Monday, May 26, 2014

Theory platform: Elliot Rodger, age 22

I have read most of the murderer’s ‘manifesto’ and find some scattered ideas about cause coming to me and coalescing loosely.  However, I do not want to produce a polished article: That would feel presumptuous, as there are many people who have thought deep about these things.  So for humility’s sake and also to have a drawing board for later thinking, this post will be left in the form of some speculative bullet points.

* I believe the young man’s problem proves the fused union of immaturity (he remained a psychologically pre-pubescent child in a growing body), primal neediness, Asperger’s disorder, personality disorder, delusional psychosis, and death compulsion (suicide and homicide as two sides of a thin coin) as the outcome of birth trauma (“biological lovelessness”) and/or separation-individuation trauma (“psychological lovelessness”), with secondary factors of divorce/disruption, formative lovelessness (father, mother, stepmother), and a likely backdrop of a materialistic morality.

* Rodger is the consequence of the emptiness that comes from having had no identity-forming bond at the beginning of life.  An empty self faces only two diametrical choices: absorb all the pain or reject all the pain.  (With feeling-identity intact, a child can “take” pain, soothe and heal it and place it in a benign context with the help – including introjected help – of another.)  Rodger did both, alternately and sometimes simultaneously: He was meaningless or he was “magnificent”; he was the rejected and the rejecter; he admired then hated, admired and hated the same persons; he was suicidal and homicidal.  Antithesis is also known in the Borderline personality – idealization then devaluation of the other; engulfment panic then abandonment panic.

* There has to be a Self to be able to accept responsibility (which is different from an abject accepting of guilt or blame, which an empty self can do).  For there to be a self, there had to be some critical-phase loving bond.  In Rodger’s entire manifesto which encompasses early childhood to the end, there is not a single word of comprehension that Self qualities – character, virtue, interests – are what will win a woman’s interest and admiration.  He could never grow these qualities; there was nothing that he could be to accept responsibility for, and therefore must externalize all responsibility.

* Masterson’s ideas about the elemental flaws coming out of this failed bond are instructive:

“Normally, the real self and its capacities emerge allowing the child to mature into an autonomous adult capable of self-activation and self-expression, with a sense of entitlement and the self-confidence to live creatively in the face of challenges and disappointments.  However, when the child experiences the abandonment depression during the first three years of life, the real self shuts down to avoid further aggravating the feelings of abandonment.  This shut-down arrests psychological development and produces varying degrees of impairment in all the capacities of the self.  Unable to tolerate feeling the abandonment depression, the child engages in a number of measures to protect himself from feeling depressed, at the cost of growth and adaptation.  He avoids activities that would further the emergence of the real self, and consequently all the self’s potential capacities are impaired.  In addition, the need for defense causes a similar arrest of what is classically described as ego development so that it, too, continues to function on a primitive level.
“Certain functions of the ego – reality perception, impulse control, frustration tolerance, and stable ego boundaries – can only develop through successful separation and individuation.  The child who cannot separate from his mother will not internalize these functions, which she had performed for him, and make them his own.  Consequently, he exhibits deficiencies in all these areas.”*
* Other areas of low-high, empty-full, pathetic-sublime defense structure have been described in the literature.  Breggin (Toxic Psychiatry) states that a severely shamed and abused child may later suffer delusions of grandeur: He is Jesus or a famous person.  The Narcissist rides his egoistic fantasy above a hell of abortive child development, disintegration and rage.  Modrow (How to Become a Schizophrenic) describes the impending schizophrenic, approaching the horrifying insight that he has never been fully human** – has always been empty – as constantly thinking, never sleeping, obsessed with religious and philosophical beliefs.  Rodger, a void of smoke and mirrors that reflected others’ prestige, grew his rabid philosophy at a boil as the day of “retribution” approached.

* The loved child is, over time, less needy; the unloved one, more needy.  A precariously attached little boy hounds his mother most when she is on the phone: Any greater distance between them incites his abandonment fears.  Fairbairn’s ‘return to the bad object’ insight brings the child, and later the adult, back to an unloving and detached, not a loving and mirroring, parent-figure.

* Asperger’s syndrome will exist on a continuum of failed symbiosis and mother-child mirroring (which may start with birth trauma).  Just as a baby can’t converse with a college professor, a child who “failed” in-arms life with his mother will never be in sync with others speaking a more mature language.  The psychically stalemated infant – Rodger – will be out of his medium forever.

* I have treated individuals who had grown a defensive delusional philosophy by the time they reached puberty.  It speaks to the utter emptiness (though this exists on a continuum, too) of the childhood template: the air has been starving, the crib spiked and hard.  We can sometimes, in adolescent therapy, leaven the delusion to some degree – but probably only by means of a different delusion: ‘Life has good possibilities’; ‘we care about you now.  This is an offered delusion because our client is not in the now, only the then.  The therapist cannot really be blamed, then, because whether he knows it or not his powers are essentially nonexistent.  The client’s absurd nihilistic philosophy – the world is barbaric, humanity is a plague – is entirely the pain of the discarded child.  There are no other words it could find, at age 13 or 15 or 22, to explain death of self.

