Response by Rory Miller
I’m going to explore some of the different mindsets of violence. In addition to the social classifications, there are three asocial types that I want to hit: the severely disturbed; those in great need; and those who enjoy acts of violence.
These mindsets are important to understand. They are not like the way that most of us think. These mindsets are rare enough and often alien enough that most people can comfortably pretend that no such thought process exists. That’s a grave mistake. It’s a grave mistake in understanding because you cannot understand much less empathize with a threat when you deny reality.
It is a grave tactical mistakes, because the techniques to avoid and de-escalate violence differs profoundly by the mindset of the threat.
And it is a grave social mistake, because when we deny these mindsets, our entire society is vulnerable to manipulation.
None of these mindsets are inhuman. All can be understood.
Most humans have never been in a survival situation, never been on the edge of starvation, drowning, being burned to death or eaten by a predator. Most of us have never been seriously worried that our children might starve.
Fears like these direct a very logical or very visceral kind of violence.
What most of us have experienced are ‘personality conflicts’ jerks and bullies and passive aggressive people. Showboats, cowboys and corporate backstabbers at work. Troubled and angry and often drunk relatives at family gatherings.
These are the conflicts we are experienced in, and these are the conflicts we are prepared for. We have strategies for all of these, and the strategies work. This is our baseline.
The problem is that these are all examples of social violence—conflict designed to establish or clarify a dominance hierarchy, or to enforce a group’s rules or to determine who is an insider and who is an outsider. These are qualitatively different than violence for survival.
Humans fight each other. We butcher or hunt animals. One is emotional, the other efficient. One is for ego, the other for meat.
When a threat is human, our default is to defend ourselves in ways that have worked in this social context. To treat an assailant in a similar way to how we deal with Uncle Bob when he gets a mean drunk on.
And so we see the film of a young girl targeted by a predator who looks away and tries to look small. “If I don’t make eye contact and don’t give him a reason to be angry, he will leave me alone.” After all, that is what worked to keep her father calm. In this case, it just let the predator know that she was easy prey.
Most people will never experience a threat in this mindset. These are not the muggers or serial predators. True survival mode is triggered very rarely in our society. Only shut-ins are in danger of starving. People rarely get attacked by packs of dogs.
It does happen though, from one of four reasons:
Mental Illness: Someone with severe mental illness, notably schizophrenia, may be reacting to a world that we cannot see or hear. In that world, he or she may be in a survival situation, tormented or attacked.
Drugs and Alcohol: Drugs can produce effects that mimic almost any form of mental illness or emotional state. Hallucinogens can have the threat dealing with a world that others cannot see. Stimulants (such as meth and PCP) suppress the higher brain functions.
Psychotic Break: Rarely goes into true survival panic mode, but a psychotic break can create some very dangerous situations. This is not a psychologist’s term, but a cop’s term. A psychotic break occurs when a person’s stress level gets to the point that things seem like a good idea that make no sense—like killing an ex-spouse to prove that you are the better parent.
Fear or Rage: Lifeguards are taught to keep distance from drowning victims. The most mild-mannered, inoffensive person will climb up on your shoulders and drown you without hesitation if it means a few more seconds of air.
As a class, we call these “EDPs” for “Emotionally Disturbed Persons”. In the field it is almost impossible to tell the source of the emotional disturbance. When someone wanders into traffic, it is hard to tell if it is a suicidal depression, or a profound autism where the subject doesn’t recognize the danger, or a schizophrenic episode where the traffic looks like something else. It could be a reaction to hallucinogenic drugs or the person may have taken enough meth or PCP that they are feeling a little invincible.
You won’t diagnose the problem in the field. You will recognize that the threat is not acting normally.
Like a drowning victim, most EDPs are dangerous when you try to help. If you tackle someone running into traffic or pull someone away from a chainsaw, the threat will see being tackled, the threat will see being grabbed.
Cognition and logic are higher brain functions. If the threat could be talked out of running into traffic, the threat would have been together enough not to run into traffic in the first place. Most attempts to reason with severe EDPs fail because the higher brain functions are off-line…and this is where experts who talk about how to talk down extreme cases ring false– most clinical psychologists have primarily dealt with people who were together enough to make it to the clinic.
If you intervene physically, the EDP may lash out in a panic and fight. It will not be like any sparring match. It will be more like trying to hold onto a wet cat that happens to weigh 180 pounds. The EDP will fight with everything he or she has, and in some cases will fight to heart failure.
Does anything less than deadly force work with an EDP? Most times, yes. But not the social strategies mentioned above. Generally, the things that work with EDPs are the same things that work with angry or nervous dogs.
