Beheadings and Brains

September 3, 2014

If there is an action that is further from sitting next to someone and trying to understand the psychology of their brain, it is standing next to someone and preparing to behead them.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE NEWS

I've always thought that one of the unique benefits - and occasionally risks - of being a psychiatrist is that you could apply your knowledge to most anything. So, nary a day goes by without something happening in society and/or my life that doesn't start to pique my psychiatric wonderings.

I'd like to share these psychiatric musings with you and I invite your comments.

On Beheadings and Brains

If there is an action that is further from sitting next to someone and trying to understand the psychology of their brain, it is standing next to someone and preparing to behead them.

Today, we heard of the second beheading of an American by ISIS. No, I don't want to view the beheading, just as I did not really want to learn the details of how Robin Williams killed himself. But I do want to try to understand this act and consider what we can do to prevent such actions.

The Bible knew, Shakespeare knew, and Freud knew, that we are capable of treating fellow human beings, especially those we consider different, in the worst of ways. And certainly beheading falls into this category. Psychodynamically, beheading may be the ultimate release of pent-up aggressive fantasies and wishes in a psychological warfare. Culturally, beheadings seem to be an expression of a cultural value of a group like ISIS, so that a plea for mercy by a mother with different cultural values might only embolden the group. Politically, a beheading may be an attempt to humiliate the USA.The temptation is to take revenge, and thereby continue the cycle of violence.

The psychiatric response might be to empathetically reflect on why this occurs and to consider how we can resolve such extreme differences.

I hope our country consults with culturally knowledgeable psychiatrists before taking action, don't you?