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Mar 05, 2018

My Response to the Increase in Mass Violence and Shootings

Written by Dr. Caroline Leaf

Like everyone else, I was utterly devastated to hear of yet another shooting at a school in the U.S. 17 innocent children dead. On Valentine’s day. In a school—a place where children ought to be safe.

Almost immediately, people on both sides of the political spectrum started voicing their opinions about what must be done. The “liberals” shouted for stricter gun control. The “conservatives” blamed mental health care. Thousands of emotional posts calling for action were shared on social media sites around the world.

Can anything actually be done to change the situation? Can we make this country, the world, a safer place? Solutions are desperately needed. Just seven weeks into 2018, there have already been eight shootings at US schools that have resulted in injury or death.

I have dedicated my life to studying the mind-brain connection, especially focusing on mind issues such as thinking, learning, memory, dementia, ADD, ADHD, autism, TBI, CTE and trauma. I spent 25 years working in some of the most disadvantaged and dangerous parts of South Africa and the USA with students, businessmen and ordinary individuals, training people to reach their full potential and overcome negative thinking patterns. You could say my specialty is focusing on the ways we misuse and damage our mind and brain, and how to use our minds to change our brains (and lives) in a positive direction.

Since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, many people have asked me why this is happening and what can we do.

Here are some of my thoughts on the complex matter:

WHAT WENT WRONG?

It is imperative to remember that there is no “one” problem and therefore no one solution. We need to look at a variety of factors; human beings are, after all, complex creatures in complex social environments. 

1. Lack of Love

The lack of unconditional, lasting and authentic love is a global issue. The lack of love is in fact one of the main reasons why people tend to “crack.” Love is the number one addiction—we are designed to be consumed by (addicted to) love, to give ourselves over to something.[1] According to research loneliness and the lack of love kills more people annually than any other disease.

When we do not feel loved, we will do anything to get our "love" fix—to fill that hole in our lives. Look at the lengths a cocaine addict will go to get his or her next fix...the lack of true love, of fufillment, will make us desperate, and we will seek substitutes for that love. 

Science shows we are wired for love.[2] Love is the foundation of who we are as humans. In so many of these gun violence cases, the shooter’s family, school or work life was a mess. An absent father, abusive parents, the death of a loved one, the lack of authentic love at home…you name it.

The lack of love can make people unstable, particularly if this absence of love occurs during the formative years of childhood. Many of the patterns for adulthood are laid down in childhood; adverse child circumstances have been consistently shown to impair physical health, damage mental and emotional functioning, and distort perceptions of reality. Children who lack love at home and school often lack self-esteem, which can manifest itself in “odd” and destructive behaviors. In many cases, this child is bullied at school and considered an “outcast,” further perpetuating the cycle of lack of love. Likewise, many churches today are more and more judgmental and hostile—they will only accept people if they behave or act according to certain moral codes. For many people, religion is no longer a “sanctuary”—a place where someone can feel safe, seek help or just find someone who is willing to listen to their story.

Love thrives in a community. Humanity is wired to work and thrive in community. Love cannot be shared, of course, without someone to love. In science, and especially quantum physics, “entanglement” is one of the most important laws--it is often referred to as the law of relationships.[3] We are entangled humans living in an entangled universe; we need each other.

However, according to research, the United States is one of the most individualistically-minded countries, plagued with an increasing loneliness epidemic, which I believe is a major contributing factor to mass shootings. Many people feel like there is no one they can turn to when they are in need, which often leads to further isolation, destructive mindsets and toxic behavior. The lack of love sets up a negative cycle of distorted love, leading to distorted perceptions, which in turn leads to a distorted sense of identity and hatred towards others. These kinds of people often attack the most vulnerable because they feel the vulnerable; it is a very tragic and distorted way of crying out for love and attention.

On the other hand, when they do tend to seek help, they are given a label and medication instead of love; they are essentially dehumanized and cordoned off from “normal” society.  

Addressing this lack of love on a societal level means reading the warning signs and recognizing the correlation between individualism and loneliness and lack of love, and the distorted behaviors that result from this privation.                           

2. The Mind

Indubitably, we cannot use the lack of love discussed above as an excuse for murder or other destructive behaviors. Not everyone who experiences adverse events is a killer. The majority of people do not feel the need to take the life of others as a result for their own experiences.

We all have the ability to choose. Some people will suffer anxiety or depression in response to life, some individuals will become high achievers, others will just give up, some will get very sick and some will overcome. We are all different, and we all think, feel and choose differently.[4]

Our brains do what our minds tell them to do.[5] A guiding principle of the mind-brain connection is that the mind is separate from the brain and the mind changes the brain. We literally have the power to create matter out of mind. We have the power to create our realities. We also have the power to move on from the past and reach our full potential, regardless of what life has thrown in our way.

As mentioned above, when people lack love in whatever form, they can develop toxic thinking patterns. These toxic thoughts are not harmless because thoughts are the roots of words and actions: what we say and do was first a thought, and whatever we think about the most grows—it becomes our “addiction”.

