Happiness Research, 
the Autonomic Nervous 
System, & Perpetrators 
of Interpersonal Violence 
Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICS...
Topics 
Happiness Research 
Autonomic Nervous System 
Perpetrators of Interpersonal Violence 
Meanings 
Putting it Al...
Definition of Happiness 
We know it when we feel it 
 A sense that one’s life is meaningful and 
fulfilling 
 Sonja Lyu...
Qualities Associated 
with Happiness 
Good Relationships with Others 
Manage Emotions Prosocially 
Prosocial Beliefs/Mo...
Qualities Associated with 
Well-Being, a Synonym for 
Happiness 
 Connection 
 Attunement 
 Trust 
 Autonomy 
 Love-S...
Components of Happiness 
 Genes; 50% 
 Life Circumstances: 10% 
 Intentional activities that we can choose: 40% 
 Aris...
Definition of Neurobiology 
 Neurobiology is genetics plus experience that 
leads to formation of our nervous system 
inc...
When These Components 
are Compromised 
 Sense of self may be threatened 
We may dysregulate if something triggers us 
...
Reactive 
& Instrumental Violence 
 Reactive: occurs during dysregulation 
 Instrumental: no dysregulation 
 Note: beli...
Processes of Dysregulation 
& Regulation 
Automatic Activation of Memories 
Dysregulation 
Automatic Activation of Schemas...
Processes When 
Dysregulation is not an Issue 
Search for How To Get it 
Bypass Prefrontal Cortex 
Automatic Activation of...
Beliefs 
 Basis of both reactive & instrumental 
violence 
 Beliefs develop from interpretations of 
prior experiences w...
Happiness as a Good Thing 
Violence as a Good Thing 
from Points of View of 
Perpetrators
Guidelines for Judging 
Ethics of Human Behaviors
Three Components of Good 
 Excellence—doing something well 
 Engagement--flow 
 Ethics—care & benevolent consequences 
...
Moral Injury 
Moral injury: “perpetrating, failing to prevent, 
bearing witness to, or learning about acts that 
transgre...
Ethics & Moral Injury 
 Also common among perpetrators of IPV 
Most perpetrators of IPV have a moral code 
from which th...
Consequences of Moral Injury 
 Shame 
 Self-Hatred 
 Anticipation of Rejection, Disgust, Disdain 
 Behaviors Thought t...
The Autonomic 
Nervous System
Autonomic Nervous System 
 Automatic 
 Usual Understandings of the ANS 
 Newer Understandings 
 Outside of our Awarene...
Autonomic Nervous System 
Where reactivity is—responses to stress & 
external stimuli in general 
Where beliefs systems ...
Automatic Responses 
Can Result in Good 
 Intuition is accurate almost by definition 
 Taps into subconscious wisdom 
 ...
From LeDoux (1996)
Accessing the Autonomous 
Nervous System 
 Requires the Safety of Secure Relationships 
 In therapeutic settings, requir...
Accessing the Autonomous 
Nervous System 
 Requires the Safety of Secure Relationships 
 Personal Requirements in Therap...
Accessing the Autonomous 
Nervous System 
 Techniques (a sample) 
 Meditation 
 Individual 
 Group 
 Guided 
 Yoga/r...
Sample Content of ANS 
for Perpertrators of IPV 
Many Beliefs are Embedded in the ANS 
 Basis of automatic actions, or a...
Sample Content of ANS 
for Perpertrators of IPV 
 Beliefs 
 This is how I get what I want 
 They deserve it/want it/lik...
Meanings of Violence 
to Perpetrators
Violence as Good: Three Outcomes 
that Perpetrators 
Seek 
 Brings Pleasure and Release 
 Stops Unwanted Behaviors 
 Re...
Pleasure & Release: 
“It feels good.” 
 “I love people to dress me up.” 
 “Rape is worth giving up a bundle for.” 
 A r...
