Healing a terrorist mind

A close look at terrorists and what converts a human being into a Frankenstein

Healing a terrorist mindThe foundation of any good relationship is care, commitment and communication. And when even one of these three essential ingredients is missing, discontentment creeps into the relationship. If not remedied in time, this could lead to alienation and a complete breakdown in relations.

Come election time and all political candidates promise to commit themselves to care and always keep the communication lines open between themselves and the common man. They commit to address the grievances of the constituency, the state, the nation, and the world. Such promises are doled out freely with not much thought given to keeping them, but when they are broken and when the trusting voter/citizen feels betrayed, the price to be paid for such betrayal is unimaginable.

Years and years of broken promises and betrayed trust lead to a simmering discontentment amongst the people. When people are dissatisfied with the elected government, they first try communicating through petitions. If the grievances raised are not addressed, then the next step is protests, strikes and bandhs. If all civilised methods of resistance fail, then threats are issued, and the last resort is brutal force in the form of “terrorism”.

People look upon the elected leaders/governments as those who have promised to undertake the task of nurturing the welfare of the people, just like parents who are supposed to see to the welfare of the children in a family. Central and state governments thus play the role of parents in the family.

Dysfunctional family

A family is known as dysfunctional when the desired goals of closeness, self-expression and meaning cannot be attained by the family members. When this happens, symptomatic behaviour occurs. Juvenile delinquency is the direct result of a dysfunctional family and association with terrorist outfits and anti-social groups with separatist tendencies. It is nothing but a desperate and misguided attempt by the discontented children of our society, at creating a world, a family for themselves.

The children of self-centred and psychologically immature parents who do not make the welfare of the children their number one priority, feel like emotional orphans, and when they cannot find emotional fulfilment at home, they start looking for it elsewhere. Similarly, when people do not feel nourished and cared for in their own motherland, in their own world, and when communication, protests and threats do not seem to work, then separatist and rebellious tendencies start developing. They then start seeking a homeland, the right of self-determination and start living by their own rules.

The psychology of suicide terrorism

The growing number of terror attacks has provoked many reactions and responses from all over the world. Defence experts talk of retaliation, security personnel talk of beefing up security measures, politicians talk of a war between the civilised world and terrorists, between good and evil. But no one has tried to fully understand what led to this. What converts a human being into a Frankenstein? No one has tried to explore the psychology of the suicide bombers, and understood completely what causes people to want to die. Terrorism does not come from nowhere. It has a deep root and stems from extreme frustration and anguish.

When the children of our world feel abandoned by our leaders and moral keepers of our world; when they find that there is no forum to air their grievances; when their petitions are repeatedly dismissed and promises repeatedly broken; then there arises in them the deepest form of hopelessness and powerlessness. Such people are not only willing, but eager to undertake suicide missions, and they play right into the hands of the evil ambitious leaders who can then drive them to do anything.

Suicide terrorism demonstrates a serious thought disorder in the minds of certain people who venture into suicide and homicide together. Terrorism is the wickedness of a humiliated people and this menace cannot be eradicated unless the reasons that create terrorism are not addressed.

The way to healing

Having said this, I would like to clarify that this is in no way a justification for the terrorism and anti-social activities happening along border states in India, or anywhere else in the world. But, it is in fact an attempt at understanding the entire dynamics behind such activities. It is an attempt at getting to the root of the problem.

It is therefore, futile to condemn the power-hungry sharks who feed on the discontented children. It is even more futile to punish the misguided youth. These discontented, angry and misguided children need to be allowed to express themselves verbally, and give catharsis to their anger. They need to be understood and their grievances addressed, and they need to be taken back into the family fold.

Terrorism is a scourge that must be removed, but only through suitable diplomatic and political moves. What is truly required for genuine healing is for the entire family to get involved in therapy, and to form a community based on the equal worth of all.

What needs to be done?

