Note from the Jeremy Griffith, Creator of The American Millennium Online
The issues of gun control, mental health, mass shootings and violence are complicated ones in our society. These issues can not be solved by the sweep of a pen or any quick fix. A debate must happen so that all the angles can be heard and common sense solutions can be put forward. We’ve asked our friend Michael Arieta, a licensed clinical social worker in Minnesota, to give us some perspective in this very important debate. This article has been cross-posted from his website at NewPathCounseling.net.
by Mike Arieta, L.C.S.W-MN
The issue of gun control has been an on-going situation over the years, but has gained increased attention due to recent events. Over the past few weeks there has been much attention given to tougher laws, increased mental health screenings and increased security. I want to take time to address this complicated issue of gun control from one social workers perspective and take the discussion on this issue in perhaps a different direction then where it has been going so far.
I want to point out a myth that this debate has brought out. A myth that has come out is that mass murders are committed by seriously mentally ill people. In an article by Michael B. Friedman that appeared in the January 17, 2013 edition of the Huffington Post. Friedman points out that people with mental illness are not likely to be violent and that acts of mass murder are carried out by some who are mentally ill, but these types of acts are also likely to be carried out by those who are not mentally ill. This is an important point to make because there have been calls for increased attention to those with mental illness. Does this mean that people who have identified themselves as having issues with mental health have limited rights? I am not talking about the right for a person with mental health issues to own a gun, but rather are persons with mental health issues going to be labeled violent and have their access limited to the community at large? This is a question that remains to be addressed in the debate.
Aside from the issue of mental health and gun use, I want to bring out a deeper discussion of why people may choose to use violence to deal with some situations. I have pondered this for some time and have wondered how much the role of shame has played in a person’s choice to use violence over other options. First I need to define a key difference between shame and guilt. The word shame is defined per the Social Work Dictionary 5th edition (Baker 2003) as:
A painful feeling of having disgraced or dishonored oneself or those one cares about because of an intentional act, involuntary behavior or circumstance.
Guilt is defined per the Social Work Dictionary 5th edition (Baker 2003) as:
An emotional reaction to the perceptions of having done something wrong, having failed to do something or violating important social norms.
When you look at these two definitions there is an important difference between the two states. Guilt is an emotional reaction to violating social norms and to put it simply says “I did something bad.” Shame on the other hand is a much deeper feeling in which a person internalizes feelings of negative self worth. Basically, shame says “I am a bad person.”
When I look at the incidents of mass violence and violence in general I have wondered if the person or persons committing the violence have experienced shame in some way. My point is that if shame is left unattended and not dealt with that a person may choose to use violence to deal with the feeling of being wronged or slighted by others. This choice may not be used for a few incidents, but over time if a person experiences many incidents of being wronged either by others, systems or even by themselves they may feel the only way around these intense feelings is to hurt others to feel vindicated. The other issue that is related to shame is power or the lack of it. When a person lacks the power to make changes to deal with the shame they have experienced they may choose violence as a way to achieve power.
For me the issue of gun control is more than banning guns or not, it is more about looking at why people choose to use violence in the first place. I believe that when the underlying issues of violence are addressed, you may see a reduction in all violence in general. I also believe that when a person is given the chance to be heard and they are able to get their story out, it goes a long way to reducing the feelings of shame and guilt that if left unchecked can lead to violence.
Brené Brown Ph.D. has done some excellent work on vulnerability and work on shame. I have included a link to her work on shame. She addresses the issue of how shame impacts our lives. She has focused her work on listening to people’s stories and learning about what pain they have been through as well as what people have done to deal with these intense feelings. When you get to the site, please click on the “listening to shame” video.
I have stated this in a previous post on new path notes that I believe it is very important for people of all ages to have a safe place and a safe person in which to share their hurts. I believe if a person is truly heard the feelings of shame and hurt can be reduced. I am speaking of all violence types not just those involving guns. When people start to deal with the feelings that are behind the violence, violence can be reduced. When people are given the chance to be heard they begin to heal.
© 2013 Mike Arieta MSW, LICSW, LMSW