Usable Insight – What made the DC shooter snap?
Feeling put down and pushed away, mass shooters often find a way to get in and get even.
Well another tragic shooting and tragic loss of life that again seems so senseless. As a neuroscientist and neuropsychiatrist I have tried my best to make sense of what, why and when causes Aaron Alexis and other shooters to snap.
This is a work in progress and I invite any and all to refute, dispute or refine what follows.
These are the stages that I believe these shooters go through that causes them to snap:
- Out of luck – rightly or wrongly it appears (to them) that life is just not going their way. This usually has occurred over a prolonged period of time often extending between months and years. No matter what they try, it appears to them that it never works out. And they have little or no insight into how they continually set themselves up to fail.
- Out of sync – this occurs both in their life and in their minds. In their life they feel increasingly estranged, criticized (not being aware of how they are provoking this in others). In their minds, their three brains – their human/thinking, mammalian/emotional, reptilian/”fight or flight” actional – begin to decouple from and get out of sync with each other
- Out of sorts – when your three brains are in sync and working together then can “sort” out the universe to interact with it in reasonable and somewhat rational way. However when a person’s mind snaps, their brains (and minds) being aligned break apart (often triggered by an Amygdala Hijack with prevents them from tapping into their rational mind). The next step to your feeling out of sorts is feeling that your mind could shatter.
- Out of time – when your brain and mind is between “out of sorts” and shattering, a state of panic steps in. Panic is the feeling that your shattered mind is about to be decimated. At that point you are feeling desperate and will do anything to reassert control and your mind and brain then align with retaliating against a world that you believe has caused this to you. In essence, at the moment when a shooter plans their murderous deed, heads towards their target and then perpetrates it, they haven’t lost control. What has happened is that they lost control some time earlier and it is in the act of planning and then perpetrating their crime that they feel they are getting back in control.
Now of course, what can be done about this to prevent these awful tragedies. I believe that once the person in question has crossed over into being “out of sorts” they cannot make sense of the world and it’s almost too late.
What needs to be done is to train more people who might be aware of the shooter (they usually come out after the fact, but had previously been following a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach) when they are in the “out of luck” and “out of sync” phase to intervene, connect and bring them to help.
That seems like an exhaustive task, but if the benefit is to prevent shootings like this, it’s worth the effort.