Do the Menendez Brothers Reside in Many of Us?

Human nature: Few children murder their parents with shotguns, but there are subtler ways of getting rid of people.

[Published in: The L.A. Times, December 24, 1993]
By Thomas Hersh

A patient in a nursing home (call her "Mrs. Kay") is an 85 year old schizophrenic whose illness is more or less in remission. I look forward to seeing her because of her interesting ideas. She sits alone all day, often with her door closed, and resists everyone who tries to get her involved in activities. When she comes out to eat her meals in the dining room, she makes nasty comments that keep other residents away. She has a reputation. A lady at the home told me that "Mrs. Kay gives me the creeps. She reminds me of one of the Addams family."

The Pain from Tucson

Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, January 21, 2011.

The killings in Tucson have awakened fear and confusion and pain (and even guilt) in many people. Here I focus only on the pain. Perhaps the deepest pain has come from the story of the nine year old girl. I would guess that most people who have seen interviews with her parents and her friends feel upset that this little girl has died. People who are not particularly interested in their feelings may not know they are in pain. Others may have noticed the pain within themselves but decided not to focus on it, because "What's the point: It's just one of those situations where we suffer, and there's nothing we can do about it. This is how life is. We're grown-ups, not naïve kids or neurotics, and we go on with our lives. Even more, 'We didn't know her personally.'"

Short idea (44): I think everybody has been abused by someone or other, to some degree or other, in some way or other, at some time or other. I think everybody has abused someone or other, to some degree or other, in some way or other, at some time or other. Abuse is not everything and everywhere, but it is part of life.

Short idea (45): There is physical abuse, intellectual abuse, religious abuse, emotional abuse, and abuse where one person browbeats and tyrannizes another person with tastes or values. Physical abuse is probably the most painful. (I say probably.)

Short idea (46): An abusive episode is like a tornado. Once it passes there is a calm just like on any other day. The only sign of what happened is what is left behind. — The weather is normal 99.9% of the time. Then along comes a tornado and kills a lot of people.

The Silence of the Lambs: A Psychological Review

Psychologists are not trained to evaluate the artistic merits of a film, but we may try to analyze a film very much as we analyze other products of the human psyche such as dreams or myths. In fact, a film, in so far as it "grips" people, is a myth in action, and to comment on a film that fascinates its audience is to comment on a living myth, a snap-shot of the American psyche.

Short idea (91): There's a parallel between the passion of sex and and the passion of anger. I think almost every human being in the world would agree that there should be some limitation and restraint on the expression of sexual impulses and angry impulses (both for themselves and for others). It would be impossible for all humans to agree on just where the lines should be drawn, but pretend we all could agree. Pretend we all went to a big conference and could all agree that people, from now on, can express their sexual and angry impulses up to a certain boundary line but no further, that certain sexual and angry behaviors are totally unacceptable. Then, we might also agree that, as long as people do not step over the lines, everyone is free to express their sexual and angry impulses any way they see fit in accordance with their own individual styles. The points I am making are: 1) every human being has sexual and angry impulses; 2) every human being has to limit them; 3) every human being needs to express them in some way; 4) and people have just as much variation in their preferred ways of controlling and expressing their anger as they do in their preferred ways of controlling and expressing their loving feelings.

Impulse, Control, Balance, Etc.:

Psychologists now talk about people with impulse control problems or people with addictive personalities. We all know people who fit these descriptions, and we ourselves may have this problem, at least at times.

Dear Reader who is a Pre-Batterers,

(This is not meant as a replacement for psychotherapy! but as a thought that might be helpful for certain people at certain times who are already working in therapy.)

Here are some assumptions about batterers — people who have tendencies to hit people or animals (or yell at them or insult them, and the like) but who haven't done it yet.

"Big" Dream 4 (November, 2013)

(from the series of "Big" dreams)

This Dream felt like a very big dream to the dreamer. I present it as a kind of quiz. The quiz question is: "Is it a big dream or not?"

Short idea (143): Anger is like a storm: You can't prevent or stop or control it, but you can do your best to weather it and keep down the damage.

Short idea (153): There are many reasons to have censorship in movies. For example, it can be awful to see abuse and killing in films, and many would like a censor to keep these things out of what we and our children see. One reason not to censor is that films are an expression of the psyche and soul of a people. In this way they are like dreams, and like dreams, they probably have a balancing function. If you could censor dreams, the individual might become unbalanced. Also, films can be used to monitor what is going on in the collective psyche. This monitoring can give sensitive people a window into the future of a nation, into what is about to happen, and it gives some time to prepare. Censoring, whatever its value, takes away this mirror.

2014 JMH International Essay Contest — SUMMARY ARTICLE

Introductory Thoughts

The essayists agreed that anger and violence are serious problems, for the people involved and on the level of society which it can undermine.

Strong anger is like a wild-fire; it destroys reason. People who get carried away by anger often say, later, that they don't know what came over them, and so, being taken over by anger, is like becoming unconscious.

Short idea (167): Speaking as a psychotherapist, I guess that some school shootings and work-place shootings are irrational, incorrect, misguided, illegitimate, and immoral attempts to gain power, respect, and dignity.

Short idea (175): Anger is a way of holding things at arm's length, of isolating oneself from what you are angry at. We know the negative sides of this distancing for oneself and for others, but a positive function is that it seems to be a necessary step in thinking; it is pre-condition of observing and analyzing.

by C. M., USA

I longed to be on my own. Some space, some peace, some time for thoughts to organize themselves. To be autonomous. To find something to hold on to. I was never alone. There was always someone intruding on my thoughts and my freedom, demanding my emotions, will, and soul. I grabbed my roller blades and began to skate. A couple blocks before my appointed destination, I sat on a corner in the grass for some peace, to be alone. Thinking, crying, praying. “This is not a father. This is not right. He will never change. He will never be a true daddy. I will never be loved.” Empty and lacking a solution, I stood up, “God, you be my Daddy.” I began to skate up a hill with all my might with God as my Father at the top of the hill. When I reached the top, it would be official. I would leave behind my ties to my old father and embrace my new Father. Faster, faster I pressed on, feeling the burning in my legs, the tears drying on my face, I locked eyes with the top of that hill. The pain felt good and right. Then to my confusion and horror, as I had nearly reached the top, my father’s red truck emerged over the hill. I stopped. I don’t know why he came looking for me, or how he knew I hadn’t arrived at my neighbors house yet, or why he had come from the forward direction rather than behind, or even if I was really that delayed in arriving, as I’d only sat in the grass a few minutes. I did know what this meant, as much as I desired to brush it off as coincidence. There was no denying such an unfortunate intervention. The Father I thought I would reach at the top of the hill was my father. There would be no shaking him off like that.       

Here I am 13 years later, pretending I live my life autonomously. Pretending his presence doesn’t loom over my fears, my desires, my frustrations, my decisions the way they did so many years ago. Pretending I left him when I got keys to my own car. Pretending I left him at a Bob Evans breakfast the day before my college courses began. Pretending I left him when he sat in the pew after walking me down the aisle. Pretending I left him on that grassy corner as I raced to the top of the hill. Now years later, after running and running, he’s always waiting for me. Reminding me I cannot escape. When I’m told to use my head, there his voice echos. When I’m told to stop crying, there is his harsh response. When I’m brushed aside, there he is pushing. When the things I appreciate are stripped away, he’s the one grabbing them. When I can’t get some space, some peace, some time for thoughts to organize themselves, there he is intruding. When no one will listen to me, there he is ignoring me. When I’m fearful there is nothing good left, its the old familiar feeling of my childhood creeping back.      

I’m 24, but I’m still wishing there was someone I could trust. Someone who would listen to me. Someone who would tell me I have good ideas. Someone who would be tender and gracious with my mistakes. Someone who would encourage my interests. Someone I wouldn’t have to hide from, to feel like myself. And God still hasn’t showed up at the top of that hill. So I’m still waiting for Him to pull up in his truck, open the passenger door and take me home where I will be loved.

by Sarthak Mehe, Bhudaneswar, Orissa, India

Emotions sketch our personality, and so any alteration gets reflected in the personality, as well. Emotional abuse has its effect on every other aspect of life. 

Emotional abuse cannot and should not be compared or weighed against physical abuse. Emotional abuse leaves deeper impressions, which cannot be healed by pain-killers, ointments, or vaccines. 

The impact becomes far more difficult to overcome in the case of children. Unlike the physical, emotional abuse can be a confusing subject, because children who are abused can not label what is going on and learn so come to accept it and continue to live with it. Most people who have gone through emotional or psychological disturbances eventually begin to suffer from and to become aware of the stigmas, stereotypes, and ignorance that are prevalent in the society.   

Actions that suppress or restrict individuality or creative potential come under the label of “emotional abuse”. Threatening, spreading rumors, bullying, etc are some of the common examples. 

Emotional abuse is not limited to any particular setting, and can take place at home, school, workplace, or any other organization. 

