I keep reading so many perspectives on this whole Elliot Rodger perspective. Who he was. What was wrong with him. How the tragedy could have been prevented. Because isn’t that what we always search for? Someone or something to blame so we can somehow move on after a tragedy. Somehow feeling safe or like life isn’t totally out of our control. I’m a control freak, I get that. But in these cases, I have no control. Society has no control. And people aren’t one-dimensional. We are a product of our past, a product of our minds and a product of everything around us and our perspective.
I Rodger’s manifesto this weekend before there was much written about him. I read it in an attempt to build my own impression of the guy. I watch who he became unfold and evolve as he “grew up” in his “story.” I realize his story is his own. Ten of us could have the exact same night, and our perspectives of the night and our stories would all be different. We would talk about things that are important to us, and from our perspectives. We might leave out details that are important to us, or integral to understanding who we are.
All that said, there are so many things going in in this guy’s head. Some things I feel sorry for the hand he was dealt. Social anxiety and Asperger’s. Not an easy way to make lots of friends. Other times I wanted to shake him and scream, “LIFE ISN’T FAIR!” or, “JUST BECAUSE YOU CHECK ITEMS ON A LIST DOESN’T MAKE YOU ENTITLED!” He commonly thought if he did certain things, he should get certain things. Part of that might be a manifestation of Asperger’s. And an inability to connect with people. If you can’t connect with someone, it’s hard to 1. Be empathetic or see their perspective and more importantly 2. See there’s more to a relationship than looks and material things. I do feel bad that his brain works this way, and that his parents didn’t or couldn’t correct some of his entitled thinking. But I also think we’re all creating our own destiny. If you want to meet someone, you have to put yourself out there. If you want to be successful, you have to take risks. If you want to be smart, you have to be willing to work to learn, and accept that failure’s part of it. Life isn’t easy. Growing up is hard. And being an adult is a lot different than we think it’s going to be when we’re kids.
We don’t just get what we want because we want it, even if we did when we were kids. In life, there are winners and losers in EVERYTHING, even if we never won or lost at a sport or in a contest as kids. We aren’t entitled to love or affection. And if you aren’t willing to give and risk, you won’t find or receive love, especially romantic love. Jealousy, envy and rage don’t make things you feel are unjust go away. And even if you don’t like something or think it’s “fair,” it doesn’t mean you’re right to want it to be different. We are all good at some things, but not at others. Everyone struggles with stuff, and everyone has things they’re good at. If you think you’re not good at anything, you either haven’t tried enough things, or your self-esteem is really low. The bigger your world gets, the more you’ll realize there are a lot of really smart people. Really good-looking, confident people. Really ambitious people. Really creative people. It’s nearly impossible to be “the best” at any one thing, let alone at everything, like many kids think they are or should be. It’s a lot of work to be successful in anything: love, career, or even personal ambitions.
No one of us is owed a romantic relationship. Some people look their whole lives and never find love. Others don’t look at all, and feel like they deserved more. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone complaining about something he did very little work to attain, but in a world of entitlement, that’s what’s expected. Only a parent can’t setup “play dates” to find a girlfriend or boyfriend. At some point, children need to learn to adapt and survive in the “real world.” And if they don’t have the mental or emotional tools to do that, it’s tough. Parents are expected to encourage independence and self-worth, but sometimes the children are resistant. And they’re left feeling lost and helpless. We’ll never know enough of the full details of Rodger’s childhood and young adulthood to know if his story is an accurate portrayal of his life. My guess is he’s left out a lot of details. Victims always do. He was a victim of his own mind – a theme that runs deep and heavy in society today. We enable victims. We accept excuses. And we encourage blame-placing.
There’s no way to cover everything Rodger said. No way to expand on the nuances or the recurring themes or the things that happened that he gives no credence to, while giving so much credence to things I’d never notice.
The very first thing I noticed about him was his overuse of the word “unfair.” My first impression was he was a spoiled, entitled, never-told-no, nobody-loses, participation prize kid. And I feel like that might have played part of it, but who he was and how he progressed was much, much bigger than never being told he lost, or never being denied material things. Sure, he appeared to be a child who mostly got what he wanted. And he never really held a job. Or finished college classes. There are plenty of adults out there who had a similar life. Life IS harder for these people. I always say life is easier harder as you’re growing up or harder once you’ve grown. I think either way, you have to be denied, you have to struggle, you have to sacrifice. Either as a child you have a curfew or can’t get the clothes or car you want, or can’t have dessert before dinner, or don’t get the newest video game. Or you get to adulthood and realize that everything doesn’t come as easily as it did as a child. Either way, you learn that there are always limits.
