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People sleep peaceably in their beds
at night only because rough men stand
ready to do violence on their behalf.
              George Orwell

Four Types of Violence

On this page:
Introduction | Not Being The Problem | Fear | Frenzy | Tantrum | Criminal

The following breakdown of the 'types of violence' is not for psychologists. Our problem with most de-escalation programs is that they were invented by people who -- if they ever interned in a psych hospital -- were told to hide behind the orderlies if a patient became violent. In short, while long in education, most 'experts' on de-escalation are short on bleeding when their theory doesn't work.

Spitting blood is an entirely different kind of education ...

The types of violence are designed to be used by those 'rough men who stand ready to do violence.' What's more it was developed by those that the fledgling psychologists hid behind. That's right, it was developed and successfully applied by those who's job it was to face the violent and the insane -- and if necessary to stop them physically.

In short, we staked our blood on it working. And worked it did.

This model was originally proposed to us by Richard Dobson. According to him, it was developed while he was working on his doctoral thesis at UC Santa Cruz and supporting himself by working at the local mental institution as an orderly. There he noticed that, while the motivations for violence were incredibly varied, in they tended to manifest in basic patterns and general categories.

This is a very important observation. Realize that people tend to follow general patterns or habits in their everyday life. This makes them somewhat predictable. Although situations that are developing towards violence are rarer, there too human behavior tends to follow predictable patterns.

While we talk about the different kinds of violence elsewhere, those are more situational and manifest externally (what you can see and hear). The four kinds of violence (territorial, behavioral correcting, criminal and predatorial) are more about external goals and creating a change in one's environment.

What we're going to talk about here are the internal motivations for violence. We call these types of violence. They aren't so much about 'why' someone becomes violent, they are more about 'how' that person will commonly work his (or her) way up to becoming violent. To be more more specific, these are the common patterns of thoughts and emotions people internally follow on their way to becoming violent.

BOTH kinds and types are occurring in any situation developing towards violence. Human behavior is seldom only about one thing, and this especially applies to violence. If you hope to have any skill at de-escalating a potentially violent situation, you need to be able to recognize, adjudge the dynamics and hopefully bring these factors back into balance to create a win/win situation for everyone. Creating a win/win solution is one of the most poorly understood fundamentals about de-escalation(1).

For the lack of a better word, each 'type' of violence has a certain flavor to it. To be more precise, each type has a particular logic and behavior attached to it. This makes it immediately recognizable. Furthermore, each of these types of violence has a specific counter that is most likely to work to prevent that type from exploding.

NOT Being The Problem
The intent of violence is to get something. Whether this is an external or internal goal depends on the type/kind of violence it is. Understanding this is critical to being able to de-escalate a violent situation (or whether you should even bother).

In the previous section we mentioned that particular responses to specific types of violence generally prevent that type from exploding. In the same breath we must warn you that this is a two edged sword. A response that would cause one type to calm down, will cause another to explode. We tell you this now to help you understand the following concept.

A key element in successful de-escalation is establishing that you are NOT the problem. We sum this idea up as: You present the person with a "You can't get there from here" response.

This 'can't get there from here' is a simple, but profound concept.

This applies whether the goal of a person's violence is external or internal. We explain this concept thusly. If someone wants to go somewhere and you step forward and say "No, you can't go this way." Then YOU are the problem. All that person needs to go that way is to beat you up.

If on the other hand someone decides that he wants to go that way and you tell them there's a wall preventing them from going that way, then you are NOT the problem. The problem is the wall. And even if the person beats you up, that wall is still going to be in the way. If however, he attacks and is the one who loses, now he has two problems (losing and the wall is still there).

This is what the responses to the different types of violence are about. It is also why they work.

First, they don't get what they need to proceed with violence. This causes a form of pattern interruption that you can use. When the desired (or a known) response is not given the person must drop out of the emotionally driven state and back into a thinking state This is the first stage in preventing violence. Once you have demonstrated that he can't get what he wants through violence, then you give him alternate choices. This is the second stage. Giving him the ability to pick and choose is a critical component to preventing him from returning to violence.

