The Virginia TV Shooting Is About Shame

There is no need to inquire why this happened, but the public will make this about guns, race and sex and nothing will change.

Vester Flanagan told us why he did it. The answer is shame – having been disrespected or the perception there of. Violence is the inevitable result. We have always known this, according to James Gilligan, and are simply uninterested in solving the problem. We’re more interested in how reality should work than how it does.

Violence is one result of narcissistic rage, which is about shame, and can be understood as a defense against the need to be loved and belong. Disrespect causes violence, always has, always will. We knew it since Cain and Abel and beyond.

Problem is, Vester – like a broken record – found and created disrespect everywhere he went. The way he did this was, in many ways, by expecting special treatment – projecting his self-loathing onto others as a persecution complex. Unfortunately our response to people who expect special treatment is often to shame them – to disrespect them for their bad behavior. The reason we do this is our own narcissism.

It just seems to make so much sense – the way to get people to change is to tell them they should change.  We know this doesn’t work – yet it remains the way we treat others, have been treated and treat ourselves.

Seems like quite a pickle, really. Maybe gun control will help, or maybe forcing people to be more polite with laws and regulations. I think these will just make people feel more disrespected and controlled – more wrapped up in a power struggle, which is exactly why guns, race and gender are issues to begin with.

Perhaps we should go the other way. Maybe death is worth it. Maybe we should just work on feeling more entitled to our grief, hatred, fear and revenge? If we’re not going to solve the drama, we may as well enjoy the show.  Hell, bring back dueling.  If your perceived persecutors back down from your challenge, at least you can have the dignity of having stood up for yourself and brag to everyone about it, relieving your shame.

Is there some other way for us to relieve shame as a culture – to find a place for those who truly can’t compete, who have been made low by birth, family, fate and folly? Or are we too vulnerable to feeling slighted and deprived, too quick to punish and blame?

To understand how hard it is, see what it would take to respect the opposition. What would it take to say, and even mean the following:

• If you oppose gun ownership: “You know gun owners, I’ve been awfully paranoid about you. I trust you with the guns you have and think you should get more. I want to know that if the shit hits the fan I can count on you.”
• If you are for gun ownership: “You know gun controllers, I’ve been awfully paranoid about you. I don’t need my guns. I’m sure if the shit hits the fan I can count on you.”
• If you think racism exists: “You know, I have been making an awfully big deal about this. I’m ready to hear you out about why you think I’m being excessive.”
• If you think racism isn’t a problem: “You know, I have been awfully dismissive about what you’re saying, I’m ready to hear you out about how you’ve been wronged.”

Would you rather die than lower yourself? The shooters would – to be any lower would mean the death of the self, to have never lived at all in a sense. To sacrifice these kinds of positions gives you a glimpse of the challenge they are facing – to really mean the above.

If mental health is a medical problem, why won’t we pay for its treatment? You don’t respect people. You don’t think they deserve it.  You think adults should just be able to take care of themselves, after all you have to.

It may be true that in the end you can only respect yourself, but you can’t do that without learning how.  You learn how by having someone in your life at a critical time who takes you seriously.  If you don’t, you can’t, not without the help of other people.

From the ego-analytical point of view in psychoanalysis a solution exists in how you view respect. As I’ve said about empathy, respect is not something you do – it is a response. You can be polite (as customs, rules and regulations about race and gender) but respect is something more. The question to ask is: What is standing between me and the other which prevents respect?

The path out of hating narcissists is to see that their need for your recognition is ruined, forever ruined, by their shame and self-hatred about it.  It’s hard to see it because their infuriating behavior is designed to hide it from you, and by extension from themselves.

Do you want to punish them for being the way they are as an expression of your disgust and moral outrage or do you want to help relieve their shame? What do you risk losing if you do?

The first question we have to answer is whether you’d rather reduce violence or express your judgement that people just shouldn’t be violent.  I say people are violent and we’ve always known why.

5 thoughts on “The Virginia TV Shooting Is About Shame”

  1. I just wanted to say this piece put a few things in perspective for me and I appreciate your gentle understanding of people.

    Please keep writing!

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