Posted on October 24, 2014 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
Another school shooting…why?
The details of today’s shootings here in Washington state are still coming out, as are the theories about the reasons for the violence. The gun control advocates and the anti-bullying movement can both advance their positions by reference to this tragedy. But there is another take on it that I’d like you to consider.
What has been a frequent theme when these kinds of incidents are dissected is that the perpetrators have felt injured emotionally. They have been “victims” themselves- of bullying and rejection, we are told.
Indeed, I cannot disagree. But then, most young people growing up can cite times when they themselves have been the targets of some kind of hurt. What is common among those acting out violently is an inability to tolerate distress. The young person responds to the stressor in his life by lashing out at others and sometimes himself as well.
One of the major tasks in human development is learning to manage our emotions. Someone can be the best and the brightest, a talented athlete and even a homecoming prince, and yet not be able to tolerate his own upset at being bullied and rejected. This may be the answer to the “why” of what happened today.
My mother had a saying I grew sick of hearing as I was growing up: “ This, too, shall pass.” But today’s shooter obviously didn’t believe that. I didn’t believe the saying either when, as a teen, I was trying to get over a broken heart. But between what my mother said, the support of my friends, and a sense of belonging in my family, I somehow muddled through.
Things aren’t the same today.
- Kids and teens are often more connected to their phones and facebook than to immediate family. There is more opportunity to catch others, or be caught in unflattering situations, and more opportunity for exploitation.
- There is an expectation among many that the normal state should be happiness; less than that means there is a problem that someone else should correct.
- We live in a society that does more blaming than perhaps at any other time in our history. Politicians have contributed to an “us versus them” mentality, in which one group is pitted against another. It is easy to feel alienated, and easy to feel that one is a victim of someone else or another group.
- We have so elevated the “art” of feeling offended that people are afraid to be honest with each other, as if offending someone is a crime itself. We see people in the news frequently who have innocently offended others while being truthful in their opinions, only to have to apologize repeatedly for the transgression of honesty.
The above kind of thinking lessens our ability to handle distress that life delivers to us all.
So what can we do?
- Find out how schools are helping children with distress tolerance, if they are at all.
- Curtail the talk and thinking that leads our young people to feel like victims. Discourage thinking that divides individuals and groups.
- Don’t ignore upset feelings, but let our young people know that this is a normal part of growing up. Let them know we can get through very difficult situations. Talk about various coping strategies. (We can wade through upset and grief, but we cannot go around it.)
- Find ways to stay connected with those you care about.
- Be someone who empowers your young people, who conveys faith in their ability to survive and thrive.
Finally, hold the deceased and injured from today’s shootings in your thoughts and prayers.