Keeping Kids Safe

Inside the minds of school shooters, with general insight into adolescent mental health.

Columbine, Bullying, and the Mind of Eric Harris

Welcome to my first blog. I am honored and delighted to be part of the Psychology Today online community. I am a psychologist who works with children and adolescents in crisis. My primary interests involve issues related to the safety of kids. These include suicide, self-injurious behavior, and school shootings. Read More

Confusion

I was very glad to find this piece by Langam here. I had found thus far in my research for columbine a tremendous body of work telling the public why bullying did not cause columbine; yet, I had not before this article actually seen anyone address what Eric said and did during the shooting itself.

Dr Langam makes an interesting argument; however, surely we should think a little bit more carefully about this issue? If Eric's motivations were indeed purely infamy, aggrandisement and sadistic satisfaction? It begs the question; why on earth would he say these things in the midst of his attack? Or write them in his journal? Viewed in this context it appears these offhand remarks actually betray something in Eric he otherwise would have liked to keep hidden. What could possibly be the motivation for Eric to tell Bree Pasquale that he was taking revenge or that it was because; "people were really mean to me last year!"???

The fact is there is a tremendous amount of evidence that Eric Harris was bullied at columbine; and, that the bullying peaked between 1997-1998 when the prominent bullies graduated. Is it not fair to assume that the bullying Eric received in this period solidified his discontent. So that over a relatively short period of months this vague idea of 'revenge' metastasised into an immediate plan to actually attack the school.

If you read Eric's journal it is littered with references to being said, depressed, angry and most crucially of feeling persecuted. When Eric talks about kids not liking him, wanting to kill people who block hallways etc it all concurs with what his peers told the media about how he was treated.

Bullying was a BIG PART of columbine!

I agree. I have been

I agree. I have been subjected to bullying at work and am very surprised about the effect that had on me. Yes, it is a different situation, but I felt threatened, my job was threatened, I felt victimised, I felt that the very good work I was doing was overlooked, I felt that some people got very preferential treatment, I was physically assaulted, I felt seriously weakened by my experience and had some horrible psychological moments. It changed me in ways I never expected. I lost friends, it cost me a lot of money in time off work and health costs. There are things I would not like to reveal to anyone, even anonymously, about how I ended up. Normally, I am quite a passive person, and I try to be helpful and kind to people. No one I know would realise how much I changed. However, I went to senior management and they started to yank the bullies around. Good careers ($100,000-$116,000) ground to a halt. The bullies clearly did not know where all this was coming from. They started coming to work depressed, frightened and hysterical. Some found out that I had gone to management and looked at me with huge awe-filled eyes. Seeing all this had a remarkably healing effect. I would like to say more, but it still upssets me.

Bullying of Eric Harris

Aye, I agree. In Eric Harris' journal, he wrote about how he suffered: "Everyone is always making fun of me because of how I look, and how fucking weak I am and shit. Well, I will get you all back: ultimate fucking revenge here. You people could have shown more respect, treated me better, asked for my knowledge or guidance more, treated me more like a senior, and maybe I wouldn't have been as ready to tear your fucking heads off...That's where a lot of my hate grows from. The fact that I have practically no self-esteem. Especially concerning girls and looks and such. therefore people make fun of me...constantly...therefore i get no respect and therefore I get fucking PISSED" and "Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to my face. I'll get revenge soon enough. fuckers shouldn't have ripped on me so much, huh! HA!"

I totally agree wtih you,

I totally agree wtih you, that bullying was the big part of what happened at columbine, but I also believe that there were other factors, like why did he go after the one's who never bullied him, I think bc they never did anything to stop it, so he blamed them for letting the bullying continue. I think it was Eric and Dylan's friend brooks who said awhile later after the shootings that there was a time in the commons, which was the cafiteria, the boys had ketchup thrown all over them while the lunch room was at its max, there were teachers as well and no one did anything, they had to wear ketchup on their clothes the whole day, could you imagine? I do agree that bullying played a big part, but I also believe that it was the depression medication that Eric was on, but I never considered that he could have been on depression medication because he was being bullied? I fully believe that there's alot of factors' that played into this, but I believe just like you that bullying played the larger role

Bullies are well protected...

Eric Harris hated bullies, but he saved his greatest rage for those who enabled the bullies.

You've badly misinterpreted this event.

Columbine = Eco-Warfare

Instinct - The Language of Existence - The Life Artery of Connectedness

In the 11 years since Columbine I have wondered - what made this different? People discuss it as if it happened yesterday. Something about "the vibe" of it. I have never been able to pin point. Until now. People talk about bullying and parenting etc, yet closure is never reached. What I am about to say has nothing to do with bullying or parenting. Bullying was simply Eric and Dylan's insight into a greater issue. There is a much much much bigger picture no one has identified - planet Earth and humans destruction of it.

