Virginia Tech Terror

The Terror of Birth &
The Origins of Violence

by John A. Speyrer

In an interview with the dorm mates of the Virginia Tech mass killer, Cho Seung-Sui, evidence was provided which showed that he had quirks which could point to his having suffered a severely traumatic birth. The CNN interview, which included a recounting of Cho's bedtime habits, mentioned that he ". . . would leave the [dorm-room] door open and the lights on . . . and we had lofted beds, too, so the light was right next to his head."

Janov, et. als. have described the typical fear of confinement of one suffering from claustrophobia. In Cho's case his claustrophobic fear of confinement was revealed by his need to keep open the dormitory door. To an even greater degree, he revealed a severe fear of the dark, and probable extremely distressful birth trauma, by sleeping near the turned on dormitory light.

On page 152 of, Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, Dr. Arthur Janov observes:

"Children who must have the light on in order to sleep are suffering acutely from that dark period just before they saw their first light of day. In a conditioning paradigm, it seems that dark represents agony and light represents respite -- for it was in the light that the agony stopped. . . ."

Although common in birth traumatized children, the continuation into adulthood of a fear of the dark and the tranquilizing need for light to sleep, is shown in its extreme manifestation in the case of Cho. In addition, his class assignment writings filled with themes of profound anger and his self videos with attack guns, I think, show obsessions with violence which points that at birth he had come close to death. An analysis of these writings would also be revealing.

The need for light to sleep, reveals that his birth trauma had been severe enough to elicit a behavorial pattern which atypically continued even after childhood had ended. This showed the strength of the conditioning event.

Perhaps, the next stage of this particular phobic behavior would have entailed keeping the dorm light lit for longer periods of time - perhaps, even at those times when Cho would not have been occupying his dorm room.

Under such circumstances, his unprocessed birth traumas would continue to be hidden from perception. But, light which at birth had offered symbolic solace to Cho by being paired with the unconscious memory of relief from his agonies, might continue to be regarded as a perpetual protection against danger -- a talisman since it had originally meant relief from his immediate pre-birth sufferings.

Dr. Stanislav Grof believes that a traumatic birth can play an important role in establishing a tendency of anger and violence both towards onesself in suicide and towards others in cases of mass murder. He writes,

The role of the birth trauma as a source of violence and self-destructive tendencies has been confirmed by many clinical studies. . . . (A)ggression directed inward, in particular, suicide, seems to be psychogenetically linked to difficult birth. According to a recent article published in The Lancet, resuscitation at birth is conducive to a higher risk of committing suicide after puberty. The Scandinavian researcher Bertil Jacobsen found a close correlation between the form of self-destructive behavior and the nature of birth. Suicides involving asphyxiation were associated with suffocation at birth; violent suicides, with mechanical birth trauma; and drug addiction leading to suicide, with opiate and/or barbiturate administration during labor. . . . The circumstances of birth thus play an important role in creating a disposition to violence and self-destructive tendencies or to loving behavior and healthy interpersonal relationships [Primal Renaissance, Psychological Roots of Human Violence and Greed, p. 8 - Bertil Jacobson, et. al. (1987) Perinatal origin of adult self-destructive behavior. Acta psychiat. Scand.. 76, 364-371].

From An Interview with John R.

"I think violence was part of me from the day I was born....Failure to me means death. Death is connected with experiences with my family where I was told I must
never fail, and then goes back to my birth where I actually did feel that
if I failed in being born, I would die."
-- John R.




John: Well, I was really skittish about coming here. I was afraid I was going to be crushed by the therapy. It meant death because I knew I would have to face death in all the feelings. But I did come. (And I had a primal in which all the pain that I had been wrapped in all these years just seemed to be torn away from me, and it was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life.)

When I came here I was afraid to have a woman therapist because I was absolutely sure that if I got into these feelings that were so frightening to me, that I knew were connected to my birth, and that I knew I would have to get to, that I would in all probability freak out and hurt somebody. I think violence was part of me from the day I was born, but instead of having it taken out of me, that violent part of me was always encouraged - partly by my Dad through athletics and the feeling that a man could and should be violent. And my mother was certainly violent in her way of settling anything.

