other has a harder time killing him “I had come here to shoot at ‘Fascists’; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn’t a ‘Fascist,’ he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” -George Orwell re: Spanish Civil War. Decentered (re-framed) analysis of a situation with the objectivity of an impartial observer is the best manner to reduce bias; this can be accomplished often with reverse role-play. “Groups not only promote a sense of belonging but give individual members a sense of power that neutralizes the sense of inadequacy that many experience as solitary individuals… Identifying an enemy greatly enhances group solidarity.” “If the value of human life overshadows one’s political or social ideology, it is more difficult to carry out harmful behavior.” Militant organizations “believe they have the pipeline to truth and feel disdain for the non-believers… Far from feeling compassion, they aim to eliminate their victims.” I.e. there is no compassion for “Racists” in the middle of America. “The focus of humanistic altruism is interpersonal and global: individuals are seen as fellow human beings rather than as stereotyped members of a group.” Book closes calling for compassion; people who feel connected to other people and show caring through action. Prosocial training can help with this. Encouraging people to consider alternative explanations. By attending to subjective meaning, people do not undercut problems to resolve them; focusing on objective content enables pursuing results. Feeling helpless and trapped can be alleviated by blaming someone else to help reduce those feelings.