Victor Marx is described as a “high-risk humanitarian.” He has helped orphans and widows with successful missions to Iraq, Syria, North Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America – many times in high-threat environments. As part of his work, Marx speaks on topics that include leadership, resiliency, adversity, overcoming trauma, suicide prevention and post-traumatic stress disorder.
On August 17, 2021, he virtually provided his life’s story and discussed how he learned to be more resilient and extend forgiveness to an audience at the U.S. Army Medical Command.
Severely abused and tortured as a child, Marx’ lifestyle was filled with drugs, fights and theft by the time he graduated high school. The discipline of military life and his faith helped him recover from his traumatic childhood, and it empowers him to help others.
Today, Marx focuses his attention to the plights of those affected by ISIS, troubled juvenile offenders, and supporting military personnel from all branches including the special operations community.
Marx’s story is difficult to listen to. His mother married six times; he went to 14 different schools and lived in 17 different houses. Because of the instability in his life and one step-father who was a pedophile, he suffered a great deal of mental and physical abuse, he said.
Marx was forced to shoot a man and then watched him be buried. At one time, he ultimately visited a trauma specialist 123 times over 9 months.
I was very low functioning at one point in my life, didn’t think I was going to make it, was suicidal, experienced depression, and was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as ultra-rapid cycling bipolar II, Marx said. Rapid cycling is a pattern of frequent, distinct episodes in bipolar disorder in which a person experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression in a year.
“Resiliency,” he said, “is more than enduring (abuse). It is taking a hit, taking a breath and coming back up; taking a hit and coming back up. That’s how you build resiliency. It’s not just through will. It’s not just going through difficult times, making it, and continuing your journey. With it, you have to have hope.”
“Without hope, it’s hard to hang onto anything. Despair will come in and most people will just lay down,” Marx said.
As a result of childhood abuse, he didn’t think hope was attainable. So how did he learn to foster hope?
“It’s in the small things,” Marx said. “One day I’m going to get older. When I’m bigger, anyone puts a gun near me I’m going to take it away. Like a superhero. That was my emotional brain hack.”
Marx can walk the walk and talk the talk. He is a 7th-degree black belt in karate and Jiu-Jitsu and a world record holder for “fastest gun disarm.”
Brain hacks are good and you can do them in different ways. The quickest way is music, Marx said. If you put on music that you like you start breathing and relaxing. That’s why we like music — it relaxes our body.
Something that hurts hope and takes away resiliency is “unforgiveness,” he said.
One of my secret weapons is that “I love forgiveness,” he said. “It’s not easy but it is effective.” He cautioned against people doing whatever it is they need to cope. Often coping mechanisms have a negative effect, he said.
So, how do you get rid of stress to help build resiliency? There are practical things you can do, Marx said.
--Calm yourself through breathing. Make yourself relax. You can do this anywhere at any time.
--Humor helps — watch a movie that makes you laugh or something on social media that is funny.
--Exercise — including stretching. Take a walk at lunchtime, get up earlier to exercise if you need to.
--Have a good diet — eat better and you’ll feel better.
--Go for a walk in nature to calm your mind.
--Don’t forget family and friends. Take advantage of family and friends you have and spend quality time with them. Friendships matter, Marx said.
--Find what helps you relax.
--Finally, don’t complain. It takes the energy out of you. Life can always be worse.
Marx added that faith is important. “Our common bond is love, hope, forgiveness,” Marx said.
“I believe in justice,” he said. “You don’t give up justice for forgiveness. It can be both. But what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt someone back for hurting me. It doesn’t excuse it. It doesn’t minimize it. And the full weight of responsibility is on them whether they accept it or not. But I’ll choose not to hurt the person back for hurting me.”