Often this kind of abuse takes a very subtle form, which makes it difficult for people to fully realize. Our methods of punishment, and disciplinary actions, themselves aim to create emotional disturbances. The word ‘punishment’ has undertones of revenge and anger, which is intended to ‘teach a lesson’ to someone. It is a socially accepted form of emotional abuse, which probably never, if ever, brings positive or corrective results, no matter how much we justify it.   

Emotional abuse seems to be far more widespread than physical. This is partly due to lack of awareness and knowledge of how to recognize and label it that makes it difficult to identify these issues early. 

Although emotional abuse is physically not visible, the consequences are loud and clear. Usually, the consequences are woken up to very late, and the resultant sense of fear and hopelessness stands as a barrier to effective recovery. What may have started with a few words could go on to develop into failed relationships, cheating, mistrust, substance abuse, etc. 

Repeated exposure to emotional abuse can cause the self-esteem to diminish. Feeling of rejection and inferiority becomes persistent, and the mind becomes very sensitive or vulnerable to minute external stimuli, and it can over-react. For example, if a child grows up with a sense of rejection, then simply not being able to find a seat inside a hall/classroom could act as a powerful stimulus to invoke inferiority feelings or feelings of rejection. Someone may not respond to their greeting, but it could also be that they were too busy or unable to hear due to some noise. Irrespective of situations or circumstances, an emotionally abused person may carry a constant sense of inferiority or low self-worth.

Children are the most sensitive to judgments and remarks, and unlike adults, their intellect isn’t fully equipped to shield against undesirable effects. Parents are generally unaware that some of their words or behavior may constitute emotional abuse. Kids may accept this abuse as a legitimate role of the parent and hence, even do the same with their future children. It would be worth noting that even if our intentions may be good, our methods may have a negative effect, and we often do not know our own real motives.

Unlike physical abuse, the term ‘emotional abuse’ has yet to find its way fully into the vocabulary of general public. This one reason why so many cases of emotional abuse go unnoticed until something drastic or serious happens. 

Emotional abuse can take the form of publicly rebuking a child, shutting him/her inside a room, or simply comparing them with their peers. In my opinion, children are to be guided and not dictated to, so that they are empowered and choose a good path themselves. 

Emotionally abused kids are actually being taught to inflict the same treatment on others as a means of control and achieving something. It is in childhood that the roots of all good and evil form, which are nourished and produce similar qualities of fruits later in the future. In my opinion, there needs to be a greater understanding and awareness of the effect of our methods, so that the right qualities are sown, which would eventually lead to a healthy society.  

The effects of emotional abuse have no limit. Despite technological improvements, our mental health may, at times, undermine our physical health. Money spent on medical treatments and surgeries prolong life span but are undermined by abusive behaviors. We have to shift our focus to the source and analyze our mind. The effects of emotions reach the vital organs of the body, and so emotional abuse produces damaging effects on our health. 

And turbulence within the mind is bound to create ripples in our relationships. Emotional abuse is good neither for the abuser nor the one being abused, because ultimately it is the relationship which suffers. Communication, which is a vital aspect of relationship gets affected and only helps to complicate matters further. 

Suppressed emotions of the sufferer can eventually erupt in unpredictable forms, and lead to rash decisions, which could prove to be costly. 

Emotions are connected with the spirit, which infuses life into the physical form. Playing with someone’s emotions intentionally is no less than harassment. It needs mention here that, our each and every thought contributes to our destiny. Thought gives rise to feeling, which decides our action. An action if repeated, gradually builds up into a habit. All our habits collectively form our personality, and as is the personality, so shall be the destiny. Hence, emotional aspects of life must be placed at the top of our priority list. After all, every action begins with a thought, and every thought arises from the beliefs we hold. Mind is the source which has to process incoming information and run the body accordingly. 

Emotional abuse creates turbulence at the very source of our being, and it’s only a matter of time till it materializes into the outer realities. More and more people globally today are knocking on the doors of spirituality, yoga, meditation, etc for a reason. Counselors and self-help books are increasingly being sought. Unless we are emotionally healthy, all our physical effort to find peace would go in vain.

by Cassie Monae, Trinidad and Tobago

Imagine what it’s like always existing within the eye of a storm. It is a place where your days are spent fearful and in a restless calm, silently aware that the psychological security of your world could be shattered in seconds and that another entity, as human as yourself, would be responsible. Their assault is aimed at your inner self, leaving your protective exterior unharmed and guilty of being so. That, to me, is emotional abuse.   

When I think of my childhood, I remember Sorrow and Savage. That’s how I visualized my two parents in those days. Sorrow and I were like partners. We spent our time together, primping and prepping, putting everything away, neatly in its place, just as Savage liked. We also locked our psyches away with the valuables so that their unsulliedness may not be tarnished when the storm came.   Savage was that storm. A thickening of the air to some biteable form would usually herald his arrival.  

My tiny body would writhe fearfully, recalling the things that were left out of place, as he pulled into the driveway. I felt that he enjoyed Sorrow's fear of not pleasing him, since today would be one thing and tomorrow would be another. I'd even taught myself to falsely confess on her behalf that I was the one who had left the house awry, in the hope that Sorrow would be spared. Even then, as childlike and forgivable as my errors should have seemed, she would be blamed and suffer my consequence. I found myself taking shelter in the basement that was the underside of my bed, choking with remorse that outside my door her spirit was being weakened and that Sorrow could not be saved from the windy tail of the storm.   

In wider society, there are many others like Sorrow, suffering emotional abuse though under different circumstances. In my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, often times the wife of the first born son in families of East Indian descent moves into her husband's family home after they're married. It is not uncommon for her to be assigned the caretaking duties of the entire household of extended families, even if she has a higher educational. The abuse exists where she lacks the ability to reprimand or challenge any family member even on valid issues. She knows that her opposition would be seen as a transgression, as ungratefulness and may also embarrass her husband, since to have been allowed to marry their first son and move into their home is considered a high honour. She therefore feels compelled to avoid this.   

Emotional abuse also exists in large families consisting of several siblings where there may be one sibling who may never have started their own family or developed their finances enough to live on their own. Consequentially, they remain in the family home and can experience extreme psychological pressure from siblings to vacate the home so it can be sold for profit after their parents' passing. 

Apart from siblings, parents themselves have also used their ability to provide education and finances to coerce good behaviour into their children. In both circumstances, the emotional abuse persists as it is less likely for the oppressed to take legal or other action against their kin.  

While many persons seem to believe that emotional abuse is an affliction of only women and children, it affects males as well. I've witnessed personally that men, in times of hardship, are often pressured to “be a man”. It is my opinion that this exists globally. I have had male colleagues who have become emotionally disenfranchised by attempting to conceal their unhappiness with their job or depression after a breakup because society considers such displays of vulnerability “unmanly”. The abusers here may be the mass media (if it is a public), their spouse, co-workers, or even their father figures. The effects can be devastating as this pressure silences men who may then turn to alcohol or other addictions for their comfort. They, in turn, may also impose the same abuse on their sons, thus perpetuating the cycle of abuse. 

Such is the very nature of emotional abuse. Due to its intangibility, its invisibility, it is seldom identified and therefore easily grows and becomes immortal within a victim or a family. Think of my Sorrow, who may have first suffered emotional abuse in her marital home, having to raise children within that environment. From my hiding place as a child, I would hear that Savage roaring insults and profanities at her, which also seemed to bash themselves against walls. In the mornings that followed these happenings, I would have always expected to see Sorrow terribly disfigured, but she never was. Only now I realize that Savage's aim was never physical annihilation but to shred the very core of her being. 

Emotional abuse invokes feelings of fear and poor self-esteem, leaving the abused but a shell of their former self. A shell one can manipulate and distort any way they pleased. Feelings of shame and lack of knowledge of others like them, leads the abused to isolate themselves and not reach out for help, allowing the abuse to continue.   

By eliminating this isolation, one removes the dark hood under which emotional abuse thrives, serving to break the vicious course of psychological disempowerment. It is my hope that by having shared my thoughts, I have encouraged at least one person to stand up and free themselves, help others or, more so, tell their story. Greater awareness of this issue can propel further research, and thus, possibly create a framework to identify both emotional abusers and their victims early, before its harmful effects transfer to more generations.    


Abuse in Intimate Relationships. Fremouw, Westrup, & Pennypacker, 1997. Harmon, Rosner, & Owens, 1998.

Tjaden; Thoennes, 1998, 2000; Walker & Meloy, 1998 Date accessed: 22 July 2015  

Ali, A., & Toner, B. (2005). A Cross-Cultural Investigation of Emotional Abuse in Caribbean Women and Caribbean-Canadian Women. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 125-140. Date accessed: 22 July 2015





Those winning the prize of Honorable Mention are, in alphabetical order:
C. M., USA
Sarthak Meher, India
Ioana Meșterelu, Romania
Cassie Monae, Trinidad and Tobago



The essays this year can be classified into 
1) personal inner reports 
2) discussions of Emotional Abuse from an external point of view. 

