Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
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Note to Policy Makers Regarding Terrorism

by Carol Campbell, MFT

The emergence of terrorism as a prominent weapon of political warfare has increasingly chipped away at the world's sense of basic trust and safety. The rise of social media has made it more and more difficult for those of us in the Western world to assume that such unspeakable violence will remain something too difficult to think about, happening far away to people we don't really know.

The need for all countries to "fight terrorism" has become a given, but we will be playing whack-a-mole forever unless we expend equal resources figuring out what causes human beings to become terrorists. Only then can we have reasonable hope of reducing or preventing the sorts of circumstances and events that have led to the horrific, widespread use of terrorism as a weapon favored by aggrieved people.

Many theories have been tossed around to explain the evolution of a terrorist. It's a result of poverty. It's because of envy of the Western world. It's because of limited opportunities for education. It's because of fundamentalist religions. It's because of resentment of foreign occupation.

Perhaps the most helpful information is coming from those who study psychology – presumably not the most sought-after experts at the Pentagon and White House and Congress. Nonetheless, the most compelling research about the cause of terrorism that I have heard about was a news item recently carried on National Public Radio. Two female doctoral students in Beirut, Lebanon, are studying terrorism from the standpoint of forensic psychology. These women were granted permission to carry out their study in a notoriously dangerous prison housing hundreds of terrorists captured by Lebanese forces.

The women first had to work to gain the trust of the prisoners, not surprisingly a difficult undertaking. But day after day they kept at it, and eventually they were able to have extensive interviews with dozens of terrorists. Their findings were chilling on the one hand, but also gave me hope.

Yes, some of the men came from dirt-poor families. Some were hardly educated at all; others were well educated. Some were from strict religious families. Many were resentful of the history of foreign occupation of their home countries, but some came from Western nations. However, there was one factor in common reported by every man they interviewed: Each man who became a terrorist reported having been cruelly humiliated by his own father.

The terrorist prisoners told of having been beaten by their fathers, humiliated by their fathers in front of family members or neighbors, and of suffering the repeated humiliation by being abandoned, mistreated, ridiculed, ignored, and so on. If we want to put an end to widespread terrorism in the world, we would be wise to pay attention to the forensic psychologists who are telling us what needs to change. Fathers who humiliate their sons create the genesis of terrorism.

We cannot afford to stand by when a cultural norm says that being deliberately mean to a child is an acceptable form of parenting. All children need to have loving parents who are equipped for parenthood. Societies that are based on misogyny are perhaps where the greatest attention is needed. When men can't express their own vulnerability and tenderness, when children are raised separately from their fathers and shamed for loving their mothers, when boys are taught to hate their mothers and feel superior to their sisters, there is no way that those boys will not feel humiliated for having normal feelings of tenderness and vulnerability, and enraged when their fathers beat them for it. Any number of circumstances can then arise that become substitute targets for projected hatred of the father. Then we are all at risk.

My plea to policy makers everywhere is to take into account this incredibly profound point. What happens psychologically to children is more important than perhaps any other factor in terms of shaping their future. For boys to be humiliated by the man they rely on most dearly to gain a sense of their own value, is to invite the seeds of antisocial behavior to be sown.

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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