What all that means: People tend to be violent in predictable ways and expect they certain responses. What you're doing is going to trip up his plans. When something isn't working right and he needs to slow down and figure out what's going on. Right there this reduces the chances of him attacking. When you have him back to thinking, you give him choices. Choices that while he picks and chooses, you control. The  illusionary sense of control you give him further reduces the chances of his attacking.

The second reason You can't get there from here approach is important is it takes you out of the adversarial position.

You are not the reason he can't get what he wants. You are simply the bearer of bad news. The problem is both bigger than you and not your fault. As such, kicking your ass is not going to solve the problem. In fact, the blending of your personal and institutional authority will only cause him bigger problems if he does attack. In other types, you become his only hope of getting what he wants -- but only if he remains non-violent.

People about to 'go off' will be looking for certain responses. These responses will feed the pattern. This causes the situation to escalate instead of wind down. This is why with the Four Types de-escalation system: What you do not do is just as important as what you do. The response that will de-escalate a particular situation will cause another to explode. This, incidentally, explains why the actions of some officers will cause  situations to blow up. Usually such individuals only have one tactic. And they try to apply it across the board. While this approach works with one type of violence, it causes the other three to escalate.

When an officer recognizes the type of violence he is facing, he can customize his tactics for de-escalating it on the spot. By taking  a general strategy and customizing it to specific tactics,  he meets the needs of the moment. In doing this he greatly increases the odds of the situation being resolved without violence.

The four types of violence are:
1) Fear
2) Frenzy
3) Tantrum
4) Extortion

Fear type violence is what occurs when someone is afraid of being hurt or losing something important. It is also what  motivates people to try and get away. It is their fear of being hurt that prompts them to violence. While this might seem like self-defense, their fear actually goads them into being an aggressor. In a very real sense this type of fear arises from being "trapped inside one's own head." He is fixating on the internal fear, more than the external circumstances. So it isn't the actual circumstances he is reacting to, but rather his imagination

Counter: The way to talk someone down from a fear type situation is that you have to keep pace with them and then begin to slowly bring them down. In a very real sense you become excited with them instead of against them. You do this in a manner that is not threatening. Your body posture, speech pattern and reflect back to them their excitement. You are not projecting fear, but your 'supposed' excitement  is running parallel to his real excitement. By doing this behavior you give them something that they can fixate onto that does not intimidate them or feed their fear. Once you have their attention, you can lead them back into being calm.

The easiest way to explain why this works is to think of a loud TV in the kid's room. But,  instead of trying to shout over the noise, you lower the volume from the bottom of the stairs, using the universal remote. Then they can hear you. In the same way  instead of trying to overpower his internal 'spin out' with your own message (comply or else) you first get him to a point where he can hear you by getting him out of his own head and paying attention to you. You get compliance by getting him to listen to you.

Do NOT attempt to intimidate or threaten a person in a fear state. Nor should you yell at them or display that you are not safe to attack. That will only convince them that they are correct about the danger you pose. You want the spin out to slow down, not speed up. In attempting to establish "forceful control" over the person, you often will only crank up the rpm's of their spin out. Such actions of your part only convinces them that they have something to fear and that violence on their part is warranted. Also, it is not wise to respond to a Fear type the same way you do with a Tantrum, as such response will only result in the person freaking out more.

Frenzy type violence occurs when someone has lost their boundaries. They are mentally and emotionally lost out in an emotionally stormy sea.

The way the word "boundaries" is usually thought of is from an external point of view. That is to say, what someone will not accept from other people. And while that is true, boundaries also work from an internal perspective. They also serve as a sense of self and standards of conduct (e.g. what you won't do to others). With this in mind, what they are more like is property lines. Standards that define who you are and your place in the world. When these are lost, you sort of lose your world. Frenzy type violence is  someone trying to put the world back together and to regain control. He's trying to get things back into shape by using violence.

