The Virginia Tech shootings made me want to say a thing or two. There was immediate a lot of talk about gun control and of the shooter’s ability to buy guns and ammunition despite having been found by a court to be a danger to himself and others. I think that the pundits should discuss the real issue here and it is not gun control. While it may still be a good idea to have stricter gun laws, it is not the gun that did the killing; it was Cho himself that used the guns as a tool of murder.
The true problem was that Cho was mentally ill and did not seek treatment for his mental illness. I am not going to postulate as to what actual diagnosis that Cho had (I am not qualified to do so) – I will suggest that his true problem was probably emotional. He was unable to control his anger and rage. I would also like to point out that he carried around shame and self-hatred. When inner shame is left untreated, it often leaks out as anger and rage. It is extremely difficult for a person with inner shame to take ownership of that shame. Instead, it bubbles underneath the surface and comes out as anger toward those that have wronged them. I suspect this was Cho’s real problem. He was humiliated throughout his life and, quite possibly, had a biological pre-disposition to emotional dysregulation. The combination of these two factors – biological and environmental – adds up to self-hatred, shame and a persecution complex. I am not suggesting that all people with this sort of make-up and history are dangerous or would take that rage out on other people. In fact, many people with those issues end up taking their inner rage out of themselves – through suicide or risky behaviors. It seems to me that Cho couldn’t handle his shame or his intense emotions, so he acted to take revenge on other people. In doing so, he handled his emotions poorly (obviously). He probably also believed that shame to be true; meaning, he hated himself and thought other’s teasing and bullying was deserved. In pointing out the feeling that he believed to be true (that he was a bad, worthless person), he took revenge on all other people, regardless of whether they participated in his belittling.
The point of this post is to say that what we really need in this country is better and more assessable mental health care. We need to teach people, adults as well as children, about the functions of emotions and the skills that can be utilized to handle those emotions. We educate people about academic subjects everyday, but do very little to teach self-regulatory skills for emotional states. For some people, these emotional regulation skills are the very ones that can save their lives (and, in Cho’s case, the lives of others).