I empathize with school shooters

For context about my own school experience, check out this post: Ways school made me depressed

I once watched a TED Talk by the mother of one of the Columbine school shooters. It was pretty interesting, and I kept waiting for her to talk about school. It was a school shooting after all. But throughout the whole thing, school was very inconsequential in her talk.

She mostly talked about mental illness, guns, how bad she felt about it, and how there are no easy answers and how nobody can possibly be sure why kids would shoot up a school.

I was disappointed by this, but not really surprised. There are reasons why they shoot up schools, specifically. That is an important piece of information that I think people aren’t contemplating enough.

I understand exactly why kids might shoot up a school. If only a few minor things were different in my childhood development, I could have been a school shooter. School was hell for me. I hated nearly everyone around me because they were awful to me. I was in a class full of bullies and surrounded by apathetic teachers, with the occasional sadistic one thrown in the mix.

Also, I was surrounded by invalidation. People were acting like school was this amazing, perfect thing that I should be grateful for, meanwhile it was by far the worst thing in my life and I spent all my time there wishing it was over. The adults would say things like “Oh, I wish I could be a kid again!” or “When you’re an adult with a job you’ll wish you could be back in school!”
Shit like that makes a kid think things like “Wait, this is already hell, you’re telling me it only gets worse from here?!”
Great way to make kids look forward to the rest of their lives, guys! If you want to make kids suicidal, that’s a great way to go about it! Good job!

Oh, and the bullies. I spent all my time trying to hide as best I could so that they would pay as little attention to me as possible. They acted like horrible monsters with no empathy. I could write an entire book about the shit they did, so I’m just going to leave it at that for now. Let’s just say that over 8 years, those people destroyed any self esteem I had, made me believe I was ugly and stupid and unlovable and incapable of doing anything right. The teachers didn’t do anything remotely helpful about it, and my parents had a track record of making things worse, so I figured I had to deal with it all alone. By “deal with it” I of course mean dissociate and go somewhere else mentally, because I had no idea how to actually solve any of it.

Thinking of them as horrible monsters made me feel a bit better about hating them. This dehumanizing thing went both ways: apparently they had dehumanized me enough to make it acceptable in their minds to treat me badly. In response, I dehumanized them as a way to make myself feel better about hating them as well. This helped me to fantasize about killing them, torturing them to death slowly in all sorts of strange and creative ways. I also fantasized about burning down the building or blowing it up with bombs. Thinking about that stuff made me feel slightly less powerless. Because I had no self-esteem, I didn’t particularly care about my own well-being either. I wasn’t actively suicidal most of the time, but the thought of dying didn’t really scare me either – it seemed like it might be oddly peaceful, and certainly better than going to school. Like, I’d be sad if I died before really getting to live, but on the other hand at least I wouldn’t be suffering anymore.

Someone who didn’t experience trauma at school (or who is in denial about it) can’t possibly understand why someone would want to kill people in a school and also be willing to die there. But to me, it really feels quite understandable and relatable actually. It doesn’t seem strange at all. It just seems like a totally normal response to an insanely abusive and invalidating environment, when you have nobody to turn to who will validate your feelings. When everyone around you acts like this is all fine, and that you’re somehow wrong and strange for not being happy about it. When you can’t imagine that life in the future will ever get better. When you feel like the butt of a cruel joke that everyone else seems to be in on.

So there are plenty of reasons why so many shootings are at schools specifically, reasons which are too often totally ignored in favour of how easy it is to get guns, and some vague stuff about ‘mental illness’ and how there are no easy answers and how nobody can possibly really be sure why kids do that. The fact that they shoot up schools specifically is a huge clue. Maybe on some level they are hoping someone will get the message and look into it.

Why do people ignore the elephant in the room? Because people don’t really understand trauma. People who haven’t been traumatized at school, or who have reframed it as a “good thing” can’t possibly see just how hellish school can be for kids. They literally think of school as “the good old days” and can’t even begin to imagine that it can be an incredibly torturous place for a kid. They can’t begin to imagine that school can be awful enough to make a kid want to murder everyone there or destroy the building. It absolutely can.

For a school shooting to happen, the shooter needs motive, means and opportunity. I had the motive, plenty of it. I did not have the means or opportunity though. This is where the gun control comes in. All the gun control can ever possibly accomplish is to control the means and opportunity. It does absolutely nothing to help with the motive. It’s not a solution at all – it’s like putting a bandage over cancer and pretending the cancer is cured.

In fact, all the metal detectors and cops in schools make the environment worse, not better, and are probably increasing motive. So yeah, sure, make schools more like prisons than they already are. Keep telling kids that adult life is even worse than that. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done. Keep right on thinking school is fine. Keep on profiling the quiet loners who seem unhappy. Only a mentally ill person could be unhappy in your idyllic paradise called school, right? (Look up “Sluggish schizophrenia“.)

Which is also why mental health services often don’t help in this case either, because it sends the message “there’s something wrong with you for not being okay in this environment”. More invalidation is just going to make them feel even worse. Also, isn’t it interesting that many school shooters were either on or withdrawing from anti-depressants at the time? Those things have side effects, which can make people psychotic, aggressive, suicidal and even homicidal.

Back to the bullies: they were probably also traumatized. I don’t know what their home lives were like, but I’d guess they were probably abused either there or somewhere else. They found a sick form of ‘acceptance’ among the other bullies, and they all encouraged each other to take their frustrations out on the outcasts (mostly me). The only real solution to stopping school shootings is to stop the abuse of children, in homes, schools, and everywhere. People need to heal their own trauma enough so that they don’t pass it along to the next generation.

Further Reading:

  • For context about my own school experience, check out this post: Ways school made me depressed
  • Psychologist Peter Gray explains why kids don’t like school. Can you guess why? Hint: It’s because they love freedom.
  • What is akathisia? – Akathisia is a disorder, induced as a side effect of medications (including SSRI’s and antipsychotics), which can cause a person to experience such intense inner restlessness that the sufferer is driven to violence and/or suicide.

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