* The phenomenon of leaving home applies to this adult-infant.  The first leaving home failed: separation-individuation from mother.  The second leaving home failed: the child, empty and ungrown, is not able to have the greater autonomy required of puberty and adolescence.  And now, failed at both landmarks and every second and minute in between them, he must face the final horror: leave all nests, nurturance, dependency, need, simplicity, and become a grown-up.  This will be a living dying with the added human component of knowing it.  There has never been a bond, no Self involved in a relationship that could feed him psychic supplies to carry him through the winter, sustain him in the desert.  Therefore he can only need instant and magical gratification: winning the lottery.  Rodger could only supply himself with physical gratification, the rudiments of love: all the gourmet meals, and so much of them, he so voluptuously describes.

* The condition of many of my adolescent clients brings to mind, in the context of Rodger’s desperation, a quote from Woody Allen’s 1986 movie, Hannah and Her Sisters:
“You missed a very dull TV show on Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips, and more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. The reason they can never answer the question ‘How could it possibly happen?’ is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is ‘Why doesn't it happen more often?’"

Excerpts from Rodger’s manifesto:

“Despite father’s move to a much larger house and all the benefits that came with it, I still preferred my time at mother’s house, just because of her gentle and fun attitude and the energy of her household.  My mother indulged in me more than my father and Soumaya ever did.  She knew what I liked and what I didn’t like, and she would go out of her way to make my life pleasant and enjoyable.”

“Even the girls were taller than me.  In the past, I rarely gave a thought to it, but at this stage I became extremely annoyed at how everyone was taller than me, and how the tallest boys were automatically respected more.  It instilled the first feelings of inferiority in me, and such feelings would only grow more volatile with time.”

“By nature, I am a very jealous person, and at the age of nine my jealous nature sprung to the surface.”

“Jealousy and envy . . . those are two feelings that would dominate my entire life and bring me immense pain.  The feelings of jealousy I felt at nine-years-old were frustrating, but they were nothing compared to how I would feel once I hit puberty and have to watch girls choosing other boys over me.”

“As my fourth grade year approached its end, my little nine-year-old self had another revelation about how the world works.  I realized that there were hierarchies, that some people were better than others.”

“The time of fair play was at its end.  Life is a competition and a struggle, and I was slowly starting to realize it.  When I became aware of this common social structure at my school, I also started to examine myself and compare myself to these ‘cool kids.’  I realized, with some horror, that I wasn’t ‘cool’ at all.”

(Age 9).  “My first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde.  I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

“My new hair turned out to be quite a spectacle, and for a few days I got a hint of the attention and admiration I so craved.”

“I was now a skateboarder, though not yet good enough to reveal myself as one to the kids at school.  This was the start of an obsession to copy everything the supposed ‘cool kids’ were doing.”

“They said that I would get a bedroom downstairs, one without my own bathroom or balcony.  I was furious, and I threw a huge crying tantrum.  Soon enough, father went ahead with the decision to buy this house.  I made a big deal about the possibility of not getting that lovely bedroom I wanted, and I kept sulking to father and Soumaya about it.”

“Childhood is fun, but when a boy reaches puberty a whole new world opens up to him . . . a whole new world with new pleasures, such as sex and love.  Other boys will experience this, but not me, it pains me to say.  That is the basis of my tragic life.”

“For the first week of Fifth Grade, I was at mother’s house.  I considered myself to be very ‘cool’ by now.  I had gotten better at skateboarding, I had blonde hair, and I dressed like a skateboarder.  I felt great anticipation for what the cool kids would think of me once they saw my transformation.  To my disappointment, no one really cared.  They were all in their own worlds.”

“When father’s week came, I felt frustrated because I didn’t have enough cool clothes there, and it took a while for me to get father to find the time to buy some for me.  Mother always got me what I wanted, right when I wanted it.  At mother’s house, all of my needs were met with excellent precision, whereas at father’s house, there would always be a time delay because father and Soumaya had less time for me, and paid less attention to me.”

“I didn’t want the school year to end.  Once Fifth grade was over, I will have to go to Middle School, and the prospect filled me with anxiety.  My little innocent mind always looked at Middle School as something far in the future, when I grow up.  I didn’t want to grow up.  I was enjoying my life as a kid right at that moment.  I didn’t think about the future.”

“My school arranged a camping trip for the entire Fifth Grade class before graduation day.  At first I didn’t want to go because I would be away from my parents for five days, something I was never used to.  I was afraid I would get too homesick.  I never spent more than one night away from my parents.  On the rare occasion that they had to go out of town for a few days and left me with a nanny, I would cry at night.”

“Only after the advent of puberty does the true brutality of human nature show its face.  Life will become a bitter and unfair struggle for self-worth, all because girls will choose some boys over others.  The boys who girls find attractive will live pleasure-filled lives while they dominate the boys who girls deem unworthy.”