And I think it’s possible him not hearing “no” enough as a child or “life isn’t fair” might have made him have an unrealistic view of life.
I also think his Asperger Syndrome diagnosis made him more rigid. More unable to bend and shape to society. He expected the world to fold to him, and as a child, if parents can’t find the support they need to help him deal with this, he’ll have an even bigger struggle as an adult.
For the record, I’m not blaming the parents.
But I do think his Asperger’s made him struggle in social situations. I was in a class with a guy who was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He openly admitted it on the first day. He said, “I can be overbearing. I can be loud and try to take control. You have to tell me when I’m doing that.” And even openly, without much emotion, said he has a really hard time making friends. I went into the class feeling sorry for the guy, but I’ll admit, most days I left the class exhausted by him. He WAS loud, he WAS over-bearing, and even though he did try to control it when the teacher would calmly ask him to let someone else answer, you could tell he struggled with boundaries. And most people avoided sitting near him. My guess is most people felt as I did – sympathetic but exhausted. It would have been hard to be his friend. And I for sure can’t imagine ever being attracted to someone like that. It’s one thing to develop a friendship, but a full-on romantic relationship or marriage? That would be really hard, maybe even impossible. I’m definitely a “silence is beauty” type of person, so the volume of his communications alone was an issue. But I also get really frustrated when others don’t let me talk. I find those types of personalities (“syndrome” or otherwise) to be really overwhelming and I find myself and my personality getting pushed to the background. I’m drowned out, and am not aggressive or outgoing enough to over-power. Rather I shut down.
But beyond that, the rigidity of thought/opinion was really hard to deal with. Mostly because I’m also stubborn. He also came across as really arrogant. And that’s never a trait I’m attracted to.
Beyond that, it sounds like Elliot has narcissistic personality disorder – obsession with yourself, power, prestige, vanity, delusions of grandeur, etc. He saw himself unrealistically. And he was never, ever wrong. I worked with a guy with this same disorder (I never had the guts to ask if he was diagnosed). All he did was talk about himself – how smart he was (he was average at best), how many women he had interested in him (doubtful), how great his car and house and personal belongings were, he even bragged about his clothes, which were hardly high fashion. But that was his perspective, his opinion of himself. And no one could sway him from that belief, not that anyone ever tried.
He annoyed everyone, finding their faults and calling them out, and he never, not once, took responsibility for anything bad (but always found ways to take credit for success). He was always the victim. The victim to circumstance, chance, and mostly others’ stupidity.
When he was fired, I genuinely thought he might seek physical revenge. Instead, he sought revenge through word of mouth. And, to him, that was probably enough.
But the issue with narcissists is they are so caught up in how great they are, they are actually unable to see their own faults. This means they can’t work on improving themselves, or downplaying things society cringes at. For example, I know I can be impatient. And I know I can be withdrawn. But because I now these aren’t “attractive” I acknowledge them and work to minimize those traits. Sure, it’s who I am, and that comes out occasionally. But I try to realize it’s not the best “me.” I try to see people as people. Not vessels to use on my path to success, or people to blame for my failures.
The thing with the guy I worked with was, without realizing it, he was a total misogynist. He thought he was a gentleman, but he was a pig. He’d talk about when he was married what he’d tell his wife to do. Or what her place was. Or how she’d act. To him, women were objects. But all people were objects. Everyone was something to be used to his benefit. And because he wanted a wife, he had laid out in his mind how she would be. He didn’t talk a lot about how she’d look, but he talked about how she’d act. As an outsider, had he had a girlfriend, I would have worried she was emotionally and physically abused.
He was also wildly jealous of many people, especially those who were successful. He developed plans to ruin the success of others. He’d try to ruin reputations at work, and he’d talk openly and boisterously about how he’d ruined the careers of people he disliked for one reason or another. For example, one day he went on about how a guy he went to high school with started a business, so of course there were online reviews. He made up multiple fake users and negatively reviewed the guy’s business, without ever actually doing business with the guy. He laughed about how within a year the guy’s business folded, and he was sure it was because of him. And he felt powerful because of that.
He would also find ways to complain about vendors, in an attempt to get them fired. He nitpicked the cleaning crew, and always said they never did anything. If they never did anything, then how were they doing so many things wrong?
I saw him at the movie theatre once, complaining to a manager. I hid from him, afraid he’d see me and try to talk to me. But he complained loudly, then the manager took him to the front of the line, probably to offer him a refund. He also complained incessantly about the service industry, and bragged about meals and products he’d get for free through complaints. He was very aggressive, and very conceited about his “successes.” He’d even started more than one class-action lawsuit. And got in on every lawsuit he thought he could validate being part of.
