Every so often something upsets or frustrates me so much that I actually feel like doing something violent. Having such thoughts scares me, because I do not want to admit that I am capable of having violent thoughts. At the same time, however, it allows me to recognize that feeling angry is universal, and part of creating peace is being able to deal with anger and violent thoughts in a healthy manner.
I am thinking about this today because it happened to me last night. I was extremely tired and went to bed early, but I was kept awake for several hours by people setting of firecrackers in the parking lot outside my apartment, that my bedroom faces. It was supremely frustrating. Earplugs had no effect, it was too hot to close the windows (which wouldn’t have done much good anyway), and I would be just drifting off when there would be another bang, startling me awake. I could feel my heart rate go up and the adrenaline pumping. I was so upset and frustrated that I found myself thinking about punching something – or someone.
When I have such thoughts I come the closest to understanding how violence happens. I know that I would never act upon my violent thoughts, but I can sort of see how someone who lacks the inhibitions and experience I have would simply not stop at the point of having the thoughts. I can also understand that physical situations can affect one’s level of anger; I suspect that I would have been slightly less upset last night if it had not been so hot. Thinking about this leaves me wondering what are those inhibitions and experiences, that make me confident that I would never act upon the violent thoughts I sometimes have?
I think the most significant thing is that I have experience with healing anger in a healthy manner. It is possible to heal such feelings without hurting another person (for example, by punching pillows and crying) and I know from experience that this will make me feel better than actually punching another human being would.
I know also that it would simply make things worse to go out and start hitting someone. It will alienate the person and put them on the defensive (not to mention physically harm them), and I know that this is not a productive way to solve conflicts. Because I know this, I know that I would never act upon a violent thought. I am also simply not capable of actually harming another human being; it is not something I can imagine myself doing when it comes down to really picturing it. The violent thoughts I have are mostly abstract. I feel anger towards someone, and I feel like physically doing something to release that anger, and so it becomes a mental idea of targeting that release of anger towards the person. But in fact I cannot truly picture punching someone.
Releasing anger in a healthy manner is one thing, and an important and necessary thing, but it is not everything. When the reason you are angry is caused by another person, you are going to get angry over and over again until the person stops doing whatever they are doing. This is where conflict resolution comes in. I am not going to go into detail about conflict resolution (there is plenty of material on that topic for another post, or several), but in the best conflict resolution each person gets to a point of understanding to some extent what the other person needs in that particular situation. Only once each person’s need is recognized and acknowledged by each other person will it be possible to find a solution that satisfies everyone.
In summary, the ideal way to deal with violent thoughts is to first heal the anger you are feeling in a healthy way that does not hurt others, and then to work on coming to a solution with the cause of your anger that will satisfy the needs of everyone involved. Both of these aspects require the person to have experience and knowledge of the techniques to do these things. I have experience with both and thus I am capable of recognizing, even in the middle of having the violent thought, that I would never act upon it. Other people do not know as well as I do what to do with their angry feelings, nor do they have the skills to solve a conflict with another person non-violently. I am pleased that to help with the second aspect, the conflict resolution, my city offers community mediation. If my neighbors were continually doing something that bothered me I could try to request mediation through the city.
In the situation I was in last night, I did not in fact do anything except eventually fall asleep once the noise stopped. However, it turns out that my neighbors were in fact breaking two laws, a county noise ordinance, and a law against firecrackers of all types within the city limits. If I had realized that at the time (I looked it up this morning), I would have called the police. Even though I did not, it makes me feel a little bit better to know that the city and county have reasonable laws about noise and safety. Although I have issues with police and punishment (again, food for another post), in this situation I would have felt comfortable calling the police because I did not feel comfortable confronting the people myself. Since they were in fact breaking the law, I would have gladly let the police inform them of that. I am not confident that being arrested or fined would make them understand why it was against the law or how seriously it was disturbing other people, but in this particular situation I do not feel the need to pursue it further, since it was a one-time occurrence.