It happened again, another chaotic and disturbing tragedy. An NFL player kills and then commits suicide.
Apparently, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, 25, argued with his girlfriend, with whom he had a 3-month-old daughter, and then shot her. He then went to the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium where he took his own life, standing only 10 yards from his coach and police.
There seems, unfortunately, to be frequent news stories of murder and suicide in the family these days: parents murdering their children, then themselves; children murdering their parents; spouses murdering spouses. Often, each incident is attributed to a single cause — recent unemployment or problems at the job; a broken relationship or financial difficulties.
In fact, it is unrealistic and inaccurate to believe that such extreme and violent acts could result from a single cause. Violence, both verbal and physical, is typically the result of many layers of influence. For example, Harry, husband and father of three, may have a biological predisposition to depression – a brain-chemistry physical condition. As is often the case, this tendency to depression is covered up, and may not be recognized. His behavior is tolerated, and therefore never treated as the illness it is.
That is often the first layer. Perhaps the untreated depression evolves into a more extreme mental illness. That may be another layer. Harry may have also learned dysfunctional family patterns in dealing with conflict such as using verbal abuse and violence, or the threat of it. Another layer.
And, a final layer, which affects all of us, and in my view is showing up with alarming frequency in the form of school bullying, is the general influence of our violent culture — a culture that has for centuries condoned domestic violence especially toward women and children.
So, if Harry kills a family member, it is not based on a single issue or cause, but reflects many layers of influence which are exacerbated by underlying mental illness. No one commits suicide or murder without either being a sociopath (an extreme anti-social personality disorder) or being deeply mentally disturbed.
What can we do to stop violence in the family, and prevent these heinous acts?
First, acknowledge and seek professional help for problems. Do not enable, overlook or hide family problems, especially mental or emotional problems. Just as you seek out quality medical care for your family’s needs, seek quality care for their psychological needs.
Second, teach healthy assertiveness and non-violent ways to resolve conflict. Family meetings, begun early in your children’s lives or early in your marriage, can be the foundation of a healthy family. Never allow hitting or verbal abuse. Let every family member participate in the discussion of conflicts, and take responsibility for carrying out their possible solutions.
Third, reject violent popular culture. Don’t buy music that encourages name calling and violence. Do not allow your children to go to violent movies; don’t watch violent TV shows. In real life, when there is an explosion, or a car goes over a cliff, or someone is punched, people die or end up hospitalized with perhaps life altering injuries.
Tell your children in your behavior and your words that violence hurts others. Violence is not entertaining, it is dangerous and destructive.
Fourth, use the non-violence principles of Ghandi, Mandela, and King as inspiration. Support appropriate organizations that promulgate those ideas and principles.
Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals and families to resolve conflicts, achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or 978-546-9431.