The more you try to be persuasive,
the more implausible you are.

Humberto Maturana

Violence Prevention
EU Project – a peace project?

Dr. Phil. Peter Amann

What is the problem?
Scenes of violence are increasingly capturing daily media releases. Starting with small hidden aggressive scenarios in families and familiar residential communities over hidden and open mobbing in companies and public institutions to brutal destructive violence: media coverage of the violence phenomenon is almost an omnipresent and at the same time terrifying phenomenon of our highly developed affluent society. “Violence” in media presentation divides the society into offenders and victims. Violence phenomena conveyed by the media give rise – in whatsoever form - to fears in possible and actual victims. In order to be able to live on, the actual victims have to suppress the fears they have suffered and detach them from the conscious personality. Let us think, for instance, of the abused children who often even after decades of suppression still find it difficult to speak about the suffered abuse. In case they do not address these suppressed and detached from the personality memories  or develop the  future-oriented strategies, these suppressed parts can life-long impede the personality and restrain the own full potential. In certain circumstances a victim can become an offender. To give an illustrative example: a 26-year-old man who himself as a foreign immigrant and a drug addict had become an outsider and killed three-year-old Cain, gave the following explanation of his cruel deed: “when both boys were naughty, I got furious and aggressive. My brain switched off. And then I see only darkness in front of me. I just want to break something – I mean things. My body acts on its own. I can not control anything anymore. I didn't want to hurt him (three-year-old Cain), I wanted to punish him in order to make him understand that what he had done was wrong.” This self-analysis of the offender shows in his self-perception the immense destructive potential that can be hidden in a person. How can this phenomenon be explained, or better – how can this dangerous and scaring development be prevented?
Is it sufficient to analyze the problem using the causal principle of cause (fury and aggression) and the intended effect (to make him understand something) to provide an adequately objective explanation and subjective understanding of the violence phenomenon?
The analysis can examine different individual causes of the problem using scientific methods. It can provide individual scientific studies of the genetic code as well as biological, psychological, sociological, socioeconomic and other causes and combine the results into a cause-mix in order to represent disposition to violence.
However, in view of medially communicated acute violence scenarios, the question arises as to efficiency and practical applicability of the findings obtained this way in actual daily lives of “helpers” (parents, sisters, brothers, pedagogues, police officers) and all those actually confronting the violence phenomenon professionally or privately. Moreover, one has to pursue the question of how the social framework conditions and prerequisites can be modified and improved through specific actions to enable non-violent coexistence, in particular, for teenagers.

Several questions with possible answers on this point:

1. A specific question: Is violence a male phenomenon? If so, do young men need specific help?
95% of violent offenders that have been sentenced are male. In the case of further offenders, the spiral of violence starts to spin at an early age: mostly young men start to exercise their social role for different reasons. In social groups – or alone. As recently – words fail me – an offender in Norway spreading horror and grief who seemed to be almost “normal” could have been preparing his outrageous violent acts solitary and unnoticed for years.
Some further questions on this point:
What completely new understanding should the affluent society gain?
What are the causes of violent excesses and how can the conditions evoking them be modified so that violence could be reduced significantly and measurably?
What are the motives – inner and outer – that bring people to torture, hurt and eventually kill other people?
What can, should and must be done to substitute violence for peaceful means in order to eliminate personal discrimination, humiliation and social exclusion at an early stage?
How can peace be generally acknowledged as a true life principle and put into practice in actual everyday life?

2. A specific question: How can Viktor E. Frankl's logotherapy and existential analysis contribute to successful implementation of violence-free lifestyle?