Thoughts are real things, which occupy mental real estate. Unchecked toxic thinking causes brain damage and upsets the electrical chemical and quantum balance of the brain. Yet this does not happen overnight. Research shows that it takes a minimum of 7-minutes a day, over 21-days, to build a long-term memory, and at least a further 42 days to build this memory into a habit.[6] For an action to take place it had at least 63 days of thought-building behind it. For example, spending most of a day in bitterness, anger and unforgiveness, focusing on toxic content like video games that numb you to killing, and reading and thinking about material that deals with death themes and so on can create tremendous distortions in the mind, which can result in destructive behaviors. These may start as small things, like aggressively squashing a bug to hurting animals, and gradually expand to killing people or self-harm.

In a community-focused society, these warning signs can be picked up earlier and help can be provided before these destructive behaviors escalate. Yet, ultimately, it is the individual’s choice as to what they do with their pain, because we each have the power to create our own realities, whether they are toxic or life-giving.

3. Mental Health

The association between mental “disorders” and violence is an unfair association and distorts the discussion, particularly with the media’s caricature of individuals with mental issues committing acts of violence because there is something terribly wrong with their brain. According to research, those battling with mind issues are more often victims than perpetrators.

Furthermore, relying on the current mental health and psychiatric system to stop school shootings is not going to help. We desperately need a revolution in mental healthcare. The current drug-oriented, biomedical model of diagnosis and treatment for non-medical problems and experiences is reductionistic and dangerous. While the biomedical model is very effective in treating illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so on, it is unhelpful and even damaging in matters to do with consciousness and the mind, such as depression or anxiety. The “treatment” of these so-called diseases is predominated by psychotropic drugs, ECT and TMS, which have been shown to be ineffective in the long term, destructive, disempowering, and stigmatizing. Calling for a bigger budget for drug-oriented psychiatry “medicalizes misery” and dehumanizes people, ignoring the context surrounding why a person choose to act or speak in a certain way.

There is also extensive documentation demonstrating the “brain-disabling and mind-altering” effects of psychiatric medication, which disrupts the capacity of a person to function coherently. These medications do not “fix” the brain; they cause chemical imbalances in the brain. All psychotropic drugs can cause long term apathy, dementia and brain damage. In addition, the side effects of many of these drugs include increased aggression, agitation, suicidal thoughts and confused thinking. If anything, giving someone a mental health label and psychiatric drugs can exacerbate a problem, not control it, literally adding fuel to the fire.      Indeed, labeling and drugging individuals often means loving, psychosocial intervention is either overlooked or given second place because the person is under psychiatric “care” and their problems are “being managed.”

A common factor in all of the mass shootings that have happened over the past few years was psychiatric drugs. This of course doesn't mean every person on psychiatric drugs will commit homicide. These drugs do, however, inhibit judgement and increase the likelihood of violence—to one’s self or to others.

The recent Florida shooting is one example of the failure of our current psychiatric system. From the reports, there were many missed opportunities to recognize the problems he was having at home and at school, as well as total mismanagement of his case, which increased the chance of the shooting occurring. Dr. Peter Breggin, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and mental health advocate, has tracked patterns of warning signals and mismanagement in the Cruz case and several other recent shooters, including the Las Vegas shooter and Texas shooter at the end of 2017. He outlines the dangers of the current psychiatric system, psychiatric drugs and medication spellbinding, and the increased risk of violence associated with these medications in his books and articles.

4. Technology

Although the technical age has helped improve the lives of many, technology such as social media can serve to increase our sense of isolation, and increase our desire to seek attention. We now have the world at our fingertips, yet, paradoxically, more and more of us live solitary, futile lives. We are more connected, literally, yet we are more isolated than ever before.

Indeed, many shooters may have been influenced by the “fame” of previous shooters in the media, or online groups who praise mass shooters and share detailed information and “how to” guides on school shootings. This tragedy of distorted love and attention-seeking leads to distorted perceptions, resulting in lashing out at the very places where love should have been given—at home, at school, in the workplace or even in cinema.

Likewise, we need to look at the kind of video games children have access to, and how the age restrictions on these video games are enforced. The brain adapts to its environment; if we are constantly exposed to negative, violent images, we allow these images to take root in the mind, which can possibly affect the way we think, speak and act--we create a culture of violence. Children are especially vulnerable to these images and stories as their brains are growing and therefore very malleable.

5. Gun Accessibility

Regardless of your stance on gun rights, the accessibility of guns and other lethal weapons in the United States has to be reformed. Of course, gun accessibility is not the only problem. Yet the easy access to guns in the US lays the groundwork for mass damage to be inflicted in a short period of time; readily available firearms make the destructive tendencies of troubled individuals an especially lethal threat. Indeed, we have to ask ourselves: why is it harder to file taxes than it is to buy a gun?

The United States owns far more guns per capita than the rest of the world, and has nearly twice as many guns per 100 people as the next closest country, Yemen. The American firearm homicide rate is about 20 x the average among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries (excluding Mexico). The wide availability of guns means that more people are hurt or injured by guns.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

1. Love and Community

If the lack of love is so dangerous, the obvious solution is to create environments of love. Yet what does this look like? Love starts in the family unit. It is so important for parents or guardians to constantly tell and show their children that they are loved. Hug them, tell them they are needed and wanted, and tell them they are special. Parents or guardians also need to create a safe space for their children and show them that they will not be judged or condemned. As a parent of four children, I have to constantly work at making sure my children know that no matter what they have my trust and love, and making sure that they feel safe and not judged-- that they can talk about anything and everything.

