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As usual, the cries for getting to the root of these terrible mass shootings are dominating the media landscape. It’s guns! It’s mental illness! It’s the lone wolf syndrome! I’m not against trying to understand the perpetrators of these horrifying events. In fact, this post is an effort to look at one other possible source of the problem—although if there’s any truth to my proposition, dealing with it may be more complex than we can imagine.
The problem? The mentality of the shooter: his victimization and our indulgence of it.
To better understand a victim mentality, I found this source:
The victim’s locus of control is likely to be external and stable. An external locus of control orientation is a belief that what happens to a person is contingent on events outside of that person’s control rather than on what one does. Stable, in this context, refers to the consistency of the out-of-control feelings of the victim vs. the belief that the outcome of events is due to luck or random events.
This essay further explained:
While the costs and suffering of victims are apparent, the benefits are much more subtle, and, for the most part, unconscious. They may include the right to empathy and pity, the lack of responsibility and accountability, righteousness, or even relief as the bad self is punished.
If we look at the latest mass shooter in south Florida, Nikolas Cruz, we see a young man who fits the typical portrait of the mass murderer. He was a loner; he had access to guns; he was angry and made threats. We also see a young man who had recently lost his remaining parent. He was expelled from school for his behavior. He was unhappy with the family who took him in after his mother died. I expect we will learn much more about him over time.
Do his circumstances justify his sick behavior? Of course not. Do other people with many more life losses plan and execute mass murders? They don’t. Should we view people who have been subject to life’s cruelties and disappointments as lifelong victims? That would be absurd. In fact, most people are victims at one point or another, and they may deserve our compassion and support.
But there is more to Nikolas Cruz’s situation that points to his exploiting, maybe even subconsciously, his possible victim’s role: society in general, and attorneys and psychotherapists (and other helping professionals) may be encouraging people to make the most of their victimhood:
We have become a nation of victims, where everyone is leapfrogging over each other, competing for the status of victim, where most people define themselves as some sort of survivor. We live in a culture where more and more people are claiming their own holocaust. While some victims are truly innocent (i.e., the child who is being molested, a victim in the other car in a drunk driving accident), most violence involves some knowledge, familiarity or intimacy between victims and victimizers. Charles Sykes, author of the widely acclaimed A Nation of Victims (1992), points out that if you add up all the groups that consider themselves to be victims or oppressed, their number adds up to almost 400 percent of the population. Exploring the psychology or the dynamic of victimhood has been suppressed and censored because it has been equated with “victim blaming.”
Essentially the victim does not take responsibility for his situation; believes he or she is right; can’t be held accountable for what has happened; and is indignant because he or she has been wronged. In response to their circumstances, we express compassion, empathy, and care. I suspect that Nikolas Cruz may see himself in this way. The paradox in this situation is our “help” only feeds the monster of victimization.
So while we are trying to understand what drives a person to murder others in an obscene and ugly episode, what can we do if our very society encourages these people to see themselves as justified to act against a repressive and alienating society?