The atrocity of Elliot Rodger’s mass murder in Santa Barbara has left our society in shock and pain. Even if we can put this incident as the actions of a sick mind, that will not help us to understand this basic question:
How can a young, intelligent young man justify such atrocity in his mind?
Reading the digital trails left by Elliot Rodger describing his longing for love and connection needs we can start to understand the destructive power of “rotting in loneliness for all these years.”
“All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasures while I’ve had to rot in loneliness for all these years. They’ve all looked down upon me every time I tried to go out and join them, they’ve all treated me like a mouse. “
To understand his frustration, originated by the lack of social skills necessary to help him connect with girls, we need to hear his voice describing his retribution day:
“You’ve forced me to suffer all my life and now I’ll force you all suffer. I’ve waited a long time for this. I’ll give you exactly what you deserve. All of you. All you girls who rejected me and looked down upon me and you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And all of you men, for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men, I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve. Utter annihilation.”
Why he thinks that retribution and tit for tat is the right answer?
Being 11, Elliot became more and more attached to online gaming, (being introduced to them by his father), which he played with a few friends, and focuses a great deal of his time and energy on this. As a young adult, he was immerse in the “games” culture; A culture where the interaction schema revolves around escalating disputes more and more…And where the natural closure of the game is winning by eliminating any other player..
Let’s recover a bit of human needs theory:
We all human beings have vital needs that demand the cooperation of others to satisfy. Without others’ help we cannot survive, develop and grow into independent adults.
Through the vehicle of necessary interpersonal relationships, these human needs are expressed and satisfied. Of course, sex and love are important part of those needs. In this graphic you can see the needs and how they build up on each other…
Elliot Rodger had a family, so he survived childhood and felt important and loved by his parents. This was the basic attitude to build up feeling loved and connected with others later.
Why the connection with others, in this case his future sexual companions, was important? because growth as an adult person needs the interchange of actions and messages between people to cover all the basic needs.
In this way, consensual sex is an agreement by which both sides cooperate in getting their connection needs solved, and marriage becomes an alliance between two people who agree to support each other in the fulfillment of these basic needs, so they can develop completely into adulthood.
Human Needs Chart
In other words, we can understand different levels of human needs describing different human situations like the following ones:
- We need many social connections, (variety) some of which are closer than others. We need to matter to others, be approved by and be held in high esteem by others.
- We need one significant, permanent and loving partner. If we do not find one, we will have a deep craving and sense of something missing – even if we banish these feelings from our consciousness and refuse to acknowledge them – until we find such a partner.
For many people, some bonding needs are going unmet for long durations. This state of chronically unmet bonding needs can feel “normal.” or an acceptable fact of life… He or she may rationalize it as an aversion to sex, ineptitude at or disinterest in relationships. In other words, he or she experiences relationship pain but accepting somehow the responsibility for this frustration.
This need for sexual connection is taken to the extremes in Elliot Rodger’s “retribution story of chronically unmet bonding needs.” For Elliot Rodger, life in this aspect never felt “normal”. He was sure that something was wrong. He never got to believe that he rejected sex, or that he was disinterest in relationships, because he knew he was suffering because not being able to connect sexually.
The big difference with Elliot Rodger is that he can’t see anything wrong in himself, but blames the world of young women around him, “giving themselves to unsavoury candidates but ignoring him,” as the cause of his frustration and loneliness. I wonder if his therapists pointed anytime to what he could do to change his situation and make more clear advances towards girls. It looks like he never learned the skills to connect with girls, how to be adventurous, or aggressive or timid but seductive with the girls around him.
Why did he come to believe that in this “Game of Life,” the initiative was in the hands of others to break his isolation?
Perhaps gaming gave him the wrong idea of an interconnected magic universe where sooner or later someone would come to play with him. Or perhaps, having the external power of other magic wand of big money (winning the lottery) would help girls being attracted to him?
Whatever his mindset, there is a strong suggestion that he expected the external universe had to connect with him, deliver the love he longed for and make him complete:
“It has been very tortuous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair.”
The pain of sexual deprivation was felt as being isolated from humanity, rejected and alone:
“For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me.”
As all boys, he needed both to learn how to connect with other men, the world of male companionship, and the very different sphere of learning how to connect with women, using relational skills to feel valued and appreciated.
In short, he ends up seeing himself as the loser in a world where other men get their sexual needs solved and all girls rejected him.
- Magical thinking or expecting satisfaction from others without asking
- Asking for love and sex from others is felt as a humiliation
- He suffers loneliness leading to anger and to retribution fantasies
What makes of this a truly American tragedy, is that due to his access to guns, Elliot Rodger goes from feelings of devaluation, rejection, isolation, to imagining his violent reaction to a frustrating world, to finally exacting his “retribution,” against the world that has frustrated him by going into a killing spree.
“Well, this is my last video, it has all had to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you.”
Isolated and frustrated young men are not new; what is new is the connection with armed “retribution” against loneliness….we live in such an interconnected world that deprivation of basic human needs as sex are felt as a global attack against oneself. The power of unmet human needs is real here.
What can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy?
- We need to be sure that we build emotional connections; that we care for each other in such a way we teach young people not only how to man a computer game but also how to express and share basic human needs language. We need to avoid bullying and all other ways of rejecting and ostracizing young people.
- That hungers of the heart for love and connection are to be acknowledged and solved in everyday life; that we can’t ignore some kids’ starvation from connection because it kills others that are not directly responsible for this starvation.
- In a sense, we all have to take care of teaching our youngsters how to connect and relate to each other in an appreciative way, in such a way we nurture each other sense of self.
Nora Femenia, Ph.D. is the author of the book The Art of Living with a Passive Aggressive Husband, a field guide for women that have to deal with passive aggression in their partners.
Nora also posts regularly to her blog http://passiveaggressivehusband.com