In the Aftermath of the Elliot Rodger Tragedy, Society is Still Ignoring the Real Causes of Youth Violence
“I was so overwhelmed by the brutality of the world that I just didn’t care anymore.” -Elliot Rodger, describing how he felt in 9th grade
It can’t be stated any clearer: Until we as a society address and remedy the neglectful, abusive and inhumane ways that our society treats children, violent tragedies will continue as the most disturbed of these children lash out their pain on society. How many more tragedies will it take before our society addresses the real causes of violence?
Two weeks ago, a 22 year old young man, Elliot Rodger, stabbed three young men and then went on a shooting rampage outside of the University of California, Santa Barbara, murdering two young women and a young man and injuring at least 13 others. Elliot had left behind numerous YouTube videos as well as a 141 page “manifesto”. In his manifesto, Elliot documents the emotional abuse and neglect he suffered by his family as well as the chronic peer rejection and severe peer bullying he endured. There is some speculation that he was on the Autism spectrum, which would explain his struggles with social skills, his struggle to process emotions and his rigid and obsessional thinking patterns. Elliot writes with painful detail about the angst he suffered during his life and the overwhelming loneliness and neediness that led to him developing severe psychological pathology and a fantastical hatred of stereotyped groups of people that personified those who rejected him. His hatred and violent speech leading up to the murders are chilling to read. However, what is even more chilling is realizing that this youth had been screaming out for connection and comfort for years, enduring what he perceived as crushing and overwhelming emotional pain, yet this message has been completely ignored, overshadowed and missed by the mass media and their viewers.
Political groups and campaigns, such as the gun control lobby and the #YesAllWomen hashtag frenzy, immediately began exploiting this tragedy and its victims to twist facts and push ideologies for their own political (and financial) agendas. Feminist groups and campaigners in particular are generating a firestorm of hateful anti-male speech, pushing a violent and separatist men-are-perpetrators/women-are-victims mentality that is the antithesis of healing and coming together as a national community. Their focus on women as victims and men being predators has little to do with the facts about the tragedy that actually occurred. While the masses lap up the latest trending meme on social media, the adolescent victims of the mass shooting (especially the male victims) have been forgotten and the true cause of this shooting is yet again, completely overlooked. In fact, right now our society’s attention is so far away from a place of unity, compassion and healing that we are choking on our own cognitive dissonance.
Discussing why people hurt others does not in any way condone their violence! Instead, discussing and understanding the childhood origins of violence honors victims by making a commitment to preventing further tragedies. Alice Miller clearly and brilliantly warned the world decades ago through her research that poor parent-child attachments, child abuse and neglect by parents can and does breed sociopaths, violent predators and vicious mass murderers, such as Adolf Hitler. While most child trauma victims do not grow up to be sociopaths or murderers, many of them do grow up struggling against inner pain that, unless acknowledged and healed, is likely to be either acted-out upon the self in the form of depression, unhealthy thinking and coping patterns, addictions and self hatred, and/or against others in the form of aggressive speech, apathy, contempt for others, relational disconnection, narcissism, controlling others, poor parent-child attachments, neglect of children’s needs or family violence. Children who were the least resilient, who had the fewest inner resources to draw from and who didn’t have at least one special adult who truly cherished them are the children who have grown into society’s most dangerous people.
The young man, Elliot Rodger acted out his pain after years of reported parental emotional neglect, emotional abuse by his stepmother and after being the victim of severe peer bullying. He acted out after his crushing pain, emotional disturbance, Autism Spectrum symptoms, increasing angst and deteriorating condition were chronically ignored by the adults who were supposed to be caring for him. It appears from his words that Elliot was giving off glaring signals and clues to his family members in the years and months leading up to the mass murders, but it seems that the adults dismissed his pain. Although he states that he was treated by mental health professionals and a psychiatrist, in my experience as a mental health counselor and trauma specialist, mainstream individual talk therapy and psychiatry do little to heal parent-child attachment disruption and trauma and often exacerbate the symptoms.
Shortly before the murders, Elliot says that his stepmother even went so far as to emotionally pulverize him for his inability to be successful socially and sexually. When his little brother was signed by an agent for a TV commercial, Elliot complimented the child’s good social skills. He states that his stepmother said, “he will never have any problems with girls, and will lose his virginity while he’s young.”
It is important to remember that at 22, Elliot was still an adolescent. Contrary to our society’s beliefs, 18 is not biological adulthood. The pre-frontal cortex, which regulates emotions and impulsivity and allows a young person to fully grasp the long term affect of their actions, does not finish developing until around age 25 or 26. Many boys continue to grow and experience further physical development until age 24. Not only was he an adolescent, but he was a traumatized adolescent who was likely on the Autism Spectrum and suffered symptoms that could potentially reach the definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. ASD is a developmental disability, causing people to be described as emotionally and developmentally much younger than their age.
