Inside the Mind of a School Shooter

A Case of Triunal Rigidity

Posted Oct 06, 2015

I recently appeared on CNN to explain how and why people who aren’t born to kill or commit evil acts turn into ones that do.

Triunal Rigidity and Agility*

My observation is that people who act crazy do so because they are locked in a state of Triunal Rigidity.  This notion is adapted from the Triune Brain model first proposed by neuroscientist, Paul MacLean. Triunal Rigidity occurs when someone’s thinking upper primate brain, emotional middle mammalian brain and “fight or flight” lower reptilian brain become rigidly locked like Lego blocks to each other and fixated on an external goal or mission that they are mentally unable to divert from.

This means that there actually may be a neuroscientific basis to the often quoted definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Alternatively, mentally healthy individuals develop Triunal Agility.  That means that their three brains can couple together and line up with an external reality and pursue goals effectively. When that reality changes, they have a fluidity in their brains and minds which enables them to decouple their thinking, feelings and actions and have them realign with the new reality.  When that occurs they are demonstrating Triunal Agility.

The Rubik’s Cube model of how our mind develops

Many years ago and in the heyday of psychoanalysis the term “tabula rasa” was used frequently to describe the human mind as being a clean slate at birth. Following that genetics, internal mental processes, child rearing, social influences and the life cycle itself proceed to write who we become.

I believe a more accurate and contemporary model for this phenomenon is the Rubik’s Cube. Imagine that our brains and minds start off in our embryonic state as a pristine Rubik’s Cube (picture an eight cell/blastula stage at the beginning of embryogenesis).

Following this, genetics, maternal physiology and intrauterine forces twist it.  Then we are born and child rearing twists it again. 

For instance, imagine that Rubik’s brain and mind feeling disconnected from the support it needs from parents. What if instead of the support that its vulnerable and malleable state requires for optimal development, it is either abused, criticized, ignored and/or coddled (which ill prepares it to deal with the world)?

To further complicate matters add to that a brain with learning or processing challenges (which many of the school shooters were said to have) to affect how that person thinks and feels and then reacts to the world.

Beyond what such a brain and mind experiences at home, picture it being bullied, humiliated and laughed at by peers.  Such social trauma is likely to lead to that person feeling disorganized, scattered and possibly even fragmented.  Evidence of this state of deterioration is often seen in the rambling writings that are subsequently discovered in shooters’ dwellings.

What option is there for a personality marinated in pain, estrangement, perceived or real humiliation, a life that isn’t worth living, and a mind that is figuratively and literally becoming “unhinged,” “unglued,” “deranged,” “wigged out,” “freaked out,” “flipped out” and/or “out of sorts?” It’s easy to understand how such a person might develop an obsession to realign his three brains and reorganize his mind towards revenge

The Oregon shooter showed no mercy in his rampage killings because his three brains became locked and loaded (figuratively and literally) and undeterrable from his mission to exact revenge on a world that he believed had done him wrong.

For a further discussion of how the "bent on revenge" mind develops check out: Psychology Today: Hacking Hatred.

Why target schools and churches?

I don’t believe that school or church shootings are selected by these individuals accidentally.  All such places have in common people feeling they belong to each other and a group and are together growing towards a better life.  Nearly all the rampage shooters felt they belonged nowhere and had no chance of a better life.

We are also told of the appeal of such shooters of the fame they can have by their acts. It’s something that I refer to as the revenge of the nobody.  Such nobody’s who feel put down and pushed away react directly from their mammalian, emotional and reptilian brains by getting in and getting even.

In a subsequent article we will discuss how to defuse an enraged brain before it commits outrageous acts of retribution. In the meantime and for milder situations check out these tips for: How to Get an Irrational Person to Listen to Reason.

ALSO: As mentioned on CNN I am working with an author of a book entitled, “Inside the Mind of a School Shooter.” It's the story of how twenty five years ago, the author was all set to go into his high school and kill many people.  He even had guns placed to carry out his plan. It's also the story how five days before, he aborted it. The book is the story of how he descended into a state of homicidal rage and then didn't act on it.

* Source: Talking to Crazy by Mark Goulston (Amacom Books)

Resource: Psychology Today - What Your Teenager Wants You to Know But Won't Tell You