Thomas J. Scheff

Thomas Scheff Ph.D.

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Avoiding Violence

Danger Signals

Posted Jun 15, 2015

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is a useful pamphlet currently circulating, "How to Express Anger: 10 Healthy Steps." However, I think that like most discussions of violence, it leaves out a crucial aspect: recognizing and managing the humiliation that is by far the most important cause of violent anger, and also violence without anger. In his study of 211 parents who killed their mate and children, Websdale (2010) found they were all deeply humiliated, but divided them in two types, one with anger, "Livid Coercive" and one without it "Civil Reputable."

A history of humiliations followed by violent anger (LC) fits a majority of Websdale's cases, but not a sizeable minority. In this minority, there is no prior history of violence, and the killings are carefully premeditated, often over a considerable length of time (CR). The mass killer in Isla Vista, Elliot Rodger, seems closer to the violent anger pattern: his spoken and written words express both anger and humiliation (as in his frequent complain of feeling rejected). But another mass killer, the Norwegian Anders Breivik, expressed no anger. He wrote mostly in large scale political terms, how humiliated he felt by national and international politics.

By now there are other studies in addition to Websdale's that suggest that most violence is caused by hidden humiliation; the psychiatrist James Gilligan (1997) has called it "secret shame." How does one recognize it in oneself and in others, shame that is hidden? And how does one manage it? It is fairly obvious in the LC pattern, but not obvious in the CR pattern. Two CR possibilities: gross prejudice and grandiosity? This might fit Breivik, who saw Islam, feminists and others as the enemy, and certainly another mass killer, Hitler.


James Gilligan. 1997. Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic

Neil Websdale. 2010. Familicidal Hearts: Emotion Styles of 211 Killers