If writer Liza Long, in the immediate wake of Newtown, exaggerated her account of her son’s alleged mental illness in her post over the weekend, I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, and her frustration with him, said action having most recently incurred the ire of a blogger on Slate, so perhaps have those of us who have felt we should “come out” as having had our Adam Lanza moments and endured the rejection and stigma that goes with ever having displayed rage.
But this is the time for the courage to speak the truth no matter whether one is a mother, had a mentally ill mother, or was/is a damaged adult.
The powers that be claim that Lanza fits the profile of the lone wolf shooter, driven by rage at rejection–the classic Holden Caulfield gone over the top and into the woods.
Most recently, I’ve seen it reported that his mother was thinking, at least, of having him committed because he had become both more violent and withdrawn.
To reach the point of the level of rage and indifference to others’ suffering required to massacre children, there is surely more than rejection and betrayal going on– but perhaps we can speculate that the deeper and more primal the rejection, the more intense and generalized the rage.
I believe that compromised or broken maternal attachment is the genesis of such anger. In making my case please know that I am not taking a swipe at all mothers; only the abandoning kind.
A child approaches his mother with the expectation that she will take him into her arms, praise his achievements and comfort him if he is distressed. Whether or not he becomes an independent, self-confident adult depends on these responses being constants upon which he may depend as he explores his immediate world, figures out life and grows an identity.
If a child is rebuffed and cast off by the mother, all bets are off. This is the most devastating pain there is. To be played like a violin by one’s mother– pulled close and loved and then seemingly out of the blue to be turned on and abandoned is even worse, creating confusion and deepest pain for the child.
Hence, we have the core abandonment wound and the core betrayal of our trust via traumatic rejection. The tormented child easily becomes the rageful child. What else is there? The rage is desperate, about being hellbent on getting some attention, on getting primal needs met.
Those of us who have survived despite maternal rejection, with the attachment broken, have had to grow ourselves up. We make many mistakes. We are quick to go on the offensive.
When the earliest betrayal trauma is replicated, we lash out. We sometimes go for the jugular. We cannot trust and we see rejection where there is none.
Nine times out of ten, the one we perceive to have rejected us or abandoned us doesn’t see himself or herself clearly. He is mystified and terrified by the anger coming his way. He or she, the mother or the father or other caregiver, doesn’t see that the child is immensely sensitized to the least sign of withdrawal, of passive aggression, the going away of the mother and the making of herself unavailable.
Fast forward to the social dynamics of the school, wherein young people are desperately concerned with being accepted and liked– even those from loving and healthy families. We are sure we are ugly and shameful. We hang our sense of who we are on how others treat us.
If we suffer greatly, someone notices, and steers us toward some sort of expert. Or no one notices, and our sense of having been rejected and found lacking increases until it is off the scale. In this way, a young assassin is born.
Certainly true mental illness exists. And psychiatry is in high-handed agreement. But we can also label people too easily, causing them insecurity, disempowering them when we should be reinforcing their strengths and helping them learn that just as those without mobility can have lives without the use of their legs, those psychologically and emotionally compromised and damaged can transcend their impairments.
I had such a mother as I described, and am a survivor of failed maternal attachment. I went to my first psychiatrist when I was 20, after my first lover left town without saying a word to me. I couldn’t function. I had become paralyzed with pain, wretched with abandonment, and I believed I was mad. I see now that I had made him the source of my fulfillment; he was my life.
But the shrink put me on the drug Thorazine, a precursor to today’s anti-psychotics. He hospitalized me. After two days I flushed the pills and checked out and began to reclaim my life…and eventually, to get a new boyfriend.
This hard lesson and many like it in which I have blundered into a host of weird therapies, have led me to believe that some of us manifest traits that too easily get called mental illness. With the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in hand, nearly all shrinks get off on pronouncing you crazy. If you have abandonment issues, for example, they tell you you are “a borderline.” That you have Borderline Personality Disorder.
This, as I’ve blogged before, is the diagnosis du jour, the psychiatric trash can. Recent thinking on this disorder is that it is a form of PTSD, childhood trauma that has in fact involved early rejection. If that is the case, certainly this scariest and most fear-inducing of labels needs to be ditched.
Because such terminology profoundly alienates and disempowers. There is no relief in a mental illness diagnosis; there is terror, and shame, and self-stigmatization and self-estrangement. And grave loneliness and pain.
This is the Catch 22 many have been talking about since Friday. What do we do with children who worry and scare us, or about ourselves? We want to protect their right to privacy, but we desperately need to call a thing what it is and to get help for ourselves as well as our children.
I need to reiterate that there is no greater pain for those of us with such primal wounds than further rejection. If we repeat the patterns, the wound never heals, and is easily reopened. It is easily compounded with shame, such as being told you are crazy, mentally ill, that you really are a hopeless mess, or being perceived that way by people who then shun and exclude you.
It takes a strong, brave person to keep on in the face of such things.
Certainly explosive people are frightening. We can deal more easily with sad people than volatile ones who yell and take their pain out on us, and throw things and worse. In every sense, to behave in this manner is unacceptable and parents need to impose consequences on the children who hold them hostage in these ways. Rageful adults must learn to intervene in their own anger and hold themselves accountable.
There is no question that Adam Lanza was insane with rage, and as noted, evidently unable to feel compassion for the children he executed. That he has been characterized here and there as someone unable to feel pain gives us a glimpse into his world.
And what of the mother who seemed so noble, staying home with him, but who provided him with access to the Bushmaster and the handguns? What of their bond, and that either despite it or because of it, he was able to gun her down?
Our only hope as a culture is to keep the conversation going, pass the right laws, once and for all make it illegal to own assault weapons and capacitive ammo clips, and make further inroads into destigmatizing people who we are blindly quick to call crazy– to reach out to them and take an interest in them. And certainly to have the courage to get our disturbed children help.
And, all of us have the right of self-definition and the right to object to labels and stigmatizing perceptions of us if they don’t ring true. It always takes two to make a mess. So in any given drama, what’s your part? Mine, what I bring to our conflict may be obvious to you, but what about your own?
The shoes are falling and we all have to step into them in one way or another.