Newtown on my Mind

I was going to write about re-enactment, a psychological byproduct of trauma from exposure to danger, but I can’t stop thinking about the shooting at Sandy Hook school.  In articles in Huffington PostSFGate, and New York Times Online, I look for pieces in which a more in-depth understanding of the psychology of the shooter Adam Lanza is revealed, but all I ever see is the tired phrase “personality disorder” as if that explains anything.

In other articles, he’s referred to as autistic or Asperger’s. In one article, a high school classmate remembered Adam as a weird kid who ducked in and out of class, carrying a black attaché case. Someone else mentioned that he was ‘one of the Goths’. I just want to know why a kid whose suffering was clear to everyone wasn’t helped. How do kids become such loners?  Why does everyone know that Adam Lanza was different or “socially awkward” or “painfully shy” and obviously needed guidance or friendship but was just left to ‘go his own way’?  And why was an adult who was head of the high school technology club to which Adam Lanza belonged charged with watching out for the boy because he couldn’t feel pain?

Another question I have is, was Adam on medication?  If so, how long?  What are the side effects of these medications?  At what age was he medicated?  What part did a drug play in Adam Lanza’s behavior?

I remember the rage I felt at age thirteen and at twenty-two. I didn’t know how to cope with it and acted out. The school psychologist was worthless; in fact, he exacerbated the situation and increased my rage. The principal of the grade school acted like a bad cop in his dealings with children, further enraging me. When I was twenty-two, the counselor at the college I attended was a Freudian analyst who frightened me. Many times, we are having problems that our parents can’t solve. Sometimes, our family is the problem. We look to society and its institutions for help. Where was the help for Adam?

What do children do with their anger?  Are they given tools to cope and understand themselves?  Is there a space for mental health training in schools?  Was Adam Lanza filled with uncontrollable rage?  Perhaps he had experienced some early trauma that he was unconsciously acting out on?  Maybe re-enactment is a relevant topic of discussion after all. Adam could have been “re-creat[ing] the moment of terror, . . . in an attempt to undo the tragic moment . . . commonly, traumatized people find themselves reenacting some aspect of the trauma scene in disguised form, without realizing what they are doing” (Herman 39-40). Was Adam suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress?

Obviously, the situation is complex and all I have are questions and more questions. I am waiting for an article that honors the complexity of the human condition in its attempt to provide answers. In the meantime, I am praying that our society moves forward and changes in some big, brave ways in response to this enormous tragedy.

0 Responses to Newtown on my Mind

  1. Excellent thought process Wendy. Mimics my own sentiments; especially the medications. (I have personal knowledge of this issue myself with my daughter.) Mental health today is “prescribe medications.” That’s the bulk of it.

    • There’s so much more to mental health than prescribing drugs as you know. When someone is given drugs to remedy behavior or alter thinking, a person can feel that his or her personal agency is gone. At age 22, I went to a psychologist when I was suicidal. He prescribed Elavil and said to come back in a month! Wasn’t I even worth one question about how I’m doing or what I’m feeling? I tossed the prescription in the trash bin and headed out to do myself in. Thankfully, I survived the attempt! I hope in the coming days we’ll have a much more complete picture of Adam Lanza.

  2. My thoughts are very much with the U.S. in light of the recurring tragedies in your in-many-ways beautiful country, which always seem to involve somebody who is “disturbed” by something affecting their “personality disorder”.
    Thank you, Wendy, for this sensitive and thoughtful response to the latest tragedy in that Newtown school. Your questions are felt in many minds and surely cry out for answers that might help reduce the suffering of so many in both domestic and more public situations.. We live in a broken world, and my work with people leads me to think we can do better but will always have troubled people among us.
    Which leads me to express my gratitude that your President has lent his position to dealing with the ownership of weapons of extreme violence. I’m sure that many around the world are praying that President Obama will succeed and that the USA will become a safer and more peaceful land.

  3. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. We need them all. We especially need prayers in our attempt to deal more humanely and intelligently with mental illness. There’s still a great deal of ignorance about emotions in this country–what they are, how best to deal with them, how to create peace of mind. There’s also a lot of confusion about the mind–what it is and how best to use it. We often see our bodies as separate from our minds, which is not so. I hope that this new era brings the teachings of enlightened ones in the fields of spirit, health, psychology, medicine, and education to the forefront. We need more help. We need to change. We need to help each other more. Thank you for being one of those enlightened helpers out there!

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