Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog Some Predictive Statements about Mass Killings – Dr. Ellen's Blog

Some Predictive Statements about Mass Killings

Posted on August 28, 2015 By

Let me say it again:

Americans will never fully understand or be able to predict mass killings by simply trying to determine the killer’s motives.

Motive-based inquiries have gotten us nowhere because a killer’s motives are present-tense outbursts that often have little or nothing to do with that person’s underlying persona.

To truly understand these events we must significantly broaden that focus to encompass the killer’s all-important relationship history including the nature of his relationships over time with key family members. It is this history that serves as the petri dish where he has grown into the killer he is today.

Bottom line: mass killers come from the angry and dysfunctional and impoverished families that produced them. The typical dysfunctional attributes of such families include:

(1) an environment of seething, enraged parenting that the killer has grown to hate from childhood;

(2) parents who grew up with similar feelings and relationships between themselves and their parents;

(3) an environment of volatile and strained  and cutoff relationships between key family members over several generations;

(4) evidence of a significant level of immaturity and social inadequacy in all family members including the killer; and

(5) a simplistic view of the world around them

The family is a system of interconnected relationships characterized by repeating patterns.

In seriously dysfunctional families these patterns engulf family members in relationships that have historical, problematic roots. The higher the anxiety level that characterizes these relationships, the more rigid and predictable the relationship patterns are that emerge from that emotional relationship system over time.

NOTE: Relationship patterns repeat in healthy families, too, although these repeating patterns are much less predictable. They reveal multi-generational lineages of quality parent-child relationships and extended family relationships that are nurturing, supportive, mature, low anxious, encouraging, and self-defining. Such families enjoy active, complex and transparent relationships with the world around them.

In order to understand what we are looking at in a mass killer, we need to have a reliable means to track their life history that includes:

(1) the killer’s prior health issues and number and kinds of hospitalizations to date;

(2) the killer’s childhood, high school failures and young adult relationship and employment failures;

(3) problems throughout their lives with parents and siblings including but not limited to physical abuse, substance abuse, marital disruptions, severely broken sibling relationships, and a patchwork of similar life problems in all other family members over several generations;

(4) the killer’s [and his family’s] history of altercations with the outside world (such as illegal behaviors, imprisonment, neighborhood disruptions and other angry incidents, horrific divorces, feuds, isolation from friends and others, serious traffic accidents, workplace altercations and firings, psychiatric hospitalizations, history of suicide attempts, and more.

This is the SHORT LIST of the most basic information we need to know.

Taken together, these and other defining life events give us a portrait of the overall stability of the killer’s family and all its members. Instability is reflected by high anxiety, immaturity,  rocky relationships, a life scarred by serial problematic events and symptoms of immense personal inadequacy.

The collection of such information reveals heretofore-unseen trends that typically lead to explosive outcomes.

Family systems experts possess the necessary tools and perspective to sort out the significant relationship dynamics underlying the killer’s sudden explosion onto the world scene. These dynamics run much deeper and are far more insightful than a person’s surface motives for killing someone, or even their here-and-now situation.

[When  police and other professionals question members of the killer’s family, they generally do so only to glean information about the identified “sick” one; it is never to explore the family as the emotional killing field that it is.]

The reason for this has all to do with the HIPAA Privacy Rule, established in 2002 under the Dept of Health and Human Services, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information. This rule “provides consumers with important privacy rights and protections with respect to their health information, including  important controls over how that information is used and disclosed by health plans and health care providers.”

The HIPAA Rule clarifies the circumstances under which health care providers can:

    • Communicate with a patient’s family members, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care;
    • Communicate with family members when the patient is an adult;
    • Communicate with the parent of a patient who is a minor;
    • Consider the patient’s capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information;
    • Involve a patient’s family members, friends, or others in dealing with patient failures to adhere to medication or other therapy;
    • Listen to family members about their loved ones receiving mental health treatment;
    • Communicate with family members, law enforcement, or others when the patient presents a serious and imminent threat of harm to self or others; and
    • Communicate to law enforcement about the release of a patient brought in for an emergency psychiatric hold.

