A Critical Comment to the Discussion around the Essay "I am Adam Lanza's mother"

Share +

Section: 

A Critical Comment to the Discussion around the Essay "I am Adam Lanza's mother"by: AnonymousThe reactions to school shooting tragedies resemble one another. There is helplessness and shock. And once everybody starts breathing again the search for "reasons" starts. The chorus of voices seems to focus on few major debates.Not surprisingly, the recent horrible events start the same discussions.A blog essay that dates from Friday, December 14, 2012, sticks out. It currently goes viral on the internet. A mother talks about her struggles raising her children and she describes the violent behaviour of her teenage son who she says is mentally ill. Movingly, she declares "I am Adam Lanza's mother", insinuating that her teenage son was at an early stage of development into a school shooting killer.Some readers acclaim her, others are shocked. Important concerns for the privacy of children are raised. How can this boy grow up unburdened, now that his mother publicly declared him a future killer?Another blogger points out contradictions between what the mother said in the essay as opposed to what she said in previous blog posts - about her situation, about her son, about her own thoughts and feelings towards her children. Critical voices suggest that the pathological behaviour in question is not the behaviour of the teenage son - as the mother suggests - but instead the behaviour of the mother. Again voices cry "mental illness", now passing the buck back to the mother. Online readers distance "diagnose" her with Munchhausen-by-proxy syndrome, which is a psychiatric label used to describe a behaviour in which a parent damages the (usually physical) health of a child in order to get, themselves, attention.A few points need to be raised about all of this.First of, where does this idea come from that mental illness is causally related to violence? It is not supported by data.Statistical data shows a very small positive correlation between violence and so-called "mental illness". Correlation doesn't mean causality. Empirical research might find similar correlations between violence and wearing dentures, watching football, or choosing a certain type of chewing gum. All of these are things that occur in the general public, so to some extend all of these will occur in perpetrators of violence. Just like "mental illness". Reduction to absurdity? Yes and no. Scientifically, nothing can be deemed absurd unless on the basis of conclusive data, which does not exist for the aforementioned examples. But there are arguably other statistical correlations that seem more promising to take a closer look at. Only to mention one of them: One hundred percent of school shooters are boys. Which is a correlation by far higher than to any other factor. We hopefully all agree that this doesn't mean that all men or all boys are serial killers in waiting. But it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at possibly problematic aspects of the current societal construction of "masculity." We can be certain that if one hundred percent of them were girls, gender would not be left out of the discussion.One wants to congratulate the state of Norway, Europe, for admitting that the man who shot almost one hundred young people in July 2011 was a racist. Period. Not "mentally ill."Sure, Adam Lanzas do have mothers. But none of them knew what would happen. None of them ever suspected it. A common theme around perpetrators of violence is, on the contrary, how inconspicuous they were, what a nice person, how surprised everybody was that this could happen. The philosopher Hannah Arendt talked about the "banality of evil" when she tried to find explanations for how come that even genocidal mass murderers can be honored members of society, good husbands and fathers.The sad truth is that some mothers are the mothers of future school shooters, murderers, rapists, child molesters, or white-collar-criminals who destroy the future of whole populations. But it is equally true that there is no reliable predictor who these are. There have been numerous attempts to find predictors for violence throughout history, ranging from phrenology (the attempt to predict who will be a criminal based on the shape of the skull - which was seen as scientific breakthrough at the time) to psychological theories. And all of them failed. Neither is the shape of the skull a reliable predictor for violence. Nor do testosterone levels predict rapes. Nor will everybody who has been molested as a child, themselves, molest children when they are adults. Nor will all who have overstrained mothers who possibly lack empathy for the emotional struggles of a child become school shooters or serial killers.Violence scares us. But we harm ourselves when we let the discussion get away with oversimplified or downright wrong answers.Damaging the integrity of a child with hypothetical accusations, especially in public, is clearly unethical. It does seem like an attempt of a mother to get attention, and she seems totally willing to do this at the expense of the child's wellbeing. This rightly leads to an outcry for the protection of the rights of children. But, as could be seen, this also leads to further psychiatric