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3 Paths to Clear the Way to Ending Mass Shootings

parenting photoMass shooters are immune to kindness. So are school bullies.

Isabella, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, learned this the hard way. She was nice to a boy who bullied her, and then turned into a mass shooter that ended 17 classmates’ lives several years later.

Lesson learned? Being nice to bullies won’t stop them from acting out inner rage impulses to hurt others.

This doesn’t mean we should not be kind.

It means that we must develop our understanding that some persons, for example, those who as a result of early childhood trauma, develop tendencies toward antisocial personality disorder (also known as sociopathology or psychopathology), and conduct disorder in adolescence, tend to have trouble feeling empathy for others.

We also need clarity and permission to name the real problem, and stop denying what we know: there is an established link between mass shootings and domestic violence, and the witnessing and exposure to domestic violence and misogynist beliefs in early childhood.

First, stop blame-shifting responsibility to victims.

 The expectation that, if only classmates had been nicer, the shooting could have been prevented, is off the mark.

Furthermore, it’s exactly what bullies do. Narcissists and sociopaths are skilled at blame-shifting the responsibility onto their victims. The #MeToo Movement is a powerful sample of a pattern of behavior of those who violently assault others (to include sexual and emotionally terrorizing another). So let’s not do that.

First, bullies do not respond to kindness. Why?

Those that meet the criteria for a conduct disorder in adolescence, or antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder tend to have trouble feeling empathy for others.

They are immune to kindness. As a result of early trauma, they’ve learned to regard empathy or remorse as traits of “the weak,” often those they abuse. They look for and prey on those that go out of their way to be kind, nice, compassionate, empathic, and the like.

Bullies are hurt people, true.

However, unlike other hurt people, they choose to express their inner misery by willfully hurting others.

That’s also what makes narcissists and sociopaths distinct from other mental health issues!

Most children that experience early trauma and witness domestic violence do not become perpetrators of violence; however, they will still likely need treatment for one or more other disorders, such as anxiety and, or depression, listed in the DSM. Chances are also high that they’ll get into an abusive relationship with a perpetrator.

In others, all early trauma in childhood has ramifications and enduring effects throughout adulthood when untreated.

At minimum, children need to learn skills that help neutralize the effects of bullies on them, to protect themselves, and their minds and sense of agency, and esteem. Teachers need to be trained to be proactive, to know what to look for, to advocate and decondition bullying, and to reinforce the skills students learn to neutralize the effects of bullying. Parents need to be similarly informed, learn and reinforce these skill sets.

In other words, we can be a lot more effective if our focus goes beyond only getting treatment for children identified with a conduct disorder. We also need to teach all children how to protect their minds and esteem from the effects of bullying.

Second, let’s more clearly name the real problem.

In order to address the problem of mass shootings and violence, first, we need to see the danger socializing children, boys in particular, to feel ashamed and reject emotions of empathy and caring and vulnerability.

Second, teaching men from boyhood to associate and project the feelings of disgust for weakness onto girls and women is an even bigger problem — known as hate propaganda, learning to view another group as less than human, dangerous, in this case misogyny teaches women are dangerous influences to men, potentially emasculating — which is the root of violence against women.

Third, this socialization also teaches men that they must prove their masculinity with displays that they mistreat and see women as objects to dominate, hurt and abuse, and so on.

It’s a problem that wounds boys for a lifetime of difficulties and dysfunctional dynamics, as adults, in their couple and family relationships.

Bullying is a symptom that is an early warning sign to parents and schools, to zero in on solutions and early treatment.

Mental health disorders per se are not the problem.

The red flags are symptoms of deliberate harm of others, disregard for others’ basic rights of others, persistent pattern of deceitfulness, among others.

None of these are  symptoms related to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders.

For the most part, these are symptoms meet the criteria for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder (APD) in adults, or conduct disorder (CD) in children and adolescents (which is a precursor to APD).

Bullies and bullying are red flags for dating violence, domestic violence and sexual assault, which occur much more frequently than mass shootings.

In the article above, Isabella describes four situations listed below that are red flags. All are criteria for CD, APD and NPD.

Red Flag 1:”He knocked the wind out of [me] and smirked as he watched [me] cry.” (He hurt her with no remorse.)

Red Flag 2: “His eyes were lit up with a sick, twisted joy as he watched me cry.” (He derived pleasure from causing her pain.)

Red Flag 3:  “[He ogled] my chest until the hourlong session [of tutoring him] ended.” (He derived pleasure in making her feel uncomfortable.)

Red Flag 4: “I was forced to endure his cursing me out [during hourlong tutoring session.” (He used verbal abuse to demean, attack self- worth, self-esteem etc.)

This behavior pattern meet some of the criteria for conduct disorder in adolescence, and APD, or antisocial personality disorder in adults.

As a side note, not every kid that bullies is a “real” bully! Most kids that bully others do so on occasion, and for other reasons, such as trying to impress or befriend a bully.

Third, let’s stop denying the root cause of mass shootings!

Last but not least, to address and end the problem of mass shootings in our society, we must own what we already know about the causes of violence.

Violence begets more violence.

No child is born a bully; bullies are made.

