I belong to a Congregational Christian church. Every Sunday between the 8 and 10 services the church offers an Adult Education talk for those parishioners leaving the 8 o’clock service or for those arriving early for the 10 o’clock one. I was that talk today.
I spoke on The Terrorist Mind: Domestic Terrorism. Here is the handout from that talk.
We need to re-develop how we conceptualize the pathology. It is not “terrorism”, the pathology is one of pathological anger and pathological violence. It is on the anger-violence line, not the fear-terror line (although the fear-terror line is prominent in origins and expression of the trauma pathology).
If we continue to trace origins into the anger and violence, we will enter the fear and terror line. If, however, we trace the – pathological – lines (process not content), we enter sadistic gratification in causing suffering as the the reinforcer, drive gratification, object goal, of the action (a focus on cause not content of the act). Sadism is a twisting of the fear-terror lines, creating subsequent prominent overtones of power, control, and domination. When we follow the pathological lines of anger and violence we enter sadism, power, and control.
It is my habit when entering into any field to turn to source material. For example, with depth-psychology I’ve read all of Jung (and Freud), all of Joseph Campbell, the Golden Bough, the Iliad, and Julian Jaynes. When entering sadism, source material is the Marquis de Sade. So I bought his book and began to read.
I’ve only finished about a quarter of it, and it’s been idle for about a year now. I think I’m done and I don’t anticipate going back. It was slow going. I had to take it in small doses and then back out and cleanse my psychological being for a bit before re-encountering another piece of the pathology. Part of the pathology is to indulge in the absence of boundaries as an expression of identity, with strong lines of shame and degradation as the absence of boundaries.
de Sade was exposing the horrors of his pathology – the horrors of the pathogen. He did such an exceptional job of exposing the pathogen of shame and violence within him that we named that pathogen for his description of it – sadism. It is a vile and disgusting pathology – it is the sex abuse pathogen joined with the violence pathogen, and the damage to empathy systems is extreme and twisted by shame.
In the first quarter of his book he is describing the “philosophy” through his descriptions of the character-actors in his upcoming drama, and then the preparations for the self-indulgent display of an absence of all boundaries on shame and degradation, with gratification through violence and suffering as the pathology.
Once he began to enter the indulgence of indulgent descriptions of self-indulgence, it became repetitive, i.e., self-indulgent of his self-indulgence, wallowing in his – and our – shame, degradation, and humiliation. For that was his point… de Sade’s exposure of his degradation and shame was not only his statement about him – it is imposing his shame and degradation onto us.
In simply reading his filth, I became filthy. He did that knowingly to the reader. He knew someone was reading his words, so he gave us his vile filth, and he knew it. I’m a clinical psychologist, I’m on the trail of the pathogen. His filth is the pathogen. I would take a dose, process it, move it through and cleanse it, and then return for the next exposure. He was exposing the pathogen, and he knew that too. His mind was destroyed by the pathogen. He knew that.
He was doing something phenomenal, he was exposing the trauma pathogen. We – the world – are the source of the pathogen, it is the combination of the violence trauma with sexual abuse trauma – power, control, and domination and gratification in causing suffering as the twisted damage to empathy (compassion). We inflict this trauma onto our children. We are the ripples of what was done to our parents, to our grandparents, to our great-grandparents… trauma ripples through the generations through the parenting practices it re-creates. We create the trauma in child abuse.
This is the line of de Mause and the History of Childhood and Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World. Child abuse trauma moves through generations in the parenting practices it creates with each new generation. What the Marquis de Sade was doing was exposing the pathogen that had destroyed his mind, and the mind of the world. This is the world of the French Revolution and the guillotine, the Terror… and the Great Terror. This is the world of the pathogen’s trauma, that produced monarchies, starvation, and Robespierre, the world of pathological violence, fear and terror, gratification in creating suffering, because they “deserve” to suffer, and because I can, power, control, and domination.
The pathogen has a long history of moving through generations, from the Crusades and burning times, back further into Roman oppression, more recently rippling as World War I and World War II. Now in the days of the terrorist, in the bombing in Manchester, in the savagery of 9/11, the Parkland trauma, the organized shootings in Paris and random acts in Nice and Las Vegas; trauma rippling through generations.
Acts of terrorism are not motivated by the desire to cause fear, they are motivated by the desire to cause suffering – a cold and sadistic gratification in creating suffering in others. Calling the pathology “terrorism” misunderstands the core of the pathology.
The pathogen is larger than fear and terror, it is pathological hatred and pathological violence, it is along the anger spectrum of pathology – the gratification in causing suffering – the twisting of empathy.