Frenzy type of violence is often accompanied by anger. What makes Frenzy violence easily distinguishable from Tantrum type is the cause is easily identifiable -- usually because the person will tell you what set him off. Something happened, he's pissed off and he's telling you -- and everybody else -- about it. Yelling, shouting, flailing of the arms and a fixation on the source of his anger are common behaviors.

Usually Frenzy violence is based on a perceived wrong done to the person. Quite often this is a legitimate complaint (e.g. the guy's wife slept with someone else, something was taken from him, another guy cheated or insulted him, etc.). In short, something has happened to the Frenzy type that has rocked his world. The way he thought the world is...or should be...has been proven false (this is where the lost at sea idea comes into play). The person is trying to get things back under control through  frenzied actions, yelling, screaming, posturing and quite possibly violence.

Counter:  In the movie Hellboy, John Hurt looks at a young FBI agent and says "There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Meyers. We are the ones that bump back." This attitude sums up how to handle a Frenzy type. He's pushing, you push back. Since the person in a frenzy has lost his boundaries, you give him some. You tell him what to do and how to act. And you do it in a way that cuts through his internal frenzy.

The most effective response to a frenzy type of violence is up-in-his-face-pissed-off -drill-instructor orders to comply. Orders that if he doesn't follow he will be put there. For example: If you tell him to sit down, then you sit him down -- then you start talking again. Even though it looks like you are ready to rock and roll you're main weapon is still your mouth. The small physical brush is only to give him a taste of what he will face if he doesn't comply

There are however, three important conditions of using the drill instructor approach. First: Compliance must be a condition of being heard. You'll listen to him, but not like this. When he complies, then you'll listen. If he wants his grievances heard he has to calm down. This both gives him a choice on ways to get what he wants (one of which isn't working so hot) AND it gets him to start self-regulating. In order to get his point across he has to slow down and start working with you.

Second: If he is not attacking, you only do what you say and nothing more. For example: If you tell him to sit down as a condition of being heard and he doesn't, you sit him down. You do not throw him to the ground and cuff him for failure to comply. That is unless he tries to stand up again. But that is the penalty for failing to comply, not because you are a bully who is beating him up. You do not need to dominate him, you only need to get him back to self-regulating.

The reason doing nothing more than you said is important is that it is critical component in him finding boundaries again. While it is not exactly establishing trust, it is establishing consistency. It is cause and effect. You said this, he refused, it happened anyway. Working closely with this idea is you tell him what is going to happen if he doesn't stay put. You said sit, he didn't, you sat him down. Then you tell him in no uncertain terms what is going to happen if he tries to stand up. Namely he's going to be chewing floor. Now he's got a choice, talk to you or sniff floor polish.

Third: As you get compliance, ease off. There is a concept in driving called threshold braking. In short, you adjust the pressure on the brake as you slow down. As the vehicle slows down you don't need to push as hard. You always stay under the threshold where you will be thrown forward. The lack of this skill is why when riding with inexperienced drivers you will be rocketed forward when they stop the car. They are applying the same brake pressure at 5 mph that they were applying at 35.

The same goes for getting compliance from a Frenzy type. Remember your goal is not to establish dominance, but rather to get him back to self-regulating. If you continue to come on too strong, you will only blow him further out in his emotionally stormy sea.

Do not try to reason with a Frenzy type until after the initial compliance is achieved. They need boundaries set NOW! Attempting to talk and reason with them as an opening gambit  fails to get them on the path towards self-regulation. In fact, it is often perceived as added aggravation. Nor should you "go cold" on a Frenzy type as they need the emotional feedback to push them back to good behavior.

Tantrum type of violence is different from Frenzy type in a significant way. While the Frenzy type has a reason to go off, the Tantrum type is looking for an excuse to go off. And any excuse will do.

