How "wound collectors" impact all of us.
Posted April 7, 2013 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- "Wound collectors" intentionally look for and collect social slights for their personal benefit in a way that's toxic or pathological.
- People become wound collectors usually due to a personality disorder, certain character traits, or emotional instability.
- Adolf Hitler, Jim Jones, and Osama bin Laden were wound collectors.
In several of my Psychology Today blog posts over the past few years (the most recent dealing with Christopher Dorner’s manifesto), I referred to individuals who are “wound collectors.”* Many had never heard that term before and I received a significant number of inquiries regarding its meaning. As a result of those inquiries, I thought I would answer the most frequently asked questions regarding this term.
When was the term wound collector first used?
I first used the term “wound collector” in my book Hunting Terrorists: A Look at the Psychopathology of Terror to refer to individuals, both in terrorism matters and elsewhere who, because of personality traits, collect social slights, historical grievances, or wrongs for reasons that personally benefit them or their belief system.
The collection of these grievances goes beyond what one normally experiences in life; after all, we have all had slights and we have all been unfairly treated at some point. These individuals use these wrongs, slights, or wounds, to then justify their beliefs or behaviors, or to help them deal with their own psychological or social distress.
What is the definition of a wound collector or wound collecting?
Wound collecting is the conscious and systematic collection and preservation of transgressions, violations, social wrongs, grievances, injustice, unfair treatment, or slights of self and others, for the purpose of nourishing, fortifying, or justifying a malignant ideology, furthering hatred, satisfying a pathology, or for exacting revenge.
What kinds of people meet these criteria?
Anyone who — because of a personality disorder, character traits (e.g., insecurities, paranoia, fear, xenophobia) or emotional instability — inflexibly seeks to collect wounds and slights for a purpose that usually has negative social consequences or is self-serving. This can be anyone from a spouse, to a terrorist, to a mass killer.
Give us examples of wound collectors we might recognize?
First, let me say that we won't recognize most wound collectors because most of us experience them on a personal level and they are generally not well known to the public. However, we have all run into someone who habitually brings up grievances, be they slight and accidental, and we know how irritating these individuals can be. In a larger sense, we have all been exposed to wound collectors on a national or international level, we just weren’t aware. Here are some:
- Adolph Hitler, in his book Mein Kempf, managed to list all the collected wounds he and others had accumulated, with particular emphasis on Jews.
- Ted Kaczynski published his list of wounds, known as the “Unabomber Manifesto” in The New York Times and The Washington Post decrying technology and the industrial revolution.
- Osama bin Laden, his 1996 fatwa, is nothing less than a collection of wounds dating back to the time of the crusades which he used to justify the killing of Americans. This document demonstrates clearly that for wound collectors there is no statute of limitations on suffering.
- Anders Behring Breivik, the convicted Oslo mass killer who riled against Muslims in Western Europe and multiculturalism in his writings, before he set off a bomb killing 6 and then systematically murdered 69 children, is an example of a wound collector.
- Christopher Dorner is the most recent wound collector to become notorious. In February 2013, he went on a shooting spree in California after publishing his pedantic manifesto (a collection of wounds and slights as well as ranting) going all the way back to grade school.
- Jim Jones of Jonestown, Guyana fame was similarly a wound collector. He kept tabs on those around him and or society in general, particularly those that did not appreciate his divine grandeur.
So we see wound collectors in cults, certainly in cult leaders, and definitely in people who lead or join hate groups. But we also see it in those with personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and especially those afflicted with Paranoid Personality Disorder.
Can a nation or a state be a wound collector?
I suppose, yes, if we look at the various pogroms in history against minorities such as Jews, Armenians, Palestinians, Kurds, Tutsis in Africa, and so forth. These heinous events were based on wound collecting, practiced by leaders or those in power who often fanned the flames of hatred using those wounds they had collected. Hitler of course was the worse of these, but not the first or the last.
What is the opposite of a wound collector?
