Talking To A School Shooter

Talking To A School Shooter

The other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’sThe other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’s not everyday that an opportunity presents itself for me to try to get into the mind of someone who was determined to carry out mass murder. Often these people kill themselves or are killed before anyone has a chance to understand why they did what they did, or like the Parkland shooter, are kept very isolated with only the psychologist and a handful of corrections officers having regular contact with him.

As a psychotherapist, this intrigues me. In undergrad I excitedly took classes such as Profiling Serial Killers, Understanding Mass Murder and The Anatomy of Violent Crimes. Yet, I had never been able to actually study someone in person so that I could better understand how to try to help others before they commit violent crimes as well as identify potential ticking time bombs.

With the nature of my job currently revolving a lot around criminal psychology, I end up talking to some of the worse of human kind on a daily basis. On a regular day I talk to murderers, rapists, child molesters and have even on multiple occasions attempted to talk to a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel accused of over a dozen murders. So far he has refused to talk to me or anyone else for that matter.

Without going into too much detail because this case is still pending, I would like to share some of what I have learned from talking to a school shooter.

The first thing I noticed about this particular school shooter was his small, non-threatening stature. He looked like your typical high school student, except there was no light behind his eyes. When he looked and talked to me, there wasn’t any emotion there.

I won’t go into if he has a mental illness or not, but he says he grew up in a family that was full of mental health issues, namely untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He says he was never physically or sexually abused, but witnessed a lot of family violence. As he says, his earliest memories are those of violence and conflict.

He had isolated himself at a young age. He didn’t feel attached or loved by his family. He had a lot of anger inside of him. He attempted to channel that anger by going into the military, but as a teenager he had gotten involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for a yet unknown reason, something that would later prevent him from joining the military.

Feeling even angrier, depressed and rejected because of that, he turned to Mixed Martial Arts as an outlet for his violent thoughts, but a knee injury caused him to have to stop training for awhile. It was during this time that his anger, depression and feelings of isolation grew and he started planning a mass shooting.

Planning included finding a way to legally buy a gun without a background check through a certain loop hole in the system. Planning included blending in with students of a high school he had dropped out of a couple of years ago, smuggling his weapon in using a musical instrument case and then going into the bathroom and putting on a tactical vest and gloves.

Before and during the incident, he reports he felt no anger or fear, just an adrenaline rush. He denies having any specific targets, any hate or anger towards any individual or group of people.

Although he says he feels remorseful, there are no emotions with his words. Yet he says the incident could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for a girl’s screams that broke him out of his trance. He says it was her screams that made him feel horrible about what he was doing. Her screaming triggered memories of his childhood and made him and everyone around him, human again.

Some of the signs I’ve learned to look for from talking to him and studying other school shooters include:

  • Leakage- which is when people leave behind often unconscious clues, sometimes as a cry for help such as violent themes in their artwork or writing.
  • Low tolerance for frustration.
  • Poor coping skills.
  • Lack of resiliency.
  • Depression
  • Alienation
  • Dehumanizing others
  • Lack of empathy
  • Family appears to lack intimacy and closeness.
  • No limits or monitoring of TV and internet
  • Turbulent parent-child relationship

While it’s too late to have prevented this incident, I do hope that by continuing to learn from this individual and others, we’ll be able to prevent future tragedies. As long as I have access to him, I will continue to attempt to understand the mind of someone who would shoot up a school in Parkland, Florida, a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a church in Charleston, South Carolina, a restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, a music festival in Las Vegas or a nightclub in my hometown Orlando, Florida.

Facebook Depression

Last week I was talking to a friend who said she was taking a hiatus from social media. At first this surprised me because she has such a strong social media presence, but then she explained to me her reasons.

On social media she is seeing many of her friends moving forward in their careers, getting married, having children and living these apparently wonderful lives, while she herself feels rather stuck in comparison. She herself, in my opinion is doing pretty good. She’s in a relationship, is employed and is an overall well rounded person. However, when she compares her life to the lives she sees her friends leaving on social media, she has this feeling of inadequacy.

This feeling of inadequacy and maybe even a bit of sadness she is experiencing is something very common when it comes to social media. It’s even been given the name, “facebook depression”.

Social media encourages us to share more and more of our lives and become less private, creating what is called context collapse.

We all have different sides of ourselves. We may act one way at work, another at home, and yet another when we are out with our closest friends or having a night out on the town.

On social media sites like Facebook, we have what is called context collapse, which is when all of our different sides actually come together. However, we know that some people have gotten fired when one part of their life collided with or conflicted with another part of their life (i.e., your boss finding out something you do in your free time goes against their ethical policy). I even know someone who lost her job because the day she called into work, it was discovered on Facebook that she was actually at the beach with her lover.