He was intolerable, and everyone at work avoided him. No one trusted him, no one wanted to talk to him, and everyone considered him annoying and cocky. He had no friends. But he thought he did. And he used his powers to make “friends” by force. One time he told someone he wouldn’t fix their problem until he could tell them about his weekend, front row at a concert. No, this seriously happened.
And he, like Rodger, had a lot of stereotypes he worked with. In my psychology class, our teacher said that stereotypes are simply shortcuts the brain takes. She said everyone has them and there’s nothing wrong with stereotypes as long as we realize what they are, and are intelligent and compassionate enough to see beyond them. But Rodger saw anyone who wasn’t white as inferior. He also had no respect for lower class income people. He only respected very rich white men. This was where his misogyny came in to play, but I think his inability to see anyone around him as people with feelings was his biggest problem. Instead, he saw stereotypes. Stereotypes of women. And he generally expanded on stereotypes he learned. For example, he was appalled a blonde white woman (his preference) would choose to be with a black man, because the black man descended from slaves. No, he seriously said this. And I believe he meant it.
He also was appalled when an Asian man was with a blonde woman, again, because he didn’t think a white woman would choose a non-white man, and he, half-white, should have an advantage over someone who was full non-white. The same types of stereotypes were given to overweight men. Or men who didn’t dress to his standards, or drive a car as nice or nicer than his. He also stereotyped “jock” and “athletic” men as arrogant and unintelligent. Everything he worked with was a stereotype. And every person was an object. He never saw the men these women chose with personalities, just as he never saw a woman for more than her looks. He thought less-attractive men AND women were all worthless. He thought anyone not-white was worthless. He thought anyone overweight or not-rich was worthless. He had setup a strict set of what made a person worth something, and he thought he was able to check off all of these items. Or at least ranked higher than the average person his age. He thought he was smarter, more attractive, more intelligent, more of a gentleman. Typical narcissistic behavior.
I think his misogyny was a result of his narcissism. As was his racism. And his class-based stereotyping. Everything he hated or marginalized was because of how it affected him. He was the center of his universe. And he deserved to be appreciated.
One thing Rodger expanded very little on was his resentment for his step mother. He stopped inviting friends to his father’s house because his step mom “humiliated” him. He referred back to it a few times, and ultimately intended to kill her (and his brother, her son), too. But he never really expanded on his inability to respect authority. Or societal expectations. He didn’t respect her. And he thought he should be given more credence than his step mom when it came to anything around the house. He was prone to throw fits. And he hated when she set limits or gave him expectations. For example, he was obsessed with video games for a while and his step mom tried to put limits on his time on the games. As an adult, we can see why she’d do this. And as a teenager, I can see why he’d be upset. But his all good or all bad mentality was definitely disordered. He resented her for any reason. And only used her when it benefitted him. At first, I expected him to tie his hate of women to his step mother, but ultimately he tied it to girls in middle school. Or any girl in general who didn’t give him the time of day.
And I think THAT’S worth discussing, too. He talked incessantly about how women rejected him. But they really never did. He didn’t seem to be able to approach anyone, men or women, for friendships or romantic relationships. He openly discussed his social anxiety, probably an offshoot of Asperger’s. But I never really understood how he’d consider himself rejected when women didn’t approach him. He would talk about how men would approach women, and the women wouldn’t reject those guys, but he really never talked about approaching anyone, ever, unless it was aggressively during the latter years. His obsession with being rejected (when he never actually was) and the word “unfair” seemed to be the root of his problems. And both were inaccurate perspectives or understandings of the world. Again, disordered thinking. I’m sure therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists tried to reframe his thinking, but as a narcissist, he was probably unable to see that his thought process was flawed.
I also think it’s worth discussing his progression in aggression. When he’s a child, he says he is willing to get negative attention. But as he grows older, there are times he fumes to himself, or leaves the room and cries. He has occasional breakdowns publicly, which he’s humiliated by. But mostly he’s not aggressive to anyone until one day he spills coffee on a couple, then leaves the scene quickly. He continues to spill drinks on people, and even goes so far as to buy a water gun and fill it with orange juice on one occasion. Sometimes he worries he’ll be caught, but ultimately he’s filled with satisfaction from hurting those who are hurting him, even though they’re almost always unaware they’ve done anything. That’s the scary thing. How many weird, random things happen to us every single day that we never notice or worry about? I’m sure most of those couples thought Rodger was a run-of-the-mill douchebag, or flippantly spilled his drink on them, or even that it was an accident or he was having a bad day. And maybe the guys he went after with the water gun though, “Surely he was dared to do that.” Or he’s just “weird.” Society accepts weird. There’s nothing wrong with doing stuff with no intention. On the other hand, it’s too bad his violence at the house party wasn’t documented more clearly. Maybe that could have been a ledge the police could have jumped off of, “Look, less than a year ago you got in a fight and broke your ankle…” Or maybe one person reports his license plate when he throws coffee on someone, and that’s recorded and a therapist can say, “His behavior is erratic and aggressive.”
