Rejection is the most powerful human emotion. Without a doubt, it is a universal experience that, it’s safe to say, everyone hopes to avoid. Personally, I believe everyone has a deep desire to be accepted.
Acceptance is the driving force behind everyone’s human need to love and to be loved. Without the acceptance from peers, friends or family, feelings of rejection often result as does the seeking of vengeance. In our generation of gun violence and school shootings, most of the deadly news headlines have resulted from the same recycled cause.
According to the 2009 article by American Psychology Associates:
“People who feel socially rejected are more likely to see others’ actions as hostile and are more likely to behave in hurtful ways toward people they have never even met, according to a new study.”
CNN ran a similar headline in 2012, titling their article Rejection, bullying are risk factors among shooters:
“Often the shooter has experienced a catastrophic loss, such as rejection from a girlfriend or getting fired from a job,” said Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. “Parents may also inadvertently push teens and young adults over the edge by, for example, pressuring them to be successful.”
Professor Levin was responding to the rejection felt by 20 year-old Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter who fatally shot 20 elementary school kids and six adults. What is gleaned from that dated article written back on December 19, 2014, two years after the second-deadliest mass shooting by one person in U.S. history, is that, “Mass killers tend to target people whom they imagine would torment them, or whom they blame for their distress,” said Dr. Peter Ash, a forensic child and adolescent psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine.
Another study that supports these findings regarding rejection and its impact:
Children who might not have been aggressive otherwise will often become aggressive after they have been rejected by their peers,” lead author Dr. Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University in California told Reuters Health.
“Almost all of the school shooting incidents, including Columbine, involved rejection by peers,” Twenge added. “This research suggests that social rejection may have played a crucial role in the violence perpetrated by the school shooters.”
These findings lead me to the conclusion that rejection is an overwhelmingly challenging emotion to experience and process as either an adolescent or an adult. Regardless of age, the one universal human desire that most humans never outgrow is the need to be loved and accepted. With the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that claimed ten lives, the latest of the deadly shootings throughout the United States. The shooter, 26 year-old Chris Harper Mercer, was definitely mentally unstable and yet managed to have access to 13 guns. Mercer might have equally suffered from rejection where that feeling that “I don’t belong” overwhelmed all common sense. The sad reality is that there are seemingly few or no solutions to this debilitating problem that our country faces and how it all relates to gun violence.
How do we solve rejection? How do we rid bullying behaviors or that painful “I am not loved” or “I don’t belong” feeling?
The Bottom Line:
Everyone human has dealt with rejection. It’s a terrible feeling that leaves you empty, feeling alone and in need of some type of resolution. Extreme violence is not the solution to rejection, regardless of how isolated one might feel as a direct result.
What do we do? How do we teach our children to build self-esteem? How can we get them to understand that peer approval does not lead to achievement or love? Most importantly, how do we reduce the stigma of mental health illness? How do we provide the necessary, additional care and how do we motivate these people to seek and accept the assistance they need?
Chris Harper Mercer suffered from mental health issues, like so many in our country. What he did was a travesty. It was wrong. It was a tragedy. But, what we can take from this horrible experience is that perhaps, as a nation, we need stricter gun control and also a more affective system in place to truly help mental health patients when they actually need it. I hope we can be pro-active with mental health awareness, as well as gun control. And in doing so, we can prevent these tragedies from occurring.