Because of this context collapse, people tend to present themselves on social media in ways that are acceptable in all contexts (i.e., work, friends, family). Because the social norm is to be your perfect self, we all tend to present our version of our perfect selves on social media, which in turn leads to us all making each other feel inadequate and sometimes even depressed with our real lives. We start having “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome.

We constantly see people in disgustingly happy relationships, out having fun, getting married, having kids, getting raises, going on dream vacations, etc. We start thinking that their lives are always exciting, awesome and perfect. We start thinking we are missing out on something in comparison.

It’s this social comparison of our everyday lives with our friends highlight moments that can create jealousy and depression in some people. We create a distorted view of their lives where they are always beautiful, happy and succeeding while we in comparison are going through the ups and downs of normal life.

We see people in relationships always smiling and traveling and we assume that they have no problems, never fight and are the luckiest two people on earth, when in reality they are likely experiencing the same highs and lows, trials and tribulations of a normal relationship. We romanticize their lives and relationships in comparison to our own.

Of course not everyone is impacted the same way. Some of us don’t care much about what our friends do in their real lives or own social media. Others of us are happy to see our friends doing great, but there are some of us who are more suceptible to “facebook depression” such as those who are already struggling with depression or anxiety.

It’s especially important if you are prone to depression to be aware of how spending too much time on social media comparing yourself to your friends and others can potentially increase your risk for depression. If that’s the case, remember to put everything into perspective and remember that what we often see on social media are the highlights of people lives. People don’t often post the negative, boring or difficult part of their lives.

I’ve seen couples who looked to be incredibly happily married, divorced seemingly out of the blue just a month later. Of course that tells me that even when they were posting about how fantastic their marriage was, they were going through problems they were not sharing online.

If you find yourself feeling depressed, jealous or unhappy when looking at other people’s lives on social media, then it may be time for you to take a hiatus for awhile. Social media is meant to bring us closer but often it just makes us feel more separated from each other. Take a break if needed. Go outside, be in the moment and enjoy YOUR life. Stop comparing your everyday life to people highlight moments and go create your own.

Remember as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Bariatric Divorce

Bariatric Divorce

I was listening to a couples therapy session conducted by the amazing Esther Perel when I first heard about the high rates of divorce associated with weight-loss surgery.

Esther was working with a couple where the husband had lost a tremendous amount of weight after bariatric surgery and then declared to his wife suddenly that he was leaving her. Neither of them had been prepared for this potential side effect of weigh-loss surgery.

In the session, the husband described that after he loss weight, he not only felt like he had a new body, but that he was also a new person and he wanted a new life. A life that apparently did not include his wife. This is actually very common after weight-loss surgery.

One of the first things usually told to couples during orientation is that the divorce rate for bariatric patients is extremely high. I’ve seen numbers as high as 80 to 85%.

Often the person who had the surgery was not happy with themselves, had low self-esteem, poor self-image and not the best health. They may have been introverted and passive because of this.

Effects on Marriage After The Surgery

After the surgery, when the person has loss such a large amount of weight, not only do they began to become healthier, they often begin to see themselves as more physically attractive as well. Mentally, they tend to gain more confidence, courage and experience a rise in self-esteem. The once introverted person may become more extroverted and energetic.

In an already healthy and stable relationship, these improvements can be a plus and help create a more fun, romantic and passionate union. However, in a relationship that was already unstable, these outcomes may lead to the marriage falling apart.

The person who underwent weight-loss surgery may now feel motivated enough, confident enough and attractive enough to leave the marriage. The person may feel like they have more options available to them than they did before the surgery.

Some people report that the emotional changes they go through after weight-loss surgery is more like a change in mindset. They often go from someone who would put up with a lot to someone who chooses what they will and won’t put up with. They go from passive to assertive and sometimes even aggressive. Often as their perspectives change,  they start questioning their relationships and the people that are in their lives.

Many discover a new sexual energy and may begin to crave new sexual partners and experiences, especially if they have been overweight for most of their lives.

Some call this change in perspective an honest life assessment. They feel like losing so much weight so quickly forces them to question why they chose to be unhealthy in the first place both physically and mentally. They began confronting not only their food choices, but their lifestyle choices including the people they have around them. They may feel like they can finally be the person they’ve always wanted to be, but didn’t feel confident enough to be.

Affects On The Partner

Often times couples are overweight together. Having an eating problem, emotional eating or just enjoying food may be the one thing they have in common that has kept them together.

