There are many sociological, economic, and psychological contributors to violence. Primary among them are wounds inflicted by the betrayal of emotional bonds. Loss of attachment or social bonds - through death, abuse, abandonment, or betrayal - gouges holes in the heart that do not remain hollow for very long. For some people, they fill with compassion and a sense of basic humanity, which strengthens other social bonds. (We become better people for a while after a tragedy.) For others they fill with a psychically deadening depression that admits no light of value, meaning, or purpose.

For still others, the holes torn in the heart by the loss of social bonds fill with anger, resentment, and an impulse for revenge. Add ideology to the mix, and you have terrorism.

Compassion and revenge are both empowering, compared to the alternative - collapsing into depression or despair. Both make you feel more alive. Both have been naturally selected by aiding group survival. Compassion and a sense of basic humanity strengthen social bonds at the center, making the group more cohesive and cooperative. Revenge strengthens the periphery against external threat.

Most people who suffer betrayal or loss of emotional bonds choose compassion and basic humanity. They lead productive and relatively happy lives. Some identify with their victimhood and regard themselves as different from other people, in some sense misfits, and, in many cases, less than fully alive, much like the self-descriptions of jihadists and terrorists in Anne Speckhard’s stunning interviews. These are not sociopaths who never formed emotional bonds.These are collateral damage of an increasing resentful, angry, and cruelly narcissistic world.

The Culture of Emotional Violence

Dangerous misfits are made (not born) by wounds of emotional bonding, which are deepened by our habit of excluding, isolating, and condemning those who seem different. This highly destructive process begins with the seemingly venial inclination to devalue those with whom we disagree – a tendency that has grown rabid on the Internet and has come to dominate media and politics. Due to the enormous power of emotional contagion, devaluing and disrespecting others prompts them to devalue and disrespect others, who then devalue and disrespect others, in ever-widening dynamic webs of resentment. Those at highest risk, who feel the most wronged, become the most dangerous. We have created a culture of emotional violence wherein those who feel different can find meaning and purpose by opposing the basic humanity of everyone else. When people cannot feel more alive by connecting, protecting, appreciating, and improving, they feel more alive by destroying.


Speckhard, Anne (2012). Talking to terrorists: Understanding the psycho-social motivations of militant jihadi terrorists, mass hostage takers, suicide bombers, and martyrs. McLean, VA: Advances Press.