  • Sincere attempts have to be made by elected heads of state and upholders of democracy to evaluate their own contribution to the problem and steps have to be taken to eliminate it.
  • The parents [the government] need to work in harmony with each other.
  • Direct communication needs to be established between the parents [the government] and the unhappy children [terrorists].
  • A selfless commitment to care for the welfare of the people must be top priority.
  • The disgruntled youth must be willing to open up themselves to trust once again.
  • They must also re-evaluate their demands and be totally and completely reasonable in their requests.
  • We, as brothers and sisters of our estranged siblings, must be willing to accept them back into the family fold once more.
  • Mistrust and bitterness needs to be put aside to find a way forward.
  • And above all, every member of this world family must have the real will for co-existence, with each one keeping his side of the bargain and committing to live by the principles of care, commitment and communication under any circumstances.

It is only then that true healing can start, and we can have our very own Garden of Eden.

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.


  1. The perspective is very deep-rooted. This insight needs to be applied in this situation. The act is to be condemned not the person. Surely, the terrorist is unfortunate in this state of his being.
    The present situation in the city is an extreme evidence of basic upbringing in the family gone wrong. However, various damaging forms of terrorism exist in everyday life whether it is molestation, rape, theft, murder, physical or verbal abuse, child abuse, emotional harassment at home, school, work or society.
    The victims of these acts are the ones who go on to become the tormentors in the future…then the ‘terrorized’ becomes the ‘terrorist’
    Lets’ initiate our every action into building conscientious, loving, caring people…nurturing innocent minds with care that would in turn make a strong nation and a strong world.

  2. thanks for such a nice article ,every one must read ,body and mind should be clear to be succses ,
    this is great massage to all

  3. Dr.minnu, thanks for a article which makes a person see a terriorsts from a different perspective and the root of their becoming one and psycology of their mind .

    with warm regards,
    Neelam vakil

  4. Dear Dr. Minnu Bhonsale,

    I read through the article twice – with care and an open mind! While what you have said makes a lot of sense, there are some extraneous influences which perhaps you might like to consider:

    1. The constant barrage of hate sermons from fundamentalist religious leaders, who mislead the miscreants for their own selfish ends!

    2. The Governments and individuals who finance Training Camps for these “misguided souls!”

    3. Most of these “misguided souls” are on various kinds of drugs and their thinking power has practically evaporated!

    4. The local terrorists like Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena who incite their “followers” at their will and fancy – political mileage for them, feeling of “power” for the “followers” and, as a bonus, sometimes materials to loot! – not forgetting opportunities to rape!

    Warmest Personal Regards and Greetings, Surendra.

  5. Yes, i agree totally with the writer. It needs to be eliminated from the root.
    But try explaining that to people who have lost their loved ones for no fault of theirs. And this has not happened once but hit us over and over again. People can be forgiving but their patience cannot be tried time again.
    My heart goes out to innocent people who have lost their lives in the 57 hours of insane and mindless mayhem. My salutations to all the NSG, Police, Army, fire dept, and navy force who took charge and sacrificed their lives to quell it.

    With a heavy heart,
    Sharmila Ail.

  6. Dr Minnu, only someone like you could have had this ocean of compassion within you… however, having had the privilege of interacting with you, yes, i know there is truth in your words and i agree with what you’re saying. i also remember being stirred by Thich Nhat Hanh’s words on ‘Walk the Talk’: “Terrorists are also victims who create more victims.” It is time to heal the victims – among them and among us (i know you will object to this differentiation! But i mean ‘among the perpetrators and among the sufferers of their acts’.
    Thank you for your insights, as always.
    Warm regards,

  7. Milind,

    Like any good doctor knows, treating the symptoms of an illness is not the solution. We need to eliminate the cause of the illness. Brutal retaliation that you are suggesting is like symptomatic treatment — it will provide a false sense of healing, only for a short while.

    Terrorism is nothing short of a deadly disease and we must get to the root cause of the disease and eliminate that. And the root cause is the thought-process that creates terrorists…

    If only more influential people understand the psychology of terrorists and follow the advice given in this article, we may be able to treat the disease.

  8. There are types of terrorists…

    Type of terrorists that we are experiencing in Mumbai for last few days needs to be tackled with brutal retaliation on all their supporters, sympathisers, including the society which supports such terrorists..

  9. A thought provoking aritcle and very timely too.it is indeed time for us to ponder why like “maneater tigers”, man becomes a terrorist.
    An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind say people who love peace.
    It was worth reading and pondering.