Following surgery, if the spouse that had the weight-loss surgery suddenly stops wanting to sit on the sofa watching Netflix while eating junk food and starts wanting to go out and socialize more or exercise, the partner who did not get the surgery may become angry, jealous and insecure. The marriage that may have once been largely centered around food and staying home may not survive that change.

One person has the surgery, losses a large amount of weight, usually starts looking and feeling more attractive, their partner either gets jealous and insecure and then leaves. Or the person who has the surgery starts thinking they can upgrade or be single and enjoy their new found sexual attractiveness and confidence. Not always of course, but in marriages that were already volatile this is common.

The end of the relationship is not always a bad thing. Often times these individuals were already in toxic or abusive relationships, but stayed because they didn’t have the confidence to leave or felt that no one else would want them. The affects of the surgery often boosts their confidence enough to end a relationship that probably should have ended anyway.

On the other hand, the partner who did not receive the surgery may have felt better than the other person as if they had the power and control in the relationship because their spouse may have been passive, depressed or extremely introverted. Once their partner losses weight, the dynamics of the relationship may start to shift to the point where the partner who did not receive the surgery decides to leave in order to find someone else he or she can feel dominate and controlling over.

Where To Turn For Help

There are support groups out there often led by a dietician and a therapist that can help individuals and couples through the emotional and mental changes that come along with the physical changes of weight-loss surgery. It is important to schedule therapy sessions after your surgery, be kind to yourself and others as the physical, mental and emotional changes occur.

Remember that people will react in some unexpected ways to your weight-loss and you may also experience emotional and mental changes that were not expected. Talk to your partner about them and if it’s something that needs further exploration, definitely seek therapy. It may save your marriage or help you go your separate ways in good conscience.

 

Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Last week I was speaking with a young Black girl who had just turned 13 and was arrested for hitting her mother. This young girl was very, very angry. You could see it in her body language, in her terse answers to my questions, the scowl on her face and her overall negative attitude.

I asked her why she was so angry. She responded, “I don’t know”.  She seemed angry at the world. She had been suspended twice from school for fighting, but this was the first time she had ever been arrested. I was afraid it wouldn’t be the last if she didn’t learn how to address her anger.

I continued with my assessment and when I got to the questions about sexual abuse, she told me impassively that she had been raped at the age of seven by her mother’s then boyfriend.

Bingo. I knew that at least in part, her anger was tied to that traumatic experience. She went on to tell me that the boyfriend was now in prison and that she felt like she was left unprotected by her absent biological father and her neglectful mother.

I was shocked and angered when she told me that after the rape, she only received two weeks of counseling. Two weeks of counseling does nothing for almost any issue, let alone something as tragic as childhood sexual abuse.

I am almost positive that she was offered more than two weeks of counseling, or at the least referred for more counseling and her mother didn’t follow through. I can’t be certain, but from my experience it’s often the parents who just want to “move passed” the situation and downplay it’s potential affects on their child.

I asked this young girl if she thought the sexual abuse she experienced affected her in any way. She replied, “no”. Of course at 13 she is too young to understand the subconscious affects of sexual abuse. She’s too young to understand that all that anger she has inside of her that is already disrupting her life can most likely be attributed to her past.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to deal with a host of mental health problems including anger issues, depression, eating disorders, guilt, shame, anxiety, relationship problems, dissociation patterns, repression and self-blame.

This young girl is just one of the 61% of Black girls who have experienced sexual abuse  at the hands of men they know and should be able to trust according to a study done by Black Woman’s Blue Print .

Robin Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse (2004) says that one out of four Black girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18.

Most of the sexual abuse comes from within the family and friends circle. Many go unreported. For every every Black woman who reports a rape, at least 15 do not according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009).

22-29% of child sexual abuse victims are boys, many who often don’t report it due to fear, shame and confusion. Untreated, these boys often go on to have a plethora of behavior problems, many of which lead to future problems in school, run-ins with the law and relationship problems.

There are many, many reasons sexual abuse in families happen in secrecy including families wanting to keep it a secret (out of shame. to protect the victim and/or perpetrator) and sadly because of the historical stereotypes of Black women being seductive or sexually aggressive, even at young ages. It makes it hard for society to see them as innocent victims in many cases.

Talking to professional Black women I know personally, I was shocked to find out that many of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse at the hands of uncles, older cousins or other males they knew. Most did not tell anyone as a child.

This trend to not talk about childhood sexual abuse period has to change, especially in the Black community where it appears that our collectivist culture, fear of stereotypes and history itself, makes us reluctant to discuss and address sexual abuse with the intensity that it deserves.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to childhood sexual abuse, especially in the Black community. If you want to know more you can start by reading an older post I wrote about childhood sexual abuse and if you’re interested in learning more about sexual abuse in the Black community I wholeheartedly recommend Robin Stones book, No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse.

