As authorities sift through the tortured life of Adam Lanza in an effort to try to understand why in the end he took out his rampage out on teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary school what is increasingly becoming apparent is how removed he was from day to day existence, this despite his purported high level of intelligence. Something one wonders might come with the territory of being extraordinarily gifted and at the same time tortured by one’s own being or perhaps to be succinct how out of place one’s being is in relation to others.
Perhaps then this may be the first clue in an attempt to come to terms with an individual who for all intensive purposes lived in a kind of time vault where he harbored feelings of inferiority, displacement and great humiliation that may have first come to the fore as a student.
Reflects time with aplomb: For all the disbelief and dismay, we actually know pretty well that most such events are committed by individuals with a particular set of characteristics. As my colleagues Mark Coulson, Jane Barnett and I noted in a 2011 article in the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, school shooters have generally been found to 1) have a history of antisocial personality traits, 2) suffer from mental illnesses such as depression or psychosis and 3) tend to obsess about how others, whether other individuals or society at large, have wronged them. (These conclusions are similar to the findings of a 2002 U.S. Secret Service report on school shootings.) These individuals seethe with rage and hatred and despondency, until they decide to lash out at individuals or a society they believe has done them great wrong. Mental health, and our failure to address it as a society, is at the core of these events.
If one thinks about what a school represents and principally an elementary school the first thoughts that come to mind are innocence, untainted souls, bridling youth, adulation and the promise of a beguiling future as one is nurtured and groomed to eventually take their place in society.
And yet with Adam Lanza none of this things seem to have ever really gelled in place, for most of his life the young man was alienated, felt unloved at the hands of his parents (his mother said to be overbearing and continuously castigated him relentlessly perhaps in an attempt to compensate for his social deficiencies, whilst his father was principally absent especially after divorcing Adam’s mother and his brother Ryan had not reached out to Adam in over 2 years since having left, or perhaps dare we say escaped the too surreal existence of Newtown, CT) and he found it unbearable in the end to make friends or even accept the affection of others.
Yet one implicitly reckons Adam Lanza did yearn for all of the above but somehow between his own unstable state of mind, inability to feel physical pain possible Asperger’s syndrome (a mild form of autism often characterized by social awkwardness) and dysfunctional family life, the young man grew up festering resentment and apathy. And that in the end has a lot to say why Adam Lanza and perpetrators like him lash out in public forums, particularly schools, because it is their way of inflicting the most pain they can back at a society that in their mind is the cause of so much pain in their own life.
Obviously, the vast majority of the chronically mentally ill won’t commit crimes, certainly not of the severity of the Sandy Hook shooting. But by leaving the mentally ill adrift to fend for themselves, we miss the opportunity to identify and treat some of these at-risk individuals before they escalate. Granted, neither gun control nor a well-funded mental health system will prevent every mass homicide. But we leave ourselves—and more innocent children—vulnerable until we address both of those issues.
Contemplates the dailybeast:
Had he gone to the high school or the college or a movie theater or a mall, he would have been described as another withdrawn misfit gone murderous.
He instead went to the elementary school and killed 20 children about the age he had been when he first arrived in Sandy Hook.
Maybe he marked that as the age when everything seemed to change for him.
Maybe he wanted to cheat the kids now this age from growing up to have friends and fun and careers and eventually kids of their own.
Maybe he wanted to show everybody who it really was who had appeared in their midst from New Hampshire 14 years before.
Or maybe he was just a monster who wanted to do the absolute worst thing anybody could possibly do.
And then there was this poignant reflection via abc.net.au:
What remains of such tragedies – albeit perhaps difficult to discern – is the fact that our social world too often provides little capacity for people such as Adam Lanza to meaningfully live and exist. By delegating him as a monster he is afforded no way of dying as a human.
While it is satisfying to label these individuals as abhorrent and exceptional, doing so can come at a devastating cost. It locates responsibility solely with them and neglects to consider whether they may be a product of the social world in which they exist.
This is not to suggest that those who encountered Lanza, studied with him, or perhaps even mistreated him should be held responsible for his conduct.
Instead there is a collective need to think about the lives and experiences of people who are socially marked as different and too easily relegated to the margins.
Without collectively challenging or resisting this pattern it appears likely that people resembling Adam Lanza may continue to mirror these all too common acts.
Which raises the question how in the end does society safeguard against those of us who are afflicted, mentally ill, addicted, or any other constraint that impairs our ability to harmoniously co exist within society and or with ourselves? How different could things have turned out if instead of resorting to violence, Adam Lanza could have sought the guidance(without demonization) of a therapist, councilor or for that matter if social instruments and platforms existed that could have enticed Adam Lanza to reflect on his sense of displacement instead of resorting to self capitulation and the destruction of innocent others?
Then again perhaps self capitulation is the essence of what makes us all human ….and perversely draws us to the nihilistic character of Adam Lanza.
Then there was this comment via the web that caught my eye:
Because there is a huge stigma about mental illness in this society. I recently lost a close relative to suicide. I tried talking to her, as did many other people close to her, but she would not open up. She was apparently embarrassed about her illness, even though she was absolutely brilliant, beautiful and compassionate. She had everything going for her, but in the end, she could not overcome her demons. My heart aches for all of these people affected.