The pathogen is global. It is in the human brain. A set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain. Damaged by childhood abuse and trauma.
This set of damaged information structures ripples through the generations, carried in the distorted parenting practices it creates. The manifestation of this trauma pathogen takes a variety of forms, but always with the same core line – an absence of empathy – sadistic cruelty – and an absence of shared morality.
Woven into the pathogen’s fabric is the influence of shame. It is through the shame line that we enter the world of sadistic cruelty.
The attack on humanity that occurred in New Zealand is not ideological, it is psychological. It is not merely racist, it is pathological. It is pathological hatred, a trauma pathogen contained in the attachment networks of the brain; damaged information structures, damaged by childhood trauma.
The Brain of Childhood Trauma
The brain created in childhood trauma is different than the brain that bonds in attachment. The childhood trauma brain is even different than the brain that forms attachment and then is traumatized, such as through war exposure. Trauma delivered in adulthood is delivered to a mature brain. Trauma delivered during childhood forms the brain.
The brain that contains the trauma pathogen (a specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain) functions differently than one that doesn’t have this damage. The constellation of damaged information structures affects the psychology of the person, but not in overtly obvious ways… but childhood trauma does things to the psychology of the brain’s organization.
The person whose brain contains the trauma pathogen is fear-oriented and threat based. Its organization is around anxiety and threat management. That’s the schema-pattern formed by exposure to childhood trauma; threat and danger.
For the rest of us with undamaged (non-trauma) attachment networks, our orientation is toward social bonding and social cooperation. The attachment system is the brain system governing love and bonding. It is a goal corrected motivational system, meaning that it always maintains the goal of forming an attachment bond.
Goal corrected motivational system. What happens in the attachment networks when that goal of bonding is met with abuse and trauma? The goal of bonding becomes twisted back upon itself. No longer does bonding extend into the world, instead the world is threatening and dangerous. The ports of attachment to the social world of the human community are blocked by the dangers of childhood trauma.
Instead of being psychologically organized toward social engagement, the traumatized brain of childhood becomes organized around fear and threat.
It is a different brain, the brain that carries the trauma pathogen, the set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks. One of the primary features of the trauma brain is that it shuts off contact with the social community. It shuts off love and bonding, because it’s afraid.
Attachment bonding occurs in the context of safety and psychological vulnerability. The brain formed in the crucible of childhood trauma is never safe, it can never relax into a psychologically vulnerable state. The childhood trauma brain is cut off from attachment bonding.
This creates a profound loneliness in the psychology of the traumatized brain. The brain of childhood trauma wants love, desperately wants love, because the attachment system is a primary motivational system of the brain, it always motivates us to seek love from our social community. But the inherent fear and threat orientation of the childhood trauma brain cuts it off from the binding state of safety and security needed for bonding to the social community.
The brain formed in childhood trauma is cut off and alone, but the trauma brain doesn’t realize this because it only knows its own experience. It doesn’t know what it’s like to live bathed in the love of the human community – because the love of a parent is the doorway to that community, and that doorway was shut. They are psychologically alone. Devastatingly alone. And yet, they don’t know that because they don’t know differently.
Suffering and No Escape
Their profound isolation is immensely painful. But they can’t identify the source of their pain. They know it has something to do with others, a need that isn’t being gratified. But a need for what? They don’t understand that their brains are different because of the childhood trauma and the fear orientation that trauma creates. They don’t realize that they don’t have access to the bonding connection areas, the ports of entry into psychological union, because of the fear-based orientation of their brains.
The chronically elevated fear and threat perception of the traumatized brain shuts it off from the ports that bond to others. Those ports are available only when the person is safe and secure. The trauma brain never feels safe and secure, because that was a central line of the damage caused by the trauma, to primal safety and security.
Trauma is fear. The ripple of trauma is anxiety and elevated threat perception. Fear and anxiety block access to the ports of attachment to others that require vulnerability, trust, and safety.
As a result, they are alone; forever alone. Alienated from the social community with no path available to us, blocked by the inherent fear-based organization of their childhood trauma brain. It is immensely painful for them, and they cannot figure out why. Just that it has something to do with the human community, with us. We’re hurting them in some way that they can’t figure out.
So they look for and create reasons. The most obvious reason for them to grasp on is that other people are bad and malevolent in some way.
“That’s why it hurts, because “they” are bad people who are doing bad things to me.”
All of them?
“No, because then I am alone, and I desperately don’t want to be alone. That’s what hurts so much, my loneliness. So not all of them, just the “bad” ones. There are other, “good” ones, who won’t hurt me. My allies.”
So sometimes they seek their groups of outsiders; us (the “good” ones) against them (the “bad” ones). Sometimes they remain alone, trying to fit in… but being unsuccessful because always, inside, there is a tremendous loneliness, a great pain they cannot identify and cannot escape… and it has something to do with us.
