Dr. Steve Rissman, ND

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When people do bad things, they probably need more love. That’s one of the many things I’ve been telling my son since he started reporting to me about kids in school who are mean to other kids on the playground. I respond by saying that I imagine it would help if someone could give that bully a little bit of love and kindness. And I actually believe it’s true, but sometimes that is easier said than done. Love is a verb, and it’s a motivational challenge to love mean people. Another way of saying that is, those who need the most love, are sometimes the most difficult for whom to put aside our feelings and give the action of loving.

Love is a Verb

When a child does something generally considered wrong, and we believe they know better, we may get furious and bewildered, but we love. When an elderly parent or sick patient makes a choice that, from our perspective is not the best, we may get frustrated, but we love. When we ourselves make poor choices that cause hurt to others, it is easy to be hard on ourselves, but hopefully, we love.

Our Grief Reaction to Terror

When we hear of hideous mass murders and other acts of violence, which seem to have grown commonplace in our world, we respond at several levels. There is an initial grief reaction to the tragic loss of lives, there is a reaction to what we perceive as the evil will of the perpetrators and, then there is also the realization of the unstable ground that we ourselves walk upon. It could happen to me! All of that adds up to our being emotionally labile, even though we may not be processing all of that consciously. Sometimes we are more aware of feeling angry toward the perpetrator or we are more focused on our empathetic sadness for the victims. Men have been socialized to be less comfortable experiencing fear and sadness, so they tend to focus on anger and hatred toward an outward entity, which in this case is the perpetrator. But almost certainly, the last thing we want to do is to love. And yet, what about my statement to my son that the mean kid is the one who most needs love? Hmm.

Find a Clue in Nature

For those of you who know my writing, you have come to know that when I don’t have an answer, I listen for nature to provide one. In this case, I’m reminded of trees, who stand and wait, enduring the snowstorms and the bitter cold of winter. They appear dormant in this season of darkness, but they are holding their place, rooted, despite the mean temperatures. They model love in a less obvious, non-judgmental, non-reactive way, knowing that storms are a part of life.

The remedy for grief and anxiety secondary to violence in our world is love- for the victims, ourselves, and yes, even the terrorist.

Antidotes for Life’s Storms

In dealing with the horror of some of life’s storms, it is helpful to be clear that we feel a spectrum of emotions- sadness, anxiety, and anger being the most common. And there may not be anything to do about these emotions, but to stand like the trees, and endure the bitterness. Here are a few suggestions of how to do this:

  1. Quietly think about the victims and be the rooted tree for them and those near to them who have lost stability. It may even be helpful to say their name and look at a picture. Who knows if it can help them, but it helps us to be strong in our grief.
  2. See the mean, cruel, murderous one in your mind and stand by, non-reactively, like a good father when his son has made a mistake. Could you even say his/her name? It doesn’t mean that a murderer shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. But maintaining consequences in a non-judgmental manner may be the path, if for no other reason than selfishly. It feels better to love than to hate.
  3. Face the reality of our world. On any given day, things could go terribly, horribly awry for any of us. We are powerless to the chaotic threats in this world.   Ironically, chaos signals growth, though birth is painful. Watch a seedling sprout and grow- it looks delicate and vulnerable, but don’t be fooled, it is also fierce in its destruction of the seed and forceful aggression to move through the soil to emerge into light. Owning one’s powerlessness is the starting point for dealing with our vulnerability. Indeed it is the first of the 12 steps in addictions programs.

Imagine what could happen if we were to sink down into a place of love for the ugly, violent, and depraved. In order for love to find the dark corners of the world, it is imperative that we do the hard job of loving. Those of us who are physicians may need to remind ourselves that we are not here for the healthy, but for the ill, the down-trodden. How do we deal with meanness, tragedy, and darkness? Find a way to give love.

Rissman_newest_headshotDr. Steve Rissman is a full-time associate professor in the Department of Health Professions at Metropolitan State University of Denver, teaching in the Integrative Health Care program. He teaches Clinical Pathophysiology, Men’s Health, Men Across Cultures, Men and Anger, and several other classes. Dr. Rissman has studied, taught and worked in the field of men’s health for over twenty years and hasleadthe way in lighting the path for young men embarking on the journey to better know themselves. In a new facet of his professional life, Dr. Rissman is the primary investigator in a research project looking at qualities of great men- men who know their purpose in life and hold a larger vision for what is possible.

In his practice on his farm, north of Denver, Dr Rissman works with men/boys confounded by behaviors related to anger/rage, anxiety, and depression in their lives.

Having grown up on a farm and spending a great deal of time in the outdoors, Dr. Rissman has a deeply rooted curiosity for the laws of nature, particularly the science of disease process. Consequently, he has an extraordinary ability to illicit the story of one’s unique dis-ease process and to perceive what needs to be cured in each individual man/boy, using psychotherapy, botanical medicines, therapeutic nutrition, homeopathic medicines, and other insightful methods intended to help lead men through the abyss of dis-ease toward a rich, purposeful life.

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  • MProbst

    I found this process very fortifying. When I learn of terrible things happening in our world, I immediately pray for all…Victims and the perpetrator.
    Sometimes it’s hard to know how to love those who push away love shown them. I’m married to one of those.

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