by Patrick J. Christian, Aleksandra Nesic, David Sniffen, Tasneem Aljehani, Khaled Al Sumairi, Narayan B. Khadka, Basimah Hallawy and Binamin Konlan
A Psycho-Emotional Human Security Analytical Framework: Origin and Epidemiology of Violent Extremism and Radicalization of Refugees 
Patrick J. Christian, Aleksandra Nesic, David Sniffen, Tasneem Aljehani, Khaled Al Sumairi, Narayan B. Khadka, Basimah Hallawy and Binamin Konlan
“Extremism and Radicalization are Psychological Processes, Not Religious Beliefs”
This paper addresses the challenge of young-adult and refugee vulnerability to the spread of violent extremist ideology, subsequent radicalization, and devolution into violence related behavior. The researcher’s approach is characterized by grounded theory that extremism and radicalization originate from profound psychosocial crisis rather than religious belief or unmet physical needs. Based on this grounded theory, researchers design and advocate the implementation of clinical counter-violent extremism, and radicalization intervention and prevention programs that operate far forward of local and national security interdiction points. Our approach to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) clinical engagement necessitates the operations within the refugee community to repair damaged psychosocial and emotional communities in order to build resiliency against virulent extremist ideology and Violent Extremist Organization (VEO) recruitment. Simultaneously, this approach introduces advanced psychosocial-emotional analytical frameworks to government agency employees responsible for refugee administration, health and welfare. Presenters demonstrate how community clinical engagement and government services training and advising efforts need to work collaboratively to identify and disrupt lines of extremism and radicalization within the vulnerable young-adult and refugee populations. This paper first outlines the challenges of war-refugees through describing the destabilizing effects of the war refugees on the host populations through psychological concepts of trauma, transference, and countertransference, through which virulent strains of violent ideology spread into vulnerable populations. Second, the paper positions the psychosocial-emotional damage from trauma as the origin of violent extremism as well as describes epidemiology and spreading of extremist messaging. Here the paper highlights the human security analytical framework developed by presenters that demonstrates the importance of specific and early intervention points. Finally, the paper presents the solution- intervening forward of state and federal security interdiction points by emphasizing the need to repair damaged psychosocial and emotional tissue sufficient to build resiliency of refugees against virulent extremist ideology and VEO recruitment.
The Challenge of War-Refugees
Worldwide, the flow of war refugees has now exceeded 60 million human beings. This is the highest level ever recorded.
“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before” – UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres
The scope and volume of war refugees now threatens political and social destabilization in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. The destabilizing effects of the war refugees on the host populations receiving them can best be understood within human psychology concepts of trauma, transference, and countertransference, through which virulent strains of violent ideology spread into vulnerable populations. These little understood social psychological processes present the possibilities of tremendous damage to the social fabric with attendant political upheaval to both refugee and host populations. The effects of these three processes can be managed and mitigated with early diagnosis and treatment. Left untended, the Arab Spring of violent revolutions and their descent into anarchy may yet spread westward with the flow of 60 million war refugees.
The Origin of Violent Extremism and Radicalization
Psychosocial-Emotional Damage from Trauma
The simplest description of extremism is the following: as a traumatized human being tries to reestablish their cognitive thought-relationship to reality, they are susceptible to ‘totalization’ of cause and effect. This type of totalizing thought is especially prevalent when it involves the nature of their emotional pain and psychological suffering from loss and alienation. Violent extremism is a psychological totalization of thought regarding the effects of emotional pain and psychological suffering that overwhelms the cognitive thought process. To restore connection with reality, the cause of these effects are attributed to an ‘other’ group because of that group’s actions, policies, or physical presence. Said differently, extremism is the mind’s errant attempt at establishing meaning to their suffering by assigning an antagonist to its internal protagonist. This creates a narrative that provides grounding structure of cause and effect. While extremism is a cognitive (conscious) thought process, extremism is driven by the subconscious’ ego requirement for meaning-of-suffering, without which the ego is destabilized and the identity that it supports (or represents) begins to devolve in a process of self-loathing that can threaten psychic annihilation, a common basis for suicidal terror participation.
