I took a lot of psychology classes in college and, IIRC, got straight A’s in them. I really enjoyed them. I thought it was fascinating.
So it isn’t surprising this article was of extreme interest to me:
Massacre killers are typically marked by what are considered personality disorders: grandiosity, resentment, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement. They become, says Dr. Knoll, ” ‘collectors of injustice’ who nurture their wounded narcissism.” To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world.
Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.
What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.
We call mass shootings senseless not only because of the gross disregard for life but because they defy the ordinary motives for violence—robbery, envy, personal grievance—reasons we can condemn but at least wrap our minds around. But mass killings seem like a plague dispatched from some inhuman realm. They don’t just ignore our most basic ideas of justice but assault them directly.
The perverse truth is that this senselessness is just the point of mass shootings: It is the means by which the perpetrator seeks to make us feel his hatred. Like terrorists, mass shooters can be seen, in a limited sense, as rational actors, who know that if they follow the right steps they will produce the desired effect in the public consciousness.
Part of this calculus of evil is competition. Dr. Mullen spoke to a perpetrator who “gleefully admitted that he was ‘going for the record.’ ” Investigators found that the Newtown shooter kept a “score sheet” of previous mass shootings. He may have deliberately calculated how to maximize the grotesqueness of his act.
The human mind is a marvelous and sometimes bizarre thing. I’ve seen some really strange behavior from people with personality disorders. Probably the best short story is that I know someone who convinced a judge that his being caught sitting on his ex-wife’s chest on the sidewalk punching her in the face was self-defense.
Stacy, my counselor, told me people with personality disorders cannot, or will not, admit there is a problem with themselves. It’s always someone else’s fault. Keep that in mind. It’s a huge telltale. Another one, also from Stacy, is that personality disorder symptoms are more prominent when they are interacting with people in close personal relationships with. Family members and spouses get the worst of it. Co-workers and strangers may think they are perfectly normal people.
Attempting to interact with them can be challenging. Having a “model” to help understand, identify, and predict their behavior is incredibly useful. We owe a big thanks to the author of this article and the researchers who investigated the psychology of these people.
H/T Say Uncle.