But then what? That’s the thing. He still didn’t have a history of real violence. And most of the time, these mass-murders don’t. But in his case, his aggression did escalate. So he was progressing, but what can you really do? Does one moment when I freak out about something warrant someone to commit me a year later? It’s a slippery slope.
The reason the mental illness “out” (as most people see it) is so frustrating is because we all feel powerless. In Rodger’s case, he WAS in the system. He talks only briefly toward the end of his manifesto, but discusses psychiatrists and therapists and social behaviorists. He talks about how they all say the same thing, but ultimately none of them get him what he thinks will bring him happiness – sex and a girlfriend. Of course, his obsession with sex is dysfunctional. Once he got it, like most things he thought would “fix” him, he found out they didn’t really change anything. So if he HAD found a girl/woman to have sex with, he probably still would have been unfulfilled and unhappy. Maybe more so. But his singular obsession alone was definitely unhealthy. And it appears his parents knew he was obsessed with being alone and a virgin. And I’m sure therapists knew it. And knew if he would have sex, he wouldn’t have been any happier. And his obsession would have shifted. Maybe to sex with another girl, blaming the original one. Or maybe it would have made him more obsessed with winning the lottery. Another near-delusional obsession. He thought if he wanted it bad enough, just as he wanted a girlfriend, he’d eventually get it. As if the universe succumbs to your want, if you only want it enough.
Working out of those disordered thought processes is a frustrating prospect. The patient has to be willing to change. Willing to take the medicines prescribed (he refused). So if they HAD admitted him and forced medications on him, there’s a good chance he eventually would have worked his way to a point of being released. Would he keep medicating himself if he didn’t want to? Or if he thought he was “fixed” and no longer needed the medications? What if he refused treatment all together? He’s an adult. He shows no outward signs of aggression. He knows how to hide his rage or talk his way out of it.
So what do we want? Do we really want to go back to forced institutionalization? There will definitely be cases where it’s unwarranted, and someone is locked up and over-medicated. It terrifies me to think that in an attempt to “control” the uncontrollable (people like Rodger), we’ll lose people who aren’t sick to a system that may not have time to diagnose properly, listening to ill-willed or abusive family members over the patient. In Rodger’s case, that’s what we’d prescribe to happen. Forget that HE’S saying he’s OK. Listen to his parents! Well, that can backfire.
On the other hand, even if the patient is a child and the parent CAN speak for the child, there’s a lot of helplessness with these mental disorders. My second cousin struggles with rigid thought processes, social anxiety, and rage. His parents and grandparents are afraid of what he will do one day. They’re terrified to let him leave for college. They can’t leave him at home alone. But “the system” can only help him as much as he’s willing. And soon, they won’t be able to control the little they can now.
That’s the problem with talking mental illness. There’s not a good system. And there’s not really a way to theorize a good system. The problem with mental illness is the person suffering often doesn’t see the problem. And is unwilling or unable because of the illness itself to get help.
Do I think Rodger displayed misogynistic behaviors? Yes. But I think those and all of his other disordered, degrading and antiquated thought processes were a result of his other issues. And those issues continued to snowball until he was so filled with contempt, self-hate, rage, and frustration with this “unfair world” that he reached a point where help was no longer possible. I do think his misogyny was an issue worth discussing in the bigger realm of, “This is a real thing, and it’s growing, and many people don’t recognize it.” But I DON’T think that was HIS biggest problem. I think it was a symptom of a much bigger problem. Much like his entitlement was an issue. And his inability to accept that the world isn’t fair was an issue. And his inability to see people beyond how they looked or what they had was an issue. All of these things were issues. And at the root of those issues were disorders. Personality disorders, and mental illness.
I don’t believe any sane person goes on a thought-out killing spree. And that’s the scary part. You can’t control insane. And often, unfortunately, there’s no way to fix it. And THAT is more terrifying than anything else. So what’s the point of everyone going on? What’s the point of picking him apart? Last time there was a spree like this, I wanted to know more. I wanted the killer to talk to us, really talk about what was going on. Well, now I have the information I wanted, and still feel as helpless as before. Only now I have 4,000 words to show for it, and no real suggestion on a plan to fix it or avoid a similar situation in the future. There are so many variables. So many unknowns. So many uncontrolled situations.
I guess this is growing up.