Once she held my hand on a hot stove. She was in charge of my discipline until I was eight, and disciplined me with a pancake turner. She would hit me with it in a frenzy, the same kind of frenzy that I get into with my children or my wife when I feel that I'm not living up to what I'm supposed to be, and I get frustrated and act out of rage.

Bob: John, you said that you thought that violence has been with you since birth. Could you talk some more about that?

John: Since I came to the Center, I've connected many times with the sudden need for violence that I often feel. It's the need to pound and struggle to be born.

In times past that would explode into behavior. Something would happen, and I would explode into behavior. For example, I once drove my car off a viaduct that wasn't finished. I had failed at a job, my marriage was failing, and I felt frustrated. I didn't love the woman, but the failure stood out - and I couldn't stand to fail.

I'd been drinking for three or four days and suddenly, in a bar, I flipped out. I went home and got a gun. I put this gun in the back of the car and started down the highway. I don't know where I was going or who it was I thought I was going to kill. I came to a place where there was a road under construction and I somehow thought that the heavy equipment were tanks, and I went charging through this heavy equipment, got on an overpass that didn't have the center span completed, and drove off that thing at 60 miles an hour.

Since then, when I'd get that same feeling of having failed or not lived up to my own expectations of myself, I would flip into that same kind of behavior that my mother would exhibit with me, and that I have felt from my birth.

Bob: So there's a connection between failure and violence?

John: Yes. I've been in primals where I've felt how it was to try to fight my way out. It's not a thought, it's a feeling. That's the way you feel when you're fighting for your life, to get out. It's a life and death situation. You're being killed. Your body senses it - your mind doesn't - and your body just goes into a mindless violence that for me was pounding and kicking and beating with my head, and for me ended with my heart stopping, with suffocation and a period of my body's dying.

And events in the present that cause me that same feeling of frustration bring that same feeling up, and until I came here, there were times when I would not be able to do anything but act out that violence. There have been times when I have beaten on myself, when I've felt that I've failed. I actually knocked a lot of bridgework out of my mouth pounding on myself.

When I would quit drinking, or smoking, these periods of violence would emerge with all of the withdrawal. One example: I quit smoking cigarettes when I was 27. A few days later I was backpacking with my wife. I woke up in the middle of the night strangling her. It seems almost ludicrous now to think that I would have done that. There were other times too, when in anger I would just reach out and strangle, and that feeling of needing to strangle comes from having been strangled before I was born.

I understand it now as having been part of my birth and an automatic reflex to what I felt was a life threatening situation, triggered when I was overwhelmed with withdrawal symptoms. From quitting smoking in this particular case. Or in another case, when my Dad had had a stroke and I felt that my marriage was breaking up. By that time I was aware that primals were possible and was trying to do them by myself. But I would still get into the behavior where I would actually, in a fit of insanity, find myself strangling my wife. And she would passively submit to this thinking that I would never really hurt her until the last time when I just really flipped out in this same type of behavior.

Bob: Where are you now with violence?

John: I feel the same feelings in any situation - at my job, or with someone I love trying to solve a problem, or any situation that I feel frustrated in, or where I feel that I'm going to fail.

Failure to me means death. Death is connected with experiences with my family where I was told I must never fail, and then goes back to my birth where I actually did feel that if I failed in being born, I would die. I can make that connection now, and still have to make that connection whenever I'm in a situation where I'm faced with these kinds of feelings.

Bob: Are you still afraid you might hurt somebody?

John: No. I don't have the fear now that I did before I came here. I get angry, but I don't find myself raging out of control like I used to. It was the anger and frustration from my birth, and I would act out of that. There would be a set of circumstances that would seem to be the cause of it, but it was really the birth violence.

I had to do something. I really didn't want to be violent, but it would feel like a life or death situation that required some physical act to resolve it. Feeling what happened at my birth, going back to the true root of the violence, is letting me change my life now. When I look at my life the way it is now compared to the way it was before, I have some things that make my life worthwhile.




The interview was originally published in the Denver Primal Journal.
The complete interview may be read here

When asked by a student about the influence of his experiences in Vietnam on his choices in writing and directing such intense and violent films such as Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July" and Natural Born Killers, Oscar winner Oliver Stone replied:

"The violence was evident before Vietnam. There was blood, there was screaming, there was forceps and there was me."
-- Feb 20, 1996, at Oxford, England

From the script of Oliver Stone's movie, Natural Born Killers:
"When did you first start thinking about killing?

