Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Elliott Rodger, the Men's Rights Movement, and Differential Diagnosis

Elliott Rodger has puzzled us all. Among other proffered disorders, he is said to have had high functioning autism (formerly Aspergers) and maybe he did, we'll discuss why in a moment. But we haven't seen a single direct quote about it from a mental health professional who treated him for the disorder, or from his parents.

Sunday we suggested here that Elliott had Antisocial Personality Disorder. He met the minimum number of features on the DSM 5. But a day later I didn't like hearing a host on Entertainment Tonight  proclaim with absolute certainty, "He was a psychopath, obviously!"

We don't use that label. There are those who are sociopaths, and there are those who are almost sociopaths, people with degrees of Antisocial Personality Disorder. But no one uses the word psychopath anymore. To make the antisocial personality diagnosis, by the way, I should have checked out whether or not Rodger showed antisocial behavior prior to age fifteen. No idea if he broke a law as a younger teen. My bad.

So let's take a closer look at this spooky young man who gave new meaning to the word selfie. We could say, by that way, that Rodger had, as does anyone who shows more than a little dramatic flare in everyday life, a hint of histrionic personality disorder. Add that to the list.

Not a diagnosis, but an observation, from his manifesto Rodger seems to have been consumed with envy and hate. Dr. Phil tells us that envy is associated with wanting to take what another has, or wanting to bring someone down, not in a nice way. The star of the latest hit Youtube video envied men who had sex and relationships, and he hated the women who rejected him. His misogyny, his raw expressed hatred toward women, took the form of retribution. It turned out to be gender-free. He didn't care who he killed.

What do we really know about him?

Will McLeod, of Daily Kos, tells us that Rodger subscribed to YouTube video channels, especially those about the Men's Rights Movement to watch alpha males teach the rest of us how to score with women.  RSD Nation, (Real Social Dynamics), hosts "How to turn Let's go back to my place for a movie into Sex just happened," and "4 Foolproof Methods that Work 100% of the time. You'll never have an "off night" again." These alpha male mentors appealed to Rodger.

Talk about preying on the vulnerable. CEU credits are not available at this time.

The "movement" speaks of the evils of feminism, rants about the feminization of men. An MRA*  is a self-described wannabe alpha intent upon becoming a player. It may not be much of a movement, but Elliott tried hard to belong. Even bloggers of the club dissociated from him.

We Hunted the Mammoth cuts and pastes some of Elliott's more disturbing thoughts from the manifesto, and discusses in his post distancing from the philosophy. There's more, but here's a taste.
Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such.
.. and which ended with a fantasy of putting all the women in the world in concentration camps and starving them to death, while Rodger took a position in a giant tower built just for him “where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die,” 

Mammoth is right to want to dissociate from that. To say this this particular thinking is something Rodger learned on the internet is misleading and a serious understatement. The "movement" is a weak backlash to feminism, but it isn't about killing women. Maybe it added momentum to a disturbed psyche, one that wanted to impress any breathing soul. There, I'm an attractive male. See? I kill.

The likelihood is that Rodger didn't learn murder from anywhere. But this is hard for most of us to wrap our heads around. Much easier to call him a product of Hollywood or video games. He spent 14 hours a day playing World of Warcraft, and surely he saw violent films idealizing mass destruction. But what drove him to that?

Learning theories may have merit, but many of us prefer proven biological explanations of violence, how the DNA is different, what accidents do to the brain, birth trauma.

It is telling that Rodger went to websites to learn pick up lines. Certain disorders, autism is one, make it difficult for sufferers to read people, to anticipate the needs of others and what others expect from them. They miss the point much of the time in conversation. Recently we've heard that Elliott's therapists were social skills trainers.

So it could be that. But it is much more likely (and here comes the criticism, for whenever a mass murderer makes headlines, I bring this up), but it is entirely likely that Elliott Rodger suffered voices in his head, the ones that say, "Kill them all." People with bipolar disorder also have auditory hallucinations, some as severe as these. These are hereditary disorders.

Or maybe it is a case of two severe Axis II disorders, two personality disorders, antisocial and narcissistic personalities, also with some genetic etiology. We went over the features of antisocial personality disorder in the last post, so let's review NPD now.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder 301.81 (F60.81)
Criterion A: Shows a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, whether in fantasy or behavior, needs admiration, lacks empathy, beginning by early adulthood. Must present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the nine features below.
1. A grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerates achievements, talents, and expects recognition for superiority without superior achievements, etc.
2. Has a preoccupation with fantasy of unlimited success, power, intelligence, beauty or love.
3. Believes in his or own special and unique qualities, only to be understood by or in association with other special people or institutions.
4. Demands excessive admiration in relationships.
5. Has a sense of entitlement and unreasonably expects favorable treatment.
6. Exploits others in relationships, takes advantage.
7. Is lacking in empathy, unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of other people.
8. Is envious of people and believes others envy him or her.
9. Shows arrogance and haughtiness in behavior and attitudes.
It's a match! To meet the diagnose for this disorder, five of the nine features must apply. There are more than five in yellow.

No More Mr. Nice Guy, a book about men who try to be really, really, nice and are unhappy because of it, hasn't got a chapter about Elliott Rodger, despite what he says about himself.

Perhaps Yoda, the Star Wars sage, has the best explanation of all. But it is indifferent to biology. Yoda doesn't talk much about DNA, birth trauma or to what happens to a person who is hit too hard on the head in an industrial accident. He sticks to psycho-social fundamentals:

Fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering!


I have to wonder, if Elliott were my patient, would I have caught onto his potential for harm? He tells the world that he kept Retribution a secret, knowing that his doctors would have locked him up, had they known the truth about him.

His reality testing was pretty sharp on that one.


*MRA-a male rights advocate?

One last thought. Rather than assume there are simply too many people like Elliott Rodger out there, and that one apocalyptic day one of them will undoubtedly kill us all, we professionals should be asking our patients, (or friends) where they network online, who they communicate with, what they write, and how that's working for them.  Better yet, let them take us there. Seeing is believing.


Anonymous said...

The Problem:

Anonymous said...

Effects of Feminism On Men:

therapydoc said...

Okay, I'll leave them up there, Anonymous, but to those of you who click on the links above, two things (and there are many more) to remember:
(1) Rape culture does exist, and men can and do overpower women, despite the wailings to these contrary, and
(2) This reaction to women's rights in no way justifies or answers the question about Elliott Rodger's motives.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your perspective on these issues. Thank you for a thoughtful post. As I read these comments (I didn't click on the links), I was reminded that one of the first posts I read here was about your experience treating a rape victim early in your career. It was wonderful to hear such self-reflection and perspective from someone who - I assume - approached similar clients differently in later years. The way you address rape culture as systemic and insidious is so important. So many, like the above commenter, cannot seem to grasp how it relates to these current tragedies. Thank you for continuing to engage and explain; it is often so much easier to simply stay out of the conversation. I really enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

therapydoc said...

Anon, comments like that make it totally worth it. Thank you.

Sarah said...

You might find this interesting.

Sarah (Anon in comment 4 above)

therapydoc said...

I'll get to it this weekend, Sarah. Thanks!

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Anonymous said...

Debating A Feminist About Rape: WARNING: tears & rage ahead!

therapydoc said...

Sorry it took me so long to get to that last comment. It got lost. Thanks Anon, and thanks for that warning.

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