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Breaking the Cycle of Violence: A Personal Journey

by Jane Chien

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Numbers to call are available here:

My greatest desire is to live the rest of my life in a nonviolent manner, if at all possible. I can safely say that I am not the poster child for nonviolence at this point in my life. Shamefully, regretfully, embarrassingly, I have acted in terribly callous and inhumane ways, being inconsiderate of others and making their lives a living hell. A lot of this is due to my personal struggles with mental illness and a lifelong accumulation of tragic and unfortunate events, but I am not by any means saying this is an excuse.

I have decided and am committed to doing the work necessary to change this about myself. This is my life mission. I have seen firsthand how the ripple effect of my action(s) and inaction(s) harm directly and indirectly our world; our communities. It has frightened me to the core and this mission has been my main pursuit in life. For without this guardrail firmly implanted, I am not safe, functional, or useful.

When I refer to nonviolence I mean it in every way. Verbally, physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, sexually. In every way.

This area of personal development interests me more than any other subject in my life. I have been floored by my tendency to hurt others. Disheveled by it. Shamed by it. Destroyed by it. It has been a thorn in my side – my Achilles' Heel. I no longer want to be violent, hostile, unkind. I no longer want to be dangerous, angry, bitter. I truly believe that the continued effort at looking at myself objectively, honestly, and painfully yet also kindly and respectfully will free me in new ways never explored before.

The reason for my wanting to change began when I lost my best friend to PTSD. He was an American soldier who fought in the Afghanistan War. He was my hero. Ethnically he was Chinese (he would have been Cantonese had he known how to speak it), but he did not speak a lick of the language since he had never learned it. His opportunities were pretty bleak growing up. He was dealt a shit hand in life. He had been bounced around a lot in foster care most of his early life after losing his dad and mom to cancer and mental illness. He would later go to war in Afghanistan for the US Army and come back broken beyond repair. And even though he was kind, he was cruel in the end. In his defense, I was cruel to him, more so than he ever was to me. Sometimes we don’t learn these painful lessons until it’s too late.

I, in no way, blame him for what he did, though others do (understandably so). But they do not know the full story. I now know he was sick and his sickness was real. It was an invisible sickness, though his body was broken too. They had worked him to the bone.

I still have a hard time with how his life ended.

His life ended in a murder-suicide in which he took the lives of those who were trying to help him, his very own therapists – whom he had once loved and trusted.

I never knew PTSD could be this deadly. My own journey with mental illness has been beautifully ugly. I have dragged and thrown my half-broken brain and body towards this finish line we call life, and albeit sometimes it feels completely pointless and useless, I know it is not in vain.

When it comes down to it – in the grand scheme of things – I know we are all still each of us children still looking for our mothers and our fathers to guide us; validate us; accept us. Hoping for a gentler past and wishing perhaps for a more compassionate upbringing and to be seen.

Validation can break the cycle of violence. I stand by this.

Being seen is imperative to mental health.

A lot of violence happens as a result of a deterioration in mental health. Coupling that with isolation and being viewed as a threat in the community can cause more damage than ever imagined, as in the case of my best friend. He was a pariah to others in the end. That was the last abandonment that his spirit – what was left of it – could handle...

Mental illness itself, as a factor, plays a strong role in whether or not violence can be an issue. But I strongly believe my friend would have lived and not did what he did if he had been loved and taken seriously instead of being shunned and cast out and talked about and just left to fend for himself when he was the one in need of the help.

He was a hero. He was a veteran. He was good at his job. They overworked him. He was a good man and a good soldier. He was good at his job. He always wanted to make people happy. He always wanted a family. He just wanted to belong. He never said no. He did everything he was told. He worked hard. He was a hard worker. People (including me) took advantage of that. Prior to what happened, everybody loved him. He was a good guy. He was “Mr. Chipper.”

I cannot state the importance of validating a person who has a mental illness and making them feel safe, accepted, wanted. Not treating them like a targeted individual to be shunned, talked about, watched, and to be made afraid of.

That’s how you create a monster.

Ignoring someone is just as brutal, if not worse, than beating someone. It conveys the message that you don’t matter and are not important.

The topic of schadenfreude is a shameful one, but it is a real experience. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines schadenfreude as enjoyment obtained by the troubles of others. There are emotions, feelings, and sensations attached to this experience that are not pleasurable, however.

This topic should be visited for it clearly presents a pathway to healing that looks at an often-unmentioned topic, and an uncomfortable one at that. But by doing so, maybe we can prevent another race extinction or mass shooting from ever happening again.

The possibility of a good life for our family was interrupted by a historical, ominous, and atrociously horrific tragedy that most people have never heard of or have often discounted, minimized, or been told never occurred.

The event that I am talking about is called the Rape of Nanking. It was a massacre that occurred during a six-week time frame that began on December 13, 1937, and ended in January of 1938.

I come from a slaughtered tribe of people to which I never belonged. I come from genocide. I come from race extinction.

I would never have made it into this life if the woman who had mercilessly bullied me throughout my entire childhood and adult life hadn’t survived her own...

My paternal grandma witnessed, experienced, and survived the massacre/holocaust known as the Rape of Nanking.

The more and more I am willing to revisit my own past, her past, our common history, I realize that people do terrible things to each other and sometimes the way someone treats you is not because of you but because of something that happened to them (such as in the case of my paternal grandmother and even my best friend).

We are all fragile. We have to be kind to each other lest history repeat itself again.

Life is short – also very hard. It is not a game. People say it is, but it is not. It is sacred. Life is sacred. And although life can be cruel and unjust, I believe it is easier once you know this. Because you realize you’re working with a rigged system, a wack-job hand. Of course you’re going to lose. We all lose because we die. None of us escapes death. None of us wins at life. So why are we fighting each other when our common enemy is death?

And if we are so civilized and able to explore outer space on a spaceship and boast about it, why are we still acting so brutally, savagely, and primitively with one another? That is not advancement; progress; growth!

Perhaps it is time to take a look at yourself and make a decision to liberate yourself and our world. Elevate your mind; your soul; your spirit. Influence each other in new and positive ways. Introduce old ways that work.

Entrain each other to the new, fresh beat of the human race. For it is a beautiful race and life can still be good.

It will take effort, a group effort, but I believe it can be done. Post-Traumatic Growth is a real thing. Why not embark on that journey? A journey of hope!

Join me as I continue on my Post-Traumatic Growth trajectory toward a gentler, kinder version of myself and perhaps you will find a gentler, kinder version of yourself.

This is not a competition. This is a cooperative endeavor.

Join me in releasing whatever is holding you back, whatever is causing you to act in the way that causes you harm, and hats off to you for trying.

"An ounce of practice is worth a thousand words." - Gandhi


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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