Cessation 
of Unwanted Behaviors 
 Chuck: Stop wife Elise from turning off the 
xBox in front of life-long friends 
 Her...
Violence as Good: 
Instrumental Goals 
 Resolve problematic situations 
 Enforce rules of drug and prostitution trades 
...
Other Good Outcomes 
for Perpetrators 
 revenge, teaching a lesson, enforcing rules 
 self-protection, righting a wrong,...
Where Does Interpersonal 
Violence Come Fron? 
 Pro-violence ideologies that are widely held & well-represented 
in mass ...
• What to Do? 
Treatment Approaches 
Involve Connecting to 
& Managing the ANS 
Best ways to Access ANS is 
through medita...
Treatment Goals: 
Reactive Aggression 
 Self-Regulation 
 Foundational changes in ANS 
 Create High Road Responses 
 R...
Instrumental Violence 
 Persons who commit instrumental violence 
 are unlikely to have moral injury 
 are unlikely to ...
Some Therapeutic Principles 
 Dual awareness 
 Content of client narratives 
 Emotional/physiological responses 
 find...
Possible Components 
of Therapy 
 Use These at Beginning & Throughout 
Therapy 
 Identify Positive Resources 
 Teach Se...
Approaches That Access ANS 
 Group, Individual Work, & Family Work 
 Relationships (Perlman, NARN, Common Factors 
Model...
Possible Components of 
Treatment of Moral Injury 
 Connection—Therapeutic Relationship 
 Therapists imagine the kinds o...
Treatment of Moral Injury 
For Persons Who Have It 
 Reparation & Forgiveness 
 Fostering Reconnection 
 Long-Term Plan...
Daily Practice 
Meditation half hour a day on positive 
emotions such as kindness and compassion 
 This changes the brai...
Possible Framework 
 Group Work 
 3-4 members 
 Identify positive resources 
 Relaxation exercises 
 Guided meditatio...
Daily Practices 
Regarding Actions 
Write About/Meditate on 
 Positive consequences 
 Negative consequences 
 Are cons...
Possible Framework 
 Imaginary Conversations with Admired Other 
Persons 
 Sharing in Group 
 Connecting and Reconnecti...
Summary 
 Perpetrators of IPV Seek Something Good 
For Themselves 
 Source of Violent Actions is in ANS 
 Violent Actio...
References 
Athens, Lonnie (1997). Violent criminal acts and actors revisited. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. 
G...
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Happiness Research,The Autonomous Nervous System, and Perpetrators of Interpersonal Violence

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In this presentation, I show that when people commit acts of interpersonal violence, they think they are doing something good, at least for themselves and sometimes for others, too. As I show, there is nothing wrong with their goal. Who doesn’t want the consequences of their actions to result in something good? The problem with violence is that perpetrators’ idea of good has harmful consequences for others, and, in the long run, often for themselves. Policies, programs, and treatment approaches are likely to be more effective if they are premised on the idea that the purpose of violent acts is to being about something good. Programs, policies, and practices would affirm desires to bring about good for the self but would work on alternative ways of achieving the good. If perpetrators of interpersonal violence dig deep enough and feel safe and protected as they do, they will change strategies and let go of their beliefs that violence is a viable and even valid way to attain something good for themselves. This article concludes with recommendations for next steps in understanding perpetrators of interpersonal violence and for new approaches to interventions.

