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How Many Wars on the Human Psyche and Body Can We Fight?

By April 21, 2017May 18th, 2019No Comments

How words shape actions.

There is a plea almost every day to counter public violence. Such non-psychological strategies as increasing imprisonment and “fighting violence with violence,” increased effort in the “war on drugs,” “war on cancer,” or “war on poverty” are typically cited. An obituary for someone who has died of cancer must contain the words, “This individual lost his/their battle with cancer today.” Why so many wars, so many violent solutions to problems that are not at all responsive to violence or war?

This may seem like only a choice of words, but words matter. “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” but so can enough submission to war, aggressive solutions and aggressive words. Future physicians and patients will look back with horror on the poisonous treatments still used for cancer. Perhaps these interventions would work better (many patients die from the aggressive treatment after which these wars are modeled).

Feminist psychologists have long known and shown empirically that violence often begins at home and definitely extends to intimates in many cases when learned outside the home. We must reject the artificial line in the sand between what is considered private and what is considered public. This is a line drawn by dualistic thinking and descends from the ancient definition of “family” as all of a man’s possessions, including land, home, wife and children. One of the vestiges of this ancient law still lingers and that is entitlement, leading often to intimate relationship violence.

The use of violence as a disciplinary tool often is applied to young children. Others only observe violence between adults. Both of these are enough to convey the normalcy of violence as a solution to an array of problems.

While intimate partner violence is more characteristically perpetrated by males, there are many females who also adopt the use of violence as a resolution to conflicts.[1] This is the power of the culture of violence to colonize minds. While boys are often encouraged to be violent as a measure of their masculinity, some females also learn these masculine solutions to interpersonal problems. One of the ways the culture colonizes the mind is by the use of real violence, but also by the use of metaphors of violence in any struggle. Warring and winning the war becomes a desirable goal for everyone.

In the United States alone, an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually. Also, in the U.S. alone, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner. [2]

Why can’t we just stop going to war with those we love and learn to love those with whom we wage war?


[1] Kaschak, E. (Ed.). Intimate Betrayal: Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships, Haworth Press Inc., 2002.

[2] Statistics of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.