George Sodini, who committed suicide after killing 3 women and injuring 9 others on August 4 at an LA Fitness gym in Collier Township, Pennsylvania, has been described as "hate filled," "Gal-hating" and a "madman, and "possibly psychotic." None of these terms accurately represent the feelings expressed in his blog, or clarify the emotions that underlie assaults on the people who reject us, whether those assaults are verbal or physical, as in cases of domestic violence, or as in this instance, a murderous revenge against the desired but unattainable object.
Mr. Sodini's blog gives clues about the reasons behind his decision to kill himself and others. He describes feelings of being out of control of his life, beginning in childhood at the hands of his bossy mother, uninvolved father, bullying brother and victimized sister. All of them are described as completely indifferent to him. His sense of helplessness and experience of failed efforts to improve himself and his relationships began in childhood.
This situation extended into adulthood unabated. He repeatedly cites his inability to improve or control his life, despite constant efforts to do so, as the source of both his rage and his despair. His failure to find female companionship is only the latest in string of life-long failures to achieve caring, loving, or even simple acceptance in relationships.
He seems to have made lack of success with women the standard by which he judged his life. In his mind, the sexual acceptance and companionship of women was the test of whether he was a worthwhile person and had a worthwhile life. In his mind, women became the judges, jury and executioners of his well-being, self-respect, and the value of life itself.
This set of ideas is an exaggerated version of what most people experience in love relationships, especially in the early stages, when we feel out of control and do not yet know whether or not we will be loved in return. These same feelings can resurface even in long-term relationships, leading to domestic violence, as so eloquently captured by Shakespeare in Othello.
This experience of romantic and sexual anxiety is common to us all, under more limited circumstances. When we start dating someone we are crazy about, we feel fantastic, and affirmed by our beloved choosing to spend time with us. Being in love is the best drug in the world. Like addicts, we feel we can't live without our beloved. We also become very afraid of losing our high. It feels as though life depends upon having the love of the other. In this state of mind, when we don't hear from the beloved for a few days or weeks, we fear that we are not loved, that we are insignificant. The void that opens when we do not get a call or e-mail is filled with the sense of despair. We become anxious.
Once fear sets in, we try to figure out why we haven't heard back. We start to think that the reason our e-mails and voicemail go unanswered is one or more of our many egregious flaws. We think we have been too bossy, or selfish, or impulsive, or stupid, or angry, or not attractive enough, or charming or attentive enough, to be loved. We review our recent dates, examining in detail everything that transpired, trying to figure out both what the other person really felt, and what errors we may have committed. Self-doubt, insecurity and negative thinking take over, increasing our anxiety.
The particular form that our self-reproach takes is determined, in part, by whatever our parents saw as our failings. In this process, the beloved or object of desire stands in loco parentis. They become the parent who can undo our damaging self-image. Without being aware of it, we set the beloved in the position of judge and jury. Our first judge and jury were our parents, followed by our teachers and peers. The beloved becomes all of those, rolled into one, in our minds. So of course we have to have him or her. If they will accept us, we think, then we are really lovable and worthy, not this very poor version of ourselves that anxiety has shown us. Gaining that love or acceptance is a matter of psychological well-being or in some cases, like that of Mr. Sodini, survival.
Most people can weather failures and disappointments without feeling that that their survival is at stake. Research has shown that one of the most reliable predictors of our ability to successfully deal with assaults on our well being is having at least one strong positive bond with a caring attentive adult during childhood. It appears from Mr. Sodini's blog that he did not ever have such a bond with anyone at any time in his life. In other words, he lacked a life preserver.
The fear, anxiety, and feelings that we are unacceptable which arise from perceived rejection make winning the approval of our beloved seem very urgent. We need it so badly that we do things completely out of character to get it, in both positive and negative ways. For example we might become especially loving, attentive, and generous, fly across the country on a moment's notice, or conversely become angry, violent, a stalker, or simply a pest.
If we can relatively quickly get the reassurance we need, usually by having sex with our partners, we are OK. If we are unable find a way to relieve these feelings and get the affirmation we need to undo our self-doubt, insecurity, and negative self-judgment, we quickly become angry with those who deny us the relief we believe (incorrectly) that only they can provide. In our minds, and sometimes in words and deeds, we tell them, "F*** you!" In its extreme forms, this sentiment can spill into verbal abuse or domestic violence. If the sense that we are helpless to effect any change in this situation, the damage to our lives, and the consequent rage are intense enough, murder and/or suicide can be the result. The difference between a pest and a stalker, a murderer and an angry rejected lover, is a thin line, crossed by a sense that our lives are not worth living, and never will be, without the acceptance of the person, or in Mr. Sodini's case, persons, (i.e. 30 million US women), whom we have set up in our minds as the arbiters of our lives and self-respect.
In Mr. Sodini's blog, he says repeatedly, "I have nothing to lose." He had nothing to lose because he (apparently) had no strong, affectionate bonds with anyone and never had. Therefore, he had reason to believe that he would never achieve one in the future, either. The importance of real ties of love and affection both as children and adults cannot be over-estimated. If we believe that we have them, we most likely will not succumb to uncontrollable rages. If not, all bets are off.
The rejection of women convinced Mr. Sodini that life was not worth living and that he was worthless. He saw no possibility of redemption except through death and joining Jesus, which seemed like a better option for gaining at least some form of acceptance. This, combined with rage, the wish to get revenge for the damage caused by those he believed, however incorrectly, determined his and his life's worth, and the sense that he had nothing to lose seem to be, from his statements, the final straws in crossing the line from despair to murder/suicide.
We are deeply social creatures. We become and stay socialized through our connections with others. Without strong bonds of affection, any of us can become lost. All human sentiments are common to us all, though we experience them in varying degrees. Understanding some of the possible motivations for murder neither justifies it, nor consoles those who lost loved ones to such rage. I mean to offer no excuse, but merely to help us recognize our common humanity.