Both have value. 

Inner Reports

I think some readers might benefit from reading two of the reports from people who have experienced emotional abuse, who, as it were, have been in the eye of the storm. 

Curious readers who have never experienced severe emotional abuse may, by reading these essays, have a chance to catch a glimpse of what the experience is like from the inside. 

Also, it is a strange psychological phenomenon that we can suffer emotional abuse and never be aware of it. It is hoped that reading these two reports might help those of us who are unaware in this way come to a new awareness of ourselves. 

Finally, these two emotionally intense reports can show why it can be so very difficult to become healed from deep emotional abuse. No slogan or A-B-C answer can go deep enough. Psychotherapy itself, even if it can be an answer in some cases, is not easy answer. And, as this first essay shows, if there is an answer through a deep religious experience, it is not necessarily straightforward. (click here for the essay of C. M.)

I think C. M.’s essay and also essay by Cassie Monae (click here) indicate another aspect of what it is to be abused. What I want to say here is true for all suffering, but I am speaking specifically about Emotional Abuse: There can be a positive side. To echo Nietzsche’s thoughts, if we are not destroyed by that which oppresses us, we can become deeper and better and more thoughtful people. The essays by C. M. and Cassie Monae indicate a depth of feeling and thought that is, I think, unusual. 

C. M.’s essay can lead to very deep thoughts about religious experiences, as it contains an event that Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli referred to as Synchronicity (Meaningful Coincidence). When people have what feels to them like a very meaningful coincidence, it can shake them up on a profound level and lead to a deepening of their thinking and understanding about the forces at work in determining the course of a life.

The essay by Cassie Monae, on the other hand, points to a widening of ethical feeling beyond the ordinary as well as a broadening of feelings of social responsibility. That essay indicates how a person who is suffering terribly might link with another in the same situation and form a bond of mutual respect and desire to help. This gives a wider meaning to ones own suffering and can lead to a life spent helping others and a life experienced from a more ethical dimension than is usual.

Of course, as we know, pointing out a possible positive side in suffering, does not mean there is no suffering and no pain. And suffering can, for some, have no meaning, and lead only to negatives. (It is probably true to say that each one of has a limit to the suffering we can bear). I think the two essays just presented show more than pain from Emotional Abuse and more than the difficulty of a complete cure. I think they show how persistent the abused mindset can be. In both of the above inner reports, the painful situation occurred in childhood, but we can see that the feelings and thoughts of the child are there, unchanged, in the adult. The abuser can be long gone or even dead, and we can still feel the same expectations we had when they were around.

The External Point of View

This last point is one of those made in the essay by Sarthak Meher although expressed in the form of an external report on the effects of abuse. In his essay, Sarthak points out, among other things, how a person sensitive to being ignored or ridiculed, can enter a classroom and misread the feelings of fellow students. 

Those who are Dependent

All this lends more significance to the objective data that emotional abuse is, perhaps, most difficult to deal with in childhood when we are learning in leaps and bounds what to expect in the world.

In addition to other factors, children, especially young children, are all but helpless. Children may be one hundred percent dependent for their survival (food, clothing, shelter) on the very people who are emotionally (and possibly physically) brutal to them. If there is a way out, they can’t see it. Maybe they can imagine it or dream of it, but it isn’t real. This is how things are. Period.

Even when a person is older, if they are financially dependent on another person with no perceived way out, they are all but prisoners at the mercy of the other person. This can be a wife who is dependent on her husband (or a husband dependent on his wife) or a worker dependent on his or her boss (or co-workers) or an elderly person dependent on his or her caregiver or a prisoner in a jail or a citizen dependent on the government. In these cases, if the person is a rational adult with at least a little bit of courage and with some social support, it is often possible to discuss the situation and to help the person figure out a way to escape or handle the difficult situation and to develop enough power to stand on their own two feet within a supportive community that values freedom and dignity. When an abused person feels strong, the abuser often stops abusing.

Since we are all dependent on others, we are all subject to abuse. Even bosses, looked at from one angle, are dependent on their employees. 

Blaming the Victim

One point made in the essay by Ioana Meșterelu is that it is very easy for those on the outside to blame the victim. This is a difficult problem to understand and to solve. It is worth taking a moment to try to figure out why.

It seems to me that each of us suffers abuse at least to some extent, probably every day. At the same time, we each differ in our ability to fend it off or successively absorb it. Some of us, for whatever reason, are very sensitive, and some have, what my grandfather called “a thick skin”. If we are sensitive, we might marvel at others who seem never to get upset about anything. And we might feel inferior (which, in turn, can eat at us). On the other hand, if we see someone more sensitive than us respond emotionally to a situation that seems like nothing to us, we can wonder why they are making such a big deal about what amounts to nothing. We can give advice such as, “Why not just forget it?” that can only serve to irritate the other person and make them feel worse, and we can become surprised to find out that the other person has come to see us as an abuser. If we say, “Why are you being so sensitive?”, they see this as heaping abuse on abuse. We don’t see it. We are just being objective and, it seems to us, trying to be helpful.

All of us can be placed somewhere on this Scale of Sensitivity: Some are more and some are less sensitive than us. Sensitivity is a relative concept. But it’s not so simple, because we can be sensitive to one thing and not another, and our individual sensitivities as well as our overall sensitivity can change over our lives. But, still, the Scale of Sensitivity can be a useful concept. It can, for one thing, help us see that we are less sensitive than some and more sensitive than others. We can feel and be upset by the relative insensitivity of others to us, just as we can be, at the same time, insensitive to the sensitivities of others.

We can even be insensitive to ourselves. We can, right or wrong, agree with our adversary’s view of us. We can see ourselves as lazy or untidy or stupid and beat ourselves up. As pointed out in many of the essays, this can immobilize us. We may feel we will never be able to find a better relation, because everyone will see how bad we are. We can get locked into a hopeless goal of trying to please the one who is judging us. We are now our own unforgiving enemy.

The Abuser (from the Inner and the Outer Points of View)

Abusing is the other side of the relationship that is Emotional Abuse. We have talked about the victim. It is time to say a little about the abuser.

One of the things pointed out by both of the objective essays (as well as many of the essays that were not given a prize), is that the abuser is often unconscious of being an abuser. 

I already said that many who are abused aren’t aware of it. It may be connected to whether or not the person has enough knowledge of life to know there are other ways of being together. 

But it can be deeper, I think. Remember back to the first two essays and the feeling of being abused. Imagine being an adult and still feeling the same way. Then image someone being mean to you. Now you are an adult. You don’t have to take it. In fact, you may have vowed not to take anything from anybody anymore. So you stand up to the other person. You get angry. Even if you don’t strike out physically, you strike out with words. You feel good when you see the other person upset and crumbling. You feel strong and brave. You are proud of yourself. What you don’t realize is that you are an adult now and that the person you just yelled at was, in the situation we are imagining, vulnerable and looked up to you. You have just become an abuser! And at the very moment you thought you were being a hero! Say the other person is your son or daughter and is six. We all know that little kids can say the craziest and meanest things, partly because they heard it from others (maybe from you) or that they are trying out new behavior or because they don’t yet know right from wrong, but to batter them down and to yell at and to lecture them and try to control and punish may not be the best approach, both from the point of your own feelings of love and self-respect and from the point of view of teaching an open and vulnerable child.

If we are tired or feeling overwhelmed or both and are trying to concentrate and deal with one of many problems facing us in order to escape from failure, and someone interrupts with something not on point, we may lash out and feel justified. “How can they not see how important this is?!” “How can they be so disrespectful to my time and space and to my project?!” “How trivial are their concerns compared to mine?!” “Why can’t they see what I’m going through?!” And again we can feel proud of ourselves for sticking to our purpose and not being pushed around or seduced away from our critically important goals by those who can’t understand us and who probably don’t want to. But do we care about them? Do we see their vulnerability and how our words and thoughts and feelings are affecting them within their inner life? What if we are physically bigger than them, and they are dependent on us? Maybe they are our child, maybe our spouse, or maybe they work for us. Or maybe we are in the police force or a soldier or a governmental figure or a judge. And we can’t forget that bosses and soldiers and judges are people top who can and do feel abused as much as any of us.

There is something to be said for being a loner and going our own ways, but there is also something to be said for trying to get along with others, develop friends, and even to have a group of friends, a circle of friends. We all know what it can feel like to be outside a group, especially an “in” group, but, what we tend not to see, is how our own attitudes and actions can prevent us from getting into some groups. Of course there are groups that exclude us because of our religion or because of our race or nationality, and this is a different story, but many groups would accept us if we weren’t so unpleasant towards them. And maybe we just don’t want to give in and change and work at changing and going along with the crowd. But, let’s say we go the extra yard and work at fitting in to some group, and let’s say we succeed, and then we turn back and look at someone outside the group who wouldn’t change, we can look down on them. Especially if we think they are secretly feeling superior to us or are blaming us for not including them. They are angry and feeling superior, and we feel abused, and so we laugh at them or appear snobby. This type of abuse is cured by awareness.