No child is born with a conduct disorder. And no child is born with narcissistic or antisocial personality disorders.

Bullies, narcissists and sociopaths are made.

It’s in the family that boys and girls learn what it means to be a man or woman, a husband or wife, a father or mother, and what it means for a man and woman to be in a couple relationship.

Bullies and narcissists and psychopaths exist because they are mass produced in our society.

They are home grown in authoritarian families where boys, in particular, are socialized to associate their self-worth and masculinity with dominance, proving superiority, and the expectation that they should feel entitled to mistreat, subjugate or exploit “the weak” with impunity, and do so with no remorse.

Such was the case, by the way, two thousand years ago in Ancient Sparta. Sadly, history portrays Sparta as a culture that produced the world’’s fiercest, bravest warriors. What mainstream schoolbooks omit to say is that, in order to mass produce killer warriors, boys were taken from their homes at ages 5 to 7, to prevent the softening influence of their mothers’ care, and instead exposed to systematic physical, sexual and emotional abuse by older groups of boys. The rulers of Sparta, 2000 years ago, stayed in power by keeping their city states in perpetual war. They also understood then, without the benefits decades of research have substantiated in the last 50 years, that: Beatings and sexual abuse in early childhood make it more likely they will continue the violence in their adult relations. They also preprogram men to train to end lives without remorse.

These practices have continued in Western world, for example, in the education of Britain’s most powerful men, where generations of boys are exposed to systematic sexual abuse as apart of the everyday cruelty of boarding schools. Another example of violence is institutionalized, and hidden, in Western culture.

It’s time to come out of the fog, to accept that a bully is not born, they are trained when parents are socialized to believe it’s their duty to turn their home into a boot camp for children, and boys in particular.

It is dehumanizing when children are exposed to severe cultural norms, as occurs when a boy is traumatized by early experiences of violence and neglect, witnessing of domestic violence, where he learns the strong dominate the weak, and feel hatred and suppress his own human impulses for kindness, empathy and caring.

This view of power as a subjugating force wounds men from boyhood, forcing them to make a choice between two false and arbitrary categories of either being masculine and thus divorced from his human self — or human and thus regarded weak and inferior and, or gay.

In a study of the widespread abusive parenting practices in the decades leading to Nazi Germany,  Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Swiss psychologist Alice Miller notes the following:

“The capacity of the human organism to bear pain is, for our own protection, limited. All attempts to overstep this natural threshold by resolving repression [of core human emotions of compassion, empathy) in a violent manner will, as with every other form of violence, have negative and often dangerous consequences.”

This is essential reading for every American!

School shootings and domestic violence — along with narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders — are social problems rooted in harsh child rearing practices and cultural norms, in which children are traumatized, and boys in particular, are exposed to misogynist views of women, and learn to idealize and associate violence and dominance, no remorse and cruel treatment of others, with power and masculinity and self-worth.

It is dehumanizing to children, boys in particular, when they are exposed to cultural norms from early childhood that, when compounded by traumatic experiences of violence and neglect, witnessing of domestic violence, and exposure to misogynist beliefs, can form neural pathways that link violence against weaker groups with power and status and the maintenance of authoritarian social orders.

To end mass shootings, we must all work together to end violence against children. More than 50 countries have banned spanking of children. Sweden was the first in 1979.

Violence in any society is rooted in abusive parenting practices. Early traumatic practices, among others, include beatings, hitting, slapping, throwing, shaming, tactics of humiliation, intimidation, threats of abandonment or rejection.

We don’t more research to link violence in childhood and the cycle of violence in adulthood. Not all who experience or witness violence become perpetrators; many find themselves victims of abusive partners in adulthood, blaming themselves.

It’s self evident that violence begets violence.

Sadistic treatment of boys begets sadistic men. (And in some cases women.) This idea that war is peace is Orwellian, a lie designed to cripple the thinking capacity of human brains.

The levels of violence in our country, four to twenty times highter than any other industrial nation, tells us that something is amiss in the practices of raising children.

As Alice Miller points out, using Adolph Hitler’s as her case in point, his father beat the young Adolph at every turn for infractions big and small, real and imaginary. And if he cried or protested, he would command hi to stop crying with punctuated slaps, yelling, belt-whippings. In Hitler’s family this was normal. Miller notes that:

“Sadism is not an infectious disease that strikes a person all of a sudden. It has a long prehistory in childhood and always originates in the desperate fantasies of a child who is searching for a way out of a hopeless situation.”

We don’t need any more studies to substantiate that violence in childhood starts a cycle of violence. It’s self evident that violence begets violence.

Sadistic treatment of boys begets sadistic men. (And in some cases women.)

The levels of violence in our country, four to twenty times highter than any other industrial nation, tells us that something is amiss in the practices of raising children.

In closing, a quote by Alice Miller:

“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body and lives in the depth of our soul. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and mnaipulated, our perception shamed and confused, our bodies dtricked with medication. But our soul never forgets. And because we are one, one whole soul in one body, someday our body will bpresent its bill.”



3 Paths to Clear the Way to Ending Mass Shootings

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2018). 3 Paths to Clear the Way to Ending Mass Shootings. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Aug 2018
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