Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Recognizing Potentially Violent People

Every time a child kills another child,
God thunders down at us:
"THAT is not why I gave you the gift of life!"
and then God cries...

- Mark Goulston

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to recognize potentially violent people. You just have to scrape away some of your denial and tune into what your stomach is trying to tell you.

Many potentially violent people make us feel physically nervous and we often experience this as uneasiness in our stomachs, necks or throats or we may develop a severe headache. We have built into us many early warning signals that tell us when a person or a situation is unsafe. Sometimes we can be fooled, but more often than not, when we feel in danger, there is usually something or someone to be frightened about.

Our general reaction when we feel unsafe around a person is to avoid them, look away from them, and try not to provoke them. We employ an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to them, because they make us feel so uncomfortable. We hope they'll just go away.

What are clues that you should LOOK and LISTEN for to tell you that you might be dealing with a potentially imminently violent person? (although women do commit violence, I will refer to the person as male, since the majority of violent acts are still perpetrated by men)

What to LOOK for:

  • loss of temper on a daily basis
  • frequent physical fighting
  • significant vandalism or property damage
  • increase in use of drugs or alcohol
  • increase in risk-taking behavior
  • detailed plans to commit acts of violence
  • enjoying hurting animals
  • carrying a weapon
  • agitated movement – difficulty keeping still
  • easily irritated – you walk on "eggshells" around him
  • very impatient when having to wait in lines or wait to speak
  • shifty eye movements – tends to look evasively to left or right as if hiding something, if looks downward this may be a sign of submissiveness, but may then incense him later on
  • change in usual routines in terms of hobbies or exercises, etc.
  • stays to self or starts associating with "marginal" people
  • drawn to violent movies, newspaper stories, internet sites, television and radio shows
  • less attention to hygiene
  • paradoxical calmness in someone who has been agitated (may signal that has come up with a violent solution to his problems)

What to LISTEN for:

  • announcing threats or plans for hurting others
  • argumentative
  • becomes defensive easily
  • takes things personally that are not meant that way
  • negative comments about most things
  • complaining done with underlying agitation
  • blaming – most of what he talks about is blaming someone or something
  • sullen more than sulking– he can be silent in an intense way that doesn't feel quiet, sulking means he's getting some frustrations out

And if you notice the following signs over a period of time, the potential for violence exists:

  • a history of violent or aggressive behavior
  • serious drug or alcohol use
  • gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang
  • access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns
  • threatening others regularly
  • trouble controlling feelings like anger
  • withdrawal from friends and usual activities
  • feeling rejected or alone
  • having been a victim of bullying
  • poor school performance
  • history of discipline problems or frequent run-ins with authority
  • feeling constantly disrespected
  • failing to acknowledge the feelings or rights of others
(C) 2007 Mark Goulston (including material from the American Psychological Association)

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