Got Violence? The Early Origins of Rage

In American society, violence is rampant. There are many reasons for it. One reason I understand intimately—the rage that results from early invasive medical procedures.

As I’ve mentioned many times, at one-month-old I was operated on for a stomach blockage, called pyloric stenosis. Anesthesia and pain control were not given; in their place, I received a muscle paralyzer so I was conscious for the surgery but unable to move. This protocol was typical of the times. Babies didn’t feel pain, was medicine’s mantra.

Every time I write this, I am incredulous about how this type of assessment could have been made. By mere observation, it is clear that newborns can feel pain. Any mother will tell you this.

Rage can result from early mistreatment. I speak for myself and for many who’ve experienced early trauma. What helplessness we felt! What physical pain! Unless a caregiver takes an active part in understanding and soothing the resulting trauma, as we grow, anger can boil up, especially in times of stress such as adolescence and early adulthood. These transitions can be very difficult for people with unresolved, preverbal trauma.

Oftentimes, I was puzzled by my angry actions. As a young girl, I picked relentlessly at my skin, biting cuticles raw and ripping skin off my toes until they bled. Once when I was seven, I stabbed at, but missed, a playmate’s hand with my penknife—he had pulled the head off my doll! In 7th and 8th grades, I bullied myself and others: I self-harmed with razor blades and flashed a switchblade at others, ready to lash out. The list goes on into adulthood until in my mid-twenties, I finally realized the origin of this rage through my practice of writing and the intervention of a therapist.

It’s hard not to judge oneself harshly for our past cruel actions. If, however, we understand the origins of our rage, we can be more forgiving. Self-kindness is key. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves as survivors of early invasive medical procedures is to nurture ourselves with understanding and compassion. In this way, we create peace within ourselves and, as a result, peace in the world. Until we resolve the root of our pain, we rage on. We got violence.






8 Responses to Got Violence? The Early Origins of Rage

  1. Wendy, in Australia as in the rest of the world we look with a mix of fascination and horror at the change that has come over the USA since 2016. The kind and appreciative tributes spoken at the recent funeral of one of your Presidents once again underlined this change. We remember Americans as typically big-hearted, relaxed, and hospitable people. Of course your gun culture has been on the rise for several decades and that also horrifies much of the civilized and more civil world so awfully often, as it clearly expresses rather widespread hatred as well as “sport”. The anger, the obessive self-seeking, selfishness and self protection, the love of violent past-times – how could America have come to this?
    We know that anger is a common result of our broken and dysfunctional humanity, and it is important that we try to understand its causes. They are often complex, and what I know of U.S. history helps me understand much of it: the frontier culture, the rugged individualism, the coming together of several races and many cultures, your country’s being thrown into the role of “the planet’s policeman” since 1942.
    But I believe you are correct in this post: we must recognize that some of our inner pain and anger and (how often we don’t really know) their social expression had a very personal and early origin. Thank you for raising this point again.
    It is now known that infant surgery as often practised before the medical world’s belated recognition that pain and separation inflicted on babies and infants without anesthesia and care could inflict lasting emotional and psychological damage. You and I are just two of many who have gone public online about this. In your and my cases our parents also had an unwitting role in damaging our childhood psyche. For you and me it was a relatively unknown stomach blockage of infancy that caused all this, but how many millions of little (esp. American) boys were presented to be “altered” soon after their birth, in their most sensitive part, and also without pain control? I am not aware of any attempt in the medical world to research the effect of this.
    But knowing from personal experience how you and have battled with self-hatred, inner-anger, self-harming and depression, knowing that some circumcized men have reported similar signs of trauma, and having the medical and social science information that has now established that these symptoms can be linked with pre-verbal trauma in infancy, we strongly and sadly suspect that the various aspects of America’s present darkness we are raising here are not unrelated.
    We will continue to write about this and to help those responsible to better understand what they are doing, and those affected to find healing.

