What causes someone to punch, kick, stab or fire a gun at someone else or even him/herself?
There is never a simple answer to that question. But people often commit violence because of one or more of the following:
- Expression. Some people use violence to release feelings of anger or frustration. They think there are no answers to their problems and turn to violence to express their out of control emotions.
- Manipulation. Violence is used as a way to control others or get something they want.
- Retaliation. Violence is used to retaliate against those who have hurt them or someone they care about.
- Violence is a learned behavior. Like all learned behaviors, it can be changed. This isn’t easy, though. Since there is no single cause of violence, there is no one simple solution. The best you can do is learn to recognize the warning signs of violence and to get help when you see them in your friends or yourself.
Often people who act violently have trouble controlling their feelings. They may have been hurt by others. Some think that making people fear them through violence or threats of violence will solve their problems or earn them respect. This isn’t true. Some violence occurs as a response to prolonged hurt, trauma, bullying or victimization. People may use violence to get something, while others may act out of self-protection or desperation. People who behave violently lose respect. They eventually find themselves isolated or disliked, and they still feel angry and frustrated.
Anger itself is not always a sign that violence is imminent. While anger may be a warning sign of violence, it must be put in context. In fact, by assuming that anger or increased substance abuse will always lead to violence means that many non-violent people who are in need of help become unfairly characterized as violent. What is most important to look at is if there are “new” signs and significant changes in behavior.
The presence of some of the signs or factors listed below should alert us to the possibility that an individual may be at risk of violence. It should be noted, however, that the presence of one or more signs or factors does not necessarily mean that the person will be violent.
Some signs of potential for violence are factors like:
- A history of violent or aggressive behavior
- Young age at first violent incident
- Having been a victim of bullying
- History of discipline problems or frequent conflicts with authority
- Early childhood abuse or neglect
- Having witnessed violence at home
- Family or parent condones use of violence
- A history of cruelty to animals
- Having a major mental illness
- Being callous or lacking empathy for others
- History of vandalism or property damage
Other signs of potential violence may be present over time and may escalate or contribute to the risk of violence given a certain event or activity. These might include:
- Serious drug or alcohol use
- Gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang
- Access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns
- Trouble controlling feelings like anger
- Withdrawal from friends and usual activities
- Regularly feeling rejected or alone
- Feeling constantly disrespected
Some signs of potential violence may be new or active signs. They might look like:
- Increased loss of temper
- Frequent physical fighting
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Increased risk-taking behavior
- Declining school performance
- Acute episode of major mental illness
- Planning how to commit acts of violence
- Announcing threats or plans for hurting others
- Obtaining or carrying a weapon
There is research that indicates that new or active signs are more predictive of short-term risk of violence than historical factors, which may be more predictive of longer term risk.
When you recognize violence warning signs in someone else, there are things you can do. Hoping that someone else will deal with the situation is the easy way out.
Above all, be safe. Don’t spend time alone with people who show warning signs. If possible without putting yourself in danger, remove the person from the situation that’s setting them off.
Tell someone you trust and respect about your concerns and ask for help. This could be a family member, guidance counselor, teacher, school psychologist, coach, clergy, school resource officer or friend.
If you are worried about being a victim of violence, get someone in authority to protect you. Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself.
The key to really preventing violent behavior is asking an experienced professional for help. The most important thing to remember is to not go it alone and to take any signs or threats seriously.