Or, in trying to fit in, we may cement our attempt by putting down others, so we will appear to be fitting in and to convince ourselves and others we have turned our back on our old ways. Perhaps this is natural and a stage we go through, but it doesn’t seem good. It can be cured by awareness and time and the desire not to be like this.

If we have had an experience or an insight that has changed our lives, it is almost humanly impossible to resist trying to show it to others. But it is one thing to share the experience or insight with someone who is interested and wants to hear it, and another thing to try to force it on someone who has no interest. This attempt to convince can start out as badgering but can turn into other forms of forcing a person to behave and think the way we think is good for them. We can get very angry if they don’t go along. We can find ourselves feeling superior and seeing them as lower and as unworthy. Some find it useful in this sort of situation to ask ourselves 1) Are we as really as much changed as we think we are, that is, don’t we still have doubt about this Absolute Truth we are forcing on others? 2) Are we acting out of a true ethical feeling and desire to help or are we just angry and weak and disrespected at not being recognized as the authority we think we are? and 3) Are we really happy being aloof and superior and outside the group? Wouldn’t we, perhaps, welcome the warmth and friendless of the human family and is this bad?

As many essayists pointed out, emotional abuse may be a conscious way of controlling someone else. Cases such as these are the best argument for laws against emotional abuse.

This is not a complete list of how we might become an abuser. There are probably as many reasons as there are people. The interested reader will do his or her own research.

Abusers becoming Abusers

Both objective essays given above (and others that were submitted but that were not given a prize) discussed how abusers tend to, at times, become abusers. In cases where this may be true, it may be partly due to our tendency to imitate. Some families are rougher than others. They let out anger more to each other, both physically and verbally. Other families are more polite and don’t hit or yell and have other ways of handling anger. If we are raised in one type of family it is hard to even imagine that there are other types in the world. We are born into our family, and it never occurs to us that there is another way to act. And, if we have limited perspectives, we may simply continue the practices we learned when we start a new family. 

And some cultures seem to be more violent than others. Everyone feels angry at times, and how we deal with it is partly determined by what we have learned.

The Genetic Factor

And, as pointed out by Ioana Meșterelu, our genetic makeup probably pushes us in one direction or the other. Some people get more angry and quicker than others: They are more explosive and have shorter fuses. Controlling oneself may be more difficult for those of us in this category. Here again though, it is all a matter of degree. 


Another possibility that every psychologist has seen is if you are not happy with something you are feeling, instead of becoming aware of and accepting who you are and dealing with it, you strike out at others. (Seeing in others what you can’t see in your self = Projection). A man is attracted to a woman and can’t accept this and strikes out at the woman and criticizes her way of dressing and her flirtatiousness and tries to control her. In this way he tries to control himself. Another man has homosexual feelings and laughs at homosexuals and/or tries to punish them in some way. Self-abuse expresses itself as abuse of others. This does not seem like the best way of dealing with such situations.

How Widespread is Emotional Abuse?

I introduced the concept of a Scale of Sensitivity. It turns out that we are all sensitive at times and insensitive at times.  Probably every day each of us is abused and each of us is an abuser, at least to some extent and to someone. We can be reacting out of a feeling of being abused and, at the exact same time, be abusing. And this helps us understand why statistics the say that ninety percent of children are abused may seem jarring and overstated. It depends on how we define abuse. It can be everywhere, all the time, or fairly rare, depending on how we define it.


Many feel that state intervention (or perhaps the intervention of the United Nations) can help prevent Emotional Abuse (and other forms of abuse). No doubt there is something to this, but it also seems true that trying to force someone not to abuse is not necessarily that easy, especially if they are not aware they are abusing or have a different definition of abuse than we do. And there is a danger of the big organization itself becoming an abuser, always watching and interfering in the lives of both the guilty and the innocent. In addition, the kind of attention needed to monitor and enforce can be very time consuming and costly. But this solution, I think, needs to be explored.

I mentioned how hard it is to come to a deep and complete cure for Emotional Abuse, but the situation is a little more complex than this. We can feel abused by parents, government, children, caregivers, teachers, corporations, and even by nature itself or by a god (if we believe in a god). And we are probably, at least to some extent. None of us are accepted completely for who we are. (Even nature doesn’t tolerate all our behaviors.) If it is too great an oppression, we will buckle and collapse and even die, (and even the strongest of us has a limit). But, if it is not enough, we can become spoiled and go around the world thinking we own it. For those of us who have survived this long and are thriving to some extent, we have to proceed, it seems to me in the following manner:

First, we have to become and to be willing to become conscious of just how sensitive we are and when and to what, and we also have to become conscious of how we respond to our sensitivities. 

Second, we have to be willing to try to deal with situations that are difficult for us in a rational and ethical manner, and we must, if possible, take the time to give these matters serious thought. We need time to think and to discuss this with others in a similar boat and even with those who aren’t, unless this will get us in deeper trouble.

Third, we must strive for independence in so far as we are capable of it and to help others strive for their independence.

And finally, we do have to be aware that solutions can come from the outside, not only from other people but also from within but from outside our own limited perspective and ego. It is possible that experiences can come to us that cast new light on our problems and lift us into another dimension, at least for a moment. When we return from this “journey” we see things a little differently, our pain may be a little less, we may behave more sensibly and more completely and competently in our world. For most of us, this is not a one time, once and for all, thing, and it can feel horrible to lose the feeling and to have to start all over again at what feels like square one. But, it seems to me, and it has seemed to other psychologists, that progress can be made, on a personal level, and, perhaps, with humanity as a whole. Here, as elsewhere, it may be a case of having to fall back one step to move ahead two.


To all who submitted an essay: Thank you!

The Judges would like again to thank everyone who submitted an essay and the sincerity and thought we found in them.

by Primavera Fisogni, Como, Lombardy, Italy



A school shooting is a phenomenon within the realm of interpersonal (intentional) violence. It brings to light the failure of either school and society. In any case, it would be wrong to focus only on the guns market, although the availability of weapons turns resentment, anger and other bad attitudes to life to concrete wrongdoings. The aim of my paper is to argue that a school shooting is a sub-type of the category “outgroup dehumanization”, which takes place within an intergroup context (the school) that has completely lost – from the killer’s perspective – any sense.

From this point of view, a school shooting cannot be compared to a mass shooting in a public place, as it happened – for example – in some major terrorist events (San Bernardino shooting, 2016). Both phenomena, nevertheless, can be ascribed to the loss of sensing that originates in the intimate ground of the personal identity when a sharp divide is drawn between itself and the others (as Castano, Giner-Sorolla assume).

Moving from this anthropological frame –  the point of intersection of school shootings and mass murders – I’ll defend the voluntary aspect of such events. At the beginning of the discussion I invite the reader to ask about the peculiar kind of relation existing between the killer and the victims of a massacre. Beneath a school shooting it generally lies a close link between the perpetrator and the victims, grounded on a common set of values, beliefs, and activities. How does it happen that empathy turns into the absence of any respect towards other people?

The Psychology of Dehumanization

Through the lens of psychology of dehumanization, it can be said that the killer has never been really part of the group to which its anger is directed: a former student who has felt frustrated for years, during the high school, was not certainly incorporated in the school society, although he/she was considered part of it. The vicious resentment allows him/her to engage in bad actions against that primary source of frustration. In the killer’s view victims are perceived as bearing the main responsibility for his/her missed integration and realization. Through the absence of empathy, the denial of the humanity of the victims makes it easier for the perpetrator to kill a great number of them.


These shooting are voluntary and planned

When such a situation is given, the perpetrator’s lack of humanity does not depend on mental diseases: School shootings have much in common with a set of rituals that belong to the rules of massacre. The killer takes his time, stops and starts again. He reflects, he makes plans; he tries to have a conversation with the annihilated hostages or give them orders, as it happened in Columbine’s massacre (1999).

Killer feels like sole victim and a hero

Those who have been victimized are perceived as less human and the perpetrator feels himself to be the sole victim of the school system. The atrocities committed then turn into a revenge for the author of the shooting, to whom it gives back the human qualities the killer think to have been deprived. From this point of view, a school shooting is the result of an unresolved integration that gives rise to a disintegration: Victims are felt as a part of the frustrating educational environment against which nothing can be done except a war. Guns are part of this spectacular count down also for the symbolic implications they entail. The killer is involved in a final battle against the institution that was unable to guarantee equal opportunities of flourishing. There is something mythical, in the killer’s view, in making a massacre: The assassin aims to portray himself as the hero who, alone, or with a small group of peers, can defeat an organized army.