Tantrum types  are also anger based. Unlike Frenzy types however (who can be Average Joes that something happens to set them off), Tantrum types tend to be chronically angry. They are like a boiling pot always inches away from boiling over. As such they use violence as a form of self-regulation. For these types, violence is a means to release the constant pressure their world view puts them under. In other words the world is constantly not behaving the way they want it to and this is the source of their chronic anger. Instead of changing their expectations, they vent this anger through regular violent episodes. When the pressure is too much inside of them, they go looking for an excuse to go off on someone.

In this culture there is an assumption of sanity. That is to say, normally, when you are dealing with someone you grant them the assumption that they are sane. As such we expect a degree of consistency and reason from a person. When someone doesn't, we end up being lost and confused.The violation of this expectation is the earmark of a Tantrum type. Tantrum types thrive on escalating, unrealistic and erratic demands from other people. The failure to meet these demands, the most common forms of refusal or fear will provide the excuses they need to become violent. Creating fear and confusion within their victims is part of the tantrum types enjoyment, control over the situation and power.

Dealing with a Tantrum Type is like handling a poisonous snake, it requires specialized protocols and a good supply of anti-venom. The anti-venom for Tantrum types is extremely effective defensive tactics. These are required to rob the Tantrum type from achieving a secondary victory. Still, anti-venom is not nearly as good as not getting bit in the first place.

Tantrum types feed on emotional responses; this includes anger created by their actions. Normal responses and tactics do not work with a tantrum type because these responses only feed into the Tantrum type's perception that they have control over you. And when they think that, then they will attack. Any emotional response or tactical response is further complicated by the Tantrum thrower's constant zig zagging and changing of direction. When he encounters resistance on one front, all he has to do is change directions. Most people cannot move their defenses that fast.

This is further complicated by the constant underlying theme of pending violence with Tantrum types. While Fear and Frenzy types can work their way up to violence, often the Tantrum type is already there. As we said earlier, he's just looking for an excuse. Tantrum types will often feint or do aborted lunges at you in order to provoke a defensive reaction from you. The truth is that these movements aren't even close to being real attacks yet as they are out of range. But, IF you react to these feints, he will know he has gotten over on you. He now knows that you are scared of him and he's going to run with it. In order to deal with Tantrum types you must know how to Shadowdance.

Another complication for dealing with Tantrum types is that often they are putting on a show for others. This fact is especially important to recognize in an inmate population. Where they aren't just concerned with venting their hostility, but they are also reinforcing their status and their "props." Remember that Tantrum type is looking for an emotional response, he's not particular from whom. While public display is not always the case, understanding the importance of an audience is critical for how to handle them.

Tantrum types might seem erratic and unpredictable, but in a very real sense they are extremely predictable. Once you know their goal, all the crazy and random zig-zagging from topic to topic becomes far more understandable. Frenzy types are trying to regain the status quo through violence. Tantrums are looking for a change in their emotional state. And they're not necessarily picky about how they do it, just so long as it changes. And that is why they seem so unpredictable. They are jack-rabbiting around inside their own head as much as much as their external behavior. But once you remember that he's trying to change his emotional state, he becomes much more predictable.

Counter: Since a Tantrum type is looking for an emotional reaction, don't give it to him. You become the Terminator. An impassive, cold, simple response machine that, if necessary, will engage in effective violence. In this manner you remove the audience of you from him. Your flat toned, impassive responses do not give him anything to feed off of. His feints and short lunges do not cause you to react in a startled or defensive manner.

Another way of removing emotional response is to remove the audience of others from his little show. Either by ordering everyone out or ordering him into a secluded area. In this way he has no one to perform for. As such he can not get other encouragement or support for his actions when you do not respond how he wants.

Again the purpose of de-escalation is to offer him the choice to get what he wants through different means than violence. Like the Frenzy type the condition he must meet to get what he wants is to calm down. You will deal with him, but only after he has calmed down. This is the message that your "broken record" approach must follow. As he jack-rabbits from outrage to outrage, you keep on returning to this point.