  10. It’s nothing short of a miracle. I read the article Healing a Terrorist Mind yesterday, I am shaken from my roots, and today morning the Times Of India headlines flashes the message of Thich Nhat Hanh claiming terrorists are victims who create more victims. You have Compassion Incarnate in your writer. I remember a previous article about the Earthquake by her which also impacted me hugely. Today is Gandhi Jayanti and on-Violence day. What an apt thought to nurture in our hearts, to heal a terrorist mind.
    God Bless you and your author. May her thoughts and words be the healing touch our world needs so much.

    Om Shantih Shantih Shantih!

  11. Dear Manoj Khatri,
    I picked up a copy of Complete Well being for tips on right eating, but got something I will eternally be grateful for. ‘Healing a Terrorist Mind’ is something I needed to read, as I have been extremely troubled over the recent attacks in our country. What an eye opener, and a tremendously healing thought put brilliantly across by the writer. This is an award winning piece and should be sent to international forums so that the thoughts of the entire world can slowly change. Full marks to the writer and to you, for writing and for carrying such a masterpiece.
    Thank you for enlightening my mind Madam Minnu Bhonsle.
    Eternally gratefully,
    Subhash N.

  12. Dr Minnu,this article coming at the most appropriate and testing times,is a result of your rare and deep insight in human psychology and spirituality.The article was very enlightening.

    With warm regards.

  13. In the article on Healing a Terrorist mind a very valid point is made about SELFLESSNESS. I must impress upon that. SElFLESSNESS is a sine qua non for addressing terrorism at its roots. Disgruntled sections of the world society that have estranged themselves can be won back only if their right to live a dignified life is given back to them. There is an urgent and permanent need to break the barriers set by borders. Mankind must embrace the whole of humanity and live like one big family. Nuclearisation of families might be occurring at the domestic level but the mind must expand to love universally. Love HAS to be unconditional. Love alone Unite hearts. Love alone can mend the hurt to the heart. Politicians, business people, men, women, children etc. meaning every section of the society must come together to form one world family.

  14. dear manoj and minnu,
    the article on terrorists is very insightful and tenderly thought of. it gives us a chance to look at terrorists and terrorism from a fresh and sympathetic view. it sensitizes us and i am sure if read by a terrorist himself, it would strike him, jolt him, and perhaps reform him.
    however, i also feel that calling the terrorists as unhappy children of this joint family who are creating terror to express their anger is a very mild statement for those who lose their loved once in the episodes of terror. someone who has lost a parent, a child, a limb or peace of mind in the outburst of terror, is not likely to perceive the perpetrators simply as angry children who have strayed from the right path. they perceive these terrorists as cold blooded lunatics who have been brain-washed, heart-washed into ice cold brutality, without any feelings of humanity, compassion and common sense.
    i personally feel that the beauty of your article should reach the angry child himself for any reforms to happen.

  15. Dear Manoj Khatri and Dr. Minnu,

    ‘Be the change you want to see’ –
    Keeping in mind various perspectives regarding terrorism and the recent onslaught in Mumbai, what strikes me the most and makes me reminisce with fondness is the indomitable spirit of Mumbai – yet, again.

    I wish to recommend Complete Well-Being and This article to all and want you to know that you, your team, Dr. Minnu and other people – related professionals can be extremely effective, reinforcing positive change agents right now.

    Right now is the time to send in some hope, kindness and love across Mumbai and to all who have been affected.
    Right now is the time to be more positive than ever to combat the sheer volume of negativity surrounding Mumbai in the past week with a fresh perspective. Ofcourse the perspective may not be holistic, hence, it encourages more constructive messages from others. We all have a role to play.
    Right now is the time to send across messages of religious harmony and for people to be smart and not to get swayed by gimmicks on religion by politicians and extremist groups.

    Every perspective, word, thought and action will be instrumental in creating a ripple effect. Hence, we have to be responsible for the stone that we drop that will change the status quo for better or for worse.

    May more constructive efforts and thoughts as this one, no matter how difficult it is to comprehend and practice, be replicated.

    Kind regards,
    Natasha Dalmia


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