School Shootings differ from other forms of massacres

A mass shooting (the Bataclan attack made by IS militants in Paris in 2015 and the jihadist massacre at Dacca, Bangladesh, 2016), on the contrary, is a classical case-study of outgroup violence. The perpetrator looks at the victims as sub-human subjects (infidels/kuffar), if compared to the intergroup society to which he/she belongs and to the ideology (the fundamentalist doctrine of takfir). The process of dehumanization works on the presumption that victims lack of the primary qualities of humanness, so that killing one person or thousands (the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001) does not make any difference. Guns are not the main weapons of such mass assassinations, if we consider the jihadist suicide attacks and the role of death camps played in Nazi totalitarian regime in 20th Century.

A common link between the two types of mass killings

Given these profiles, in brief, it is possible to find a common link between the school shooting killer and the mass murder perpetrators. In both cases it can be seen a loss of sensing, that’s to say the incapacity to feel the other as a living subject to whom respect is due. This condition entails a dehumanization that continues to work and leads to an intentionality that always assumes human agency.

Definitely not insane

This is a very crucial point in order to argue that perpetrators are not insane (Fisogni, 2010). In the Nazi regime there was bureaucracy that produced a detachment from the world of life, as Hannah Arendt argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In school shootings and in mass murders in general, this intimate dryness originates from the deliberate closure to the world of life. As an immediate consequence, the “others” become part of the outgroup of sub-subjects deprived of the primary qualities that define humanity.

Resentment and frustration make it seem there is a sharp divide between the frustrated student(s) and the education society, unable to perceive what does not work in the intergroup relations. The jihadist ideology of takfir comes to the same consequences through a very simplified logic that brings to the excommunication of whoever does not belong to that society.

On the other hand, it may be impossible for some to be involved with others

This general intellectual framework suggests the possibility that an individual cannot flourish when his/her relation to the world of life is compromised. This is because of the inseparable link between reality as a source of positive contents (being, values, life, the opportunity to flourish) and the moral life.

Into the general perspective of this anthropological framework, it can be seen that two main chances are given to any person: the possibility to choose to sense the other or the impossibility to be involved with others because of a number of pathological matters. The interpretation of evildoing as a loss of personal being may reveal fruitful throws light on the ordinariness (instead of the superiority) of perpetrators.

Not able to orient to the Good because don’t see anything positive in reality and can happen to any of us if the taste of good is gone from our lives

Jihadists as well as student/former student killers are often cultivated people, however they can kill innocent victims without batting an eyelid. Beyond an ordinary profile, an impoverishment of intimacy is present: It gives rise to action unlimited in hate, basically because the lack of sensing does not allow them to make the experience of the positive feature of reality. Hence, they are incapable of orienting themselves to the good. Guns or bombs are the final tools of an intimacy dryness that cannot simply be reduced to a mental disease, nor to an unresolved integration: Everyone can experimence it when the taste of good is lost.


At this point in the discussion, in which, up to here, I’ve simply sketched some main traits of the phenomenon of school shootings (an outgroup dehumanization risen from an intergroup context, intentionally oriented, where perpetrators are not insane), compared to the one of mass massacres, some conclusions are needed.

What to do? Empathy is the answer. To be part of a group does not suffice for feeling part of a veritable community (a school): it is necessary to check it with a regularity, through the “vocational orienteering” (Moretti, 2016), an interpersonal relation (teacher/student) that allows school to prevent frustration.   


Castano, E. &; Giner-Sorolla, R. (2006). “Not Quite Human: Infrahumanization as a Response to Collective Responsibility for Intergroup Killing”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 804-818.

Moretti, M. (2016). Orientamento vocazionale, Università degli Studi di Verona. Master biennale di II livello in Consulenza Filosofica di Trasformazione (Dissertation, unpublished)

Fisogni, P. (2010). “Terrorists: Analogies and Differences with Mental Diseases. A Phenomenological-Metaphysical Perspective”, Rivista di Psichiatria, III, maggio/giugno, 145-153 -    (2011).

Fisogni, P. “Diseases. A Phenomenological-Metaphysical Perspective”, Rivista di Psichiatria, III, maggio/giugno, 145-153 -(2011).

Fisogni, P. “How Dehumanization of Terrorists Reflects on the Ineffability of Al-Qaeda Phenomenon: a Philosophical Investigation”, Economia Autònoma, vol. IV, No. 7, Enero-Junio, 121-132 -(2013).

Fisogni, P. Dehumanization and Human Fragility, London: Authorhouse - (2014).
Fisogni, P. “Lone Wolves. Updating the Concept of Enemy in the Social Media Age”, International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism, 4 (1), 36-44, January-March.

by Bozhidar Boyadzhiev, Sofia, Bulgaria


Understanding School Shootings through Empathy and Introspection

I have thought over this long enough to believe that the most effective way of gaining personal psychological insights on the subject is to fearlessly try and empathize not only with the victims, but with the shooters as well. People could consider such a statement polarizing enough, but I would add that it is only through empathy, the closest approximation to another’s personal experience, that we could grasp some of the sentiments which accompany a whirlwind of vengeance. 

Since we, as humans, still have a general lack of tact and humanity, and the bullying and negligence which leads to school shootings are ineradicable, introspection and empathy are good means for getting a grasp on the situation (better than just standing in the burial ground and cursing). 

Only by recognizing the potential for, and portents of, violent deeds in the controlled environment of ourselves could we learn to recognize these in others, to gain the understanding to counsel and give aid before feelings and ideas reach threatening dimensions. One cannot begin to grasp school shootings until one has been slighted and has contemplated a form of vengeance. 

I can say that this has happened to me multiple times (being slighted), the perceived leverage which I visualize afterwards giving me the calm and confidence, the mental fortifications, to not only continue functioning unperturbed around the person, but to approach him and calmly solve our mutual problem. These thoughts have arisen in me when the sanctity of my ego has been threatened, when others have tried to push through it, and I have always been fully aware that such thoughts, in me or in someone else, aside from depth and detail, have the potential for great darkness. 

School Shootings

A response to humiliation

A school shooting is such fantasies come to life, an advanced, desperate act of ego affirmation in a consciousness which has suffered chronic humiliation. As each movement warrants an opposite, the warped nature of what others have created for the psyche warps the nature of what the psyche creates for others. Just as a dehydrated body must drink in larger amounts, a compressed ego requires a powerful act of decompression (or explosion).

An active shooter is a living vessel for this pressure; if it isn’t relieved in a controlled manner, with the help of other human beings, it can leave a permanent dent in a community. Before the event, after much ideation, the person finally moves to what is now the hunting grounds, carried on his most primal and violent urges. While they fuel him, a lack of impulse control is hardly the reason for the shooting, serving only to facilitate the realization of something planned for a long time, a vision.

The desire for immortality

The decompressive (explosive) process is often accompanied by something just as powerful. Herostratos, lead by the drive for notoriety which often accompanies antisocial behavior, burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Through an act of destruction, he was subsequently immortalized in literature. This thread exists in most of the tragic scenarios in recent years. The rounds themselves are aimed not only at flesh and blood, but at eternity itself, in an advanced form of ego gratification, which, as many cases have pointed out, often stops at the point of resistance of a single courageous person. The drive towards infamy … a pure form of aggression.

Many wind up stopping and killin gthemselves instead

This is the point at which, in fewer than half of all cases, vengeance halts and the shooter either takes his own life or takes actions towards it. The reason for this varies cases by case. While some people think that the guilt is too overwhelming, a more plausible theory is the desire for a last act of punishment; the shooter denies society the chance of holding him responsible, seeing that he has paid his dues and equilibrium has been reach in relation to what he has gone through.

Reporting by the press contributes to future killings and numbing in the public

All of this is reported to the degree to which the public knows as much about the scene as the specialists. Sadly, the next perpetrator is given a very specific set of parameters to work with, the pattern, by the multiple iterations of each previous case in media and entertainment.

From a sociological viewpoint, few people are aware of the fact that the desensitization accompanying such an event, especially when reported multiple times by the media, creates fatalism and resigned acceptance in the public; the event is now not only expected, it is preordained, and when it arrives, it is met with apathy, for it is nothing but the old raincloud coming into view.

Worse yet, the disasters of recent years have fed our bloated sense of morbid curiosity, the result of our sedentary life’s lack of excitement. As with all events which are accepted as an integral part of a culture, people are participants, taking roles wittingly and unwittingly. In many people’s dreams and fantasies, they are actors in an event which is psychologically ingrained as inevitable, disregarding the fact that it is a pathological thought, a member of an invasive species with which only after years and years of brooding have our mutual bonds strengthened.

No way to give a systematic and complete answer of “Why?”

This is not so much an essay as a series of thoughts and observations; I could not expect more, since the phenomenon is so baffling and my thoughts so eager to avoid systematization. I could, however, narrow them down to this: As each mind is a unique architecture, it is not in the least surprising that a violent movement is the suitable method of pressure relief in some people.

The ability to handle our negative energies is a skill not everyone has or can develop

The further we develop, the more sophisticated our faculties for handling and transforming negative energies become. The immediate act of bursting into tears as children evolves into the delayed act of meditation, going to the gym and so forth. Such a system, however, cannot and should not be expected of everyone. This is why the individual approach is paramount to minimizing outbursts of mental and physical violence; people become aware of the agents and boundaries of individuals.