    • What a beautifully complex and sensitive response. I appreciate your contextualizing the issue by considering where the rage of those tortured early on and the history of America and the character of its citizens may intersect, especially given the extent of male circumcision. I am hoping that America can transform into a kinder place. I am hoping that as Americans, we become more reflective and understand the past more profoundly so that we can be more peaceful and generous. What ultimately released me from deep anger and bitterness was my allowing myself to feel the grief–grief that had been denied to me as a child. I was taught to feel only grateful that doctors transformed me from roadkill into a princess. However, trauma had not been forgotten. As an adult, feeling the grief was key, but also feeling the anger–anger over how I’d been mistreated! Finally, I could direct my anger toward the right place! I now understand the root of my anger. Underneath that anger was so much fear. Claiming that fear was also key. I am grateful to have been able to heal emotionally from the early assault. While scars remain and anger can threaten, I am better able to negotiate these waters, especially now that I am learning to be kind to myself. What a relief. May each of us the world over have an opportunity to heal from trauma. And may this healing bring peace.

    • Hi Fred! Thanks for adding the critically important awareness of the barbaric practice of circumcision to this discussion. It is beyond me to understand why we still allow this practice to go on and how effective the propaganda in support of it is. I take some hope in the few emerging clinicians and researchers investigating infant trauma and their willingness to propose with confidence how damaging this practice is and how it likely has a link to dysfunctional behaviors later in life. I was able to successfully not circumcise my son but the guilt and shame I was exposed to by proponents of this absurd procedure was incredible and nobody wanted to listen to my argument that the procedure is brutally painful and traumatic all while being completely unnecessary. The effectiveness of the brainwashing about infants not feeling or remembering pain is so entrenched. It will be a long, hard battle to overcome but absolutely worth the effort.

      • Yes, good way to put it: “brainwashing.” Good on you for fighting against the circumcision of your son. That must have been a battle. I’m sorry you had to push against all that.

  2. Hi Wendy. I have struggled with internal rage my entire life likely triggered initially by all the infant surgeries and an inability to resolve them. I didn’t act out anywhere near as much as you did but instead turned inward into significant anxiety, depression and dissociation that only began to come out as rage in adulthood and then only as verbal rage. Today I feel this rage as the most overt manifestation of PTSD symptoms as it almost always happens when feeling trapped emotionally by someone not understanding me, responding the way I need or triggering memories of being misunderstood as a child. The rage I feel is a sense of being totally out of control and is easily the scariest experience I ever have and I know now it a remembrance of being forced into the surgeries and all the pain that came with them without an ability to understand any of it or be rescued from any of it. You comment about grief really strikes a chord as I think I have not been able to adequately grieve the lost childhood I missed out on due to the surgeries, the after effects and the lingering medical issues that caused it all. I still have to find a way to properly vent and process the emotions of the wounded child that feels such intense rage at having had to deal with what I experienced. I treasure, again, this connection to others wiling to share similar experiences. The sense of community, empowerment and connection is beyond words! -Bill

  3. Hi Bill, So good to hear from you. Whenever I think I’ve written my last blog post on this subject, a voice like yours emerges and I re-dedicate myself. It’s so important that we find and support each other. Yes, feeling the grief is key. It’s so very human to allow oneself to feel the impact of the losses. Without feeling the loss, how can one move forward emotionally, intellectually, socially, physically–in all ways? Many would argue that because the wound occurred so many years ago, feeling the pain now does nothing. Perhaps they would call it self-indulgent to revisit the wounds of the past in order to heal them in the now. But in facing the grief and allowing oneself to take stock of the losses, a deepening occurs and compassion takes root and we are much more able to move forward in a healthful and whole way. Repression is bad for our souls and bodies. Without acknowledgement of grief, we may move through life in a haze–feeling a sadness that one simply can’t put a finger on. Maybe underneath it all, we feel that life cheated us. Feeling grief can be a life-sustaining move that ultimately invites others in. Instead of guarding ourselves against the truth of what happened to us, we become more open and approachable individuals. Again, Bill, I am so glad to hear from you. Write anytime about your ongoing journey into awareness–or whatever. Wendy

  4. I’m sorry I came to this blog so late and appreciate all the time, effort and topics you have addressed through the years. Perhaps I will find time to go through some of the older posts and add my own comments as my way of writing about my ongoing journey so as to add a new voice without the need for you to keep leading the creation of new topics. That said, I welcome your insights should you continue to have new inspirations and wish to add them here.

  5. Hi Bill, I’ll be posting again soon, but do go back to old posts. There’s a ton of good information–at least I like to think so 🙂 Thanks for commenting. Of course I’d love to hear about your continuing journey. Best always, W.

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