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.