Racist hatred, antisemitism, and misogynistic violence against women are all products of this trauma pathogen. The racist-antisemitic organization of childhood trauma channels fear into power in various forms; anger, hatred, contempt, and the assertion of dominance over the targeted group who supposedly represent “a threat.” Anger is the emotion of power. Hatred and contempt amplify the power of anger. Pathological anger and assertion of dominance over the perceived threat manages the incessant inherent fear of the trauma brain.
The attachment brain is not organized by fear. It is organized by bonding. It is not blocked by fear but is instead motivated toward joining in collaboration, toward bonding and attachment in the human community. It is a relaxed brain. It is a brain at peace. It is a different brain than a brain formed in childhood trauma. The trauma brain is organized around fear and threat management.
The violence of pathological anger and the terrorist mind is created by fear in the developmental crucible of childhood attachment trauma. The violence is an effort to manage the fear of the trauma brain. But there is more. There is the shame line created in childhood trauma. The abused child internalizes the rejection:
“I am fundamentally bad and unlovable; that’s why I’m being abused.”
With child sexual abuse, the internalization of the abuse by the child includes a line of shame; a damage to the soul. Hidden shame is the hidden line of causality in the terrorist mind of pathological hatred. Shame intertwined with pathological hatred created in the crucible of childhood trauma becomes the volatile psychological alchemy of the terrorist mind.
Does that mean the shooter was sexually abused as a child? No, not necessarily. The pathogenic damage is to the information structures in the attachment networks of the brain. This pattern of damage is then transmitted through generations by the distorted parenting practices created by the damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the trauma brain.
In each generation of attachment bonding the damaged attachment networks are transmitted to the next generation through the distorted parenting practices created by the damaged information structures of the attachment networks. It takes about four to six generations for the ripple of trauma to fade from influence, with each generational iteration becoming less severe in the pathology it creates.
In the terrorist mind, the shame line of motivational organization is strongly indicated, suggesting sex abuse trauma within a generation or two of the perpetrator; either to the perpetrator directly or to the parent of the perpetrator, possibly a grandparent.
It’s the expression of buried self-shame that creates the sadistic motivational line to the terrorist mind; the gratification received in causing the suffering of others. The pathological hatred is a response to fear, it’s the buried shame that is the source of sadistic cruelty, the gratification taken in causing suffering in others.
It is not a pleasant psychological place of study for me, it is distasteful to empathically understand. I am only partially down the path of sadistic violence and shame, and I want to go only as far as is needed and no further. It is not a pleasant place.
It is a primitive form of empathy.
“I am making you feel the suffering that I feel – because you don’t love me; because I am unlovable. You make me suffer and there is no escape from the pain you cause me. I will make you suffer and you will have no escape from the pain I cause you. You will feel my pain and suffering. You will be unable to escape, as I am unable to escape. I will make you understand my suffering. It feels good that you understand my suffering. Your suffering feels good to me.”
It is the “your suffering feels good to me” line that opens into sadistic violence.
At it’s core, it is a primitive form of empathy; I will make you feel what I feel. What feels gratifying to them is the empathy – a primitive form of understanding for their suffering. I will make you feel what I feel. What becomes horrific are the means of obtaining this primitive empathy from others, the creation of cruel suffering in others. No empathy.
In our shared pain we provide an empathy for their suffering, they find release from their trauma by creating our suffering.
The shame line is the dangerous one, and it’s hidden. The hatred of pathological anger (the trauma brain organized by fear and anxiety) creates the emotional context for the violence, the hidden shame of childhood trauma creates the sadistic line of gratification and pleasure (release) in creating the suffering of others.
The racist-antisemitic strain is against “them” – the other; the misogynistic strain of violence toward women is against “her” – the mother. Misogynistic violence against women is more directly a psychological expression against the “bad mommy” of the childhood attachment trauma – a violent hatred and retaliation against women because the perpetrator vaguely identifies the source of their psychological pain as being associated with women (the “bad mommy” of the attachment trauma).
The racist-antisemitic line sees its full expression in the vile pathology of the Holocaust, the misogynistic strain in the psychopathology of the burning times. In 2019 the trauma of racist pathology ripples in Christchurch, and of misogyny in the sex trafficing of children. In 1917 we were using mustard gas on each other in Europe in an “authorized” war – as a society we were doing that. We are making progress.
But it is a hidden pathogen, child abuse and trauma, and it’s never far away. It’s next door in the abuse of Intimate Partner Violence, in the “cultural” domination, enslavement, and gender violence directed against women, in the racism we allow without rebuke. The trauma pathogen is in our schools, in Parkland and Sandy Hook. It’s in our cities, Paris, New York, London, and Christchurch. The pathogenic agent of childhood trauma is found in our places of worship, in Charleston and a baptist church in Texas.