Travelling within the 60 million war refugees is a collective memory of profound terror and reality shattering losses of children and ancient historical narrative that carried their generational remembrance and existential meaning. Behind the seemingly calm faces of the refugees lays a vast invisible psychological trauma of a social reality broken under armored tank treads and brutal beheadings. The surviving families that are filling the growing Lebanese/Turkish/European refugee camps are likely suffering from a collection of conflicting cognitive thoughts of survival and alienation; raw emotions of unintegrated grief, shame and rage; and sub-conscious ideations of hope, despair, and terrorized anxiety.
By most accounts, the physical needs of the war refugees in Europe and the United States are being met by a combination of government and non-government organizations, especially in comparison to those remaining in Lebanon and Syria. Even as the most life-threatening needs (food, shelter, medicine, physical protection) are met however, the deeper, psychological trauma that was previously submerged, begins to emerge and destabilize families and individual members of these traumatized refugee communities. In the hierarchy of human needs, all are required to sustain life. Human needs are organized into a hierarchy because extreme cold kills before thirst which kills before hunger, and so on. At the deep end of the human needs hierarchy lies the psychological, sociological, and emotional needs that sustain cognitive reality and provide purpose for human life. Adding to the difficulty of care and administration of traumatized refugees are trauma effects such as irrational phobia, interpersonal guardedness, increased social distance and relational ruptures. Traumatized individuals, while needing an emotionally safe and secure containing environment can frequently be prone to intense mistrust; they may be overcome by fears of emotional closeness; and they may present resistance to necessary interpersonal attachments/reattachments which they perceive as harbingers of further loss. These are classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) made more complicated by their sociocentric psychological organization.
The human security analytical framework below is a primary clinical assessment and engagement tool for Valka-Mir cultural psychologists and sociologists. For most of the war refugees, the psychological structure of their personal and family identity has become unstable from failing archetypes (such as heroism, sacrifice, and masculinity) that are necessary to a patriarchal society. Meanwhile, the sociological order of family, ethnic, and cultural kinsmen within the larger community has collapsed with the destruction of their homes, farms, and towns. Their generational transmission of historical narrative that memorializes their past, connects to their present, and prepares their children for the future is at imminent risk of obsolescence with the loss of so many members of family and ethnic kin.
Finally, the war refugees find themselves in camps or towns within the benefactor nations whose psychological organization, sociological structure, and emotional conjugations are vastly different than the refugees own rapidly failing group identity. As individuals, and as a body of humans, they are in a profound psychological and emotional crisis. Their primary loss of home, rootedness, and sense of place in a now vanquished localized world order is made worse by the day-to-day meaninglessness of routinized camp experience lived within a grid environment. In this state, the refugees are spectacularly vulnerable to damaging transference and countertransference exchanges with their host benefactor population. These ‘psychological transfers’ of roles, feelings, and meanings between refugees and hosts establish the basis for extremism and radicalization that requires early intervention.
The Epidemiology of Extremism and Radicalization
The Relationship Between Trauma Transference, Countertransference and Extremism
The cognitive and subconscious minds of traumatized refugees continuously seek to reestablish their relationship with reality. Unaided by supportive intervention, the refugees’ thought patterns seek out explanatory meanings that relieve their suffering. Two common modes of transference entail the psychic extremes of idealization, and devaluation. For example, many find that their suffering is relieved by meanings-explanations that are based on safety-security, where the host-population takes on the role of idealized savior or rescuer. For others, suffering is relieved by affixing responsibility for their suffering, often as a relief from unbearable survivor guilt. In this version of transference, the host-population takes on the role of betrayer and devalued, because they were culpable witness to the death families without intervening to save them. These two examples illustrate the vulnerable state of mind of the refugees as they search for meaning-explanations that support the reestablishment of their personal and family relationship with reality.