Difficult to predict and can cause damage with quick diagnses

A psychologist, should be careful about overreacting to what he (or she) might consider signs of a disaster waiting to happen, in truth nothing more than a youthful case of rebellion and morbid curiosity. Quick diagnoses can serve to antagonize children by demonizing them in the eyes of others, in the worst case giving them roles to act out, compared to which I think that even negligence is preferable.


School shootings are the end result of year’s worth of inattention. The antidote to this would be attention. One cannot hope to eliminate the negatives of school life, so empowering the positives is the most rational course of action.

The same dispassionate learnedness with which we would assist a person with a dysfunctional limb in daily life could be a great replacement for the blind eye and primitive fear we have for people lacking the psychological mechanisms to handle stress.

I could not think of a better or, sadly, more generalized, approach to the phenomenon of school shootings, than educating the public about psychological mechanics, and teaching children the following behaviors: externally - acknowledging the loners, the failed joiners, and collectively fostering a beneficial environment. Internally – a hard-wired sense of empathy, allowing us to be psychologists to one another.

by John Dairo, Ajuwon, Lagos, Nigeria



Anger is a natural emotion in response to pain experienced combined with anger-triggering thoughts which motivate to spontaneous action.  

In the United States, school shooting is primarily caused by anger as a result of pain incurred from another person action. Bullying and revenge, mental illness or disorder, learning from history, learning from movie, lack of inner peace and moral duplicity are causes of school shooting in the United States.

The necessary remedies to eliminate those causes are radically discussed in this essay.

Demystifying the causes of school shooting in the U.S.


Bullying is something that has existed since the first caveman felt he was superior to another caveman.  The bullying that exists in current day is far different than that which has existed for millennia. In the digital age, a bully has the ability to torture and humiliate someone but in the modern era a bully can also do so on social media for the world to see. Once something is posted on the internet it cannot truly be removed, further enhancing the torment.

If the person feels the whole world knows the spiteful things that has been said about him, an arouse emotion emanating from within would galvanize a dangerous revenge actions like the school shooting. This leads to a psychological perspective of a teen to do something wrong wholly since they are termed with the detrimental reputation. Thoughts of a life being ruined forever, as teens often view things, can mean the only option is to lash out by attacking the bullies and committing suicide to end the pain.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is also one of the major causes of school shooting in the United States as some of the students are no longer in their right senses. Anxiety can lead to fears of the unknown as certain personality disorders and psychotic disorders.  Mood and anxiety disorders can lead to feelings of hopelessness and feeling as though one is powerless to change what is wrong with ones life.

Mania can lead to a lack of control and impaired reasoning about an event or action.  As a result, mental health issues can compound things and lead to a feeling that the only option is to lash out at the world or that the only way one can show others how he/she feels is to show them or make them feel the pain being felt.

The most serious mental illnesses, schizophrenia and depression, often become overt in adolescence. A boy who is smart enough to get into a good college becomes deluded, obsessed, he gets rejected, isolated and stuck in a fantasy world. Those fantasies can become lethal. These forms of mental illness are typically the source of homicide as they torment and demoralize the disturbed individual.

Society is morally bankrupt

We have created a society that is morally bankrupt, and the victims are our children who have lost faith in authority due to our moral duplicity. This is a cause of school shootings. Millions have been killed or made refugees in a war waged over oil that is causing global warming.  Parents, many of whom are divorced, work day and night to make ends meet, unavailable to children, while pop culture sells unprecedented debauchery and violence to children daily.

In the United States, teens apply all what they learn in their immediate environment, classrooms and home. They are always anxious to practice all what they watch in movie. In sundry American movies, actors and actress perform active roles of anger and violence in revenge for the action done by their Nemesis. American children always watch these movies and they learn from it. Whenever an issue arises in school, even if they don’t want to react, a depraving hormone would catalyze their psychological mentality to fight back as they had earlier watched in various movies.

Human beings can be categorized according to their temperaments, like the Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholic. The lack of understanding of these temperaments by the students make them to play prank with the choleric students, thereby leading to anger of the choleric students, then to violence such as the school shooting.

Also, many students lack the inner peace. They are not peaceful from within, how can students having no peace within them share peace with others? The issue of inner peace should not be taken with levity hands in schools today.

Remedies for the imminent menace

School shootings are the end result of year’s worth of inattention. The antidote to this would be attention. One cannot hope to eliminate the negatives of school life, so empowering the positives is the most rational course of action.

The same dispassionate learnedness with which we would assist a person with a dysfunctional limb in daily life could be a great replacement for the blind eye and primitive fear we have for people lacking the psychological mechanisms to handle stress.

I could not think of a better or, sadly, more generalized, approach to the phenomenon of school shootings, than educating the public about psychological mechanics, and teaching children the following behaviors: externally - acknowledging the loners, the failed joiners, and collectively fostering a beneficial environment. Internally – a hard-wired sense of empathy, allowing us to be psychologists to one another.


Before anything can happen, the answer must emanate from the mind: When the mind is controlled, then the world is controlled. The main emphasis of this magnum opus is the MIND.

Students need to have inner peace. Collaborating with the Goi Peace Foundation in order to teach students with inner peace problems would become a profitable panacea for the world.

Once the issue of the mind is addressed scrupulously, then school shooting would be abolished spontaneously.


1. Frank Ochberg. (2012). Why does America lead the world in school shootings?Retrieved:
2. Harry Mills. (2005). Psychology of Anger. Retrieved:
4. Justin Nutt. (2013). School Shootings and Possible Causes. Retrieved:
5. Narayan Kulkarni. (2015). Building Peace Begins from Within. Retrieved:
6. Stephan Said. (2015). The Cause of School Shootings: We’re Missing the Mark. Retrieved:

by Matthew Gaiser, Calgary, Canada


What is it that causes people to choose violence as a means of resolving issues or accomplishing goals?

Nations versus Schools

Between nations, wars have always been highly costly, in terms of life, treasure, and political capital. Between individuals, there has always been a great deal of risk, both to life and limb. Because of its high cost, it is used at a time when the result is viewed to be more valuable than the price or when the situation is hopeless. In our society we have reduced violence through a combination of increasing the cost (punishment), reducing its efficacy (police forces and militaries which prevent violence from achieving its goals and enforce the cost), making other options for peaceful dispute resolution available (mediators, courts, democracy, rule of law), and preventing/minimizing disputes in the first place (contracts, laws, constitutions, restraining orders, etc). These mechanisms, which have taken thousands of years to develop (and indeed, still are developing), have allowed our society to enjoy the standard of peace and trust that we enjoy today by providing alternative ways of managing disputes and changing the economics of violence.

However, schools inadvertently create an environment that encourages the development of a culture without means of dispute mitigation and resolution. It gathers youths together, grouped only by age and some arbitrary catchment area (a grade or year), and sorts them randomly (classes or homerooms). Within those cohorts, they are left to their own ends to create a culture of their own. In this process, little regard is given to existing social groups, commonalities, differences, or whether the strong have the opportunity to prey on the weak. “Date of manufacture” is the main criterion which decides who is placed alongside whom. The culture created by the students exists not just within the school environment, but extends itself to all other aspects of the lives of students. From parties on the weekend to excursions with friends to hookups and dating, all the rules for these are determined by the students themselves. Rules are determined by the powerful, those who are popular for looks, money, or athletic ability. Those without power have to live with the rules.

In addition, it is the recommendation in society (in many cases, the chief recommendation) that if one can, one should just walk away from a fight. In schools, this is not an option as one must attend the same school with the same classmates for years. One cannot simply escape a problematic situation as one must return for hours upon hours each day.

Society took thousands of years to develop rules, rules which strive to include all under their protection, rules which allow us to enjoy the benefits of modern civilization. In schools, that structure is not replicated, but instead it is hoped the structure will develop on its own, and it is just assumed by adults that this will be the structure of the rest of society.

Doesn't fending for yourself in school prepare you for the world after school?

Some would say that dealing with the school situation prepares students for the real world, where you have to form working relationships with people, but there is no similar situation to high school in the fluidity of the rules, the variability of their application, and the lack of resolution or escape. In everything from companies to political parties, people self-select into groups into which they feel they belong, automatically reducing conflict. In nations, which are often comprised of many different people, the rules come from tradition and precedent, and in the case of the most significant ones, are incredibly difficult to change and are backed by the power of the state. Transgressions against an individual are dealt with by some level of government, and the actors are also members of the community. In schools, the first two categorizations of students are created almost randomly and the self-selection begins within a very small group, unlike a state, where individuals self-select into groups. Many of these (post-school) groups have rules and regulations, enforced by active participants in the group. These rules have teeth and at the very least allow for the removal of a problematic individual. And a person is free to leave those groups if it does not suit them. In school, the official rules are enforced by people detached from the culture, teachers and administrators and in only extreme circumstances allow for the removal of a problematic individual.