Viktor E. Frankl, having survived even Auschwitz and other concentration camps, developed his logotherapy and existential analysis – a meaning-oriented psychotherapy which is now gaining significance in violence prevention.
What is the problem of violence – from the viewpoint of the meaning-oriented psychotherapy?
A preliminary remark: of course, the meaning-oriented psychotherapy distinguishes on the basis of the medical differential diagnosis between severe pathological disorders which must be first of all treated by a medical specialist and psychotherapeutical disorders which are foremost subject to  psychotherapeutical treatment.
From the viewpoint of  logotherapy and existential analysis, the problem of aggression and violence  lies normally in a false self-perception of the offender. His self-perception (see the explanation of the 26-year-old killer of three-year-old Cain) is deprived of reference to meaning. Due to missing reference to meaning in his actions, his brain without meaningful direction leaves its physical impulses to themselves. Brain researcher Prof. Dr. Joachim Bauer is convinced that there is no “aggressive drive” as such. It does not mean that aggression is nonexistent.  On the contrary, aggression (cf. aggression, lat., in modern psychology means person's instinctive assaultive behavior triggered mostly by suppression or frustration) fulfills useful functions. It is crucial, however, to abandon exaggerated mythologizing views of aggression impulses as of “Forces of the Evil”.  According to J. Bauer, the underestimated triggers of violence are rather social exclusion and humiliation. 
Modern brain research teaches that people react to the results of exclusion and humiliation the same way as to physical pain – namely, aggressively, also in political dimensions. (J. Bauer, 30th Goldegger Dialogues, in: http:/ and J. Bauer, Threshold of Sensitivity – on Origins of Daily and Global Violence. Publishing house Blessing-Verlag. München).
Therefore, it is required to redefine and attentively monitor the reasonable threshold of sensitivity for potential offenders in situations of social exclusion and humiliation. In view of the instinct and tradition loss as well as ever increasing number of new rules of conduct for young people, it is mainly the abysmal feeling of meaninglessness, inner emptiness and lingering loss of meaning that is very often induced by the norms imposed from outside. Norms are often seen by young people - in spite of functional reference to meaning –  as “values without meaning” or as deprived of any value and meaning.

Frankl's logotherapy and existential analysis can effectively cope with loss of meaning.

Due to the loss of traditional structures, young people can hardly integrate into communities supporting these structures and often feel misunderstood or even humiliated in critical situations of exclusion or on minor occasions. For teenagers, these critical situations are triggered every time when they are misunderstood, rejected as a person, treated disrespectfully, excluded or not appreciated. Lacking an understanding and supportive person to vent their soul to, certain overwhelmed youngsters, mostly men, search for the ways to win back their cherished self-esteem – initially through minor aggressive behavior and wilful acts. Girls are also increasingly involved in violence scenarios directly or indirectly. But violence remains a predominantly male strategy to overcome social exclusion and subsequent feelings of humiliation. Other alleged escapes from social hopelessness and bad feelings are depression (with presuicidal constriction) and consumption of legal substances (alcohol, medicines, fungi, designer drugs that are not yet officially prohibited) and illegal substances (drugs, prohibited designer drugs). It is impossible to enumerate here all the alleged escapes from personal isolation and sustained humiliating situations.

Ways to solve the problem through perception of meaning and values realization:
Meaning-oriented actions and measurable outputs for violence prevention

In view of the absence of satisfactory, sustainable and measurable results of upbringing in families, schools, youth centers and other attempts to prevent violence, a meaning- and value-oriented upbringing can make a substantial contribution into violence reduction.

Frankl's logotherapy sees a potential offender – in spite of all the aggressive impulses and unconscious or conscious violence strategies – as a spiritual person capable of taking a stance towards one's own aggression, forcible impulses and all the circumstances, including harsh environment, and to dissociate himself from them to avert a disaster.
Due to the fact that a person can experience himself first of all in his freedom from his instinctive drives, the unique spiritual person is presumed to be endowed and actually evoked with “will to meaning”. Sometimes the person should be provoked by values, involved in a Socratic dialogue and eventually roused to action. One should not avoid a meaning-oriented confrontation. In the course of it the will can be distracted from will to power and meaningless lust increasing destructive actions and attracted and transformed to a personally experienced meaning.
Thus, the will to meaning becomes active indeed, also in violence prevention.

