(Note from the Editor: This blog was originally posted at SamLouiemft.com and is reposted here with the author’s permission. Much has been made of Elliot Rodger’s mental state. Sam Louie is a phychotherapist in private practice licensed in the state of Washington as a mental health counselor and sex offender treatment provider affiliate. He received his Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in marriage & family therapy from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California).
What Elliot Rodger did is inexplicable. The easy and lazy explanation is to dismiss him as a “madman” or someone with “mental illness” after the twenty-two year old killed 6 UC Santa Barbara students and injured 13 others before killing himself this weekend.
The harder truth is how Rodger’s ethnic identification (half-Asian) combined with his life circumstances led to a feeling of inferiority that started early in childhood. In his 137 page attack plan, Rodger’s shared about the pain of his parent’s divorce early in childhood.
“Very shortly after my seventh birthday, the news came. I believe it was my mother who told me that she and my father were getting a divorce; my mother, who only a few months before told me that sucha (sic) thing will never happen. I was absolutely shocked, outraged, and above all, overwhelmed. This was a huge life-changing event…it was arranged that me and my sister will mostly be living with our mother, and we would go to father’s house on the weekends…my life would change forever after this. The family I grew up with has split in half, and from then on I would grow up in two different households. I remember crying. All the happy times I spent with my mother and father as a family were gone, only to remain in memory. It was a very sad day. Just like the move to the U.S., it would be like starting a whole new life with a new routine.”
As a psychotherapist specializing in multi-cultural issues and trauma, divorce can significantly impact a child’s sense of relational security, trust, and resiliency against rejection. In Rodger’s case, rejection (real or perceived), was intertwined with his self-esteem and feelings of ostracism.
In school, he struggled with his stature, shyness, and social awkwardness stating his life-long feeling of inferiority and self-consciousness to others began in elementary school.
“The first frustration of the year, which would remain for the rest of my life, was the fact that I was very short for my age. As Fourth Grade started, it fully dawned on me that I was the shortest kid in my class – even the girls were taller than me. In the past, I rarely gave a thought to it, but at this stage I became extremely annoyed at how everyone was taller than me, and how the tallest boys were automatically respected more. It instilled the first feelings of inferiority in me, and such feelings would only grow more volatile with time….”
During adolescence the issue of his mixed-race came to consciousness (dad is British, mom is Chinese) and fueled his belief that he was less than.
“On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with.”
This sense of ethnic alienation is very common among those of mixed-race. They are too ethnic to be considered “white” by White America yet not ethnic enough to feel accepted by their ethnic peers. In Rodger’s situation, he projected and attributed his mixed-race identity as playing a role in his rejection by women when sharing a story about a party he attended.
I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian.
While race did play a role and add to his insecurities that led to his killing spree, I believe the bigger issue was his sensitivity to rejection and how he personalized it to his inadequacy. In other words, he had negative cognitions and thoughts where he blamed himself for any slights or feelings of inadequacy. This may sound contradictory since Rodger is seen as blaming everyone in his outline but when you look deeper he ultimately blames himself for his losses and perceived rejections.
In one example, you may be able to detect the self-blame and confusion when his close friend ends their relationship.
“He blatantly said he didn’t want to be friends anymore. He didn’t even deign to tell me why. After he said the fateful words, he refused to talk to me ever again. That was the last time I ever spoke to him. It was the ultimate betrayal.”
Other people who experience similar situations (when a friend unexpectedly stops talking to you) but have more resiliency would chalk this loss up to the friend’s decision. There would be confusion but no self blame. There would be loss and grief to be processed but no self-flagellation or feeling like you are the reason for the end of the friendship. This is a key distinction between those who have overcome trauma and ruptures in relationships and those who continue to suffer. The ones who suffer can not see reality. Their reality is their truth so rejection take a painfully, personal toll. For Elliot Rodger, a young man searching and yearning for nothing more than acceptance, the feelings of rejection were all too much to handle.
“I am not part of the human race. Humanity has rejected me. The females of the human species have never wanted to mate with me, so how could I possibly consider myself part of humanity?”