In addition, the culture created in the school extends far beyond: to parties, to events, and most recently to Facebook, areas where the enforcers of rules within a school have no jurisdiction. Large parts of school culture are the jurisdiction of nobody but the student body at large.

Do you remember your own high school experience? Remember the names of the popular kids, the athletes, the hot athletic girls on the cheerleading team, the ones who got an "A" on every test, the ones people admired? The “outsiders” at the school, the teachers, the administrators, could tell you those names as well and their accomplishments. Now, do you remember the hidden interactions that occurred, who cheated on what test, who stole who’s girlfriend, who was the butt of jokes, which students were mocked in online forums or rated one star on rating apps (students at my brother's school built an anonymous social network to facilitate this), who got beat up in the schoolyard, which girls were thought to be “sluts” or “bitches,” which students had absent parents, which students were “snitches,” what the social groups were, where you and your friends fell on the social hierarchy, and who was invited to which parties and what occurred at those parties? Teachers and administrators knew nothing about those happenings, but without them, would you not consider their view of school culture to be distorted or at the very least incomplete, as though they were looking at half of a completed puzzle? This incomplete view makes it difficult for them to find workable solutions to issues between students. Unlike the government, they are members of an alternative community who only enter the student community when there is a complaint. Within schools, the rules are created by the students themselves; “removing oneself from the situation” is not an option. Telling a teacher or adult will get one labelled a “snitch” and will not result in a useful solution as the teacher is removed from the culture, and students can mete out retaliation or anger outside the jurisdiction of the teachers and administrators, everywhere from parties to Facebook.

Some students have supportive families, some have friends outside schools, some have teachers who believe in them and mentor them, some had video games, some have religion, some have a therapist, and some have a strong sense of will to get them through trying periods within the school social environments. However, these are all inadvertent and incidental solutions, and treat the symptoms, not the core problem.  For those students without a means of escape or diversion, they must suffer through any abuses they endure at school if they cannot resolve them themselves. Unfortunately, that leads a small number of students to believe that violence is a solution of some form. When a student sees no other means of addressing their grievances non-violently (which is not a natural part of high school culture), they turn to violence.



This year there was no First, Second, or Third Place prize awarded.
Those winning the prize of Honorable Mention are, in alphabetical order:
Bozhidar Boyadzhiev from Sofia, Bulgaria
John Dairo from Ajuwon, Lagos, Nigeria
Primavera Fisogni, Ph.D. from Como, Lombardy, Italy (editorial chief at La Provincia daily newspaper, Como, Italy)
Matthew Gaiser from Calgary, Canada


Please note: Essays have been edited for grammar and, in some cases, headings were added.


The reason behind this essay contest has been, and still is, the feeling on my part that I do not understand anger and violence and how to handle it. This is partly, to be frank, a personal problem: I have never been comfortable with my own anger to the degree that (as a thinker) I am often not aware that I am angry. I have to observe what I say and do and the effect of my behavior on others in order to deduce that I was or am angry. People don't see me as an angry person, and I am not physically violent, but words and facial expressions can hurt others.

I am not writing this to make a public confession but to explain why we are not awarding First, Second, or even Third prizes again this year. I have been waiting for an essay that will help me understand my own anger as well as the anger and violence of people I know, people I meet, and people I read about. I am not sure what the standards are of the other three judges, but this is mine.

One judge says that the Essay Question, as stated, is very difficult or impossible to answer. How can anyone understand anger? If anyone does, how can the answer be put into words without over-simplification? Anger is so deep and natural and prevalent that it is like trying to understand life itself or matter or energy.

So I think I owe an apology to those who submitted essays. What I am looking for is for something on the most profound level. This is like setting up a music writing contest and only being happy with music on the level of Bach or Mozart. I myself can't live up to my own expectations.

I see glimmers and flashes of insights in most of the essays submitted, but nothing on the level of a Freud or Jung. And I stand by my goal, because I think this is what we need. We need a real answer on the deepest level to the problem of violence. On an individual level and on a global level, we have to penetrate to the heart of the problem. This is the goal of the essay contest, and I hope we can all agree that it is a worthy goal.

Another way to put this goal is that I am looking for papers that will give me the tools to change, to recognize, understand, and handle my own anger. 

I am not writing this to discourage anyone from entering the contest if we continue on with it in 2017. Since I have never seen what I think of as a good answer to anger, I think it is valid for each of us to chip away at the problem and put the little chips out there. I am not trying to discourage people from writing their partial answers: I am just explaining why we are not giving the First, Second, and Third prizes.

I encourage people to think about the issue(s) and write about it and submit your ideas. As a psychologist I would say that this process is valuable in itself — the process of becoming aware of and struggling with a problem. On the other hand, perhaps there is a person out there who has penetrated to the depths of the problem in themselves and/or in others and understands what needs to be done and will write about what they have learned in a way we can all understand.

I live in the U.S. I wonder why there seem to be more school shootings in the U.S. than elsewhere. I wonder why one student becomes violent when others don't. Why aren't we all violent more often? We can discuss external environments that breed angry feelings, but anger can arise without any external stimulus. Some — by genetics or a brain disturbance (neuro-psychology) or because of previous experience — seem to be prone to violence even in peaceful, happy, empathetic, and pleasant environments. Being nice and empathetic can make an angry person more angry instead of less. — I do see, in the essays submitted an attempt to grapple with the complexity and multi-factored nature of the phenomenon, but I don't feel I come away with enough of an answer. (Perhaps an in depth case study of a shooter would have thrown a different kind of light on the subject). 

All this said — and it may seem that we are being overly demanding — I would like to move on to a summary of the positive and, hopefully, helpful ideas the judges found in the winning essays.

Empathy and Introspection

Bozhidar Boyadzhiev (from Sofia, Bulgaria) emphasizes the need for empathy if we want to understand school shooters. In his essay, Boyadzhiev also suggests that it is only if we understand the potential for anger and revenge in ourselves that we can recognize, understand, and possibly help students who may become violent. In his essayJohn Dairo (from Ajuwon, Lagos, Nigeria) sees the answer as "listen to our youth" programs which are based on empathy with individual students. Primavera Fisogni (from Como, Lombardy, Italy), in her essay, states that empathy is the answer. And Matthew Gaiser (from Calgary, Canada) suggests, in his essay, that a supportive (loving and empathetic) family or friend or teacher or mentor or religion or therapist can help. 

I have to agree, but I don't see this as the solution for every student in every situation. It makes sense intuitively, but is there evidence? How do we know what will help who and when? Also, what if a hostile person turns away from or against the person trying to listen with empathy?

Causes of School Shootings (in the U.S.)

Boyadzhiev speaks of suffering from "chronic humiliation" which compresses the psyche and leads to an equal and opposite decompression. "Just as a dehydrated body must drink in larger amounts, a compressed impressionable ego (which comes to feel unrecognized and that one's life is ruined forever) requires a powerful act of decompression." But, he adds, this decompression is not necessarily explosive or impulsive, as school shootings are often carefully planned. Contributing to the problem is the press that gives blueprints to potential shooters and makes us all feel that school shootings are inevitable. Compounding this is a hyper-vigilance of anxious authorities that can damage and provoke students with quick diagnoses.

To me, one of the more interesting ideas in Boyadzhiev's essay is that it is a skill to handle one's negative emotions, and not everyone has this skill. My intuition (and prejudice) is that he is right that some children could benefit from training in this skill (to recognize and handle one's own anger). Those for whom the training was not successful, closer monitoring would be required.

According to Dairo, humiliating bullying, mental illness (leading to over-sensitivity and feelings of hopelessness and to fantasied humiliations), modelling (from movies, etc.), parental moral duplicity (and hypocrisy), and a general lack of inner peace all contribute to the pain and anger that lead to the desire for revenge. He feels, probably correctly, that cyber-bullying is exaggerating the problem, as it spreads humiliation to more and more people and leaves it out there for longer periods of time. 

Fisogni sees acts of violence such as school shootings as being voluntary, as they are often carefully planned. She sees the shooter as feeling outside a group and wanting to be in and blaming the group for his not being included (which is a different psychological mechanism, she argues, than terrorist attackers who do feel part of a group). The rejected student (or the one who feels rejected) is lost in his own pain and does not empathize with those he is about to shoot. This is not mental illness but a voluntary closing off "to the world of life," the world of others. The student dehumanizes those in the group and does not respect them, and, in shooting, hopes to gain back the feelings that he blames the group for having taken away from him. He comes to see himself as a mythical hero standing up to an unjust and all-powerful institution.

Fisogni argues that we are all in the same boat. We all know what it is like to be locked out of a group and of losing the "taste of goodness" and of losing, at least for a while, our morality. We stop sensing the humanity of others and focus only on our own hurt. Most, but not all of us, value controlling these cold feelings and do so, but others choose not to.

