For me, political action and therapy are often inseparable.
As a therapist I am committed to helping everyone live positive, productive lives. A key activity in achieving this is fostering independent and assertive mind-sets, especially in young people. I have also always been aware of the central challenge to humanity which is violence. As a child I was appalled reading about the First World War and especially by the way in which millions were led like lambs to the meaningless slaughter. I was and still am gob-smacked by the moronic and barbaric responses of Blair and Bush to 9/11, as much as I was by the outrage itself.
More recently I have picked up on this issue as a foster carer. Many children in care are there as a consequence of domestic violence. Most of this is perpetrated by men against women and/or children. The effects are devastating resulting in permanent developmental damage for hundreds of thousands of children.
I am not so interested in why men are more violent than women or in whether they are innately so. I am more interested in what can be done about male violence and violence in general. Female violence is likely to be a response to powerlessness in the face of male dominance and violence anyway. In the same way, much male violence is a consequence of a sense of powerlessness. And people who are not able to assert themselves positively, inevitably feel trapped.
When they feel trapped men are more likely to lash out like wild animals. Women, on the other hand, are just as likely to retreat into depression. This may explain why twice as many women as men are depressed.
It is clear that increasing the ability of men and women to be more positively assertive reduces the risk of violence and depression.
Unfortunately the role models and education system of the UK and indeed many countries across the world are deeply rooted in (a) models of leadership violence (Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin) and (b) an increasing demand by the establishment that people and especially children are universally docile and compliant.
Our leaders really cannot have it both ways. Especially as they foster societies in which it is seemingly ok to continually rip people off through legally framed scams (also known variously as banking, financial ‘products’ and the ‘service sector’… or as I like to call it, ‘fresh-air sales’.).
Addressing powerlessness is a key focus for anyone wishing to reduce overall levels of violence. Powerlessness in the face of poverty is the major driving factor behind violence. Successive governments and powerful media in the hands of a few power-driven individuals deflect attention onto immigration and the ‘feckless poor’. But it is the mass-scam culture and the hypocrisy of leadership that lie at the route of a growing sense of powerlessness amongst ordinary people.
So in a world where the rich are increasing their share of material wealth and everyone else is getting poorer, how can we really reduce violence?
First of all it is worth noting that in standard assertiveness training a clear distinction is made between four types of behaviour: passivity, aggression, assertiveness and, most significantly, indirect aggression. The scam culture of banking, government collusion in fresh air sales oriented businesses, the ‘do as I say not as I do’ hypocrisy of our leaders with regard to actual (not fictitious) weapons and acts of mass destruction and our education system are primary examples of indirect aggression.
Passive behaviour is based on a mind-set that says you will win and I will lose so kick me now and get it over with. Aggression is based on the notion that I will win and you will lose simply through the sheer force of my power. Assertiveness, the only sensible approach to any challenge or opportunity, is the notion that we can all win; a win/win mentality. Indirect Aggression is the mind-set that says, ‘I will win and you will lose but you will not realise what is going on until it is too late because I am going to deceive you’.
Aggression is not what we should be focused on. It is indirect aggression. Indirect aggression stokes up levels of frustration, powerlessness, latent and actual aggression. Unless we address the burgeoning culture of indirect greed, theft and deceit that is rotting society from within, we can expect a lot more violence at a global and a domestic level.
Indirect aggression is the root cause of people being unable to restrain their violent urges. An education system that promises kids they will prosper if they study hard at school and then rips them off to the tune of £60,000 for 3 hours of lectures per week on a so-called ‘degree course’ is an act of indirect aggression.
A train ticket company that deceives people into signing up for a scheme which drains £11 per month out of their bank account without their knowledge is an act of aggression.
Mobile phone companies which offer one tariff and then impose another is indirect aggression.
Railing against poor financial management whilst permitting payday loan companies to advertise loans at thousands of per cent is an act of indirect aggression.
A leader who lies to his country and embroils it in wars which massively increase levels of violence for decades to come and which radicalise a whole generation of uneducated men against our own country is not just obviously aggressive but is also a betrayal: a massive act of indirect aggression against our own people.