Someone who forgives, who turns the other cheek, who accepts life with all its vicissitudes. A good example is Nelson Mandela, who had every reason to collect wounds but didn’t because he realized that to do so would be too caustic on his own soul and counterproductive. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King likewise rejected wound collecting even though they were truly victimized throughout their lives. Mandela, Gandhi, and King rejected that toxic yoke that comes with wound collecting and instead looked forward, not backward – they didn’t hold grudges.
When a spouse or a family member is a wound collector, how does that play out?
Not well because there is no forgetting, there is no forgiveness in close and frequent proximity. Spouses who are wound collectors make life difficult for their partners; when something goes wrong, they bring up things from the past, sometimes from years earlier, and of course, that is not conducive to a healthy relationship. Children who grow up with a parent who is a wound collector know that at any moment, a torrent of past wrongs will be brought out, pushing the child further and further away all for the sake of the parent being right or demonstrating just how inferior the child is. We often see this with very narcissistic parents who indulge in belittling children with all their past mistakes or failures because it makes the narcissistic parent look bad.
What if you are victimized and bullied and you remember these events? Does that make you a wound collector?
No. Circumstances can drive you to recollect the times you have been bullied or attacked but that is not wound collecting. Wound collecting is different. It is an inflexible way of life, it is how you deal with life and other people, it is pervasive, and it serves a purpose that is usually toxic or pathological.
Those are the most frequent questions that I have been asked. To shed further light on the subject, here are some other common features I have found with wound collectors:
- They never forget and they never truly forgive — often they quiet down only to revive the same subjects another day. There is no closure.
- They are hypersensitive to slights even when they are accidental or unintended.
- They seek slights where others have been victimized in order to piggyback on to those slights.
- Where they belong to a hate group or a particular odious ideology, holding on to slights and collecting them allows them to hate with greater ease.
- They mistake good intentions for bad or for evil and there is no leniency for honest mistakes. This is particularly true of those who are clinically paranoid.
- Wound collectors tend to focus on one person, a group (e.g., Hitler and Jews), or an institution. Or they may focus on society in general (e.g., the Unabomber and his hatred of technology).
- For the wound collector, there is no fixing of things, only the collection of slights.
- There is no forgiveness on their part, no balanced look at life; they are always looking backward instead of forward.
- For the wound collector, time does not heal all wounds. In fact, time allows them to collect even more wounds.
- Wound collectors tend to have a very pessimistic view of life and people.
- At times, when there aren’t sufficient wounds for them to collect, some have been known to purposefully go out looking to be wounded by artificially creating situations so that they are slighted.
- Wound collectors tend to perceive the world as either you are with them or you are against them and any attempt to ameliorate or explain slights only enrages them further.
- Months or years after an event (a social slight) they will resurface that event, sometimes out of the blue, to justify their anger or rage. There is no closure for them.
- Wound collectors seek out other wound collectors and so you often see them in hate groups.
- Life stressors make wound collectors metastable (highly unstable and potentially volatile if not checked); that, in turn, makes them potentially very dangerous. For example, when Christopher Dorner (see article) lost his job.
- Acute cases of wound collecting lead to psychological and then later physical isolation. Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh (convicted bomber of the Murrah building) exemplify this. Both were perennial wound collectors who in time isolated themselves, first psychologically then physically.
- For some, not all, wound collectors, violence becomes the only means to deal with wrongs and slights. Oslo mass killers Anders Behring Breivik and Christopher Dorner are recent examples.
Though not widely known or written about, wound collectors are a real phenomenon. They make life miserable for those around them and, as we have seen, they can become dangerous. How do we know them? By their words and actions, especially their inflexible collection of slights and wounds that support their belief system or pathologies and which are used against anyone they choose. And that, for the rest of us, makes for a less than pleasant life when we cross their paths.
*The terms “wound collector” and “wound collecting” were copyrighted © by Joe Navarro in 2004.
Copyright © by Joe Navarro 2013