21 Aug 2016
Narcissism and Mass Shootings
Apparently the selfie trend shows we are all a bit selfish to a certain degree. But where is the border between normal selfishness and abnormal narcissism? Psychology knows the phenomenon of narcissism well. It tuns out the border between normal selfishness and abnormal narcissism marks the spot where ordinary people turn into psychopaths, sociopaths, terrorists and killers.
There is a theory that rampage killings are related to pathological narcissism. The perpetrators are often offended narcissistic outsiders who want to restore their crippled sense of self-worth by an act of ultimate violence. Usually they announce their terror acts on social media sites. I kill, therefore I am. According to this Psychology Today article about mass shootings, many of the recent rampage killings in Europe and America were a malignant form of narcissism, where the perpetrators had to satisfy their “need for revenge…for undoing a hurt by whatever means… by giving their pain to others and in doing so build up the remnants of their self-worth through violence”.
It is probably the tension between the desired sense of self, which is highly exaggerated among narcissistic people, and the real sense of self in reality. In physics we have the notion of voltage or electric tension. If the tension gets too high, and there is no lightning rod, we get lightnings and other form of heavy discharges. Similarly if the tension between the desired and the perceived sense of self becomes too high in narcissistic persons, it can lead to rampage killings. So the narcissistic person who is doing well is no immediate danger. Neither is the loser who tries to cope with his fate with a sense of humor or irony (he has indeed our deep sympathy). But if you combine the two, if life becomes really miserable for someone and all hope is gone, although the person in question hates nothing more than losing or being critized, it seems to become dangerous.
Take away home, job, loved ones, hope and pride from a person, and he will probably fall down and possibly try to get rid of his pain by giving it to others. Recent studies about people who turn into terrorists have confirmed that people who turn into terrorists are not known for leading comfortable or charmed lives. They are looking for something that gives their lives significance, instead. Or they are simply looking for revenge. So these people reject the society because society rejects them. They feel treated unfairly by life and react to the unfairness of it with violent retribution. This older article about mass shootings from the The New York Times agrees that the profile of a narcissistic person who has failed is not uncommon for perpetrators of mass shootings and rampage killings. Warning signs are solitude, frustration and disappointment in combination with a crippled sense of self and a feeling of failure where the blame is always put on others.
The difference between rampage killers and terrorists is that the former fight only for themselves to restore their damaged sense of self, while the latter fight for their group. As we have seen earlier, terror can be seen as adaptation against the tyranny of a superpower. Of course the terrorists don’t see themselves as terrorists but as rebels and fighters for a just cause. We see ISIS as brutal, they see probably the regime or empire they fight aganst as brutal. It is all a matter of perspective. For example from the perspective of the empire, Star Wars can be seen as the story of radicalization, a story of a young man’s journey from innocent farmboy to radical anti-imperial terrorist.