Having read their diaries, Eric and Dylan clearly had a strong Spiritual Intelligence. Whereas most human beings see life/Earth/Universe as seperate entities, they saw life/Earth/Universe holistically. They recognized that all life forms on Earth are connected. They grasped the destructive behaviour of human beings and recognized that HOW humans are living is NOT WHAT NATURE INTENDED. They recognized that humans take from nature and contribute nothing, resulting in a dysfunctional ecological cycle. They recognized the self-centered pettiness of human beings. They recognized that "civilization" is NOT civilized at all. They recognized society suppresses human instinct to facilitate civilization. Eric and Dylan felt suffocated by the human race - just as the Earth is being suffocated by the human race.

Anarcho-primitivism

I'm quite surprised by this comment. FINALLY someone recognizes the idealistic side of the event. I do agree with you on the part in which you state that they "clearly had a strong Spiritual Intelligence". Nobody seems to point to that fact, and I think that by doing this we're skipping a very important part of the event. Most people just love to talk on and on about the boys' obsession with violent videogames and movies, and their preference for Industrial music. But everyone seems to forget that these were smart kids; I know that being smart is no excuse for mass murder, but if we're going to judge people, let it be fair. I took some of Harris' writings as being very idealistic, he seemed to hold some anarcho-primitivistic ideas (I do recall reading that he thought the only real law was the Law of Nature and that he wanted to get rid of mankind in order to give Earth back to animals, who -according to him- were the ones that deserve it).

I wish more people could see things the way you do.

I am a therapist and have

I am a therapist and have worked with adolescents for many years. I agree with the issues presented in this article regarding the anti social dynamics in this case. I am also interested in the role of Aspergers in several of these school shootings. It seems we are hesitant to talk about the possible connection between autism spectrum disorders and violent behavior. Many of these shooters exhibit high intellectual abilities, poor social skills and difficulty with empathy for others. Has the author done any research on this issue?

He sounds like he is

He sounds like he is psychotic. He's paranoid and delusional.

ok, I have been on here

ok, I have been on here trying to understand why Eric and Dylan did what they did and I have to say that bullying does play apart in it, but so does the mind of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. I understand that you've come to the conclusion that Eric Harris was a crazy person, but did you ever think that maybe you got it wrong, that maybe the bullying is what made him start to thik that way, not just the obsession with hitler and the natural order? I was bullied for a short time in school and I can honestly say that it does cause depression and it does cause you to think about wanting to hurt people in the way that these two boys did, but obviously I never did it, because I had a great mom who knew me very well and always talked to me. although eric and dylan are responsible for their actions in the school shooting, you have to remember that eric's parents had him on depression medication and that he had told his parents and his dr. that it was making him have homicidal and suicidal thoughts, so they took him off of it and put him on the same thing, only it was the jenark kind. In my mind no one did anything to help eric or dylan, maybe if the parents had been paying more attention, especially eric's parents columbine wouldn't have happened, as a matter of fact it never should have happened. I fully believe that there are lots of factors that play into what eric harris and dylan klebold did that day. It was the homicidal and suicidal thoughts in Eric's house and the Suicidal thoughts that were in dylan's head, it was also the fact that the parents didn't do anything to help them, the police didn't do anything to help them, the teachers and the other students. I believe that they were going after more than the jocks, because they enabled the jocks and who ever else was bullying them. All I know is I was 15 years old when it happened and I remember watching it all unfold on t.v. and it felt like someone had come into our world and taken it all away, I never felt safe in school after that ever again.

Columbine

I agree that this has to be understood as an interplay between the boys own personalities and the culture of the school. Both Dylan and Eric felt excluded, as if there was an invisible barrier they could not get through. Both may have lacked certain social skills or attributes which were 'valued' by peers and teachers and as such contributed to their sense of victimisation and as being 'outside' then 'against' the world in general. I think they externalised their feelings about themselves and society onto the whole world and humanity and indeed life. Their 'revelations' about the world however were noting to do with spiritual intelligence but with depression and unhappiness. Their nihilism and desire to die was what enabled them to carry out the massacre they had noting left to lose (they thought). I pity them and their victims

Dylan and Eric were forced

Dylan and Eric were forced into acute and negative self awareness. This is often an outcome of exclusion bullying and low status. They wanted high status and acceptance not unreasonably. However they didn't have the required attributes required for this at columbine but rather than see this as a transitory phase the boys internalised this as for always. In response they then decided that humanity and civilisation itself was a sham and developed a completely negative view of life. This did not however dissipate their anger and a desire to destroy took over both themselves and others.

Dylan and Eric were forced

Dylan and Eric were forced into acute and negative self awareness. This is often an outcome of exclusion bullying and low status. They wanted high status and acceptance not unreasonably. However they didn't have the required attributes required for this at columbine but rather than see this as a transitory phase the boys internalised this as for always. In response they then decided that humanity and civilisation itself was a sham and developed a completely negative view of life. This did not however dissipate their anger and a desire to destroy took over both themselves and others.

