By Amy Broadway, researcher at the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research
Saturday morning 11 days ago, the U.S. found out that Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old, went on a murderous rampage Friday night in Isla Vista, CA. Isla Vista is a pretty beach town, filled with seemingly immortal, young students with lives of sunshine and partying. My brother lives there, two blocks from where the chaos ensued. I became interested in the story as I waited for Jim to call me back to say he was OK.
The first video I saw was this, Rodger's pretentious announcement for the "Day of Retribution." It is a excellent example of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), who specifically hates women. I was struck by Rodger's hackneyed script, fake laugh and rehearsed delivery. Though Rodger was young, 22 years is old enough to understand the meaning of "cliche."
"Well, now"— a theatrical pause—"I'll be a god compared to you."
In April, Rodger's mother warned Santa Barbara authorities about her son. In response, officers visited Rodger but decided he was “quiet and timid ... polite and courteous." They left and only followed up post-tragedy. Had the police researched Rodger more, they could have viewed his YouTube channel. Until yesterday, it showed a series of disturbing, self-pitying rants. Had the police been able to search Rodger's apartment, they might have found a 137-page manifesto, which presents grandiose fantasies and persecutory delusions.
They might have found guns and ammo, which were in the apartment as they questioned Rodger.
If this is in fact Rodger's actual Facebook page, it also hints at Rodger's motivation. Nowhere does he act pleased by or interested in other people, although it's social media. Rodger valued his car and his looks. In photos, he didn't relax into a smile but posed, mostly in selfies. I only found one picture of him with someone else, and he doesn't look happy in it.
"You girls have something against me. I don't know what it is," Rodger complains in one video. If Rodger wanted to be loved, it might have helped if he had shown love for other people.
A problem for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is that it's difficult for them to care about others. They value people in so far as people make them feel good about themselves. Someone with the disorder exhibits "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following":
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements). Elliot Rodger repeatedly refers to himself as the "supreme gentleman" and is insulted that women don't pay attention to him.
"That is such an injustice, because I am so magnificent. I deserve girls."
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love. Rodger was obsessed with finding "love."
"I want to feel that sense of being worthy."
He idealized a relationship with a beautiful, blond, white girl. A virgin, who had never held a girl's hand, he fantasized about what other people's love lives were like but had a shallow understanding of love. He was baffled that girls didn't swoon over his $300 sunglasses and BMW. Rodger explains that once you hit puberty, life is either "heaven on earth" or a "living hell." According to him, whether or not his life was good depended on how many girls liked him. By basing his life's worth on whether girls liked him, he made women into objects instrumental for feeling self-worth rather than as people in themselves.
"My problem is girls."
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions). By seeing himself as inherently unable to be loved by women, he thought of himself as special.
"I've been thinking about how sad and miserable my life has been... I have had to rot in loneliness."
4. Requires excessive admiration. It's not clear by what Rodger says that he ever actually interacted with women. He doesn't describe approaching someone to strike up a conversation. But he is clearly mad that women don't pay attention to him. He sees women with other men and feels they are insulting him personally.
"You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one."
5. Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations. "Do you know how much misery you've caused me?" he says to "you girls." Not only should girls love him for his wealth and appearance, they should not insult him by being with other men or wearing revealing shorts. In Rodger's twisted mind, what women do is directly relevant to him, regardless of what's going on in other people's minds or lives.
6. Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends. I haven't seen evidence that Rodger exploited others in the same way a CEO exploits his employees. However, killing indiscriminately to achieve what you think is justice is a kind of exploitation. Rodger used his victims to punish "girls" and humanity for not liking him enough.
7. Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. Within the past year, Rodger committed several acts of aggression with no qualms about harming people. He splashed a couple with his latte for looking happy. He squirted kids with orange juice for looking happy. And he tried to push students off a ledge at a party for not talking to him. Additionally, he published combative comments towards women and minorities, disrespecting those people's humanness.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her. Perhaps what ultimately destroyed Rodger was his maddening envy of others. While looking at a sunset in one video, he says he can't enjoy it because he's thinking of all the men that get to enjoy it with girlfriends. He feeds his loneliness and hatred by comparing his experience to his idealized vision of love. In a video with "envy" in the title, he films a couple kissing in a park as he broods in his car.
"I have to film this. I have to show the world why life isn't fair. No girl would do this with me."
9. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes. In a video he took of himself in his car, he—without joking—gives what he thinks is a sexy look and films himself driving. In isolation, it could be an embarrassing moment of self-absorption. But Rodger made numerous comments online that show he was full of himself.
"I do everything I can to appear attractive to you," Rodger explains in his video titled "Why do girls hate me so much?"
Dear Elliot Rodgers out there, the goal is not to manipulate people into liking you. The goal is to be authentically likable.