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  • Dr. Vin

Shame and Guns in America



BACKGROUND: Corporations are beginning to divest themselves of their connections to the NRA (National Rifle Association), as waves swell and the tide breaks toward enacting gun legislation in the wake of the Parkland massacre of February 14, 2018. Gun rights activists, fearing their guns will be taken away are ramping up the rhetoric to defend their position.

PROBLEM: Safety - in schools, at concerts, and in homes is a sincere concern for all people. It is from the viewpoint of safety that people cling to their ideology on both sides. For a discussion on the dynamics of safety in the human psyche read my earlier post, “Gun Rights versus Gun Control and the Perception of Safety” (vincentiaschroeterphd.com/blog. posted October 8, 2017). But how do people get to be mass murderers? I would like to zoom into the psyche and look at the dynamics of shame in the individual.

DISCUSSION: Shame is a moral feeling. In our evolutionary history the adaptive purpose of shame was to teach altruism and cooperation. So if someone in your tribe gave you food today, you would learn to feel bad if you did not reciprocate tomorrow. I recently presented a workshop with a colleague called, “Getting off the Hamster wheel of Shame, Rage and Grandiosity.” The dynamics of shame include that whooshing feeling that makes you cringe, want to disappear, blush, lower your head and pull inside and hide. Guilt is a feeling that you did something bad, whereas shame makes you feel that you are bad. Shame hits a part of the brain that regulates empathy and compassion. Being shamed repeatedly makes you encode that feeling of being bad and worthless and causes loss of compassion for yourself. Shame is difficult to tolerate for long without it dragging you down into depression and hopelessness. Some compensate by being nice, compliant or perfectionistic, but some rise up and act out rage onto others. In rage one feels righteous and can act superior to counteract a feeling of inferiority. With this grandiosity, the misery of shame goes into the shadow.

Nikolas Cruz’s (Parkland shooter) father left the family when Cruz was five, and his mother, who he was close to, died 4 months ago, likely leaving him unmoored. A loner, he had a history of mental illness, was taunted, teased, beaten up at a school for kids with special needs and expelled for violence from high school last year. He bragged online that he would become a “professional school shooter”. So he is insecure, shameful, rageful and grandiose.

SOLUTION: Hiding in shame keeps it alive and drags us down, dampening our spirit and joy in life. We all have some shame. The road out is to tell your story of shame to an empathic other, who listens with compassion and understanding. It is a risk, because you fear you will be shamed again. This makes you feel vulnerable. We are often wounded in relationships, and we are also healed in relationships. Once you look into the eyes of someone who listens warmly and acknowledges your pain, shame is diminished.

Some NRA extremists are denying that the Parkland massacre occurred and think the teens leading the charge for action are being paid to speak by anti-gun liberals. Terrified of losing their gun rights they are distorting reality to fit their belief. This allows them to de-humanize these brave survivors now challenging the status quo. That to me is shameful!

PERSONAL POSTSCRIPT: I can recall my brother going into a panic when he was called to his daughter’s high school due to a shooting on campus, not knowing if she would be dead or alive. That was in 2006. My niece, now 25, just wrote this piece for the Denver post: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/welcome-to-the-gun-violence-club-youre-not-alone/.