No Shared Morality; Evil
The pathogen created in childhood trauma damages a specific set of information structures in the attachment networks of the brain, which then leads to a profound psychological isolation of the person – an inner alienation from the human community – caused by the fear-based orientation of the trauma brain. It sees threat; not love, not bonding. It is forever apart, forever alone, held apart by fear.
The psychological self-experience of alienation from others that is characteristic of the fear orientation of a traumatized brain, an alienation even when surrounded by others, even when offered love, is reflected in the absence of shared morality. They may sometimes form groups, the allies of like mind to relieve their isolation, but there is no social morality.
This is a pathology of right and wrong and the absence of shared morality. It is the pathology of evil. It cannot be comprehended by an attachment brain because the trauma brain is different, it is not the attachment brain. The attachment brain moves toward bonding and social community. The trauma brain is isolated from others by fear. It is tremendously alone. It suffers always, with no escape, because the ports of bonding are closed by fear.
And there is the shame, the buried inner shame of childhood trauma.
Morality becomes twisted by the fear into a justification for cruelty:
“They” are a threat. “They” are causing my pain. “They” deserve to suffer.
That is the morality of the terrorist mind of pathological hatred. In crossing that line into “they deserve to suffer” a psychological threshold is crossed into the violence of pathological hatred; the KKK driving the back roads in a pickup truck looking for a black person to lynch. The husband beating his wife because his dinner is cold and she “deserved it.” The genocides of people, from first nation tribes, to Stalin’s starvations, to the Armenian genocide, and the Jewish Holocaust, because they “deserved” to suffer. In Christchurch and Orlando, and Parkland, and Nice – someone deserved to suffer.
It is the same pathogen, a specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain. The same pathogenic agent in different clothing. The sadistic line of buried shame added to the pathological violence of fear… “They deserve to suffer.”
The Protector Role
The trauma brain self-adopts the protector role of their trauma reenactment narrative. They believe they are protecting “us” (psychologically, themselves as a child) from a threat that no one sees, the trauma brain sees itself as protecting “us” from “them” (psychologically, protecting themselves as a child from the perpetrator of their own child abuse – their hidden childhood abuse and trauma).
“I am protecting us from the threat that you are too blind to see. Only I see the treat posed by them. It’s a hidden threat that no one sees. Except me, and I’m protecting us.”
The trauma organized brain recognizes that it is somehow different from the rest of us, that we don’t seem to be responding to the pervasive fear the trauma brain experiences, a generalized all-pervading perception of threat that they very much experience every waking moment. We don’t seem to be afraid, and the trauma brain cannot understand that, but it accepts that something is different. It doesn’t fit in.
It tries to fit in, but its ports of bonding are closed by anxiety and fear. The ports of attachment bonding require a psychological state of safety and vulnerability that the trauma brain never enters. They can’t join with us psychologically because their generalized fear and threat perception blocks their bonding ports for attachment, which requires a relaxed and secure psychological state of vulnerability.
They know something is not right, that they don’t fit in, but they cannot understand why we’re not responding to the “threat” that they perceive — a perception of generalized threat they feel, that is created by the fear-based orientation of their traumatized brain. In an effort to make sense of their fear they create a cause of threat in “them” and a belief surrounding why no one sees it – a thematic recreation for the unseen abuser of their childhood trauma; no one saw, only the child knew of the abuse.
This leads them to see themselves as special, as the specially appointed “protectors” – protecting us from the threat that they perceive, but is not seen by others. Oklahoma City. Christchurch. Baader Meinhoff. White nationalism. The belief in a hidden danger that they must act to protect “us” from; the threat that they alone perceive and to which we are blind (no one ever saw their abuse). They are protecting “us” from danger.
Recovering Our Children (of all ages)
Pathological violence and the terrorist mind is the product of a trauma brain. It contains a particular set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain. These damaged information structures in the attachment networks create a characteristic set of symptoms found in the pathology of pathological violence and the terrorist mind. It is an attachment trauma pathogen moving through generations. It is a problem in the love and bonding system of the brain; the attachment system.
Once we understand the damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain that are shutting down access to the ports of social connection, then solutions emerge. There are ways to free the trauma brain of its fear-based orientation and reopen the ports of entry into attachment bonding.
We can address the damaged information structures created by childhood trauma, and we can open the ports of social connection with our children – all of our children, everywhere – no matter how old they may be now.
Freud noted that childhood trauma keeps the brain stuck at the developmental period of the trauma, a developmental stuckness he called fixation. There’s a brain-based reason that the trauma brain becomes stuck at the developmental level of when the trauma occurred. It’s waiting for us to come fix things.