As the graphic below illustrates, this is accomplished in part through a process known as transference, where the refugees reassign meaning and feelings onto their new surroundings within their host benefactor community. This is how refugees can ascribe to a previously unknown host community, the roles of savior or betrayer. This process of transference and search for meaning-explanations is highly susceptible to interference by terror-criminal ideologues who work to reshape meaning for the traumatized refugees as anti-modern, anti-western, and call for mental and physical resistance. The call to assign responsibility onto the benefactor host population for their suffering affects only a percentage of the traumatized population. As well, many traumatized refugees are able to recover their relationship to their new reality without succumbing to totalization of thought necessary for extremism and subsequent radicalization.
For those members of the traumatized refugee community whose affected psychological-emotional state remains vulnerable to extremism, additional supportive intervention is required to prevent their descent into radicalization and subsequent recruitment by terror-crime organizations. The patterns of psychological and emotional traumatization and the ideologue involvement within the transference, countertransference, and secondary trauma constitute the extremism health event that we refer to as the epidemiology of violent extremism. The epidemiology of violent extremist ideations show how traumatized thought is influenced as a pattern towards the host population as a causative agent of suffering and how that thought pattern is transmitted between traumatized and non-traumatized populations through transference, countertransference, and secondary traumatization.
Refugee transference in this context involves the (mostly) unconscious redirection of feelings and attitudes about their suffering/condition/plight onto a more accessible representation of their tormentor or savior – the host population. These transference reactions include both rational and irrational themes. The representation of the host population as tormentor is a common ideation pushed by terror-criminal ideologues, and the representation of the host as savior is viciously attacked by those same ideologues at each setback suffered by the refugee. What is important to remember is that the traumatized refugees’ minds are attempting to reconstruct a reality damaged by violent loss and unresolved terror. Their fixation on the host-population as either tormentor or savior through this transference of meaning and feeling is not based on reality, but an attempt at realigning a damaged reality. Countertransference on the other hand, is often a reaction to Transference, where those in that power position (host population) develops conscious or unconscious positive or negative feelings about the Refugees. Again countertransference is based not on reality but on often, unconscious effects that the presence of refugees have on the group identity definition of the host population. As with transference, counter-transference attitudes also include both rational and irrational themes. Countertransference effects of alienation, exclusion, or revulsion can have powerfully radicalizing effects on the traumatized refugees, fueling powerful ideological narratives of the host population as tormentors and causative agents of their suffering and loss.
Secondary trauma occurs when there is sufficient intermingling of ‘psychological-emotional’ narratives from the traumatized refugees to the host population, to the point where elements of the host population begin to suffer trauma (breaking of reality) on behalf of the refugees. Secondary trauma within members of the host population that are related (real or believed) to the refugees can create equal levels of totalizing thought within this part of the host population despite the fact that they may never have even visited the conflict zone.
The Inhibitors of Effective Refugee Adjustment and Acculturation: Psychological Organization and Sociological Order
There are several important inhibitors of refugee adjustment and acculturation into their new surroundings which, by themselves are common to most immigrant families relocating to host populations’ sociological and cultural order. This inhibition of refugee adjustment and acculturation is not to be confused with integration, but merely an ability to sustain psychological, emotional and physical life cycles within a new social environment. The inability of refugee families and individual members to successfully adjust and acculturate into their new host environment creates and sustains conditions of alienation, shame, and ultimately rage that can be redirected by ideologues into radicalization and terror-crime recruitment, specifically toward the host-nation population. The two most important inhibitors of refugee adjustment and acculturation are psychological organization and sociological order. The graphic below illustrates the differences between social structures that are characteristic of the refugees’ norm versus the structure characteristic of their new host benefactors.
Central to the refugees’ discomfort will be the normative and expected behavior of school aged children and young adults. In egocentric (individualistic) societies, the locus of internal member control is inculcated into children from the earliest possible age. The egocentric child is taught independent thought responsibility for their actions, their success, their failure, and ultimately their life destiny, separate from the destiny of siblings, parents, and extended family. By contrast, in sociocentric (collectivistic) communities, the locus of taught/learned member control is external to the individual. Family members are inculcated with the idea that they as primary and extended family, are responsible for the behavior or control of each other. The sociocentric child is taught collective thought/decision making with shared responsibility for their actions, success, failure and ultimately, their interrelated life destiny.