First and foremost, both from a common sense and legal perspective, DO NOT get involved in calming an EDP if you have any choice. It is not safe. It is something for professionals and even they like having tasers to back things up. If you have the option to safely and responsibly leave, take it. Call for help.
If you do not, see to your own safety first. If your life is in immediate jeopardy, do what you have to do. Do NOT count on pain compliance or any technique that requires the threat to surrender. The threat may not remember how to surrender.
Use barriers and position to ensure your safety and buy time. Keep track of exits.
NEVER count on what you ‘know’ about the individual. You know the conscious, thinking person. That personality is submerged. This one may be very different. Uncle Bob might never hurt a fly. Uncle Bob on meth might want to run over people in his pick-up.
Lower the stimulation level. Limit noise, number of people talking and bright or flashing lights. Move slowly. Talk slowly. Talk with a low, soothing voice. Listen. Be patient.
Patience is one of the keys- whether it is drugs or adrenaline, time will help burn it out of the threat’s system. Don’t try to deal with this quickly.
Don’t move fast. Never startle an EDP. Keep your voice low, slow and quiet. High-pitched voices are signs of fear and fear is contagious. Loud reads as angry and anger causes fear. Your goal is to lower the adrenaline.
Listen. If the EDP is talking, I find that most of the mentally ill have a strict internal logic. If you can figure out what they are thinking, you might be able to identify and remove the source of fear.
Never pretend to share the threat’s delusions. With the exception of adult onset schizophrenia or inexperienced hallucinogen users, EDPs know to an extent, what is going on. He may see the Blue Men but he knows that you don’t if you pretend too, he knows you are a liar and cannot be trusted.
More on talking EDPs down can be found here:
“Talking Them Through” on Kindle
“Talking Them Through” at Smashwords
RECOGNIZING A FAKE
A reputation for being crazy is very valuable in many of the street sub-cultures. Acting crazy is a well-known way to get people to leave you alone. It is also a way to intimidate, possibly for money, or to establish deniability for a planned bad act.
Being crazy isn’t fun and the real mentally ill work hard to be normal, so when someone draws attention to their own crazy acts, it’s a big red flag.
One of the first things to go when mentally ill people start to ‘decompensate’ is hygiene. A too clean, well-groomed threat or one who looks like he dressed to impress is unlikely to be in a crisis.
EDPs can’t control themselves. When you see someone threatening self-harm or doing something dangerous but pulling back just before it actually gets dangerous, suspect that it is a show. Less a psychological emergency than a manipulation.
GOING HANDS ON
If you have to fight an EDP it will be a new experience. They will not fight with any skill, no matter how many years of training. But they will fight with frenzied injury and no regard for all of our subconscious little rules. They are immensely dangerous. Moreso because so few people train against frenzied flurry attacks. But they will, generally, be fighting to escape. let them, if you can.
Pain tends not to work. Some don’t feel it, some panic harder. the essence of pain and almost any non-injurious technique is an implicit bargaining: “If you quit fighting, I will quit hurting you.” The EDP will not recognize that bargain and will mot remember how to surrender. This is asocial. The EDP is fighting like panicked prey and sees you as an attacking animal, not someone trying to help.
Strikes can also be unreliable. Lots of strikes don’t have a physiological reason to shut someone down. Exhausting the EDP may work– using mass or numbers to hold limbs– but some have continued to fight to heart failure in those conditions.
The two (non-lethal) things that work most reliably are the physics of leverage and leverage points and the techniques of cutting off blood to the brain (vascular strangulations, not air chokes.)
If you have to use force against an EDP, it will not be a good scene. Likely it will be an extreme level of force. Between the panic reaction and the common immunity to pain, most lower levels of force are ineffective. Of the less-lethal force options, the sleeper hold is the most reliable followed, in my experience, by the Taser.
There will be significant fallout, both internally and in the world.
We all face the possibility of using force and most of us have thought about the ramifications of using force and come to terms with our own ethics. But on some level, if we ever use force, especially deadly force, we want it to be against a bad person. A murderer or rapist.
A true EDP is not a bad person. With brain chemistry out of balance, his actions are not under his or her own control. Killing an EDP may be necessary for our own survival, it may be justified, but there is no element of justice in it…and we want, maybe need, that element of justice. We want the threat to, in some way, deserve the force.
This is not a platitude or a political screed. I am telling you this in the hopes of in some small way preparing you. If you use force on an EDP, expect it to have deeper and longer-term psychological issues than using the same force on a predator.
Subconsciously, this is what drives the media frenzy after force is used on an EDP.
Remember here most of all, that self-defense is not about justice. It is about stopping bad things from happening.