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Mass Murder and the Hidden Self

Adam Lanza epitomizes the isolated killer's soul

Voted Best Academic Addiction Blog 2012 by All Treatment

I have participated in a debate in Psychology Today Blogs over the nature of the men who kill many people at once. Examining recent examples, "we are struck by their loneliness and yearning for intimacy, which leads some to strike out in bizarre and violent ways -- a profile that extends even to terrorists." This was written in 2009, based on three key cases that appeared on successive days, to which I added such other examples as the Unabomber and 9-11 murderers.

I concluded:

Obviously not all lonely men are mass murderers, or even bad guys. But, to judge from their worst examples, lonely men are a high-risk group.

And, so, the answer to mass murder is to reach out to lonely men.

It's impossible to eliminate isolation in any modern society. But that's a goal worth shooting for. Loneliness is a soul destroyer.

Instead, we seem to be headed in an opposite direction, towards greater isolation.

Each new case seems to add weight to this image, for example, the Aurora, CO movie theater shooter last summer. The New York Times described James Holmes "as a solitary figure, always alone as he bought beer and liquor at neighborhood shops, ate burritos or rode his bicycle through the streets."

That case prompted me to create this checklist in order to understand the dynamics of the men involved when "we are confronted time and again in this country by isolated killers."

  • they have no social bearings -- they don't guide their behavior by how it impacts others' lives;
  • they have little to nothing to lose in terms of social esteem, intimacy, family ties;
  • they have time on their hands -- and minds -- to allow their feelings of rejection to fester;
  • and they have no one to tell their problems to who can comfort them.

Adam Lanza -- the 20-year-old Newton, CT shooter who, wearing combat gear, killed his mother then went to the school and killed 20 children and 6 adults -- seems to have done Holmes one better. He appeared like an earthbound ghost. According to the Times:

He did all he could to avoid attention. . . .[gliding through school] with his hands glued to his sides, the pens in the pocket of his short-sleeve, button-down shirts among the few things that his classmates recalled about him. . . .

In his brief adulthood, Mr. Lanza had left few footprints, electronic or otherwise. . . .Adam Lanza did not even appear in his high school yearbook, that of the class of 2010. His spot on the page said, “Camera shy.”. . .high school classmates recalled how deeply uncomfortable Mr. Lanza was in social situations.

Some people enjoy spending time -- perhaps most of their time -- alone. Other people seem sentenced to loneliness, an eternal prison from which there is no escape.

Until, in bitterness and desperation that defy our usual categories, they strike out against an oppressive universe, or at least its nearest representatives.

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