An often provided explanation for out of character behavior is that a person “snapped” because of a sudden unanticipated stressful or traumatic event. Being fired from a job, incurring a devastating financial reversal, suffering an unexpected termination of a love relationship, and experiencing the trauma of war are the types of situations that are said to trigger out of character crimes. Or, it is claimed, that a person “snapped” because, over time, his psychological defenses were battered to a point that he couldn’t take it any longer.
Nearly everyone experiences unanticipated, stressful events. Human beings adopt an attitude toward adversity that is consistent with their character. Critical is not what happens to a person, but how he chooses to cope with whatever life hands out. Consider the impact upon an employee receiving without any warning a job termination notice. Suddenly, he is not able to support his family. There are many possible reactions to such a devastating, unexpected event. A person may become so depressed and psychologically immobilized that he secludes himself at home and does nothing to improve his situation. Another person fantasizes “getting even” but takes no action. A third person returns to the job site and angrily confronts his former supervisor at gunpoint. And a fourth individual immediately starts locating leads for a new job. The individual responds in a manner consistent with how he has reacted to other major stresses. A person who has dealt with past setbacks by seeking to improve his situation will not endanger others or himself by engaging in a violent confrontation.