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Happiness Research,The Autonomous Nervous System, and Perpetrators of Interpersonal Violence

  1. 1. Happiness Research, the Autonomic Nervous System, & Perpetrators of Interpersonal Violence Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW jgilgun@umn.edu School of Social Work University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA 22 August 2014
  2. 2. Topics Happiness Research Autonomic Nervous System Perpetrators of Interpersonal Violence Meanings Putting it All Together: Treatment Responses
  3. 3. Definition of Happiness We know it when we feel it  A sense that one’s life is meaningful and fulfilling  Sonja Lyubomirsky: “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HFL9MnGdrw#Sonja%20on%20what %20is%20happiness
  4. 4. Qualities Associated with Happiness Good Relationships with Others Manage Emotions Prosocially Prosocial Beliefs/Moral Intelligence Sense of Efficacy Meaningful Work/Activities Prosocial Actions Being Mindful/in the Present
  5. 5. Qualities Associated with Well-Being, a Synonym for Happiness  Connection  Attunement  Trust  Autonomy  Love-Sexuality Source: Laurence Heller & Aline LaPierre: The NeuroAffective Relational Model™ [NARM]
  6. 6. Components of Happiness  Genes; 50%  Life Circumstances: 10%  Intentional activities that we can choose: 40%  Arise from  our interpretations of our experiences  How we interpret experiences filtered through our neurobiological make-up Source: Sonja Lyubomirsky & Jane Gilgu
  7. 7. Definition of Neurobiology  Neurobiology is genetics plus experience that leads to formation of our nervous system including neural circuits throughout the body
  8. 8. When These Components are Compromised  Sense of self may be threatened We may dysregulate if something triggers us We seek solutions to the dysregulation  Solutions depend upon our interpretations of prior experiences in combination with present circumstances  Beliefs a huge factor here  Beliefs part of schemas
  9. 9. Reactive & Instrumental Violence  Reactive: occurs during dysregulation  Instrumental: no dysregulation  Note: beliefs underlie both types of violence  Many people dysregulate, but a minority use violence to re-regulate
  10. 10. Processes of Dysregulation & Regulation Automatic Activation of Memories Dysregulation Automatic Activation of Schemas Re-Regulation Strategies Pro-social Anti-Social Self-i destructive Inappropriate Trigger Event Search for Coping Strategies
  11. 11. Processes When Dysregulation is not an Issue Search for How To Get it Bypass Prefrontal Cortex Automatic Activation of Belief-Related Schemas Pro-social Anti-Social Self-i destructive Inappropriate Wanting Something
  12. 12. Beliefs  Basis of both reactive & instrumental violence  Beliefs develop from interpretations of prior experiences with input from genetics Most people with histories of complex trauma do not have reactive aggression/violence on a grand scale
  13. 13. Happiness as a Good Thing Violence as a Good Thing from Points of View of Perpetrators
  14. 14. Guidelines for Judging Ethics of Human Behaviors
  15. 15. Three Components of Good  Excellence—doing something well  Engagement--flow  Ethics—care & benevolent consequences Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, and Damon (2001)
  16. 16. Moral Injury Moral injury: “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  Common among combat veterans who have violated their own moral codes when they kill or witness others killing and being killed Source: Litz et al (2009)
  17. 17. Ethics & Moral Injury  Also common among perpetrators of IPV Most perpetrators of IPV have a moral code from which they detach when they commit acts of violence When persons violate their own moral codes, they risk moral injury.
  18. 18. Consequences of Moral Injury  Shame  Self-Hatred  Anticipation of Rejection, Disgust, Disdain  Behaviors Thought to be Solutions to a State of Being Become Part of the Problem  Not all perpetrators of IPV have moral injury—an unknown percentage see no moral issues in their acts of violence
  19. 19. The Autonomic Nervous System
  20. 20. Autonomic Nervous System  Automatic  Usual Understandings of the ANS  Newer Understandings  Outside of our Awareness  “Shadow Self”  Freud’s Subconscious  Internalizations of Interpretations of Experiences http://www.loveandtrauma.com/videos (4.27 minutes)
  21. 21. Autonomic Nervous System Where reactivity is—responses to stress & external stimuli in general Where beliefs systems are  About self, others, & how the world works  What it means to be me and who others are  Entitlements  Big me, little you  What else?