I don’t care what the chronological age of the person is, the trauma brain is a child’s brain waiting for us to come and rescue it. That’s what fixation is. The brain stops and is waiting for us to come fix things. In trauma it is a fearful brain that lacks the capacity for bonding. The attachment networks are turned inward upon themselves, creating a tremendous experience of profound psychological loneliness with no escape. The trauma brain cannot find bonding to us. We must find bonding to it, to our children, no matter what their chronological age.
During childhood and young adulthood our normal-range attachment organized brains all move on with our growth and development. The trauma brain doesn’t. It remains trapped in its “child of fear” and its immense loneliness, with no rescue, with no end to the suffering, waiting for us to rescue and recover the child from trauma.
They pretend to be like us, because they want to be like everyone else; they desperately want to be loved, to be bonded to the human community. But the fear-based orientation of their trauma brain is shutting down the ports of attachment bonding, because these ports require a psychological state of safety and security and a brain formed in childhood trauma never feels safe and secure.
Their development has become stuck; fixated. Their brains are waiting for us – the loving other – to come and provide an emotional and psychological nurture – called empathy. Empathy is the human connection that releases the brain from its fear. It is the port of attachment. Empathy is another word for love.
But its not love from the outside in, it’s love that starts on the inside and moves out. Empathy is our joining them on the inside, with their suffering; a shared suffering. Empathy is love that has its source in the other person, in their experience. This is the release for the trauma brain. Human contact. Somebody who comes to find them; because we love them and they are important to us.
Are our children important to us? That’s a question of importance.
Right now, the answer I see is, no… our children are not important to us. Only some of our children: only “my” children, not “their” children.
Solutions for the terrorist mind and pathological hatred will not be found in police or military efforts, although protective efforts are essential. This is an incredibly dangerous pathogen. But there is no protection against Christchurch, or Manchester, or Las Vegas, or Sandy Hook, or Parkland, not once the trauma brain is activated to sadistic expression of the pathogen. The trauma brain is too widespread among us. It’s not in them, it’s in us.
Whether it is from our personal childhood trauma or the ripple of trauma from our parents (or grandparents), transmitted through the distorted parenting created by the trauma damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain, the pathogen of attachment trauma surrounds us hidden and unseen… “He seemed so normal, and nice. I don’t understand what made him suddenly do something like this.”
Nor will solutions be found in social programs of bringing resources and economic development to those in need. External support is wonderful, but it is through the empathy of human psychological connection, not through things, that we unlock the trauma brain and release it from its fear-reactive orientation. The trauma brain waits for us, for our love, not for our things.
If people need things, then empathy for suffering generates the things needed to stop their suffering. The source is empathy.
When your suffering is my suffering, then oh my goodness we need to end this right away; not because it is happening to you but because it is happening to me as well. You are not alone… because I love you; I have empathy for you.
When bad things happen to my child, that is just as horrible (perhaps more so) than when the bad thing happens to me. If my child is suffering, my entire motivation is on making it stop.
Our children are suffering. But no one cares. We are busy. We have “our own children” to raise. These other children, they’re not as valuable as “our” children. We’re busy. What can we do?
That creates the trauma brain of child abuse; abandoning the children to their trauma. No one cares. The child’s brain remains fixated in fear, waiting for us to come rescue them… we’ll come because we care. But we don’t care, because that’s not “my” child.
We should never abandon any child to their trauma. Every child – every human – is of value. We need to find a way.
Every child is important, except to the shooter in New Zealand, to the Manchester bomber, to the killers in Paris, to the Las Vegas shooter, to the nations of WWI and WW2, to the gulags of the Soviet Union, to the brutality of ISIS and extremism, to the lynchings of blacks in the South… to the terrorist mind of pathological hatred.
In these brains, “the child” housed in their victim is not valuable. There is no empathy.
We reap what we sow; the absence of empathy. When we abandon children to child abuse and trauma, evil has fertile soil to grow in the psychology of the traumatized brain.
Childhood trauma creates characteristic damage to a set of information structures in the attachment networks of the brain. One of the areas of primary damage is to the empathy networks. The absence of empathy is the cause of child abuse, and damage to empathy is the resulting product of child abuse, and the trauma pathogen is transmitted across generations though the distorted parenting practices it creates.
The trauma brain is not like our brain. That’s why the motivations of the trauma brain seem so odd and incomprehensible to us. How is it possible to do something so horrific?
Because that brain was forged in childhood trauma, and no one ever cared enough to recover that child from their trauma, releasing them to join us in the human community… because we didn’t care about that child. That child wasn’t valuable.
This is not a war on terror. The insanity of war is this pathogen in all its full glory. This is a psychopathology, a vile, cruel, and evil psychopathology born in the crucible of childhood trauma. We need to rescue our children. Their brains created in trauma wait for us to come and release them to join us in the shared human community; into an attachment organized brain of bonding and social integration.
Because we love them and they are valuable. All of our children. Even you.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857