In view of shocking facts of sheer brutal violence exerted by modern weapons and capable of paralyzing  individuals, groups or even entire nations, it is urgent to find practical, specific and measurable remedies against aggression and violence. Contemporary upbringing and education aiming at “beauty, truth and goodness” with their humanistic ideals, nevertheless, focused solely on economic efficiency fails to cultivate peaceful disposition in young people. Upbringing aimed at conformance to the set norms of society is no longer a sufficient educational goal to exclude violence. Frankl's logotherapy has originally emerged by reason of educational disaster in national socialism leading to preparation and realization of dreadful acts of force.
The first and most important aim of education at that period was to subdue people to the norms of that society. It provided submissive and obedient citizens ready to follow the diktat of their time. At that time there was Fuehrer with his promises of salvation – today there are never-ending promises of salvation of the insatiable affluent society. Both promises lead to inner emptiness and an abysmal feeling of meaninglessness.

What is needed now?
Firstly, what is needed today is an education cultivating resistance to meaningless submission to the diktat of the advertizing and consumer society. Secondly, it is required to teach and train the new modified perception of meaning. Thirdly, crucial is a dialogue culture giving free room to take a responsible stance, especially for adolescents and youths to feel their own personality and self-esteem. A young person experiences social belonging in a dialogic culture of conversation. Being taken seriously as a dialogue partner, he belongs to a greater whole and his feeling of exclusion and humiliation is reduced due to the feeling of being taken seriously.
It concerns not only hardly integrable foreign adolescents, but also natives forced out to the edge of the society. The shocking occurrence in Norway in the last weeks urges a completely new comprehensive view of the problem. Due to traumatizing exclusion and humiliation enhanced by drug or alcohol intoxication, native youngsters also tend to solve their problems in forceful acts.
Fourthly: meaning through values; tasks that facilitate and challenge

Using the main means “Dialogue with the young person”, it has to be taken into consideration that the helpers must present the contents, (something of) value as a vincible challenge for the decision of the young person. In the course of a dialogue, this leads to responsible and practicable tasks for the young person.

Thus, meaning can be found only through values that facilitate and challenge personal development and can and should be reasonably demanded. 

From the view of logotherapy and existential analysis, the problem of social exclusion and continuing humiliation experienced by people of any age but mostly by male adolescents lies in infringement of the fundamental value – DIGNITY – and hindrance or failing to facilitate the young persons' potential which results in a weak or negative self-esteem.

The central causes and prerequisites gaining its own dynamics in the origin of forceful acts are infringement of dignity and an underdeveloped self-esteem of young people due to weakening of the community feeling. This causes a hardly repairable loss of trust detrimental for the inner personality of the potential offender.

How can the planned EU project solve this problem?


1. Principle objective
The basic attitude of the young person should be linked in everyday actions with the meaningful objective “violence prevention” through socially integrating realization of meaning and personal encouragement. Thus, as a targeted side-effect, the causes of violence – social exclusion and humiliation with destruction of the basic value of dignity and self-esteem of a person – are immediately transformed into creative energy of meaning at the moment of social interaction.

How is it achieved in the project?

the inputs of the psychosocial environment do not have to be suppressed or restrained any more but they should be immediately transformed into meaning through spontaneous actions over the input-trigger with the help of non-verbal means (e.g., astonished friendly facial expression in a role play and at the same time instant verbal humorous remarks on the situation). To explain what they mean, the helpers preventively take the blame for possible misunderstandings upon themselves before culpable conduct becomes apparent – as a conscious paradoxical intention (a logotherapeutical method). The labile self of the potential offender should thus be kept open for rationally accessible emotionality to exclude aggressive provocations. The first intentional actions should already draw the potential offender to his own human potentials of meaning. The underlying attitude – in a figurative sense – a paradoxical one, implies that aggressive behavior patterns are linked to their actual meaning at the stage of their emergence as an input.