We need to define “terrorism” more broadly, within the larger pathology of pathological anger and pathological violence. Acts of “terror” are acts of anger and violence that have their foundations in sadistic self-shame and damaged empathy, both born in complex trauma. The source of the terrorist mind is in damaged empathy and social bonding networks in the attachment system of the brain (the love and bonding system of the brain).
The Las Vegas shooter, the Parkland school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the shootings at workplaces in San Bernardino and Virginia Beach, and at churches in Texas and South Carolina, are all variants of a single pathogenic source – a trauma pathogen born in violence and sexual abuse, rippling through generations in the parenting practices it creates – trauma to empathy, trauma to bonding, trauma in the information structures of the attachment system.
We cannot understand the terrorist mind by applying our own normal-range psychology of anger and violence. Our minds are not pathological. The terrorist mind is not on a continuum of anger and violence, they are apart. That is tracing the pathological line into sadism; the gratification in causing suffering and the descent into vile shame and degradation.
The pathogen of the terrorist mind in all its variations shows up in three features:
1.) The Absence of Empathy.
Yet it’s more. Because the sadist does have empathy, they do feel what their victims feel, their suffering… the thing is… they enjoy the feeling. We are not pathological. We have normal human empathy networks. Our empathy networks are repulsed by suffering. The empathy networks damaged by this pathogen are gratified by suffering in others. That’s a critical feature of pathological anger and pathological violence in the damaged empathy networks… in what way they are damaged.
The empathy networks are twisted 180 degrees opposite, into gratification rather that repulsion. What’s missing is compassion. There is an absence of compassion to the empathy of pathological anger and pathological violence. That’s the sociopathic line, the capacity for extreme brutality. When the cold brutality of no compassion is added to the twisted empathy of gratification… the pathogen is created in the attachment networks of the brain… and it moves as an organized constellation of trauma networks from generation to generation through the parenting practices it creates.
2.) Absence of Shared Morality.
The absence of shared morality reflects the damage to the intersubjective networks from the child abuse attachment trauma. There are two brain relationship systems, the attachment system for emotional bonding and the intersubjective system of psychological connection (Stern, Tronick, Siegel). The trauma that creates the terrorist mind destroys the capacity for intersubjectivity, leading to two symptom variants, tremendous self-alienation and social alienation, and a social fusion into cult-like shared psychological states that lack boundaries of autonomous self-experience; they are entirely isolated psychologically, or they are entirely fused to a narcissistic leader (thereby absorbing the narcissistic inflation of the leader).
Within the social distribution of the shared psychological fusion, the cult may have a shared morality, and it will be one to justify and condone the pathological anger and pathological violence. This shared morality will demean and degrade the target – the shame line of the pathology – and elevate the importance and “cleanliness” of the in-group – as the organizing morality for the group. The pathological morality of the terrorist mind is not contained within a broader shared morality of normal-range human empathy and compassion – a normal and healthy attachment system. The morality of the cult is pathological.
The act of the terrorist mind is evil. It is outside of a shared human morality.
3.) Sadism & Shame.
Sadism is created by the fusion of violence trauma with sexual abuse trauma. This is the devastating addition from the sex abuse pathogen, the shame and violence fusion. This is the descent on the pathological lines.
The Marquis de Sade was a vile entity. His exposure and transfer of degradation to the reader should not be endured by anyone without a purpose in absorbing his pathogen. I am a clinical psychologist, I had a need to go there. Indeed, I think at a pre-conscious level he knows this. He is speaking to clinical psychology that was not in his world, but would eventually come. Someone will eventually come into the madness of the trauma, he wanted to provide understanding, he was exposing his pathology of shame and violence.
It is a primitive form of empathy. We make other people feel the way we feel. If I’m feeling frustrated, I’ll make you feel frustrated. If something you said hurt my feelings, I’ll say something to you to hurt your feelings. It is a primitive form of empathy, “I’ll make you feel the way I feel.” de Sade knows the reader is reading, and he is transferring his degradation and shame onto and into us, as his most primitive form of cry from his horror, a cry for empathy, he will create in us the horror of his darkness.
We cannot transpose our minds onto the terrorist mind. The information structures in the terrorist mind are not along the same continuum as a normal-range mind – the information structures in the attachment networks are so severely damaged that they act in alternate and deeply pathological ways.
Unlocking the terrorist mind requires a deeper understanding for the nature of pathological anger and pathological violence and the damage within the information structures of the attachment system. The terrorist mind lives in a world that is not ours, their brain is damaged in empathy, and there is a sadistic line of deep disturbance.
The “terrorist” act is not an act of terror, it is an act of sadistic gratification from causing suffering, it is an anger-violence pathology, it is a delusional-psychotic pathology of pathological shame.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857A