  22. 22. Automatic Responses Can Result in Good  Intuition is accurate almost by definition  Taps into subconscious wisdom  Consequences of actions based on intuition are benevolent  Acting on impulse  Can also be good in terms of consequences  Or harmful in terms of consequences
  23. 23. From LeDoux (1996)
  24. 24. Accessing the Autonomous Nervous System  Requires the Safety of Secure Relationships  In therapeutic settings, requires trust and good working relationships with therapists and in group work with other group members
  25. 25. Accessing the Autonomous Nervous System  Requires the Safety of Secure Relationships  Personal Requirements in Therapy  Willingness  Preparation: Therapists teach about  the process  self-regulation skills
  26. 26. Accessing the Autonomous Nervous System  Techniques (a sample)  Meditation  Individual  Group  Guided  Yoga/relaxation techniques/tai chi  Journaling  Physical Exercise, Funny Movies, Recreation  Talk to Trusted Others
  27. 27. Sample Content of ANS for Perpertrators of IPV Many Beliefs are Embedded in the ANS  Basis of automatic actions, or actions that bypass the prefrontal cortex (PFC)  Beliefs  This is how I get what I want  They deserve it/want it/like it  You do what I say  I’m entitled
  28. 28. Sample Content of ANS for Perpertrators of IPV  Beliefs  This is how I get what I want  They deserve it/want it/like it  You do what I say  I’m entitled Meanings  Subjective Experiences of Pleasure  Stopping Someone Else’s Unwanted Behaviors  Instrumental Goals
  29. 29. Meanings of Violence to Perpetrators
  30. 30. Violence as Good: Three Outcomes that Perpetrators Seek  Brings Pleasure and Release  Stops Unwanted Behaviors  Resolves Problematic Situations by Enforcing Rules that Targets of Violence May or May Not Share
  31. 31. Pleasure & Release: “It feels good.”  “I love people to dress me up.”  “Rape is worth giving up a bundle for.”  A rush—arm full of dope  Incest: Bliss & Lasting Love  I’m on Top  A Way of Feeling Better  Anticipation of Sexual High  Like an Elephant Drops off Back (Release)
  32. 32. Cessation of Unwanted Behaviors  Chuck: Stop wife Elise from turning off the xBox in front of life-long friends  Herb: Not in mood to flirt Mitchell: The rampage
  33. 33. Violence as Good: Instrumental Goals  Resolve problematic situations  Enforce rules of drug and prostitution trades  Enforce rules of what happens to unfaithful wives  Killing kids for their own good  Killing kids to get back at wife (recent case in Israel)
  34. 34. Other Good Outcomes for Perpetrators  revenge, teaching a lesson, enforcing rules  self-protection, righting a wrong,  getting something over with, shoring up their self-respect,  solving a problem.
  35. 35. Where Does Interpersonal Violence Come Fron?  Pro-violence ideologies that are widely held & well-represented in mass media and in millions of individuals  Persons internalize these ideologies  Long-term non-sharing of personal, painful issues— lack of emotional expressiveness  Disconnection from humanity of others and of the self at time of violence  No effective challenges to activated thoughts/images that lead to harm of others
  36. 36. • What to Do? Treatment Approaches Involve Connecting to & Managing the ANS Best ways to Access ANS is through meditation & relaxation techniques Sharing of What Persons Access in the ANS
  37. 37. Treatment Goals: Reactive Aggression  Self-Regulation  Foundational changes in ANS  Create High Road Responses  Reason, emotion, actions connected  Connection to consequences/ethics  For self  For others  Connect to Physical and Emotional Core That Reside in the ANS  Mindfulness: The internal flow of experience
  38. 38. Instrumental Violence  Persons who commit instrumental violence  are unlikely to have moral injury  are unlikely to have issues with self-regulation when reminded of instrumental violence  They can still benefit from working with content of the ANS
  39. 39. Some Therapeutic Principles  Dual awareness  Content of client narratives  Emotional/physiological responses  find and work with areas of pleasure satisfaction, or better functioning  Help clients stay connected to their physiological responses when they have them Source: Heller & Lapierre (2012)
