Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor interviewed this Psychotherapist and Family Therapist Dr. Karen Ruskin during a LIVE discussion with Forensic Psychologist Dr. Brian Russell on December 14th 2012 where we discussed the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre. In follow up to my interview, I have written a blog to cover additional points that many are asking. You will find below my Q&A including the following:
- Are these types of tragedies on the rise?
- Is this act of murder evil or mental illness?
- Can this behavior be explained?
- Why would a person target kids?
- Prevention methods?
- Warning signs?
- Are there tips for parents to talk with their children?
What is going on with our culture? It seems like it is more often that we hear of these tragedies. Are these types of tragedies rising?
Yes, I believe these types of tragedies are on the rise. My explanation is as follows. The more people become a self absorbed entitled culture (e.g., I deserve not to hurt, I deserve to have money, I deserve to have nurturing parents etc.), there is and will be a rise.
We all deserve, but we cannot control the cards that are dealt to us. A culture where the quick fix is all we want (e.g., pop a pill), and do not work hard for a better emotional life will lead to this ongoing rise. By taking ownership of what one’s own self can do for one’s own mental wellness it is that – which would not lead to a rise, but alas the rise continues.
What can I do today to help myself to help myself and my mental health and wellness? This is the question one must ask one’s self and be mindful of everyday. One must take ownership of one’s mental wellness! Attending counseling sessions with consistency and working on implementing strategies offered when not feeling well is a key example of working hard for one’s mental health and wellness.
Some say a parson who commits murder is evil and it is a crime but not mental illness. Some say it is mental illness. What do you think Dr. Ruskin?
I say that I choose not to say it is an ‘either-or’ explanation, and rather it is a ‘both-and’ explanation. Murder is horrific, it is evil, it is a crime. I also say that when a person looses perspective and all they can think about is their pain that needs release, their wants, their needs, and their ‘ID’ takes over to the point where murder is what they view as their only option- I say they are ill, yes, they are sick in the mind.
Murder is a brutal and savage crime that is a product of a deep mental and emotional disturbance. AKA: Evil, Crime, Mental Illness.
How do you even begin to explain this behavior?
This behavior arises out of the deepest conflict of one’s past. Some can let go of their inner pain, some cannot.
Young males in their 20’s are particularly vulnerable to act outward as they have been told since youth to “be a big boy” (e.g., when a boy falls down often he is told – “get up don’t be upset”, when a boy’s feelings are hurt often he is told – “suck it up don’t wear your heart on your sleeve”) and thus they have bottled up their pain. Often, young males have been given no coping strategies for childhood pain. Males as boys who are hurting need love, affection, guidance, coping strategies – the raising of boys is a very important job. There are too many boys who do not get the help they need and they suffer in silence. Males in their 20’s are in the transition-next-phase in their life looking back and struggling with how to move forward as they are stuck. Look at the history of these massacres- in overwhelming numbers they are committed by males in their 20’s. That is no coincidence.
Why target kids?
Children, Elementary school in particular is where ‘it’ all began, when life begins- in childhood.
Childhood trauma is within the unresolved self. “If childhood were different then my life would be different now” is in the mind of the 20 something male who is hurting with unresolved deep inner pain of the tortured unheard soul. The pained mind of the mentally disturbed who kills children may think; “If kids die then my pain dies with them, as my pain is since that age, that is when things in my life changed for me”.
Is there prevention of becoming a murderer?
On the one side of this coin one may suggest that there is no prevention. When it comes to Psychopaths, one may presume there is no prevention because psychopathy stems from a physiological defect in the brain that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions.
On the other side of this coin one may suggest there is prevention. Sociopathy is more the product of childhood traumas and abuse.
I contend there is prevention for some and there is not for others, as some are born evil (as suggested when explaining Psychopaths), and others develop into the monster they become from an ongoing pattern of childhood traumas and neglect (as suggested when explaining sociopaths).
What are the early warning signs, if any, for the person of whom prevention is possible and what should you do if you see these signs?
Parents- do be informed and know the early warning signs you can see as young as pre-school, but cannot be denied once in elementary school;
- Lack of empathy
- No remorse
- Lack of guilt
- Mood disturbance in the eyes of others
Parents must not sweep these signs under the rug, teachers must not ignore, the pediatrician must not ignore, friends’ parents- speak up! Let’s look out for each other as a community and reach out to mental health and wellness experts. There are so many wonderful caring therapists. Solution focused family therapists are the key to help children and families if warning signs show up. Specifically, they provide concrete strategies and recognize the systemic nature of problem and solution resolution. This style of treatment typically involves the families and case coordinates with the schools and pediatricians. Attend to and intervene at a young age is prevention. I am not suggesting we can prevent all possible massacres, I sure am saying we can prevent some if not many. Parenting matters- and that is the key ingredient for prevention of what can be prevented. Therefore parents, if you need help with your children, get guidance, learn strategies for helping your children and get training for how to be the best parent you can be. Do not just put treatment on your children, get help too – to help them to help themselves cope with their life challenges and to become the best version of themselves they can be.
What are some tips for parents to be able to talk to kids about such a violent tragedy?
- Answer any and all questions your children have. Nothing is off the table. If you don’t have the answer be honest and tell them you will research the answer and get back to them.
- Be verbally attentive, physically affectionate, and nurturing in tone during your talk.
- Talk with not at your children.
- Discuss and educate them about mental illness.
- Reassure the low likelihood of this type of tragedy happening to them while balancing validation of the reality that it did and does happen.
- Ask them what they need to feel safe, and what you can do to help them to feel safe.
- Balance the worry and pain kids feel with a discussion of what they can do to help those who have been affected, and continue to be supportive of activities they enjoy doing so their entire mind is not on the tragedy 24/7.
- Some kids are more chatty than others. Don’t assume because there are no questions your children are fine, nor assume because they are talking about it they are not fine. No assumptions parents. Rather meet your kids on their terms, on their level, and continue to keep the line of communication open. What your children do not wish to discuss one moment in the day they may wish to at a different moment. Check in on them.
- Normalize what they are feeling, re-assure them their thoughts and feelings are normal.
- Display strength and calm, and remember, how you act is a role model for them. How you react affects how they feel and thus act.