As a behavioral health therapist, I’ve been asked many times since Gabby Gifford’s assault to give my thoughts as to the shooter’s inner process. Please understand; I refuse to use his name. Attention-getting behaviors of this nature deserve anonymity, nothing more. What caused such reckless abandon? What was he thinking and more importantly, why did it lead to such heinous behavior?
It all starts with biochemistry. Our propensities for impulse control are central to our ability to take the necessary time to reason. With the near-epidemic levels of mood-swing disorders such as bi-polar and impulse control disorders such as ADD and ADHD, we see a biochemical imperative. Why are these so prevalent? Most behavioral health professionals agree that with the advent of factory farming, air pollution, ground water pollutants, pesticides and other tsunami-like assaults on the brain’s homeostasis, that it’s lucky we can reason at all. How can the aforementioned not have an effect?
Now, let’s add substance abuse to the above. Our unbalanced shooter had a history of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. Dr. Daniel Amen’s well-received book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, documents the damaging effects of drug and alcohol abuse on our central nervous system. In lay terms, the brain shrinks, gets holes, manifests restricted blood flow, etc. SPEC scans bring this to life visually.
Next, let’s look at what might have been modeled for our deranged killer in his early, formative years. I tread lightly here, but in generalized terms, what’s modeled for us becomes our behavioral norm. No matter how dysfunctional, for us, it’s normal. We saw this modeling on a daily basis, reinforced for years, over and over and over again. The lack of appropriate discipline in the home leads to a profound lack of respect for self and others. It prompts the question: how far can I go until I find security within elusive boundaries. Please someone stop me; I’m just a kid.
The lack of boundaries scares the hell out of our children. They push and push and push. It prompts another question, which is also central to our development: who am I and what is my role in the family, and in life? These basic security parameters cannot be ignored for long. To do so is to risk seeking an answer fueled by desperation, from those not qualified, friends, acquaintances and society in general. The quest not only never ceases, but actually intensifies over time, with the petitioner increasingly paranoid of the possibilities.
In the classic best-seller, “Love Means Letting Go of Fear” by Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, he identifies only two base emotions, love and fear. The seven capital sins are all exceptionally fear-based. Hate, envy, jealously and spite are all of this sad ilk. Fear builds upon itself with age, if our primary questions of who we are go unanswered. Questions regarding self-worth are critical to our chosen behaviors. Cooley’s essay, “The Looking Glass Self”, details developmentally as to how we look at ourselves. The all-important reflection we receive from others becomes manifest in our opinion of the self, regardless of its accuracy.