labelling. Whereas the commentators who acclaim this mother's views point to the "mental illness" of the teenage son, other critical commentators point out the "mental illness" in the behaviour of the mother.Again, "mental illness" is blamed. Just the target has changed.It is true that the problems and behaviours of a parent vastly influence children. And unfortunately, this seems to be an example in which a parent possibly fails to see her own involvement. But involvement is not the same as moral guilt, nor is it the same as "mental illness". Not only that "mental illness" cannot be distance diagnosed by judging from superficial anecdotal evidence, but also: The game of just passing on the buck of "mental illness" doesn't contribute anything helpful to the discussion.All that "mental illness" seems to be in public arguments like this is a label given to anybody who does anything that is seen as problematic. Instead of being a descriptive term for several specific types of suffering. And instead of naming what it is that people really are concerned about: If you talk about a teenager who struggles with adolescence, with the problem-ridden separation of his parents, with experiences of emotional overwhelm and aggression, then talk about that. If you talk about violence, then talk about violence. If you talk about problematic or helpless parenting, then please talk about problematic or helpless parenting. As an all-purpose "dumpster" label the concept of "mental illness" loses its validity, and functions only as the carpet other issues are conveniently swept under.Violence exists in our midst, and we need to withstand the temptation of superficially reassuring pseudo-explanations. Let's face it: Struggling with aggression is human, and there are at least two traps we need to be equally aware of: single-cause explanations and avoidance of the topic.Instead of pointing fingers and waiting helplessly for the next catastrophe to occur, we might want to look at our own ways of dealing with aggression, and how to pass these skills patiently on to our kids, and/or learn and deepen them together with them. We need to untangle the knot in which violence by boys is often ignored and rationalized as "biological". We are called to be attentive to violence in our immediate environment.Singling out and scapegoating an already stigmatized group might provide short-term psychological relief. But it is only short-term relief because scapegoating means looking away, instead of looking at what contributing societal issues are failed to be addressed.In the discussion referred to, there are many such issues. We could talk about the challenges of single parenting, the challenges that families face in general, about abusive parenting, abusive partnership, lack of support systems, bullying in schools, and many others.The scaremongering and inflationary use of the term "mental illness" for everything that people are afraid of does not only harm those who suffer from actual experiences and crises that get labeled "mentally ill". It harms all of society.What society do we create when some kids are singled out and their ambitions to become the next Steve Jobs or the next Barack Obama are publicly negated and ridiculed? And maybe more importantly: Where can people who struggle with overwhelming feelings turn to and not be told they are either the future Adam Lanza or their mothers? Where can they turn to instead, and learn that they might be the future John Nash, Edgar Allen Poe, Camille Claudel, or Marsha Lineham, i.e. future mathematicians, writers, artists, university professors of psychiatry (or of whatever else)? (All of which have suffered so-called "mental illness".)Believing that you, or your kid, will become the next school shooter may well function as a self-fulfilling prophecy.In the meantime, the son of this blogging mother can rest assured that not all the bullshit our parents say about us is true.--References and further readingThe blog essay referred to:http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.de/2 ... kable.htmlA blog critically commenting on the essay and pointing out contradictions in the description of the thirteen-yr-old son:http://sarahkendzior.com/2012/12/16/wan ... -her-blog/Petition to further investigate the role of psychodynamic substances (psychiatric drugs) in violent behaviour and school shootings:https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petiti ... s/25QgKXBcSmall things that we all can do to prevent violence, by Alice Keys, M.D.http://www.madinamerica.com/2012/12/man ... g-results/Steps that anyone can take to stop interpersonal violence, by Paula Caplan, Ph.Dhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sci ... l-violenceThe harmful effects of psychiatric labeling, by Paula Caplan, Ph.D.http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sci ... c-labelingCampaign to Abolish Psychiatric diagnostic Systems such as ICD and DSM (CAPSID)http://www.criticalpsychiatry.net/?p=527On problematic aspects of the construction of masculinity (documentary, free full-length preview on the site)http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce ... on&key=246How to react to school bullying, interview with psychotherapist Dawn Menkenhttp://www.madnessradio.net/madness-rad ... awn-menken