2. Project goals
A project goal is that potential victims train their perception where they can be threatened with a violence input before actual violence occurs to transform it immediately into a concrete spontaneous perception of meaning.

A) A subordinate goal: immediate preventive dissociation from real violence in an individual situation:
to provide room through successful non-verbal and verbal communication:
a means to achieve this subordinate goal: immediate exclusion of the possibility of actual violence through role plays as to run away swiftly or aggressively, to escape intentionally, to turn around, to speak loudly, to call, if necessary, to shout along with other actions to relieve the tension.
Temporal and spacial distancing from potential violence should be understood and stepwise trained through
training of self-dissociation in order to distance from subjectively and emotionally experienced problem and – if the relationship has got very tight – to humorously admit objective facts that can not be changed at the moment.

B) A subordinate goal: to strengthen relationships
Laughing, smiling, humour as a possible spontaneous change of current behavior to create a new, unexpected and spontaneous relationship pattern. New role patterns should be learned and trained with the possible conflict partner. The potential offender should be appreciated and treated with a targeted attentiveness in his unmatched uniqueness as a person and peculiarity of his situation in order to train his ability of self-esteem. Parents and family, teachers, classmates, police officers and other helpers should learn to direct and focus their respectful perception and facilitate changes in potential offenders through role plays.
This is the beginning of respectful treatment of the personality of the potential offender – in spite of initial negative inputs.
In  this dialogic process of reversal, helpers should turn into servers and take observable needs and concerns of the potential offender as an opportunity to treat his personality with respect and help him implement his will in a constructive manner.

C) A subordinate goal: learning to distinguish emotions in a Socratic dialogue:
The ability of offenders and victims to be guided by facts here and now makes it possible for helpers to handle potential offenders with dignity, objecting, however, in particular aspects.
By his attentive, respectful and even consciously submissive attitude, the helper signals the potential offender non-verbally of his readiness to surrender or subject to his concerns if it will be helpful for a critical step, i.e. to be taught by better arguments, to agree with the offender at first and to leave the matter (at the moment) hanging in the air as it is. A possible means could be “a serving ritual of submission”, that is, for example, to serve tea, to cook a meal, to offer a cigarette etc.
Another method could be: to strengthen the respect of the offender's personality and his “being taken seriously”, the helpers should offer alternatives for him to choose. 1. He should write down these alternatives with his own words in “dignified and classy tranquility” (as a ritual) 2. The helpers should ask if they understood and expressed his matter correctly and 3. The helpers should let the offender evaluate the alternatives on his own.
Important: the voice of the helpers should become an instrument of conciliation by changing its pitch and timbre. A means to strengthen this effect in future could be the use of pebble stones (in the pocket of the trousers) and also the use of sound-stones (cf. Prof. Fessmann, Mozarteum Salzburg).

D) A subordinate goal: to learn to take a decision in favor of an emotion
The new basic orientation should help cognitively anchor emotionality, direct it and train this ability.

E) A subordinate goal: learning to communicate inspiration
The helpers should enthusiastically and with personal engagement support the potential offender in realization of his decisions. A means could be: to smile, praise, laugh spontaneously together while training meaning-oriented possibilities.
Spontaneous, also dance-like role plays and non-verbal improvising language should provide effect of the previously undertaken actions with a new attitude, views and behavior patterns.
Finally, specific planning should result in a new concept of life and be simulated through concrete ideas, plans, computer graphs and tables.


(Packages of) measures should be then divided into actions, developed into different measurable outputs and “results” and offered within the framework of the EU project as an innovation on the topic of violence. Conferences to represent the project are foreseen on request.

Dr. Peter Amann, Duenserstrasse 12c, A-6822 Schnifis,
Tel. +43-5524-8591, Fax +43-5524-8788