This week in Aurora, Colorado, a young man massacred 12 innocent men, women, and children, and injured 58 others, as he sprayed gas and bullets in a crowded movie theater. Those who weren’t injured physically are traumatized emotionally, along with the thousands of friends and family members of the dead. Beyond those directly involved, the good citizens of the United States of America are grieving and scared due to this act of terrorism.
Many in the media are focusing on the gun control debate, which has its place, but I want to focus on the question that bothers me the most. How does a sweet little boy grow up to become a cold-blooded killer?
First of all, I believe this 24 year-old man should be prosecuted with the full extent of the law. I say this because I do not want anyone to think that this man is a mere victim of society and therefore should not be held responsible for his actions. I am not making excuses for this guy. Just some explanations.
Second, I want to acknowledge that people are complicated. There is no precise formula for how to raise a kid well, and there is no way to perfectly predict if a kid will become violent. However, there are certainly things that help kids and there are things that hurt kids. In this article, I will speak simply about what I believe creates violent kids and young adults – pain.
Growing Up Unwell
All young people suffer from insecurity, isolation, and anger to some extent. When a young man goes from being a little depressed to full-blown despair, then he can become dangerous to himself or to others.
Pain is universal, but how we respond to pain is what matters the most. Some will become deeper and stronger souls. Some will stuff it deep down, then go to alcohol or drugs. Others will dabble in cutting or eating disorders to try to control their pain. And some will attempt suicide. Very few will become murderers, but it can happen.
In a particularly bad season of life, I had a counselor explain that when a man feels depressed, hopeless, and powerless, then he is in a bad spot. That truth scared me. I thought about what might happen if I let things go. What would result? It scared me enough to get help and address the problems and the pain inside me.
The killer in Colorado was in the darkest place. He lost his soul to his depression and anger, and he let evil take over. He unleashed hatred toward humanity in just a few minutes of his life, and the result was hundreds of lives in ruins. He became the worst-case scenario, a villain.
There is no single cause of this tragic decline from humanity to monstrosity. The facts show that he was a loner, almost completely isolated from relationships. Nobody seemed to know him. People who knew of him could only describe him as very bright and very quiet.
We know a few other things that tell us a lot. First, he was heavily involved in the dark fantasy world of Batman and had costumes and posters throughout his apartment to prove it. Second, he had a profile on a website that connects people who are seeking out sexual trysts. Third, he built up an enormous arsenal of guns, ammunition, tactical gear, and chemicals to make bombs, using the internet to make the orders. He did all this in secret.
Clearly, this man was engulfed in a dark, secretive life, which eventually exploded into the real world. That explosion ruined his life and many, many others.
We don’t know this yet, but I would wager a very large amount of money that he had a deep addiction to pornography and played a tremendous amount of violent, first-person-shooter video games. I also suppose that he had a penchant for very violent movies. I may be wrong about that, but I think the facts eventually will prove me right. His secret life was surely thrilling, and it eventually took over his sense of reality.
I interpret his profile as one who felt deeply lonely, angry, powerless, and hopeless. He went to his secret world of violent media to feel power. And in that secret, dark world, he was desensitized to the effects of violence. In fact, violence is glamorized in that virtual world. So, he eventually bought an arsenal of weaponry to feel power. He shot all those people to feel powerful. After all, for a few minutes he was like God, taking and sparing lives as he willed. He probably felt that it was the ultimate power, the ultimate high.
I think it’s a picture of extreme self-centeredness. Because he was disconnected from people, void of meaningful relationship with humanity, there was nothing inside him to stop his thirst for the thrill of violence. His pain – fueled by pornography, violent imagery, and exhilarating weaponry – overwhelmed him. He had lost his humanity, sold to the devil, not unlike the Joker.
And to think that not long ago he was a little boy in suburban San Diego, playing with Legos. He was not born this way. He was ruined by isolation. He became an aimless, hopeless, powerless individual who was disconnected from a morality that cares about people or God or anything.
Healing the Pain
The best antidotes for pain are not quick fixes, but they actually move the person toward peace, just on a longer time frame. Here are a few:
People – A person in pain can go to people for sympathy, support, problem solving, laughter, and advice. The support of family and friends is powerful in a crisis, for a person cannot find peace alone. Even being around people in a casual way can be powerful. People remind us that we are not alone or abnormal, and they make us feel that we belong. Ideally a person has (or can create) a family that provides a strong sense of belonging.
Purpose – A person in pain needs to be needed. He or she needs a purpose more than ever. It may be a career that gives a sense of importance. It might be a family, or even a pet, that is dependent and appreciative of the person. It might be a religious mission of some kind. It might be a goal that seems challenging and valuable. Whatever it may be, a person in pain will heal quicker with a strengthened sense of purpose.
Service / Work – A person in pain needs to see that many others are needy and hurting. That person needs to realize that there are countless others who are in a worse spot than he or she is. Serving the less fortunate brings about a sense of gratefulness, a sense of importance, and a sense of purpose. So, a person in pain who serves is a healing soul. And service does not have to be for just the needy. A good job provides a sense of worth and a paycheck and self-esteem.
Prayer – A person in pain can go to God with his or her problems and privately share troubles, confess sins, vent anger, plead for mercy, give thanks, and meditate on solutions to problems. What results is not always immediate peace, but it is a vital part of processing pain in a positive way, and often there is something powerful that results. Hope is essential, and prayer provides hope.
God – Ultimately, in order to find peace, a man must deal with the meaning life and the question of what happens after death. Conversely, someone who has no faith, no religion, and no clue about life’s meaning will usually lack a strong moral compass, will lack hope, and will be more prone to depression. Knowledge of and interaction with God provides peace and purpose on another level.
Bottom Line: Our kids desperately need to be loved. Kids need people in their lives who will help them find self-worth, purpose, meaningful work, and a spiritual life, among other things.
Here are a few relevant articles about how to make sure your kids grow up well loved.