While a number of theories have been proposed to explain the existence of militant martyrdom cultures, one stands out. Frustration-aggression theory answers in part the question of how and why a culture of martyrdom has developed in the Palestinian Territories among males. However, it does not provide a complete explanation as pointed out above. The author has gone to great lengths to try a fill in the missing holes. Specifically, the author has demonstrated through a review of the literature that there exists a cultural or systemic problem of psychological abuse inflicted on the populace beginning at a very young age. This abuse has been inflicted in numerous ways, all with the same effect. It is this author’s contention that a frustrating environment, one in which the socioeconomic and religious expectations of the populace are not met, combined with systemic psychological traumatization, resulting from oppression, humiliation, child abuse, misogyny, abusive social influence and control techniques, etc., sufficiently promote a culture of militant martyrdom. Further, an individual’s potential for choosing a path of martyrdom can be assessed by looking at the interaction of frustration and the extent to which the individual has been impacted by psychological victimization, that is to say, their ego strength. To help illustrate this framework, the author has developed the following table:
For the purpose of this conceptualization, the operational definition of ego strength, constructed by the author, is the extent to which an individual’s sense of self has been impacted by psychological victimization. While it is acknowledged that this can be described as being on a continuum, from completely positive effects to completely negative effects and infinite possibilities in between, it is assumed that one responds to victimization in a generally negative (i.e., experiencing trauma or psychological damage) or positive (i.e., experiencing resiliency or psychological hardiness) manner. As such, one whose sense of self has been negatively impacted by abuse, and demonstrates poor self-worth, lack of or fractured self-identity, little hope for self-determination, and/or a defunct sense of life-purpose, is said to exhibit negative ego strength. Conversely, one whose sense of self remains intact or is bolstered by victimization, demonstrating resiliency, with a “bounce-back” attitude, high self-esteem, strong sense of self, and/or high expectation of having control over his future, is said to exhibit positive ego strength. Based on this framework, an individual from a frustrating environment who demonstrates negative ego strength will have a tendency toward martyrdom as illustrated in Table 2. An individual from a non-frustrating environment who demonstrates negative ego strength will be socially isolated, either through self-isolation or through exclusion by his peer group, and will likely be chronically sad, hopeless, and anguished. On the other hand, someone who is from a frustrating environment but exhibits positive ego strength has a tendency toward political activism, either by legal (e.g., active membership in peaceful civil rights groups) or illegal means (e.g., active membership in terrorist groups). Further, the fortunate individual who finds himself in a non-frustrating environment and exhibits positive ego strength will demonstrate good social skills and healthy relationships and will easily fit in and manage the demands and constraints of new environments that meet the person’s expectations.

This article is authored by Jerry D. Smith Jr., Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist and CEO at Breakthrough Psychological Solutions, PLLC.

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