A Freudian Case Study in Narcissism and Misogyny
The recent drive-by shooting committed by Elliot Rodger in California, which killed 6 individuals, is certainly a cause for concern. Surely, the ways that the mental state of Rodger slowly degenerated over time should be of significant interest to those who wish to avert future tragedies of this same nature. This is not a discussion about gun rights, whatsoever, although it should be noted that the multiple handguns owned by the individual in question were obtained legally.
An analysis of the mental state of the shooter indicates that he possessed severe narcissistic tendencies. Judging by the content of his videos, as well as his exceedingly long manifesto (My Twisted World), it is clear that isolation, neglect, and social rejection were at the root of his neurosis in addition to his extreme compulsion to exact “vengeance”.
Another very obvious element in Rodger’s violent actions is misogyny. Although the term is heavily over-used at present, this situation actually is partly an example of such a mindset. He expressed hatred for both males and females (especially couples, possibly indicating past problems with parental figures), however, women occupied a singular position of obsessive loathing in his mind that is quite disturbing. Much of the shooter’s hatred appears to have stemmed from repeated sexual “rejection”.
Although I am not a follower of psychoanalytic theory, I would, nevertheless, like to proceed with a Freudian dissection of the shooter’s mind. Certainly, there are others who are more qualified than I to engage in such a dissection. My only intent is to present this particular example as a textbook case for any person interested in learning about psychoanalysis. My chosen approach is also helpful because of the Freudian emphasis on sexual desire and perceived social standards.
From this perspective, Rodger’s view of the world could be ego-centric (the ego being a theoretical psycho-analytic concept in the three-fold breakdown of the conscious and unconscious minds) and the assumption that a universal system of “justice” somehow denied him both the sexual gratification and the social inclusion that he so craved (which, in his mind, he was completely entitled to).
The narcissistic mindset can be said to transpose the ego of the individual onto all aspects of reality. In fact, the world becomes a reflection of the inner mental state of the neurotic person in question. In the case of Rodger, he interpreted social isolation as “injustice” perpetrated by some outside power. He repeatedly stated in his videos that he was “denied” many of the things that individuals in his age group experience, that these things had been forcibly “taken away” by those around him.
A psychologist could not ask for a better example of a Freudian case study (or a more depressing one). His mind, being entirely inwardly focused, perceived the world in terms of himself and only in terms of himself. The actions of other people, therefore, would be solely motivated by him (at least in his thought process).
He referred repeatedly to the “destiny” that his “greatness” was to achieve. He also continually referred to himself as “magnificent” and “perfect”. This, in conjunction with his apparent lack of luck with the females in his age group, compounded to produce feelings that he was irrationally rejected by “monstrous” women whom he refers to as “animals”.
This sense of being denied the good things in life goes beyond women and sexual gratification, however, as he expressed feelings of rejection in reference to several individuals who were formerly his friends. He also indicated in his manifesto that he failed to succeed in any meaningful way and that this was counter to his “destiny” (and that, therefore, it must have been the doing of some evil person[s])
In order to delve deeper into the mind of the narcissist it is necessary to examine the individual responsible for the genesis of much of this type of psychological thinking. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is generally thought to have popularized the idea of “narcissism” in conjunction to his psychodynamic approach to the study of the human mind. Freud asserts that the libido lies at the root of much egoistic action.
Indeed, he writes that, “Megalomania is in every way comparable to the familiar sexual overvaluation of the object in [normal] erotic life.” (516) By erotic, Freud means those aspects of human psychology that pertain to desire. Freud continues, “The libido, which we find attached to objects and which is the expression of an effort to obtain satisfaction in connection with those objects, can also leave the objects and set the subject’s own ego in their place.” (517)
This is, most definitely, the situation that characterized Elliot Rodger. The objects of desire, in the case of the shooter, were sexual gratification and worldly success. Both of these things, he believed, were taken from him by the world (of course completely out of his control). In his manifesto he writes of an attempt to make money (and to validate himself in his own eyes, thereby making himself more attractive to females).
He purchased large numbers of lottery tickets, once again putting in the least amount of effort possible so as not to waste his own “glorious” and valuable time. He writes of his inevitable failure, “What I saw crushed all of my hope completely…I didn’t win…I was certain I would be the winner. It was destiny…fate. But no, the world continued to give me no justice or salvation whatsoever.”
This theme of failure seems to have been a huge source of the shooter’s pain. He continues with respect to this failure, “Everything I had tried to do in the past, ever since childhood, had been a failure.” Elliot Rodger took this failure to be a persecution of sorts. Freud writes of this, “it is suggested that the patient, who…believes that he is being persecuted, infers from his persecution that he must be someone of quite particular importance and so develops megalomania” (527)
His mental state disconnected him consciously from those objects that were previously connected to his erotic desire (libido). He writes, “My life stayed stagnant and miserable, and my hatred towards everyone, especially women, for depriving me of a happy life only grew stronger” Rodger was representative of an individual who, in a mental defense-response to external stimuli, had, “…withdrawn his libido from the object, but that, by a process which we must call ‘narcissistic identification’, the object has been set up in the ego itself, has been, as it were, projected onto the ego.” (531)
He writes that one day he came upon a group of “popular” college kids enjoying a beautiful summer day. His narcissistic delusion was projected onto them as he says that, “Rage boiled inside me as I watched those people who thought they were better than me enjoying their pleasurable little lives together.” In response to this, he records that he drove to a nearby store and purchased a super-soaker, which he then filled with orange juice, and fired at them.
This incident shows the self-centered world that evolved in his psyche. Those individuals did not (as far as anyone knows) think that they were “better than” him, in fact, in all likelihood, they had no idea that he existed. This fact may have been the underlying cause of his internal pain, seeing as he seemed to have a pathological need to be loved and accepted.
Seeing the explosion of articles on the internet emphatically arguing that Rodger’s killing-spree was completely motivated by misogyny, it is clear that many individuals have missed the point entirely. The primary motivation for the exaction of this individual’s vengeance was not a hatred of women. This hatred played a part, however, but it was an obvious side-effect of his extreme, acquired narcissism.
His self-centered worldview dictated that all things flowed through him. Therefore, the fact that he, in his magnificence, was not handed social and sexual validation indicated to him that there was, in fact, a conspiracy by those around him to actively deny him these things.
In the end, this shooting amounts to a tragedy, for the victims, the shooter’s parents, and for Elliot himself. Regardless of the reactive hate that this senseless act of violence inspires in all of us, it is necessary to see that all individuals can become subject to the corrupting influence of mental illness. A final quote from Elliot’s manifesto reads, “I didn’t want to die. I wanted something to live for.”
Source: Sigmund Freud New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis trans. James Strachey (New York, 1966)