Keeping Kids Safe

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

Elliot Rodger: A Psychotic Psychopath?

Elliot Rodger exhibited signs of two of the three types of school shooters.

In the wake of every mass shooting people ask, “what kind of person could do such a thing?” On the one hand, there is no profile of school shooters—they are too diverse to be captured by a single conceptualization. On the other hand, they do tend to fall into one of three categories. In my book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters, I categorized ten perpetrators as either psychopathic, psychotic, or traumatized. In my forthcoming book (tentatively titled School Shooters: 48 High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators), most of the shooters fit in one of the three types, but five exhibited both psychotic and psychopathic traits.

Elliot Rodger appears to also have had aspects of both types. One way of understanding him is to compare him to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Like Harris, Rodger was narcissistic. He wrote repeatedly about being “destined for greatness” and stated, “I am the ideal, magnificent gentleman.” Along with his narcissism, he was remarkably entitled. He believed that women owed him love and sex and when he was denied satisfaction, he called it an “injustice” and a “crime.” In his 137-page autobiography, he wrote about their “crime of not giving me the attention and adoration I so rightfully deserve!”

Not only was Rodger easily enraged when his desires were thwarted, but he was an “injustice collector,” someone who went through life accumulating a sense of outrage about all the wrongs he had suffered. Harris, too, held grudges and wrote about never letting anyway who had wronged him get away with it. Rodger expressed the same idea; writing about his outrage that another male was successful with women, Rodger wrote, “I will never forget it, nor will I forgive it.” In terms of personality traits, collecting injustices is masochistic—an obsessive preoccupation with one’s suffering, holding onto and exaggerating one’s pain.

Harris lacked empathy and had sadistic fantasies, writing in his journal about the pleasure he would have in mutilating people. Similarly, Rodger was profoundly lacking in empathy and had a powerful sadistic streak: “I will cut them, flay them, strip all the skin off their flesh, and pour boiling water all over them while they are still alive, as well as any other form of torture I could possibly think of. When they are dead, I will behead them and keep their heads in a bag.”

Despite these psychopathic traits, however, Rodger also seems to have resembled Dylan Klebold. Klebold presented with multiple traits of schizotypal personality disorder. He was severely socially anxious and awkward, struck people as odd, had paranoid thoughts, and created an internal world in which he was a superior being, writing about himself as a god. Like Klebold, Rodger had significant social deficits and intense anxiety. He also had paranoid thoughts. In his mind, women were deliberately denying him their love and their bodies. He felt like a victim of their “cruelty,” asking, “Why do women behave like vicious, stupid, cruel animals who take delight in my suffering.” He believed that women found sadistic pleasure in denying him what he wanted, as if there were a conspiracy among women to reject him. In reality, they didn’t know he existed.

Rodger was not just self-centered, but he developed delusions of grandeur: “Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why. I am more than human. I am superior to them all. I am Elliot Rodger… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent… Divine! I am the closest thing there is to a living god.” In imagining his attack, he believed, “everyone will fear me as the powerful god I am.”

He also envisioned himself as having the power to transform humanity: “Women’s rejection of me is a declaration of war, and if it’s war they want, then war they shall have. It will be a war that will result in their complete and utter annihilation. I will deliver a blow to my enemies that will be so catastrophic it will redefine the very essence of human nature.”

Not only was he grandiose, but he had bizarre ideas. His goal was to eliminate love and sexuality from the human race. To do this, he would quarantine women in “concentration camps,” letting most of them starve to death. Humanity would be propagated through artificial insemination, and men would not realize that women existed. Eventually, “Sexuality will completely cease to exist. Love will cease to exist. There will no longer be any imprint of such concepts in the human psyche. It is the only way to purify the world.”

In his grandiose plans for transforming life on earth, Rodger resembled Eric Harris. Harris was preoccupied with “natural selection” and saw it as a way of purifying the world—not by eliminating love and sex, but by eliminating those he deemed unfit for life. Harris also talked about the attack at Columbine triggering some sort of global “revolution.”

Perhaps the most prominent theme through Rodger's autobiography is envy—his envy of everyone who was succeeding where he was failing. He not only hated women for not fulfilling his needs, but he hated men for being successful with women. He found this absolutely intolerable. Klebold, too, wrote about his envy of those who were living the life he wished he could live. He even said, “I hated the happiness that they had.” Rodger, too, hated the happiness of those around him. He wrote, “I developed extreme feelings of envy, hatred, and anger towards anyone who has a sex life. I saw them as the enemy.”

Elliot Rodger was a complex person, with features of both psychopathic and schizotypal personalities. His narcissistic entitlement, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, masochistic obsession with his own suffering, devastating envy, and sadistic fantasies of vengeance all resulted in horrific acts of violence.

 

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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