But know this, the restrictions are steep and the HIPAA Rule gives heightened protections to psychotherapy notes, which is aimed at cultivating trust between the health care provider and the patient. As it states in HIPPA documents, “In all cases, disclosures to family members, friends, or other persons involved in the patient’s care or payment for care are to be limited to only the protected health information directly relevant to the person’s involvement in the patient’s care or payment for care.”

Also,  according to HIPPA:

“From both a clinical and a public policy perspective, protection of confidentiality for adolescents has been based on recognition that some minors would not seek needed health care if they could not receive it confidentially, and that their forgoing care would have negative health implications for them as well as society.”  [See “The HIPAA Privacy Rule and Adolescents: Legal Questions and Clinical Challenges“]

A direct result of the HIPAA Rule is that Federal and state medical records privacy laws impose massive constraints on sharing mental health and other treatment information.

Some things We Need to Understand – NOW

It is true that a family systems evaluation after-the-fact won’t alter the murderous course taken by a particular killer, but such broad relationship scrutiny will collectively teach us what to look for and how to better monitor in the future the dysfunctional families that live among us.

They are out there, trust me. It is just that the well-functioning public has absolutely no idea what to look for and therefore it has little means to put two and two together before it is too late to do anything about it.

These Killers Do Not Exist in a Vacuum

Their problematic and violent emotional and behavioral profiles have been slowly evolving since childhood, within families that modeled highly dysfunctional and enraged and troubled relationships to them behind closed doors. And a great many people will even have observed the emerging signs long before a violent explosion ever occurs.

But these troubling trends in children and their families are typically dismissed by those who don’t understand what they are looking at or, frankly, they don’t know what to do about it anyway.

To compound matters, even the term “mental illness” is misleading and short sighted as it channels our collective focus onto the INDIVIDUAL perpetrator.

Changes We Urgently Need

We need to modify privacy laws so that we can enable knowledgeable and trained family professionals to intervene and report, and systematically follow-up on seriously troubled children and their families. These professionals should be an integral part of the criminal justice system (which they are not.)

We need to stop the now-universal practice of sealing juvenile justice records as these children cross over into adulthood. [These records include juvenile arrest and conviction records.] Those broken families have already sealed their fate in terms of the child’s personality development and attitudes towards authority and the rest of society. There are many reasons why these records are sealed — the idea is that the record-sealing process protects these young people from wide-spread discrimination — but none of these reasons serve to protect the well-functioning American public from the ravages of mass killers.

Bottom line: the purpose of sealing juvenile crime records is to spare these offenders from the stigma of having a criminal record follow them into adulthood. Oh and to protect their civil rights.

If nothing else, the mass killings that we are experiencing today should make us want to rethink the entire privacy scenario which, after all, was the brainchild of the Dept of Health and Human Services; and done without public input and representation.

At least since the 13th century the thinking has been that “children are less fully developed morally and emotionally, and thus could not be held accountable for illegal behaviors.”  But then who is responsible for them?

[Dare I say it?  THE FAMILY is responsible for them.]  But taxpayers typically end up footing the bill because the system routinely lets the family off the hook.

We need to stop rushing to judgement about gun control in the wake of such ravages.

While guns are primarily used by mass killers, the real problem is the killer’s [enraged emotional history] prior to pulling the trigger, not the guns themselves.

These distracting and highly politicized outbursts only serve to shut down the real dialogue that Americans should be having about broken families and emotional instability, and how we can more effectively deal with this growing peril in our very broken mental health system.

We need to rethink and expand the current system of criminal background checks. While these checks provide us with some important data, the system itself yields zero information about the historical profile of the gun abuser for all the reasons stated above.

The obvious and all-important missing link is a person’s prior history from juvenile and family court records, which inevitably emerges as a critical part of any mass killer’s background (records that cannot be used for any reason, duh).

Having said that, even standard ‘mental health screenings’ are inadequate because of their fixation on the individual, instead of on the familial history of the individuals being screened.

We Must Widen Our Lens, Folks

The fact is, broken families are producing untold iterations of broken children who grow into inadequate and broken adults. Until we recognize that fact and collectively come to understand those family dynamics, as well as their dire implications, we will continue to be vulnerable to the inevitable and violent explosions of emotional dropouts.