Just as the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century are often cited as being the entirely avoidable and pointless first and consequently unavoidable second world war, so the response of the West to 9/11 will come to be seen as the greatest tragedy of the twenty-first century.
Our response to aggression should be assertiveness: to seek a win/win outcome. The idea, as Blair suggested during the build up to the Iraq war, that we can somehow ‘run out of patience’ is fatuous in the extreme. Win/Win mentality is about relentless, inexorable patience in the pursuit of greater understanding and peace for all.
At every level of society from the family to the classroom and especially in the governance and leadership of our organisations, institutions and nation states, the time has come to provide people with power: the power that comes from feeling confident to assert ourselves; to challenge unacceptable behaviours in a way that leads to a positive outcome for all.
The alternative is more violence.
I know some of you may be wondering what this has to do with my work as a therapist. The simple fact is, that much of the anxiety and depression I treat in clients is a consequence of this sense of being trapped by indirect aggression, often beyond our conscious awareness. People have a finite capacity to spot every attempt to lure them into debt and unnecessary expenditure and those in control of mass media have recognised this and exploit it mercilessly. It is not people’s stupidity or gullibility that is at fault, it is the extreme greed of the few.
A quarter of all young adults are now stuck in their family home as a consequence of the rip-off societies that successive governments have perpetrated starting with Margaret Thatcher.
The problems that beset this generation of young adults today may not be resolved through individual assertiveness, but I hope at least that I can help a few young people to develop their own strategies for surviving and standing up to this onslaught of indirect aggression and greed. Ultimately, the best way to stand up for our rights positively and responsibly (whilst encouraging our opponents to do likewise) is on a collective basis.
It has been a long time coming but I sincerely hope that in this centenary year marking the onset of the most terrible war in history that we can begin to assert our right to a fair share and to empowerment for all.
I believe it is possible for human beings to master their urge for violence not through suppression of frustration but through developing a greater capacity for emotional literacy, intelligence and assertiveness. It is all about ‘education, education, education’; just not the kind of narrow and dis-empowering bogus academic education that Blair and Gove so admire.
We need moral education and moral education starts with moral leadership. This means openness, honesty and consistent standards applied equally at all levels of society. And to achieve this we have to stand up for it and oppose those who seek to rip us off and silence us. Therapy, ultimately, is a political act.
Oh and one other thing.
Much as I love NLP and use it extensively in my therapy and coaching practice, there is a notion that somehow ‘assertiveness’ is incompatible with NLP. This is, frankly, nonsense. I have never had any difficulty reconciling these two ways of thinking and responding. I believe some of the originators of NLP have a somewhat distorted notion of what true assertiveness means. Assertiveness ultimately is the only dignified and life enhancing alternative to actual violence. When practised responsibly enables everyone to develop peacefully and positively.
If you would like to make an individual or collective reduction in violence in any context I am happy to come and talk to you collectively or to provide you with one to one support in becoming more positively assertive.
Finally, if you are in real danger of domestic violence, you do not primarily need assertiveness training. You need to get to a place of safety.
Here are some links:
Remember also if you are in immediate danger, call the POLICE!
Thank you for this excellent article Harvey, which I totally endorse. As I deliver assertiveness training, I hear stories of powerlessness. I also hear about the ‘bullying’ behaviour in the workplace of leaders, who are driven by a need for power.
A book I found helpful was ‘Power vs Force’ by David R Hawkins.
Another belief of mine is that all these highly graphic violent video games and films that children and young adults have access to can trivalise the impact of violence and teach the wrong values.
Harvey, keep up the brilliant work that you do.
Hi Rosie. thanks for the positive comments. Learning assertiveness and then running courses in assertiveness is still on my top ten list of life changing experiences, along with having children, learning NLP, fostering, going freelance and getting married. If you would like to post links to your assertiveness training on this site let me know. I am happy to add a page under the events tab on the menu. Send me content and then I can update this each time you run a programme and link back to your site too.
So do you have an audio recording for kids on assertiveness? This article is brillant by the way.
Hi Hazel Thank you. I do not have a recording but it is a good idea and I will put it on the list for later this month. I will send you some notes/slides I use on assertiveness training.