Psychological Self-Help

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actions. You get used to stressing the prisoners and inflicting pain. So, these schools
clearly show that cruelty can be taught. Not every one will willingly torture people; it
is way too disturbing for some. But some will convince themselves that the cruelty is
necessary. After becoming a torturer or abusive—naturally or by special training—
can they become kind? Some stop when they are confronted with their actions.
Some continue to take pride in what they do.
Shay’s book about the effects of combat is very powerful. It should be read before
anyone votes for war. It will open your eyes to the soldier’s view of war, especially
what the author calls “the betrayal of what’s right.” The soldier comes to war
believing that killing civilians is wrong, that the entire nation approves the killing he
is sent to do, that company commanders know what is happening in the war, where
the friendly artillery shells will land, and what dangers lie 100 yards ahead, that we
are winning the war if the enemy has more dead than we have, etc. However, the
events and conditions the soldier experiences in combat may convince him/her that
what he is told is not the truth…that even his own leaders have betrayed him. Those
confusing situations contribute to combat fatigue or Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Finally, there are many probably false beliefs about the forces of “evil” that should be
investigated. Examples: (1) That “evil” develops very early in childhood and becomes
an unstoppable part of a person’s basic primitive personality. (2) That “evil” urges
can’t be psychologically explained and “evil” can’t be blamed on life events, like child
abuse, emotional trauma, ethnic or religious hatred, psychological disorders, TV,
friends, etc. (3) “Evil” is an addiction, like in a serial killer, and is an insatiable thirst
for a special “high” that comes with over-powering, injuring, and killing people or
animals. (4) That “evil” people experience no regrets or guilt about what they have
done and have no wish to change. These assumed characteristics of “evil” can be can
be studied and confirmed or refuted. If the notion of evil is not researched, it may,
like other social taboos, interfere with our psychological thinking about anger and
violence for 100s of years. My belief is that “evil” is a left-over idea from centuries
old religion and mysticism that needs to be replaced with research based concepts.
Later in this chapter we discuss specific abusive situations that make us very
uncomfortable and, partly for that reason, these acts are not researched nearly as
well as they should be. Examples: very violent or threatening people, rapists, incest
perpetrators, sexual and emotional abusers of children, molesters, people who inflict
pain and torture children, etc. Mental illness may be a much more powerful factor in
these behaviors than we believe at this time, consider, e.g. Andrea Yates, the post-
partum depressed mother who killed all 5 of her children, and Susan Smith, who
drowned her children by sinking her car in a lake. The “evil” notion may still play a
role in our thinking about these kinds of behavior too, even in our courts.
The Control of Emotions
The Greeks had various views of emotions—Aristotle believed having emotions was a
part of the good life while Stoics saw emotions as faulty thinking that led to misery.
Christians became preoccupied with emotions, passions, or strong desires, focusing
on the “seven sins:” greed, gluttony, lust, anger, envy, and pride. Descartes
attempted to sidestep the complexly bewildering interaction between mind and body
by teaching that there were two separate (dualistic) worlds, one made up of physical
matter (our body) and the other of spirits (our mind and emotions). God was also
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