“I saw eight-year-old boys at the skatepark who could do a kickflip with ease, and it made me so angry.  Why did I fail at everything I tried?”

“We traveled on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.  I was extremely enthusiastic about this, as I always loved luxury and opulence.”

“As the Sixth Grade year came to a close, I felt dissatisfied and insignificant.  Indeed, a whole new world had opened up before me, and I had no idea how to prevail in it.  I still wanted to live as a child.”

“After I blew out my candles, I remember going outside and sitting by my mother’s pool to contemplate my life.  Sixteen . . . what an age to be.  I still felt like I was twelve.  Most teenagers will start driving at this age . . . I couldn’t even fathom myself driving.  The thought of it scared me.”

“At the end of the dinner, a few of Pollina’s friends came over.  They were all popular, good looking girls and boys.  They were the kind of people who I’ve always had the desire to be a part of, but was never able to fit in with.  Popular kids . . . cool kids.  When I heard them talking about their awesome lives and their parties, I had a breakdown right then and there.  I realized how much I’ve been missing out in my life, and I cried in front of everyone.  I felt like I would never have a life as good as theirs.  I told everyone that I wanted to commit suicide.”

“I began to have fantasies of becoming very powerful and stopping everyone from having sex.  I wanted to take their sex away from them, just like they took it away from me.  I saw sex as an evil and barbaric act, all because I was unable to have it.  This was the major turning point.  My anger made me stronger inside.  This was when I formed my ideas that sex should be outlawed.  It is the only way to make the world a fair and just place.  If I can’t have it, I will destroy it.”

“I spent more time studying the world, seeing the world for the horrible, unfair place it is.  I then had the revelation that just because I was condemned to suffer a life of loneliness and rejection, doesn’t mean I am insignificant.  I have an exceptionally high level of intelligence.  I see the world differently than anyone else.  Because of all of the injustices I went through and the worldview I developed because of them, I must be destined for greatness.  I must be destined to change the world, to shape it into an image that suits me!”

“I decided that my destiny in life is to rise to power so I can impose my ideology on the world and set everything right.  I was only seventeen, I have plenty of time.”

“I never thought nor cared about money before I turned 18, because I was still living like a child, with my parents handling the money and giving me the things I needed.  However, the more older I grew, the more I realized how important money was, and the more obsessed I would become about getting rich.  This obsession, which was barely taking root at the time, sparked a long relationship [with] the Lottery that would only end in disappointment and despair.”

“My mother never told me or my sister about any men that she dated.  She always kept that strictly private.  I hadn’t even met Jack yet.  He was worth well over $500 million, and he owned other mansions in Bel Air and Beverly Hills.  When I found out about this, I started to harbor the hope that my mother will get married to this man, and I will be part of a rich family.  This will definitely be a way out of my miserable and insignificant life.  Money would solve everything.  I started to frequently ask my mother to seek marriage with this man, or any wealthy man for that matter.  She always adamantly refused, and demanded that I stopped talking about it.”

“In truth, the move [to] Santa Barbara was actually a chance that I was giving to the world, not the other way around!  I was giving the world one last chance to give me the life that I know I’m entitled to, the life that other boys are able to live with ease.  If I still have to suffer the same rejection and injustice even after I move to Santa Barbara, then that will be the last straw.  I will have my vengeance.”

“My life would only have meaning if I could go through college with a girlfriend like her.”

“For the last months of Spring, I went home a lot because the loneliness in Santa Barbara was too stifling.  Going home to visit my parents was always an emotional refuge for me.”

“I am not part of the human race.  Humanity has rejected me.  The females of the human species have never wanted to mate with me, so how could I possibly consider myself part of humanity? Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why.  I am more than human.  I am superior to them all.  I am Elliot Rodger . . . Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent . . . Divine!  I am the closest thing there is to a living god.  Humanity is a disgusting, depraved, and evil species.  It is my purpose to punish them all.  I will purify the world of everything that is wrong with it.  On the Day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure and depraved.”

- - - - - - - - - - -

* James F. Masterson, M.D., The Search for the Real Self, The Free Press, 1988, p. 75.

** “According to Sullivan, schizophrenia occurs with the total collapse of those security operations upon which we depend to maintain our self-esteem.  When such defensive – or self-deceptive – measures fail altogether, the individual goes into an intense state of panic and simply comes ‘unglued,’ so to speak.  In this panic state, the individual has a terrifying vision of himself as a person of no value or worth.  Painful memories once repressed rise and come flooding into awareness with a gruesome, hallucinatory vividness.  As if in a trance, he suddenly ‘realizes’ that at no time in his life had he ever been a person who was fully human.  And, worst of all, comes the realization that as an individual he will always be hopeless and irredeemably flawed, that any action on his part would only be meaningless and futile, and that things will only continue to get worse as he is inexorably swept to his destruction.”  (p. 23)

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.