“It is the rare and strong person that can carry their trauma without having it spill into the next generation.”
—Bruce D. Perry
The vortex of violence is an intragenerational phenomenon. Unlike the cycle of violence, which occurs from generation to generation, the vortex of violence occurs within today’s unhappy family. This ‘vortex’ features violence running downhill: the man in the family is typically frustrated and humiliated outside the home. He deflects some of his rage onto his partner, and she in turn deflects some of her rage onto the children. The older children deflect their rage onto the younger children. And pets are often the target of deflected rage from children.
But there is an opportunity to interrupt this phenomenon.
This can only occur, however, if the people affected can acknowledge their maladaptive behaviours—which are generally a direct result of traumatic childhoods.
The Truth Regarding Violent People
Our brains and thinking developed by adapting to the threatening environments that we were exposed to in our childhoods. Therefore, our violent responses are never truly intentional; rather they are based biologically from, in some cases, horribly traumatic experiences. We are hardwired to learn what we experienced. If we were transgressed as children we learned, despite our reticence, that way of responding.
It is often hard for victims of violence to experience compassion toward their perpetrators because their reactions are based on the same anger as the perpetrator, just it is manifest differently. Violence begets violence, and the flow is downhill, from one person to another less powerful person. Violent responses are a direct reaction to the injustices we experience. (We should always pray that those above us in the ‘food chain’ are being treated fairly and justly.)
The more we understand about this vortex of violence—the current violent dynamic, for instance, within the family—the more we are convinced it is not as much a personal problem as it is a societal problem. This information doesn’t help the victims, however. They want justice. But so often the justice they want is underpinned in a violent anger of retribution toward the offender, which they are tempted to project onto someone less powerful than themselves.
Breaking this vortex of violence, interrupting the downhill flow, so we don’t violently offend those less powerful than us, is dependent on us facing our truths and getting our help.
Reaching Out and Getting Help
The victims of violence are often the perpetrators of violence, so as victims we need to understand the potential threat we are to others because of the anger we carry.
We need to find healthy and productive ways of dealing with this anger. We need to work with the truth of it. We need to dig into our painful pasts and wrangle with it.
Most of all we need to have compassion with ourselves. And it is rare that we exact such compassion without a knowledge of faith in God—the holy and merciful God, who loves us unconditionally. Through God’s strength and power we can negotiate this slippery slide into the abyss of our painful pasts. It simply requires our surrender.
The great irony is, as we open ourselves to our weakness, we redeem strength in God’s name. Our Lord comes close when we endeavour to sort our sordid pasts. And we can know as we do this that our pasts were not our fault. We are products of our childhoods and no child has control over their upbringing.
Ending cycles of violence is about making courageous decisions now. Our biggest challenge is to stop the cycle in our generation so future generations are protected.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Bruce D. Perry, “Neurodevelopmental Adaptations To Violence: How Children Survive the Intragenerational Vortex of Violence,” in Violence And Childhood Trauma: Understanding and Responding to the Effects of Violence on Young Children (Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland State University, 1996).