Psychological Self-Help

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regarded as spirit. Descartes thought our minds interacted with our bodies but can
exist without a physical body. Within the last century, Freud taught that psychiatric
problems were often due to the individual’s loss of control of his/her emotions.
Likewise, he thought that a society could flourish only by controlling the emotional
impulses of its members. Most modern psychologists also believe mental health
involves controlling emotions and the distress caused by them.
Society tries to control meanness with harsh punishment
Certain emotions, however, get more and different attention than others. For
instance, anxiety and depression get far more treatment, both talking therapy and
drug treatment, than anger and aggression. Society relies heavily on punishment to
reduce aggression and defiance of the law—a method not used with anxiety or
sadness. In the case of criminals, almost the only method for changing this emotion
is physical restraint—“lock them up and throw away the key”. Overall the results of
using punishment to stop misbehavior have not been promising. And we do not seem
highly motivated to investigate various other methods of reducing violence, hatred,
and breaking the law. For people who are annoying at work or school, there are a
few anger management programs (discussed later) but not nearly the variety of
specialized individual treatment methods and clinics as available for sad or stressed
people. It may be that angry people are not as eager to change themselves as tense
or disappointed people are. It is probably also true that the victims of someone else’s
anger are not very eager to help the offender change; they mostly want to stay away
from them. These attitudes and conditions are part of the social circumstances that
make it harder to reduce anger.
For reasons I hope to soon make clearer, Americans are amazingly violent compared
to people in other countries. In 2002, approximately 290 million Americans suffered
23 million crimes. 23% of those crimes were crimes of violence. For every 1000
people over 12, there was one rape or sexual assault, another assault resulting in an
injury, and two robberies. Yet, criminal violence is fairly predictable (not at some
specific time but in general) in the sense that 50% of males convicted of a crime
between 10 and 16-years-of-age will be convicted of more crimes as adults. Also,
being exposed to violence in childhood (at home, in their community, & in the
media) is associated with the child having poor health (Graham-Bermann & Seng,
2005) and with them being violent as an adult. We could do something about these
things but we don’t, perhaps because we believe aggression is just “human nature”
and/or because we are angry and thus indifferent to stressed kids, especially if they
are of another race or a different economic or ethnic group. Also, our society is far
more insistent on punishing rather than preventing adolescent
violence/crime/misbehavior (another reflection of our own anger?).
The U.S. crime rate has fallen over the last 10 years. But the number in jails and
prisons continues to increase due to old get-tough policies, e.g. mandatory drug
sentencing and “three strikes and you are out,” so we now have over 2 million
incarcerated. Over 60% of prison inmates are from minorities! 12.6 % of all black
males in their late twenties are in jail; 3.6% of Hispanic men and 1.7% of white men
of that age are serving time! (Associated Press, April 24,  2005) Something is wrong
with this picture. For one thing, the public and politicians rely on punishment (long
sentences in prison) and doesn’t even research rehabilitation. Many prisoners are not
serious or violent. About 7,500 youth under 18 are in state prisons or local jails.
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