— These seem to me good points, but I do wonder how much control we have over our feelings. It is true we can fight our tendencies to treat others as sub-human and evil, but it can take a great deal of sophistication, even in cultured and sophisticated people, even in religious people, to reach a place where we see our vengeful tendencies as a problem. Often we are proud of these tendencies (as Fisogni points out) and feel as if we are heroes for having these feelings and that we are weak cowards if we do not let them out. There is a sense in which we choose our behaviors, but what if we haven't been trained or taught to value self-understanding and self-control? There are two perspectives, and we don't know enough about ourselves and about human nature to know what flips us from one to the other — or so it seems to me. This is especially true for certain mental illnesses in which there are delusions of rejection even when there is none. And then there are situations when a person's anger at a group or group values (or at all people) pushes a group away and forces the group to reject the person who then blames the group. The situation is complex and difficult for us to understand and even more so for people who have little training and may lack the intellectual ability to understand complex matters.

Gaiser sees school social life as the medium in which hurt and humiliation and then anger grows. Though this is more a sociological explanation than a psychological one, the points Gaiser makes are relevant to psychology. School, he argues, is a different form of society than a nation. Society (outside school) has, over thousands of years, developed methods for discouraging and handling violence, but school has a different structure than society. Most important, children are grouped together in classes without getting to choose where they are put. In society, if you don't get along with someone or someones, you can walk away. And, as mentioned. there are mechanisms available (even if imperfect) for what to do if you are harassed. Not so in school where the students have to figure out their own way of handling situations. Students are told not to fight and, instead, to report problems to teachers, but it is often impossible (both in school and after school) to avoid conflicts, and there are problems for anyone who turns in fellow students. 

— I think Gaiser's argument is overstated, as there are many injustices and humiliations after school, in the bigger society, that cannot be remedied. Still, it seems true that, in some way, school is a self-contained Petri dish where all kinds of bacteria grow.


The Essay Question did not ask for an answer to the problem of school shootings. It was too much to ask for an answer, especially before we understand the problem.

However, it seems irresistible for us to look for and hope to come up with an answer. This shows how severe is the problem. 

As mentioned, all four winners suggested that empathy and listening might help potential school shooters. Boyadhiev added that we need to be aware of our own desires for vengeance in order to be truly empathic. He also recommends a "beneficial environment" and the education of the public and students to psychological mechanisms which education would include how to recognize and understand fellow students who are having trouble. He says, poetically, that we have "to be psychologists to one another." — I add, on what seems to me to be a slightly more realistic and pessimistic note, how difficult it is for adults to become aware of themselves psychologically. How much more difficult to ask for this same awareness of adolescents. Still, I have to agree, at least to some extent. Most psychotherapies depend on the idea that empathetic and understanding listening can help some patients to become less isolated and less filled with self-hatred and more accepted and less angry. Research supports this approach with some people, at least to some extent. But we must remember that some shooters (I'm not sure about school shooters) had been involved in long-term therapy. Therapy is not a cure-all or panacea for everyone at all times. We don't know enough to say for sure in these matters.

Dairo suggests that parents might model decent behavior and train their children better and seek peace instead of just money or power. He feels, perhaps optimistically, that this would humanize their children. He also recommends participation in societies that promote inner peace such as the Goi Peace Foundation (an organization with which I am not familiar). — I like this idea but also know, from my own life, how difficult it is to maintain feelings of peace in the face of financial, political, relationship, and health issues. And there is a danger of forcing oneself to feel peace and pretending to oneself that we feel good and happy and peaceful when we are unconsciously seething with resentment and anger.

To all who submitted an essay: Thank you!

The Judges would like again to thank everyone who submitted an essay and the sincerity and thought we found in them.

JMH International Essays — Announcement

Original Essays on the Psychology of Anger and/or Violence 

We thank all those who have submitted an essay to the JMH International Prize Essay Contest. As of now, February 1, 2017, we have decided not to continue with the contest.

For those who feel they have an important contribution to the subject of the Psychology of Anger and/or Violence, please feel free to submit your essay with the form provided here. If the judges agree that the essay is a significant contribution, we will publish it here (subject to agreement with the author).

We include here links related to past essays — For the 2014 contest, click here for the summary article and here for the list of winners; for the 2015 contest, click here for the summary article and the list of winners; and for the 2016 contest, click here.

Submission Form — JMH International Essays
on the Psychology of Anger and Violence




Essay Format




Submission Form






There has not been a World War in almost seventy years, but anger and violence still exist.

There are regional wars, terrorist attacks, inter-national and inter-racial and inter-religious wars.

There is the ongoing danger of nuclear attacks.

Within the United States there are gang shootings, school and other mass shootings, and there continues to be physical and verbal abuse within families and bullying at schools.

It is possible that human nature itself makes anger and aggression necessary. This may be an human version of the tension between opposites visible throughout all of nature.

Even if this is true, It is also possible that some aggression can be prevented. If there is hope for the level of anger and violence in the world to go down, understanding of the roots and source and nature of anger and violence and aggression should be useful and even necessary.

In the United States, after each school shooting, there is a nationwide discussion of the causes of violence and of ways to prevent it. Psychologists are always given a prominent role in these discussions. Many argue that giving more money for psychological and psychiatric research and psychotherapy will help with the problem, but the sponsors of this contest do not feel that piling up more and more research studies and doing more and more psychotherapy is enough to solve the problem. The causes are deep, both in the world and in ourselves, and it seems as if there needs to be more searching in the deepest and darkest regions before we can come up with any sort of reasonable plan.

The sponsors believe that psychology has a role in these proceedings but that we are still at the beginning of our understanding.  

It seems there are no experts in this discussion. New insights can come from the laboratories or from psychotherapy treatment rooms, but they can also come from any person on earth who has looked deeply into him or herself, into others, and into the surrounding world. 

It is in this spirit that the sponsors of this contest are asking for submissions from anyone at any place in the world who feels he or she can contribute to our psychological understanding of anger and violence.

Submissions can express personal insights based on the introspection of the author or from the author's perceptions of the psychology of those around him or her. It can express insights about how religious, economic, cultural, national, and international factors influence our psychologies with respect to anger and/or violence. On the other hand, submissions can be based on research studies.

It is the hope that a growing understanding in this area can eventually lead to some diminishing of the dangers in the world for ourselves, for our children, and for our children's children.


Essay Format

There are two formats that will be accepted:

Format 1. Essays in English.

They must be typed or pasted into the Submission Form below.

(They have to be in English, because the judges only read and speak English).


Format 2. Media presentations.

Any media presentation must last no longer than five minutes.

The presentations, if verbal, must be in English or have English subtitles.

They must be uploaded via the Submission Form.



1. Essays may be submitted at any time. We hope to read them as soon as possible after we receive them.

2. Please submit an essay only if you feel you have a significant contribution to make to this year's subject and if the subject touches you and moves you to write. [The goal is to help with the problems of anger and violence in the world and in ourselves and our relationships.]

3. No plagiarism is allowed. However, with the proper acknowledgements, you may submit essays that summarize, in a creative way, the ideas of other people.

4. If there are quotations and/or the use of other people's material, Citations and Bibliography are required.

5. There can be more than one author for a submission.

6. If the judges, upon careful consideration, do not find that an essay or media presentation will be useful to readers of this site, they will decide not to publish it here. There decision is final.

7. No reward or prize will be given for publication of any essay.

8. All essays will remain the property of the authors. If an essay is selected for publication, before it is published the writer will be contacted to assure that both the publisher and writers agree as to the conditions.

9. Submissions will not have been published or accepted for publication or submitted for publication at the time of their submission to this contest. (An exception will be for publications on an author's own website where no money has been charged for the essay.)

10. Any questions or problems regarding the submissions may be expressed to the sponsors through the Contact Form of this website. If at all possible, these concerns will be addressed and corrected.

11. Please note that no feedback on individual submissions will be possible. The judges wish they could respond individually to each submission. This would be ideal but not possible.


Contest Restrictions

The contest is open to anyone in any of the countries serviced by PayPal or Western Union except for the following:

1. The contest is not to be used by someone to express anger or advocate violence against anyone (or anyones) of any country, tribe, race, or religion. And it is not open to anyone who is found to advocate such things or is a member of a group that advocates such things.

The goal of submissions should be to help all who are interested, to understand the nature of and source of anger and violence in our own psychologies.

2. The prize can not go to anyone known to be in an organization on the United States list of terrorist organizations or to anyone for whom the sending the prize would constitute a violation of the laws of the United States or of the country of the submitter or of accepted International Law.

If it turns out someone is in such an organization or has an intent to harm the United States or any of its citizens, they will forfeit any prize they might win or have won, and the information they give may be turned over to authorities in accordance with law.

To see an example (but not all examples) of the type of law to which submitters must agree to obey, click here.



As stated, essays will be read in the order they are received. We will make every attempt to read them and notify the author(s) as soon as possible.


Submission Form

JMH International Essays on the Psychology of Anger and/or Violence