Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hearing Violence inside our Heads

After Newtown’s tragedy and the recent killing of 13 people in Washington, DC, some of us focus on gun use in the hands of mentally ill shooters. Others cringe and now fear anyone with mental health issues. We all want to blame someone or something for these horrors, but unfortunately, our culture itself, including all of us, may be involved.
The New York Times published an article on 9/19/2013 entitled, “The Violence in our Heads” by T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford. She writes about a study that compared the voices that American schizophrenics’ heard to those in Chennai, India. The researchers found that American “voices” are far more violent than are those voices from India. She suggests that not only do we have a culture of violence here in America, but schizophrenics have incorporated this violence and it plays out in the voices that they hear.
In this study schizophrenics in India heard voices that commanded them to do chores, or sometimes something seemingly disgusting or sexual, whereas Americans heard voices commanding them to do horrific acts of violence, including cutting up people, drinking their blood or killing themselves. Some say the media is to blame but perhaps the media only reflects us, our whole culture.
We all have “voices” inside our heads, surely different in quality and type from the voices schizophrenics hear. Who hasn’t heard an internal critical comment when they make mistakes? Many people in all parts of the world “hear” a inner running commentary about life. Some people who have been traumatized can struggle with demanding and condemning internal voices, but most everyone hears some variation on the theme that we are not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, or rich enough, something along those lines.
Is there any way that America can change its culture of violence, the culture that we and our children and grandchildren experience? Is there any possible way to grow up healthy in such an environment?
Many people go to psychotherapists and psychiatrists to find ways to handle their internal distresses, and therapy and psychiatry can help in some ways. But, we need to change our whole culture including our families, our schools, our economic inequities, our institutions, and our government, and how this government carries out its mission to protect its people. For instance, most people did not want to go to war in Syria, however, when a unexpected diplomatic solution was found, many people were livid that we did not fight, did not fire missiles and kill all kinds of people to teach that dictator a lesson.
I hope it is not too late for us to find some ways to make sweeping changes to our culture so that violence is not the most vivid voice in our country’s schizophrenics’ minds - or, in ours. 

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