Families need to talk about and not be afraid to address childhood sexual abuse. As Corey Booker said on a totally different subject, but it rings true here as well, “Your silence and amnesia is complicity.” .

 

 

Six Ways To Change Your Thinking For The New Year

9Don’t go into a new year with an old mind is a saying from one of my favorite T.D. Jakes sermons. We are usually our own worst enemies because of the way we think and prevent ourselves from living our best lives. We stand in our own way more often than any other person or circumstance can.

While this may make sense to most of us, we all know people who place blame on everyone else as if they had no control over their lives at all.

In order to change this, we have to rewire our minds. We have to change the way we think. We have to change the things we look at and let into our minds. We have to make a conscious decision to live a better life.

Listening to this sermon for the 100th time and thinking about some of the things that are holding people back , I wanted to share six things I think can help us live more authentic and happier lives .

  1. Remove distractions from your life. A friend of mine wrote on Facebook recently, “Fight the temptations, remove the distractions and focus on the goal at hand!”  It’s so easy to be entertained by distractions that serve us no good other than to steal our precious time and keep us from focusing on what’s most important. Many of us claim to not have the time to do the things we know we need to do because we are wasting time on distractions that in the long run are meaningless.
  2. Fill you time with meaningful experiences. Talking about distractions, too many people get caught up in the latest gossip, or know more about what’s happening on some reality television show than they know about their own family and friends. They are so into social media and reality television that their own lives are passing them by. We have to escape from this false reality made up by marketing and media companies and remember that what is real is our own lives and our own family and friends.
  3. Take control of your feelings and actions. Life happens. Sometimes it’s not fair, but ultimately, we are responsible for the way we react to any situation. If we overreact, blow up or let someone else ruin our day, it’s our fault. When we learn to stay calm and react with a clear mind instead of having an emotional reaction, we’ll realize that we can control much more of our life and not just find ourselves hanging on for the ride, being led by our emotions or someone else. Learn to control your emotional responses.
  4. Get out of your comfort zone. Most of us live and die in our comfort zones. We’re afraid to take risk that may pay off with great rewards. We become comfortable with what we have, even if we don’t like what we have. We let fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain and even fear of success, paralyze us from living the best life we can live. Success is not promised. We’re going to fail sometimes. We’re going to make mistakes. That’s how we grow. Don’t trade comfort for a lifetime of unhappiness. Regularly practice pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
  5. Live your life. Living in an action word. Stop waiting for permission to live your life. I have a friend who felt stuck in a situation and he said after awhile he felt like he was waiting for someone to tell him that it was okay to move on. We don’t need anyone to give us permission. It’s our life! If we want to do something and we’ve thought about it and feel like it’s the right decision, then we should act on it and not wait for someone else to believe in us or say that it’s okay. Too many dreams are killed because people are waiting around for someone else to tell them it’s okay to act on it.
  6. Look at things like they’re a dessert. One of the things that make us suffer in life are our attachments. Our attachments to things, ideas and even people. We can be so attached that when those things leave us or we must let them go, our entire lives are turned upside down. One way to combat this is to not get so attached. Like going out to dinner, if at the end we have dessert, that is great… we’ll enjoy it and appreciate it, but if the next time we go out to dinner we’re not offered dessert, we don’t get upset about it, we just go, “oh, I guess there’s no dessert tonight” and we move on. We can prefer to have certain things and people in our lives. We can prefer for certain things to happen in our lives, but it’s when we decide that they must happen, is when we set ourselves up for suffering when things don’t go our way. When relationships fail, jobs fail or a new idea makes us have to rethink everything we thought was true about something, being flexible in our thinking will help us to adapt and learn as life changes as it does constantly.

The beginning of a new year gives us opportunities to start over, to let things go and to reinvent ourselves. The greatest thing is, we don’t have to wait for a new year to do these things. We can do this every week, everyday, even every minute if it serves us! If today doesn’t go your way, don’t let it ruin your week. Learn from the mistakes of today and go out and have a better tomorrow!

Please share any advice you have, anything you’re leaving behind in the new year or anything that has helped you start living more mindfully and happy.

-T.