The next step is in school: teachers should be trained to identify the signs and schools should provide adequate support for troubled individuals, such as providing each teacher with a compassionate and knowledgeable individual who is there to help the children deal with the vagaries of life.

Churches can also be incredible powerhouses when it comes to showing communities what love looks like. In addition to regular counseling services (which are often time-consuming), churches should create a loving, safe and nonjudgmental centers or peaceful gardens manned by volunteers who can just listen and love people who are going through tough times.

We have many programs that deal with overcoming toxic thinking patterns, training and educating individuals to use their mind well, and therapy through vegetable gardening available at drleaf.com and at our non-profit, the Whole Mind Project (wholemindproject.com). You are more than welcome to contact us for more information.

We are currently working on certified counseling courses and an app to train individuals to think and build healthy memories, which will be released this year.

2. Detox the Mind

We all need to recognize that our thoughts, words and actions are powerful; we create realties with our minds. We need to constantly renew the way we think and take negative thoughts captive, making sure that we create realities of love and not of hatred, which allow us to not only help ourselves but to also help others. When we are surrounded by our own problems we often don’t see when we can, and that we need to, help someone in need.

I have created a simple, easy to use daily program called the 21 Day Brain Detox that can help individuals learn to control their thinking and build positive, life-giving memories that can transform their lives and communities for the better. It takes just 7-12 minutes a day and helps create and solidify long-term, healthy thinking habits. 

3. Psychiatric Reform

Drugging people to control their thoughts, feelings and actions is not the answer to all societal ills. The good news is that there are many alternatives to psychotropic drugs and invasive treatments like ECT. Mad in America, an online community of mental health professionals, advocates, and individuals provide detailed resources on not only the current state of mental health treatment, but also guides to withdrawal and alternatives to drug treatment for mental health issues. The contributors at Mad in America, including Dr. Peter Breggin, are making incredible strides in changing the way individuals and institutions define and treat people suffering from the vagaries of life.

My own experience as a clinical practioner has repeatedly shown that transforming the mind works wonders, which I have written down and recorded in my books, DVDs and online programs, including the 21 Day Brain Detox. People can be healed—there is indeed much to hope for!

4. Technology

We should all make an effort to communicate less with our phone or computer and more with those we love and are in community with. We should limit our time using technology, including social media, to certain hours of the day or certain days. The brain thrives in a dynamic and social atmosphere; the more we reach out to others, the more we improve our own mental and physical health.

We should also recognize that there are incredibly dark places on the internet, and it is shocking how easily these sites can be accessed. We need to watch not only how much time our children spend online, but where they spend that time. Remember, whatever we let inside our brain has the power to influence our thoughts, words and actions.

You can listrn to my podcast on social media and the mind for more information.

5. Gun Control:

Last but not least, we need better gun regulations. Guns, like cars, should not be easy to purchase. They have the power to harm many people if used unwisely or with ill-intention. For example, we should have tests and classes (like you would have to get a driver’s license), extensive histories of the customer, longer times to evaluate someone's individual’s mental and physical capacity, drug tests, a longer wait time to evaluate patterns of behavior, better record keeping, a data base of gun refusals and reasons for refusal, and, once purchased, information on the gun, the address of where the gun is kept, proof of a separate store for ammo, proof that the gun is in a locked cabinet or location, annual inspections of the gun and reapplications for licenses, including new tests that reexamine mental and physical fitness.

We should also look at other countries and see how we can improve. Switzerland, for instance, is “armed to the teeth.” Weapons are everywhere and gun laws are quite liberal, but gun crime is low and the last mass shooting they had was in 2001. Just what are they doing differently? The Swiss have developed a strong cultural mindset of gun safety: they think about the nature of guns. They have a strong sense of “responsibility” when it comes to their firearms, among other factors.

There is certainly one thing we should all learn from the Swiss: we need to think more about why we need guns, why we use guns, and we need to teach younger generations to think about guns in a safe and responsible manner.

It all starts in the mind.

Conclusion 

Change starts in the mind. We all need to recognize that what we choose to do with our lives and what we choose to think about is not just about about us, but us in the world because humanity is entangled. Every thought we think has the power to impact every other human on the planet. 

Mass shooting and murder are social problems that go against our natura,l wired for love design, and they begin as negative thinking patterns that eventually bring about negative behaviors. It is therefore extremely important that we recognize that our thoughts create realities. We can bring heaven or hell to earth with our thoughts. Thoughts are incredibly powerful, and with this power comes the responsibility to create realities of love.


[1] See my books Switch on Your Brain and The Perfect You.

[2] See my books Switch on Your Brain and The Perfect You.

[3] See my books Switch on Your Brain and The Perfect You.

[4] See my book The Perfect You.

[5] See my book Switch on Your Brain.

[6] See my book Switch on Your Brain.

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