Western social structures are oriented around individual agency imperatives that require children and adults to continuously move between situations with varying normative behavioral expectations (social rules) such as school, clubs, play, jobs, and so on. This can present the sociocentric family with quite a dilemma. The basis of sociocentric (collectivist) social order involves a different psychological organization of the family and community, one that is based on merged family identities with a central prototype that is limited to internal influence. Essentially, the concept and understanding of “self” in egocentric society is independent from others in the family, community and society, whereas the concept and understanding of the “self” in sociocentric society is interdependent on other selves in the family, community and society. Refugee families can and do adapt. But when this important inhibitor to acculturation is combined with war trauma, their ability to adjust and adapt to their new found sociological structure that is based on a different (individual-egocentric) psychological organization, becomes very difficult indeed. Traumatized families are already dealing with tremendous psychosocial-emotional issues, and when confronted with a clearly alien version of social order, their ability to recover and adapt becomes seriously degraded. The resulting enhanced psychological crises for the group means that more members will become vulnerable to extremist, totalizing thoughts as they struggle to reconnect their situation to the new meanings of their host environment. This increase in members’ extreme thought-meanings of their situation leads in turn, to increased opportunities for ideologues to shape their thought-meanings into political, weaponized radicalization. This serves to increase the overall recruitment base for violent terror or crime organizations.
Intervening Forward of State and Federal Security Interdiction Points
As events have now demonstrated in the America’s, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, governments’ reliance on local and national security interdiction points places the burden of effort towards the end of the security spectrum where the host population is most vulnerable to attack. This arrangement also requires the state to increasingly advance its domestic intelligence apparatus into the refugee and host populations in a manner that reduces civil liberties and undermines human rights protection and the rule of law. By comparison, such clinical based, counter violent extremism and radicalization intervention and prevention programs proposed in this paper, and operate far forward of both local and national security interdiction points. Our efforts focus on human security, forward of and in support of, state security. Counter violent extremism clinical engagement operates within the refugee community to repair damaged psychosocial and emotional tissue sufficient to build resiliency against virulent extremist ideology and VEO recruitment.
If properly trained, clinical practitioners are able to help community members learn to separate out the intense currents of opinionated feelings regarding the terrifying events in their home country from the new reality of their host benefactor communities. While these opinionated feelings emerge as various strains of political dialogue, underlying these opinionated feelings are threats to large group identity definition, distinction, affirmation, and the meanings that directly sustain their conceptions of reality as Arab, Muslim, and the various tribal/nationalist identities of the refugees and their host populations. And this is how cultural psychologists, sociologists, and psychoanalytical anthropologists’ builds human security:
- Through the stabilization of large group identity at the family, family member, and cultural identity community;
- Through tribal/nationalist identity mediation that reassures family lines of origination with present day belonging. These lines of origination and belonging tend to fray and collapse in the extreme violence in northern Iraq and Syria;
- Through mediation of meaning that conforms to reality that meets their underlying psychosocial-emotional needs, rather than the ideologues’ political cause;
- Through translation assistance of their sociocentric psychological organization to the new egocentric organization within their host benefactor community;
Simultaneously, the research presented here is a part of Valka-Mir’s Human Security program that introduces advanced psychosocial-emotional analytical frameworks to government agency employees responsible for refugee administration, health and welfare. Valka-Mir’s research grounded in advanced application of social and psychological sciences suggests equipping the community clinical engagement and government services training and advising, to work collaboratively to identify and disrupt lines of extremism and radicalization within the vulnerable young-adult and refugee populations.
 Epidemiology is the science of studying the factors determining and influencing the frequency and distribution of a health related event and their causes in a defined human population. Used in this context of mental health, epidemiology of violent extremism and radicalization deals with the origination, influence, transmission, and effects of totalizing cognitive thought that lead to violent extremism.
