Figure 1 shows a continuum from altruistic to violent with two pro-social behaviors on one end and two anti-social behaviors on the other.
The two levels of pro-social behaviors differ in exceptionality and the two levels of antisocial severity. This study compares six ordinary, non-violent people, six famous, altruistic humanitarians, and six infamous, violent people. The humanitarians had very well known histories from which to draw and included Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Mahatma Gandhi. Notoriously antisocial and violent people also had histories available to research and included Charles Manson, Dylan and Kliebold, and Richard Ramirez. (This was a very small sample of convenience for exploratory purposes only.) While it is a very small sample and a limited number of factors, it raises some interesting hypotheses to examine.
Figure 6.1. Continuum of Interpersonal Relatedness
People from all three groups experienced some level of trauma and loss. It appears that the majority of aggressive people had primarily risk factors for violence (Figure 2) and the majority of the non-violent and altruistic people had primarily positive traits (Figure 3).
More of the violent group had risk factors for violence than the other 2 groups. Interestingly, the majority of the altruistic group (5/6) experienced childhood trauma and losses, half of the violent group (3/6), and a third of the non-violent group (2/6) had histories of trauma. Family violence was found in two groups: non-violent (1/6) and violent (3/6), while none of the altruistic group had histories of family violence. Fewer people in the humanitarian and non-violent groups experienced trauma from their families than the violent group.
Figure 2 Comparison of risk factors of non-violent, altruistic, and violent behaviors in people
Greater numbers of the altruistic and non-violent groups had resiliency factors, including warm, nurturing families. Families such as these support adequate development of children’s skills. When parents were nurturing, they were able to help children overcome their tragedies and build strengths, and the children grew up to use their experience for positive goals.
Figure 3 Comparison of Resiliency Traits of Non-violent, Violent, and Altruistic behaviors groups.
In conclusion, some members of all groups experienced childhood trauma. More of those in the violent group experienced trauma from within the family than the humanitarian or non-violent group. More of the altruistic and non-violent group had resiliency factors than those in the violent group. Greater numbers of the people in the violent group had risk factors associated with violence than the other 2 groups. More of the humanitarian and non-violent groups had warm, nurturing families than the violent group. It appears that, trauma from within the family may have more negative effects on children than trauma from outside of the family. It may also be that having a nurturing, supportive family helps children build strengths in the face of trauma, so that the effects are less devastating.
Kathryn Seifert is the founder of www.DrKathySeifert.com and received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus in 1995. She has had over 30 years experience in mental health, addictions, and criminal justice work. She founded Eastern Shore Psychological Services, a multidisciplinary private practice that specializes in working with high-risk youth behaviors and their families.