Dealing With A Breakup

Getting over someone you once or even still love can be very challenging. However, there are scientifically backed ways to help alleviate the heartache and jumping into another relationship is not one of them. Sure it may help take your mind off of your exe, but if there are any unresolved issues within yourself that haven’t been dealt with, you can quickly find yourself living out the same relationship with the same issues, just with a different person. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Time

They say time heals all wounds and science says that is largely true. Give yourself time to get over the relationship. It’s a lot like grieving when someone close to you has died. You wouldn’t expect to get over that very quickly, so why expect any different when it comes to the death of a relationship?

I remember after the end of one of my relationships, I just kept thinking I wanted to get over it and forget about that person right now and for some reason, that only prolonged the process. Don’t stress about it. The day will come when you realize that you haven’t thought about that person in a day, or two or more.

It may feel like it’s taking forever for that day to come, but research suggests that we overestimate the amount of time we think it will take for us to get through the rough patches of a break up.

With that being said, below are some ways to help speed up the recovery process.

Avoid Social Media

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Specifically, avoid checking up on your ex on Facebook, Instagram or what have you. Seeing if he or she seems happy, has moved on or is talking about you, will do nothing to help you move on.

A study in the journal Cyber-psychology found that people who checked up on their exes’ Facebook page are more likely to have negative feelings towards the person, more likely to desire the person and less likely to grow from the break up, which should be one of your main goals.

It can be very tempting to just “see what they’ve been up to” but try by all means to avoid falling into that trap, even if that means unfriending, blocking, unfollowing or just avoiding social media all together until you are strong enough.

Avoid The Halo Effect

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It’s no uncommon that after a breakup, we start to minimize the negative qualities of the person and the relationship, while amplifying the positive. We can start fooling ourselves into thinking that this person was someone that he or she surely was not. Don’t pretend that your ex was perfect.

Instead, dating expert Andrea Syrtash recommends making a list of five ‘must-haves’ and five ‘can’t-stands’ in a potential partner.

Syrtash recommends making a meaningful list and instead of writing down things like, “Must be over six feet tall and have brown eyes”, try “I must find this person attractive”.

Once you’ve completed this exercise, you might be surprised to find out that none of your exes were truly suitable for you.

When I did this exercise I realized that two of my exes I probably never should have dated seriously because they were missing some major qualities on my “must-have” list. Learning that helped me to start looking for more suitable partners while helping me let go of the idea that any of my exes were right for me and that I was somehow missing out on something with them.

Don’t Assume The Breakup Means You Suck

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Your ability to deal with a breakup has a lot to do with the way you see yourself according to a 2016 paper in the journal Personality and Social Psychology.

One of the authors, Lauren Howe, states: “In our research, people reported the most prolonged distress after a romantic rejection when it caused their self-image to change for the worse. People who agreed that the rejection made them question who they really were also reported more often that they were still upset when they thought about the person who had rejected them.”

If however, you have thoughts such as, two people can both be good, descent human-beings and still not workout because they simply don’t belong together, you’re likely to suffer less and move on faster.

Challenge the story you tell yourself regarding what the break up reveals about you.

During one of my breakup I initially told myself that I sucked and didn’t deserve to be happy, but I quickly had to change my narrative by remembering how much of myself I had lost during the relationship (i.e., traveling) and how happier I would be doing those things again and especially if I could find someone to do those things with.

Journal Positively

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Writing down how you feel about the break up can help, but mostly you need to write about the positives of the break up. What did you learn? How did it help you grow?

After one of my breakups, a good friend of mine asked, “What did you learn from her because she was a very good teacher”. At first I was perplexed, but then I realized what she meant. I had put up with and dealt with a lot of toxic issues in that relationship and some of the most powerful things I’ve learned about relationships came from the pain and suffering I went through in that one.

I had to stop telling myself how much I would miss her and start appreciate how much I enjoyed coming home to peace and not having to walk on egg shells.

A study published in 2015 in the journal Social and Personal Relationships found that writing in a redemptive way about how you turned suffering into a positive experience can help you cope better.

Maybe during the break up you learned to follow your gut instincts, to not settle, to not allow someone to make you feel small or that you are stronger than you ever thought you were.

Write a redemption story! Don’t simply journal about how bad you feel. That will only make you feel worse.

Talk About It

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Of course as a therapist I’m going to recommend talking about the breakup, although some people may think that talking about it will only make things worse.

In a study published in 2015 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers found that people who participated in research about their break up by filling out surveys and talking to experimenters reported less distress about the breakup and themselves afterwards.

Simply talking about it with a good friend or even a therapist if needed can help you rebound in a healthy way, so don’t avoid talking about it out of fear that it will keep you stuck.

Breakups suck and sometimes they can be devastating, but they don’t have to leave us feeling shattered, empty or lost for long. Like adjusting to anything new, it takes time and that’s okay.