De-extreming the Extremist Mind

Mark Goulston
4 min readAug 22, 2022

With very rare exceptions extremists are not born just as few people are born evil.

The very rare exception would be those genetically predisposed psychopaths from families with a high frequency of psychopathy. Fifty years ago a fair amount of attention was directed towards men born with the XYY chromosome abnormality referred to a Jacobs syndrome and thought to be correlated to poor impulse control and sociopathy. Less attention appears to be paid to that now especially given the politically incorrect associations it would create.

Yes, nearly all human beings are born innocent and human beings are born helpless and powerless after living in the “our wish is our mother’s command” environment of her womb for nine months.

As infants and very young children, the more the world around us (mostly mothers and then fathers and then nannies — in both parent working households — and later on siblings, teachers, school mates) attunes to and then assists us in our helplessness and powerlessness, filling in the gap so that we don’t starve or freeze to death, and then the more we slowly and gradually begin to fill that gap with our own budding self-sufficiency, the more we can survive and then thrive in the world.

However, if instead of the emotional attunement and assistance necessary for healthy psychological development when we are truly helpless, powerless and completely dependent, the world responds to us with anger, hostility and/or neglect, we step into life with a traumatized core.

One of Albert Einstein’s lesser known quotes was: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” Essentially that means that if the world has attuned and assisted us sufficiently, we step into it with what Erik Erikson called, “Basic trust.” If, however, the world has abused or neglected us, we step into it with “Basic mistrust.”

The more the world abuses or neglects us the more we live in a world of hurt followed by the fear of being hurt over and over again. If in spite of this, we still survive — we will rarely thrive — we may begin to make a promise to ourselves to never put up with it when we reach adulthood.

Mark Goulston

Dr. Goulston is the world's #1 listening coach and author of "Just Listen" which became the top book on listening in the world