Like most of the world, I felt fearful, angry and initially, powerless, as the news of the terrorism in Paris emerged – unfortunately, another horror in our world.
Who could do these things? How could such young people be willing to kill, maim and destroy themselves and others? What compels teens and twenties to join up with an organization intent on the murder of innocent others to underscore an ideological point?
The answer – relational hopelessness.
Attachment theorist, John Bowlby studied 44 thieves in 1944 to determine what caused delinquency and consciencelessness. More than half had suffered the trauma of losing their mother – their most significant attachment for over 6 months within the first 5 years of life. Thirty-two percent were classified as having affectionless pathology – meaning they could not care about others, they could not attach. Today, we would call them sociopaths - "a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience" per the Google dictionary.
Psychotherapist and author, Alice Miller in "The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society" writes that all people who are dangers to themselves and society were abused as children. Loss, trauma, abuse all contribute to creating a person who would abuse, perpetrate and terrorize.
I am not going to ask you to feel sorry for these young people and their terrible upbringings. There is a point that pathology is irreversible and dangerous. But there is a point before that too.
Obviously, some people triumph over tough beginnings. Research has shown a key factor that inspires a person from a difficult background to make something good of themselves often comes down to one thing – a relationship, even a short one, with someone who believes in them. The “enlightened witness” is conscious of their own suffering in the past, has a strong moral compass, and reaches out in empathy to the child or adolescent. Even if they cannot protect the child from actual circumstances, their impact on the child/teen changes the course of the child's life.
Recruiters for terrorist groups are particularly looking for people who are
WE need to look for these people too. WE need to give them a sense of belonging and hope before the terrorists find them. In the worst case scenario, there are seven hundred million people believing in life and love - to every one terrorist.
Every act of care is an act of anti-terrorism.
I understand what we are up against. There are worldwide masterminds with an evil intent but the implementers are mostly the age of my own children. Even domestic terrorists have been misfits, disillusionists, and pathological teenagers who had relatives, neighbors, teachers, and parents of friends observing them over years. Not every one of these kids is unreachable.
Usually, I write about marriage and sex from the perspective of attachment theory. But attachment theory is about what it means to be human – how we get self-esteem, when we feel a sense of belonging, and why we huddle together against the cold.
I was in the third grade singing in the school choir when I learned the holiday song - Let Peace Begin with Me. The United States was at war with Vietnam where my cousin was fighting; my father and mother, also at war. While hardly a future terrorist, I remember the surge of hope I felt believing that I could impact the world in the midst of a difficult time. In my life, I had a priest and church who took a personal interest in me as my family quaked with my parent’s divorce. A neighbor came over to sit with me when I was frightened while my mother attended late-night classes. One teacher greeted me (late) at the door every morning to dry my tears and settle me into the classroom. This Thanksgiving holiday, I am grateful for the many enlightened witnesses who made a difference in my life. On every level, love works.
How to stop the next terrorist:
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.