Unlike Frenzy types the force you use against Tantrums is immediate and overwhelming. Although you do not react to his feints when he does come close enough to be a threat you put him down ASAP. (Note: It is important to be able to articulate what he was doing that justified dropping him). You set a verbal boundary and when he violates it he is immediately and physically put down. The reason for this is that it puts you ahead of his escalation. Instead of you waiting for attack, you establish a reasonable order to ensure your safety and it is his violation of this order is the casus belli  (reason for war). Although not politically correct to say, when dealing with Tantrum types is very much your willingness to do a smack down on them that influences their decision to de-escalate. If they sense hesitation on your part -- for whatever reason -- they will escalate.

This is why you must take control on whether or not it goes physical. An added advantage is that when you set a boundary like this seldom will the Tantrum type move directly into violence. Instead he will commonly, like a defiant child, step into the very area that you told him not to. This gives you a split second advantage because he believes that he is in control of whether or not it will go violent. Suddenly being put down comes as a surprise. A surprise you never let him recover from. (In long term incarceration situations, this also has long term benefits for your reputation among the inmates and how safe it is to mess with you when you are being reasonable and operating within procedural guidelines).

Extortion type violence is basically the violent person giving a someone a choice: Give me/do this or I will hurt you.

Of all the types of violence, this is the one least likely to be directed at LEOs/correctional officers. Even though they deal with people who use it all the time, this type of violence is usually directed at non-authority victims. The two exceptions are, one, a hostage situation, where the criminal demands something in exchange for not hurting the hostage. Two, is more territorial. This when entering a home and the officers are told to leave or they will be attacked.

It is the threat of violence for failing to comply that defines this violence type. More to the point however, is it is the violent person attempting behavior modification of another. This is why extortion violence is the foundation of robberies. But the far more common manifestation of this violence types is fights and assaults. The person uses it as method to change  unacceptable behavior of another person. In these cases, it is the other person's failure to comply that results in the violence 

This type of violence can be either predatorial,  territorial or behavioral. That is to say that it can be used to remove a person's options (e.g. give me your wallet or I will hurt you), predatorial. Or it can give someone the option to withdraw from an area (leave or else), territorial. Another way it can be used to give people options is to curb unacceptable behavior, (e.g. knock it off or I'll hit you). In any case it implies a contract. Do this and I will not hurt you.

Counter: As Extortion type is a negotiate, the counter is to renegotiate the contract. When he says "Do this or I will hurt you" you reply "If you try you won't like what happens"

Notice the difference between "you won't like what happens" and "Oh yeah? I'll kick YOUR butt!" The latter is a challenge. The former is an unspecified counter offer. What's more is it is dependant on his attempt to use violence on you. You are not offering a counter threat, you are telling him he will not get what he wants if he tries to use violence. This is important for three reasons. First because you cannot threaten anything worse than what his own imagination can come up with (i.e. you get him thinking "exactly how much won't I like it?"). Second, by using this approach  you do not directly challenge or insult him (e.g. "Oh yeah m********er, I'll kick YOUR ass" both challenges AND insults him). Third it leaves the door open to both individual and institutional repercussions.

As an aside, violent people use vague threats all the time. They do this not only so it will prey on your mind, but also so they cannot be called on the mat for their behavior. This turns their own game back on them. Since they do not like it when this happens, they will often try to get you to commit to a specific that they can use against you. Therefore when they ask "What do you mean by that?" an effective answer is "Let's not find out.

When the threat of physical violence has been foiled, then you move the conversation towards a more reasonable form of negotiate.

This is a very shorthand version of the de-escalation aspect of the No Nonsense Self-Defense Control Presence system. As we said it was originally published in A Professional's Guide To Ending Violence Quickly. More information on non violent verbal defense and de-escalation can be found on the  NNSD bookshelf.

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1) While that may sound all warm and fuzzy to some folks, stop and think about it for a moment. If everyone wins, there's no need to fight now is there? Return to Text

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