Connecticut Shooting and the Cycles of Abuse

I am sick over the news today. We all are, I’m sure. And I have been reading every news site and facebook status update about the shooting that I can find. I’m sure I’m not alone. And everyone needs to have a response. My more progressive and politically active friends are posting statistics about video game violence and mental illness and gun control laws. Everyone needs a solution. Something to make it all better.

I never have solutions. But I too am sick at heart and wish that I could do something or say something or figure out something to do that would make it better. But I do have something I feel I need to say about this, and I don’t think it will be popular, but I think it needs to be said anyway.

One status update I read said that we needed to pray for the parents of the shooter. And I thought about that and thought about that. And I decided that poster was right, but not necessarily for the reasons she thought.

There is no doubt that the young man who committed this atrocious crime and then killed himself was deeply mentally disturbed. You could not kill 20 kindergardeners and not be. You could not kill anyone and not be–unless you were at war. And veterans come back mentally ill in droves.

But there are different types of mental illness. There’s the just plain crazy brand of mental illness–Schizophrenia, for instance, in which you have a mass delusion that could lead you to do horrible things like this. But I don’t think that’s what we’re looking at here. Because the other brand of mental illness is the one that comes about through extreme, horrifying, terrible pain that makes the people who can’t deal with it come unglued.

The first thing this very young man did was to kill his parents–at least the mother, possibly the father, too. And I am in no way saying that they deserved to die, but I would be willing to bet everything that I have ever made or ever will make that that young man had a very very very hard home life. That his parents were abusive and that there were tragedies in his life that we can’t even begin to imagine.

From my experience nearly all insanity–even things like Schizophrenia that seem to have an “organic cause”–are caused by trauma. And nearly every really bad behavior is the result of this insanity caused by trauma. And that the difference between an abused kid who grows up to kill people and an abused kid who commits suicide early and an abused kid who goes on to change the world for the better is remarkably, breath-takingly small. The latter maybe has a teacher who cares or a club that makes him happy at school or saw a specific movie that inspired him or read a book that made him realize that there was life waiting for him in the future.

Or maybe he didn’t, and no one ever cared, and he saw no hope of anything ever changing, and he thought: “this life is not worth living.” And maybe he thought after that, “Well, I’m going to take out the bastards before I go.”

To be twenty years old and to kill yourself and your parents and twenty school children, yes, you need to be mentally ill. You also have to be in pain. And that kind of pain is a lot more common than we like to admit. It’s so much easier to say that the kid is just crazy and wash our hands of it. Because then we can wash our hands of it. The family members who never stepped in, the teachers who never intervened, the friends who turned their backs. They can all wash their hands of him, if this young man was just crazy. They couldn’t have done anything. No one wants to see that he may have been being abused at home because it would mean that they could have–maybe should have–done something, have reached out to him, have gotten him help.

My own extended family always said that my sister and I were, “so lucky that [our grandmother] took us.” They said that we would have died if she hadn’t. And now that we’re adults, they shake their heads over our lack of direction, our problems, and our relationship messes. This makes it easier for them than having to know that in that home that we were “so lucky” to find as children, we were being sexually, emotionally, and physically abused. Because we’re kind of crazy as adults, we must just have been born that way. And that absolves all of those people who could have stepped in and seen what was happening and done something to stop it.

And I’m not absolving this young man of his crimes. But I think he must deserve some of our prayers, too. And I’m not blaming it on his parents, either. Because from my experience, every abusive parent was also abused. Mental illness seems to run in families, but so, too, does trauma and abuse. Because trauma leads to mental illness. And if it goes unhelped, then it leads to being abusive. And this is how the world of trauma and abuse seems to go round.

It is so sad. But I don’t think the answer is to prolong adolescence or ban firearms. I think the real answer is for us all to work to become better people and to not turn a blind eye to the pain of those around us. Because these shootings aren’t really the product of a few crazy sadists. They are the product of young people who are in pain and have no way to deal with that pain, and a world that would rather work 70 hour weeks and drink lattes than spend time with the people in their lives. These crimes belong just a little bit to all of us, and we can’t just wash our hands of them. The rate of child abuse in our country, maybe our world, is outrageously high.

I’m sorry.

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About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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5 Responses to Connecticut Shooting and the Cycles of Abuse

  1. Reading this post, Pam… sigh… I want to cry. The whole situation today is awful. But I think you’re onto something. The fact that there are children in pain and we’re walking right by them…? This is tough to hear. We do want quick answers. Earlier today I was hoping that the Connecticut atrocity would push our country one step closer to new gun control laws. But tougher gun laws probably would not have stopped this man from his shooting spree. When you’re in that much emotional pain, you find a way… OK, so I don’t have an answer here. But again — you’ve made me think. Thank you for this post.

    • Tougher gun laws aren’t a panacea–they wouldn’t have prevented this young man from obtaining the legally purchased guns belonging to his mother–but any additional roadblock might serve as a deterrent for someone else acting in a moment of passion or lacking the financial, cognitive, or emotional resources to go through a costly and/or elaborate process to buy a deadly weapon.

      The thing that struck me about this case, though, was how isolated the young man was, not only from school and community but also from some members of his own immediate family.

  2. pamwatts says:

    I don’t know either, Anne. Lo siento.

  3. Susan Lea says:

    oooo boy….I could go on for a REALLY long time…but I will just say that mental illness is still so under treated, unnoticed, and denied that it is a wonder this doesn’t happen more often. I have started to be more open about my depression in the last few years, but I often feel I am avoided and looked down upon because of it. I take anti-depressants and go to counseling so people won’t be friends with me…but the wacko down the street is still in the good graces of the community. go figure! good thoughts Pam!

  4. pamwatts says:

    That’s a really great point, Susan. There is something sick in our society and I can’t quite pinpoint it. We live in a society that talks so much about “issues.” People’s “issues” and what is and isn’t normal. And we medicate and we therapize. But when it comes to real pain and the real muck of human existence, we don’t really see each other. And we don’t want to see each other. And we do avoid people who have “problems.” Like “mental illness” or real, pain and confusion and depression and hard stuff is like some disease that we might catch if we aren’t careful. I just don’t know. I really don’t know.

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