Elliot reportedly struggled with sexual feelings that were overwhelming to him to the point of being all-consuming. The voids he had for his unmet needs for parental affection and connection were likely displaced onto his natural adolescent sexual feelings, intensifying them and causing him to believe that having sex with a certain type of young woman would fill his voids. His poor social skills and his shame about his small stature made it difficult for him to connect with peers, especially girls. Elliot reported that he accidentally viewed a pornography video at a young age and felt shocked and severely distressed by the imagery. Pornography can cause sexual trauma to children. Sexual trauma can sometimes lead children to develop sexual obsessions and fetishes as they attempt to reenact the trauma as a way to cope. It is possible that the association he made with a woman in the porn video led to him developing a fixation for wanting a specific type of woman (a blond, Caucasian, super-model type). If Autism Spectrum Disorder was a factor, his development of a rigid obsession for a particular type of woman would have exacerbated the sexual trauma, as one of the symptoms of ASD is all-consuming obsessions and very detail-oriented specifics in those obsessions.
What complicates these variables for Elliot is that at the neurological level, trauma in childhood also causes a person’s emotional development to become “stuck” at the age of attachment disruption and trauma, causing emotional regression with every trauma trigger. Both childhood trauma and ASD can cause people to struggle with an inability to cope with intense emotions in a healthy manner, causing them to become flooded with their feelings, their perceptions, with cognitive distortions and even with brain-altering stress neurochemicals such as Cortisol.
When considering all of these factors, it should be easy for an intelligent person to understand how this young man, whom social media has demonized, was emotionally a very young child in the body of an adolescent, struggling with a neurological condition that may have magnified the emotional and sexual damage done to him from reported traumas. As the mother of a 20 year old son who also is on the Autism Spectrum and who had a severe trauma history, I think of the inordinate amount of love, attention, connection and repairative parenting my son has needed and still receives from me when needed. I imagine all of the support, time and focus I have given and still give to his emotions, his concerns, his struggles, to the things he enjoys and to his interests. I can’t imagine how he or any child could heal without the years of attachment parenting, safe learning environments, the specialized neurological-based trauma treatments and the protection from bullying my son has received. He is able to handle challenging situations in life now with healthy coping skills. I imagine Elliot being starved of all of those necessities, of him not having an awareness of how it feels to be truly cherished, connected, protected and supported. My heart not only breaks, but understands how he could go from a teenage boy who (according to his report) once saved his brother’s life to becoming a mass murderer at 22.
Among the many other crucial points that Elliot made in his “manifesto”, he reports that at age 15, he saved his toddler half-brother from drowning in a pool when the adults were not attending to the toddler. The adults reportedly disbelieved Elliot’s account and instead of being treated like a hero, his heroic action was dismissed and ignored. Is it any wonder, with dynamics like these, that at age 16, he threatened suicide?
Disappointingly, the media, political groups and those ignorant about trauma’s affect on the brains of adolescents, especially on adolescents with ASD, have cherry-picked and magnified a few details from this young man’s story and claim that “white male privilege” and “misogyny” were the cause of these mass murders. This ideological view does not correlate with basic facts about the case, namely that Elliot was half Asian and half Caucasian and four of his six murder victims were male. Additionally, Elliot had hatred for many types of people whom he stereotyped, women and men. He stated many times that he was traumatized by the way girls and women had treated him in his youth. However, he expressed hatred for anyone who represented those who rejected him and those who were successful in finding sexual and romantic partners, including black men. The feminist view also does not support scientific facts about ASD, Elliot’s young chronological and developmental age or the neurobiology of child trauma. It is a world view that incites contempt, discourages unity and peace and it dehumanizes males rather than seeks to understand their needs, their exceptional vulnerability and their pain.
Despite these hateful gender-polarizing campaigns, people are becoming more aware that men and boys are suffering in our culture and that women and girls can be as violent as males can be. More and more people are interested in unity, compassion and empathy, not angry divisions and separatism. More and more empirical studies are exposing that domestic and sexual violence are NOT gender crimes. Most crucially, there is increasing awareness of the fact that most violence is a result of childhood trauma, abuse, neglect and parent-child attachment disruption.
Children whose needs are not met in childhood, who suffer abuse, neglect and torment and who do not have the resilience and caring mentors to save them from drowning in their pain may reenact their suffering on others, possibly even on a mass scale. The original victim of this tragedy, the child victim, Elliot Rodger, had been and still is being ignored. Had he been treated with compassion, emotional attunement and understanding by his family and had they been available to validate him, listen empathically and help him navigate through his overwhelming emotions, this tragedy would not have occurred. As long as our society refuses to see this, as long as we remain distracted by our disconnected political ideologies, the most disturbed children will continue to grow up to lash out on society.