Is Dismissing ‘School Shooters’ As ‘Evil’, Whilst Entirely Understandable, Too Simplistic?
In the wake of another tragic school shooting in Florida, USA, it is utterly understandable, of course, that many choose to explain such appalling tragedies using phrases such as ‘it was simply an act of pure evil.’ However, do such explanations (based on entirely natural emotional responses with which we all sympathize) prevent us from looking for more complex, deep-rooted causes? And, if there are more complex and deep-rooted explanations, shouldn’t they be studied so as to help prevention of future, similar occurrences?
Langam PhD, in his excellent book, ‘Why Kids Kill’, attempts to do exactly this. Based on his research, he has theorized that those individuals whom he terms ‘school shooters’ fall into three main categories (though he accepts there may well be other categories that his own research has, as yet, not identified).
Three Categories Of ‘School Shooters’ :
The three categories of ‘school shooters’ identified by Langam are as follows :
- Individuals who are psychopathic
- Individuals who are psychotic
- Individuals who are traumatized
Let’s look at each of these three categories in turn :
- Psychopathic ‘school shooters’ :
Langam describes certain personality features of psychopathic ‘school shooters’ which may contribute to their lethal behavior. First, he says, they are egotistical, meaning that they consider themselves to be in some way fundamentally and intrinsically superior to ‘the mere mortals’ with whom they are infuriatingly forced live alongside. Second, they are egocentric, meaning they are highly focused on placing their own needs far above the needs of others.
Furthermore, Langam describes this category of ‘school shooters’ as being amoral, lacking a conscience (including the capacity to feel guilt or remorse), lacking empathy for the feelings of others and as having problems controlling anger.
Also, Langam points out, psychopaths may be superficially charming, thus making their true intentions much more difficult to detect and making it easier for them to manipulate others.
Finally, Langam states that, whilst not all psychopaths are sadistic, those he examined during the course of his own research were sadistic. A person with a sadistic personality shows an enduring propensity to indulge in aggressive and / or cruel behavior, enjoys witnessing the suffering of others, and is prone instil fear in others in order to be better able to manipulate them. They may also enjoy deprecating, demeaning, devaluing, disparaging and humiliating others.
Notwithstanding the above, however, sometimes so-called psychopathic traits in adolesents may be symptomatic of profound feelings of inner, emotional distress.
2. Psychotic ‘school shooters’ :
Those suffering from psychotic illnesses lose touch with reality’ (although this may only happen occasionally and need not be a permanent state) and the main symptoms of psychosis are delusions and hallucinations.
Hallucinations are most commonly auditory (frequently referred to as ‘hearing voices’) but may also be visual (self-explanatory), tactile (e.g. feeling as if insects are crawling over one’s skin), olfactory (‘smelling’ odors e.g ‘of dead people’ when such smells are, in fact, utterly absent), gastatory (sensing ‘tastes’ in the absence of a physical stimulus e.g. believing one can ‘taste poison’ in one’s food) or proprioceptive (hallucinations of posture e.g. feeling one is floating, flying, having an ‘out of body’ experience, believing part of one’s body to be in a different location or feeling the ‘presence’ a limb that has been amputated (phantom limb syndrome).
Delusions are blatantly false beliefs that are held with absolute conviction, unalterable (even in the face of powerful counterargument and contradictory evidence), and, frequently, bizarre and / or patently untrue (Karl Jasper).
Langam states that, amongst ‘school shooters’, common delusions are :
- DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
- PARANOID DELUSIONS
In the group of ‘school shooters’ which Langam based his research on, he reports that delusions of grandeur held by these individuals included beliefs about being ‘godlike’ and that paranoid delusions that they held included believing that ‘people, gods, demons, or monsters were intending to harm or kill them.’
3. Traumatized ‘school shooters’ :
Langam reminds us that traumatized / abused children trquently suffer consequences that include ‘anxiety, depression, hostility, shame, despair and hopelessness‘ and that they may, too, suffer a ‘reduced capacity for feeling emotions‘ and ‘feel cut off and detached from others…threatened…and paranoid‘. And, further, they may suffer from constant ‘hypervigilance‘ (constantly anticipating danger / a feeling of being permanently in a sate of ‘red-alert’), self-destructiveness, self-harm, suicdal ideation and a propensity to behave violently.
It almost goes without saying, therefore, that the above provides yet further compelling evidence for the necessity to therapeutically intervene at the earliest possible opportunity when young people are displaying symptoms of emotional turmoil, traumatization and incipient mental illness (although, of course, it should, equally, hardly need saying that most such individuals are of no danger to others and are far more likely to be a danger to themselves due to self-harm (including heavy drinking, binge-eating, drug-taking, heavy smoking, anorexia and suicidal ideation / behavior) and general self-destructive behavior.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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