"Birth. I was thrown in a flaming pit of scum. I was forgotten by God."

Another study of the relationship of traumatic birth and suicide was conducted in 1985 by psychologist Lee Salk of Cornell University Medical School. It was the first to show a link between birth trauma and later suicide [OMNI magazine, November 1988:26].

Published in the The Lancet, it concluded that the high rate of suicides among adolescents during the past 30 years may have been due to the procedures of neonatal intensive care units which entailed heroic efforts to preserve life at any cost. The establishment of such units were recent developments and meant that infants survived who normally would not have survived. The following is germane to this discussion and is from the Primal Institute Newsletter.

In the September, 1981, issue of the aforementioned publication, appeared, Life At All Costs: Who is Saving Whom? Its author, Nicholas Barton, believes that being raised in a loving family can help a baby who endured a stressful beginning of life.

However, he also believes that later love and care cannot undo the physical and psychological assault of trauma in fetuses who suffered catastrophic birth pain. The author questioned whether one is doing such a baby a favor by insisting that it live when such fetuses often wish their own death in order to stop their suffering [See article, Peri-natal Agonies ].

Barton writes,

"The parents who insist that their baby come to life may not be the kind of people who can give real love. By their initial actions they may indicate that they are predisposed to force their needs upon their child. How do you tell a mother to let her baby die? Surely it is against every maternal instinct. . . . I cannot believe that a mother in her right mind would want to prolong the life of her child when it cried out to be dead. Is it a maternal instinct to preserve suffering? A mother who was truly sensitive to the needs of her child would not wish to turn survival into an endurance course. True motherliness is considerate and merciful. But a mother can't be these things if she is consumed by inappropriate needs of her own. Then she relates only to her own prepotent Primal needs and is unconscious of the real needs of her child. The child becomes a symbol for herself; its identity is totally submerged in her own. She relives the painful events of her own infancy through her child. Her advantage is that she now has -- through technology and through the doctors to administer it -- control over the situation. She can win the battle for life, a battle she may subconsciously feel that she had lost long, long ago.

Perhaps she feels dead herself and can only come to life by bringing another to life. It is even possible that as a baby being born she came close to death, an experience so traumatic that she had to contain it and bury it in her consciousness. Now she cannot tolerate death because it awakens those nightmarish events from her own beginnings. The dying infant plunges her into the memory of her own brush with death and so she finds some means to win that fight for life. What better than a situation that almost exactly mimics her own story? The time, the circumstances are all there. But she isn't. There's a different actor to play her part. She can now direct. She re-enacts her own struggle for life and with success the memory and its feelings subside once again. And the baby? For whom is he living -- himself?"

Barton next excoriates physicians who often have "savior-complexes." Although not intentially keeping babies alive for their own glory, they nonetheless unconsciously act as though they do. "The intention and the compulsion to triumph over death at all costs have origins that they are not in touch with and are well defended against."

"The doctors' need and the parents' need reinforce each other. The baby meanwhile has no representative. He relies unknowingly on instinct, which acknowledges that he does not want to continue existing. He is thus too easily the victim of the neurosis that encircles him. He is press-ganged into a life that he has already and emphatically renounced of his own free organismic will. The efforts of parents and doctors may not seem unfair or perverse because they look like dedication, caring and love. But how can it be love? "Love fulfills need; fulfilling need is allowing (not forcing) another to be -- and to not be." 'Love' issuing from the neurotic can be such a sensitive, interfering busybody, full of its wonder and overblown with self-inflating prejudice. It is fear, it is need, it is hope, but it is not love."

The newborn's wishes are not respected. It is his life and he only wants to end his overwhelming sufferings. No "living will" is available in the incubator to communicate to the "care" givers his wishes that he does not want continued intolerable means used to release him from death.

He could not convey, during his birth process, his earlier wishes for death to those who attended his birth. Feeling ignored or unresponded to by known or unknown powers, his ascending suffering produces incredibly profound fetal rage which continued to increase without limit.

A potential terrorist can come into being when such pre- and peri-natal sufferings are later welded to family infant and child abuse and care deprivation. These chosen susceptible ones become the future terrorists and can easily be led by themselves and/or by others into taking revenge on targets for unconsciously perceived injustices. The more severe the trauma the more generalized becomes the target.

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