For over 3 decades I have worked with clinically, and studied closely, the connection between social avoidance and anger and rage. I have had numerous patients who have said to me something like "I understand why kids shoot up schools". These individuals (my patients) are not psychotic killers and they would never act with violence, but they are expressing anger that is so prevalent and misunderstood.
In my professional opinion, It's important to identify common characteristics of angry loners so that perhaps one day there can be a more productive preventive mental health approach for what is becoming an epidemic of violence. During the direct aftermath of Newtown I actually thought that mental health issues had a chance of coming more to the forefront, but it appears that these issues are once again taking a distant back seat to gun control.
My patients who communicated the previous remark had the following in common:
- They had social anxiety and avoidant personalities.
- They were picked on/bullied.
- They were loners.
- They were angry (at different levels of consciousness) that people around them were happy and socializing.
- They were low on the social "pecking order".
The vast majority of loners implode with anger and rage. This takes the form of panic, depression, substance dependence, and a myriad of stress related disorders. But since Columbine there has been a growing pattern of explosions by angry loners.
Glaring descriptions have become common, across the board of recent mass killers. These include "anti-social", "didn't speak", "uncommunicative", "abnormally quiet", and "avoided eye contect". All you have to do is look up news clippings of Adam Lanza, Seung-Hui Cho, and, James Holmes.
The Selective Mutism Connection
Selective mutism is a form of social phobia and a specific variation of obsessive compulsive disorder. The primary symptom is the individual's inability to speak in specific situations. This condition characterizes society's confusion with social anxiety, as the typical mantra from professionals and parents is "leave the kid alone; he/she is just shy and will grow out of it". Approximately 7 out of 1000 children have the problem and there is very little help available worldwide. The reality is the anxiety worsens over time and becomes more integrated into the personality. The more the mutism is unresolved, the more potential there is for anger and rage because these individuals become more dependent on caregivers and less self-reliant. They experience helplessness in many verbal performance scenarios which can translate into toxic self-esteem. The children become adolescents and the adolescents become adults. For those who are comfortable with the belief that the child will grow out of the problem, please listen now to Mike one of the many SM adults with whom I have worked.
The silver lining is that selective mutism presents an opportunity for early intervention for social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, narcissistic tendencies, and possible prevention for violence.
Texting has replaced talking as the most common form of communication. This reality inhibits the development of the neural pathways required for verbal communication on a societal level. The problem will only get worse. As society becomes more dependent on technology, social skills are more at risk!
Would you be horrified or angry if I tell you that a few years ago during a television interview where Stone Phillips interviewed Jeffrey Dahmer in prison the serial criminal and psychopath was referred to as "very shy" as a child by his parents? Theodore Kazynski the "Unibomber" of years ago used to run up to his room and hide as a child when he heard visitors drive their car into his parents' driveway. In both these cases, characteristics of social anxiety and social avoidance evolved into some pretty serious psychiatric conditions!
As one parent of an SM child said to me; "how dare you say that shyness and selective mutism can be connected to mass murder; my child is sweet and sensitive". I have no doubt that her child was sweet and sensitive, but that does not stop the psycho-dynamic of anger and rage from evolving. Another said regarding his 6 yr. old with SM "I don't want my daughter to think there's anything wrong with her". This child never spoke a word in school. In my opinion, society needs to evolve from its' denial and resistance regarding social anxiety and avoidance to a more functional understanding and more productive treatment.
Years ago, one of my patients brought me a movie to watch: "FIGHT CLUB". It was very interesting. A cult of men took out their anger on the unfairness of society. Their strength and power were based on the dynamic of self- inflicted pain. My patient, a 20-year-old who had experienced substantial social rejection and "put down" gave himself a black eye - self-administered pain - to create a sense of power!
As mentioned previously, most individuals with anger and rage resulting from social anxiety implode, meaning their anger is internalized and repressed. This recycled energy turns into a myriad of problems as the anger drives depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, and a myriad of stress-related disorders. People develop anger when they avoid situations they don't want to be avoiding, or know they shouldn't be avoiding, whether it's socializing in general, relationship development, dating, learning a desired skill, interacting with authority figures, or speaking in public.
Social anxiety sufferers often confuse pleasure with the avoidance of discomfort. This dynamic becomes a profound investment in anger and rage at different levels of consciousness. Any patient, of any age and functioning level who has achieved therapeutic success with me, has learned in some way to identify and channel the energy of their anger productively. In fact, believe it or not, panic and anxiety attacks are a somatic (physical) expression of emotion - primarily anger. Repressed anger and rage actually inhibits the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream creating physical as well as emotional pain!
Take a few minutes and listen to Eric describe his anger during his therapeutic process. Feel the rage.
The earlier there is productive intervention, the more of a chance there is to resolve anger and rage, which are so closely related to embarrassment, shame, and humiliation; the emotions which drive social anxiety before the toxicity works it's way insidiously into the personality.
Early Warning Signs of the Angry Loner
- Selective mutism
- Absence of a peer group
- Avoidant and dependent personality
- Social skills challenges
- A sense of secrecy
- Over-dependence on computer
- A parenting breakdown
- Communication problems.
Read the article: A Tell-Tale Sign: How Recognizing Social Avoidance Can Help Prevent Mass Murder
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