 Mingst, K.A., P. Karns, M. P., and J. Lyon, A. J. (2016). United Nations in the 21st Century. Boulder: CO. Westview Press.
 Transference and countertransference were first articulated by Sigmund Freud, and involved psychological interaction between a therapist and his/her patient. The vast majority of war refugees however, are from sociocentric or collectivist societies which are differentiated from individualist or egocentric societies by the locus of member control. In the latter, the locus of member control is external to the individual and rests with the collective of family and ethnic cultural kin and requires therapeutic treatment regimens that are group centric. In the former, the locus of member control is internal to the individual allowing for more individual therapeutic treatment as a successful treatment regimen.
 Anna Freud describes trauma as a ‘piercing’ or breaking of a person’s psychological understanding of reality.
 For clinical treatment, it is important to differentiate between two sources of trauma, and associated reactive rage that are often conflated in both the clinical literature and in discussions of violent extremism. They are interrelated with the loss of meaning, and sense of alienation described in this section. The two modes of reactivity include primordial ‘reactive rage’ towards the perpetrators of traumatic experience(s), and ‘abandonment rage’ towards the failure of perceived protective agents to provide security (host government, foreign internal defense forces, or culture of refuge).
- The first entails abandonment to the world, the second abandonment by, or from, the world. Etiologically these sources of rage can be differentiated. Experientially, they are often fused, and undifferentiated. Each of these sources of rage, and modes of reactivity become fused in the described “totalization” of thought and affective response referenced.
- Assessment and treatment requires assisting victims with differentiating between their: (1) primary emotional pain, and loss; (2) reactive rage towards perpetrators; (3) abandonment rage towards those perceived as having a duty to protect them from the fates suffered; and (4) those perceived as having a humanitarian responsibility to respond to their plight, after the fact.
 Because of their perceived culpability as passive witnesses (i.e., by-stander apathy), as emotionally indifferent observers, or as active contributors to further abandonment, host nations become the targeted ‘other’ for the ‘totalized’ rage of the violent extremist. It is an overdetermined response: (1) partial reality (the equivalent of an iatrogenic or induced transference resistance); (2) partial displacement within the transference (affectively correct, but interpersonally misdirected); and (3) a target of convenience (chosen for its proximity in time and place, and symbolic value).
 The rage itself serves cathartic, retributive, and defensive functions. The defensive component is the turning of passive suffering and existential despair, feelings of meaninglessness, powerlessness, and loss of any sense of participation in family/group locus of control; into what is experienced as a more tolerable, active, empowered, though transient and illusory sense of empowerment and purpose. When that purpose orients towards ideations of punishing the perceived responsible agent, the affected refugee member reaches his/her most likely recruitment point, whether that be self-recruitment or external recruitment.
 It establishes the archetypal dynamic of victimization and vilification. The most at-risk refugees suffer from extreme self-punitive super-ego pathology --- often having its genesis in rational and irrational guilt, related to the trauma(s) experienced, and which is enacted at the interpersonal level (physical and/or emotional sadomasochism). These individuals as a subtype of refugee also frequently exhibit control sensitivity and sensitivity to guilt, making them a higher than normal candidate for meaning manipulation and subsequent recruitment.
 As used here, archaic typologies of human identity are psychological prototypes of fundamental human characteristics as expressed within a specific cultural context. Archaic types of masculinity, femininity, heroism, and sacrifice (as well as thousands of others) inform members of a collective identity how to express themselves in thought and emotion in order to achieve psychosocial placement within family, community, and ultimately, within their own self-assessment of worth.
 An important aspect of ISIS’ success is its purposeful dismantling and destruction of the existing social order which supports their claims to religious social authority over that of hereditary family origination.
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Jung, C. Man and his symbols. New York: Random House Publishing, 2012.
Mingst, K.A., P. Karns, M. P., and J. Lyon, A. J. United Nations in the 21st Century.
Boulder: Westview Press, 2016.