  40. 40. Possible Components of Therapy  Use These at Beginning & Throughout Therapy  Identify Positive Resources  Teach Self-Regulation Skills for Reactors  Includes Meditation and so Fits Instrumentalists
  41. 41. Approaches That Access ANS  Group, Individual Work, & Family Work  Relationships (Perlman, NARN, Common Factors Model)  Teach Self-Regulation Techniques First  Psychological safety is first  Very Brief Guided meditation in Group Settings  Share content of ANS with Trusted Others  Homework  Identify & challenge belief systems of external environment  Concept maps  Identifying positive resources
  42. 42. Possible Components of Treatment of Moral Injury  Connection—Therapeutic Relationship  Therapists imagine the kinds of experiences that have led to the moral injury (!!!!!)  Therapist neutrality  Educate & Prepare Clients for the Process  Brief Exposure/A Kind of Meditation  Examination Meanings & Implications  Dialogue with a Benevolent & Respected Person  Reparation/Good Deeds
  43. 43. Treatment of Moral Injury For Persons Who Have It  Reparation & Forgiveness  Fostering Reconnection  Long-Term Planning Source: Litz et al (2009)
  44. 44. Daily Practice Meditation half hour a day on positive emotions such as kindness and compassion  This changes the brain & ANS  Gratitude  Forgiveness  Relationships  Savoring present moment
  45. 45. Possible Framework  Group Work  3-4 members  Identify positive resources  Relaxation exercises  Guided meditation—a few minutes  Check-in; Need any self-regulation?  Share content of meditation  Relaxation exercises  Identify positive resources
  46. 46. Daily Practices Regarding Actions Write About/Meditate on  Positive consequences  Negative consequences  Are consequences worth it?  What would happen if you did the opposite?  Talk to someone about what you’d like to do  Like your grandmother Wait at least two days
  47. 47. Possible Framework  Imaginary Conversations with Admired Other Persons  Sharing in Group  Connecting and Reconnecting with Spiritually-Based Groups  12 step groups  Spiritual communities  Learning to Do Something Really well
  48. 48. Summary  Perpetrators of IPV Seek Something Good For Themselves  Source of Violent Actions is in ANS  Violent Actions Violate Ethical Principles  Can Result in Moral Injury  Treatment Goal: Access ANS  Approaches to Do So  Raise awareness of content of ANS  Mindfulness exercises
  49. 49. References Athens, Lonnie (1997). Violent criminal acts and actors revisited. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Gardner, Howard E., Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, & William Damon (2001). Good work: When excellence and ethics meet. New York: Basic. Corrigan, Frank M., J.J. Fisher, & D. J. Nutt (2011) Autonomic dysregulation and the Window of Tolerance model of the effects of complex emotional trauma. American Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(1), 17–25. Gilgun, Jane F. (1995). We shared something special: The moral discourse of incest perpetrators. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 265-281. Gilgun, Jane F. (1999b). Fingernails painted red: A feminist, semiotic analysis of "hot" text, Qualitative Inquiry, 5, 181-207. Gilgun, Jane F. (2008). Lived experience, reflexivity, and research on perpetrators of interpersonal violence. Qualitative Social Work, 7(2), 181-197. Gilgun, Jane F. (2013a). Brokenness, Beliefs, and Spirituality. Amazon Kindle. Happiness Research website: http://www.amazon.com/Brokenness-Beliefs-Spirituality-Jane-GILGUN-ebook/ dp/B00DVMVUGW http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/happiness/definition Heller, Laurence & Aline LaPierre (2012). Healing developmental trauma. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books Katz, Jack (1988). The seductions of crime. New York: Basic. Litz, Brett T. et al (2009). Moral Injury and moral repair in war veterans: a preliminary model and intervention strategy,” Clinical Psychology Review 29 (8), 695–706, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19683376 Lyubomirsky, Sonja (2008). The how of happiness. New York: Penguin Pargament, Kenneth I. (2007). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy. New York: Guilford.

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