Negative self awareness

Dylan and Eric were forced into acute and negative self awareness. This is often an outcome of exclusion bullying and low status. They wanted high status and acceptance not unreasonably. However they didn't have the required attributes required for this at columbine but rather than see this as a transitory phase the boys internalised this as for always. In response they then decided that humanity and civilisation itself was a sham and developed a completely negative view of life. This did not however dissipate their anger and a desire to destroy took over both themselves and others.

On a conscious level the boys

On a conscious level the boys deluded themselves that they had acquired 'true self awareness' and thought they were godlike because they had this true self awareness. The reality was their self awareness was negative and forced on them due to being lowly within the columbine hierarchy. This delusion combined with their actual feelings of profound inferiority and their rage formed a superiority and homicidal complex under pinned with a desire to leave the world by by suicide. Hence the attack.

I would suggest you read...

In viewing a number of the comments on this website in regards to the initial posting in psychocolgy today, I would strongly recommend you read Columbine, written by Dave Cullen. It shows the extreme difference in the personality of both boys and factors leading up to this heinous incident. It also explains the medication that Eric was on, gives insight as to why it was changed prior to the incident and poses serious questions as to whether it was a contributing factor (I believe it was not based on my personal experience in testing, working with etc severaly different anti-depressants). What I have failed to see on a number of sites trying to "explain" the Columbine shooting I find major gaps in the way Jeffco and the various officers responsible for handling the case covered up, hid or outright tried to destroy the criminal records and reports filed on Eric serveral months leading up the the shooting. I believe that this book may give everyone a new perspective on the minds and motives behind this horrible tragedy.

I would suggest you read...

In viewing a number of the comments on this website in regards to the initial posting in psychocolgy today, I would strongly recommend you read Columbine, written by Dave Cullen. It shows the extreme difference in the personality of both boys and factors leading up to this heinous incident. It also explains the medication that Eric was on, gives insight as to why it was changed prior to the incident and poses serious questions as to whether it was a contributing factor (I believe it was not based on my personal experience in testing, working with etc severaly different anti-depressants). What I have failed to see on a number of sites trying to "explain" the Columbine shooting I find major gaps in the way Jeffco and the various officers responsible for handling the case covered up, hid or outright tried to destroy the criminal records and reports filed on Eric serveral months leading up the the shooting. I believe that this book may give everyone a new perspective on the minds and motives behind this horrible tragedy.

I would recommend Philip

I would recommend Philip larking Comprehending Columbine as offering a more rounded and realistic view of the tragedy. Cullen focuses on the pathologies of the boys and removes them from their social environment. He also in my opinion presents Eric in a way which is questionable e g popular and successful with girls, he was not. Cullen portrays Eric as a Ted Bundy figure who just happened to choose to blow up his school rather than become a serial killer. I disagree and larking account looks at how the boys were psychologically affected by their experiences at school. It's the interaction between the boys and the social world they inhabited that is key and you cannot exclude one or the other. It's both nature AND nurture. Even If Eric had a predisposition toward violence this does not mean this was the origin or trigger, he was in my view essentially shaped by his life experiences. Moving about a lot low status and being bullied and excluded socially by those he wanted to be part of we're key triggers to depression/rage and suicide/homicide. Would a serial killer kill themselves?

Ok let's consider cullens

Ok let's consider cullens arguments. First bullying played no part in all this. The boys were not members of the trench coat mafia therefore there was no revenge motive. Well eye witness Brooke Brown talks about Eric's being teased and bullied on a frequent basis, not just occasionally. This was part of his daily experience. One didn't have to be in the trench coat mafia to be bullied. Next the boys had no joint motive. Cullen is correct when he says the boys came to the shooting from their own places that is they had distinct motives. This however does not mean they had no joint motive. Consider I play soccer each week with nine other guys, we are all jointly motivated to do this consciously and deliberately. But we will all have our own subjective and unique reasons as well,one does not preclude the other. It is both. Most fundamental is the argument that the attack primarily due to Eric's being a homicidal psychopath. Well here's my take, Cullen correctly identifies that Eric many of the characteristics on hares checklist but he was not a psychopath but a sociopath which would also explain this. What's the difference I hear u ask? There is one fundamental difference. Sociopathy is not inborn but develops due to external stressors. Psychopaths, who are found in every strata of society appear to be born that way, no empathy no attachments. Most are not criminals and don't care that they don't care so to speak. Sociopaths have attachments to a select few but not with the world in general. That was the case with Eric. I believe he developed into a sociopath largely due to his experience at columbine but probably due to earlier childhood trauma as well. He came to columbine already shaky but the bullying teasing and exclusion propelled him into a frightening reality of no love no morality and no hope for the future. He was However extremely angry at this and that was really the one emotional constant. His true feelings about himself which dave Cullen fails to account for can be found in his writings you just need to look closely.
Eric unlike a psychopath did care and was affected by other people.

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Dr. Peter Langman is the author of Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters and trains professionals in law enforcement, education, and mental health on preventing school shootings. more...

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