Wait! Don’t rush to say, “Silly question, Dr. Deb. Mass murderers are crazy. That’s all.” Let me explain why I pose the question “What Motivates a Mass Murderer” by asking you another question: Would you rather be able to take control of your life or would you rather think that your own life is in the hands of whim and chance?

The more you understand human nature, the more control you have over things that come your way. Here’s a list of things that you can get control of that you never thought possible just by learning what motivates a mass murderer:

1. why you, your spouse, or your kids lack self esteem

2. why you, your spouse, or your kids are angry more often than you wish

3. why you, your spouse, or your kids feel lonely, isolated from humanity

4. why you, your spouse, or your kids never seem to get things right

5. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to have things going well yet are unhappy

6. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to be distant and unreachable, hiding behind a wall

7. why you, your spouse, or your kids just can’t seem to agree on anything

Put these questions aside for a moment. We’ll get back to them all.

If you study the lives of mass murderers (I discuss the Columbine murderers in my book) here’s what they have in common:

  • They are lonely and isolated. Their only “friends” are people who feel the way they do.
  • As children, they were never validated. They were not told, “We love you just as you are” – words I’m borrowing from Mr. Rogers. They were not told, “You’re a winner,” or “We can see you worked hard to [fill in the blank: do well on your test, get accepted into some group, etc.]” regardless of the outcome.
  • As children, they were not hugged.
  • As teenagers and young adults, they were left to themselves; their parents did not want to know where they were going, what they were doing, how their day went; whether they were happy or unhappy; what their dreams and passions were. None of that mattered; it was not addressed.
  • Problems were always addressed in the most superficial way if addressed at all. For example, if the child was depressed, parents might take him to a doctor for a prescription. Fixing the real problem underlying the depression was unheard of.
  • Should the family find themselves referred by the school for family counseling, the parents made sure to have the child be the “identified patient.” The parents themselves were blameless in their own eyes and the problem was clearly their child – a position guaranteed to make things worse, not better.
  • Should the family find themselves referred by the school for counseling and the family took the position above, the therapist or counselor reinforced the notion that the problem was the child by seeing the child alone and not working with the parents to help them show warmth, love, and personal concern
  • Parents may have thought they were disciplining difficult children by being abusive instead.

There is not one single mass murderer whose life at home deviated from this experience. The child did not grow up to be a criminal, evil, and possibly insane because he was loved, cherished, valued, treated respectfully, and treated with kindness. Never happened. Never will.

What You Can Do NOW

Now, can you see where I’m going? If, growing up, you or your spouse had any or all of the experiences I’ve listed, then start by thanking God every single day that in growing up, you were lucky enough to have some mediating factor in your life (whether you can pinpoint what it was or not) that helped you avert craziness and evil.

Next, study the list of elements that go into the making of a mass murderer and make sure none of those remain in your life if they were ever there. You can’t change the past but you certainly can change the present. Let’s take one example.

Suppose your spouse is angry a lot of the time and you know that she or he was not validated and respected growing up. It suddenly becomes obvious that you must validate and respect him or her, right? I mean, if that was missing, then that is what is needed.

Now, you might respond with: “How can I give validation and respect when I’m not getting it back?” The answer is: What’s needed is an artful combination of self-affirming and self-strengthening while providing your spouse with respectful reminders and explanations of what hurts and what to do instead, all combined with continuing the respect and validation that she or he needs. This combination is not simple to do or to explain and that is why I wrote The Healing Is Mutual.

Whether you are reading this as a parent or spouse, the bottom line is that you will not get the desired behavior from the others in your life by being angry and resentful that they don’t give it to you. You will get the desired behavior by helping them heal from the wounds they had inflicted on them. To do that, you must be strong within yourself and patient because healing is not a quick, 1-2-3 process.

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