The Sandy Hook Massacre: What We Can Do by Jane Hall

Our hearts go out to those in Sandy Hook and Newton – once fairy tale communities. We salute the brave teachers, the clergy, the strong and empathic citizens, and most of all, we send our deepest condolences to the parents and families who lost their children and to the families of those adults who died.

One common theme over the past several days since this latest tragedy has been to blame the congress. But we seem to overlook the fact that we the people elect our representatives. How can we seize this moment when emotions are high to bombard our congressmen and women with anti-gun messages.

Along with the massacre in Connecticut there are countless single child murders in New York and other big cities as crossfire bullets cut tiny, innocent children down. Even sitting in an apartment in some neighborhoods is dangerous in today’s world. In fact, no one is safe because anyone can become a mass murderer anywhere.

The right to bear arms was appropriate in the revolutionary war and even during the civil war. But in the age of automatic pistols and other weapons of mass murder that can and do kill many in a minute, the right to bear arms that are capable of mass destruction is suicidal.

During the civil rights movement, many young (and older) people went to the south to speak with people who could not understand the concept of equal rights and to protest when such rights were denied. I hope that our young people mobilize in a similar way – to speak with not only the NRA but to the individuals who support it. It is time to make these people very uncomfortable. I fear that reason will not reach them but shame may be effective.

The effort to change this nation’s love of guns must be a grass roots one, something like the anti Wall Street movement. Such a movement must find ways to connect with the movie and video game makers. We must begin our protests now lest our society fall apart at the seams. Some may say that such efforts are hopeless but if we lose hope all is lost.

I hope we all act now. And I hope that during these weeks of mourning we each take the time to write to or call our representatives in congress – even if they support gun control – because such messages become statistics that can be used. And I hope there will be organized marches on Washington.

In a separate letter we might address the desperate need for more mental health clinics – walk in clinics where troubled people can feel safe to talk. Funding for such clinics is necessary. Volunteer mental health workers are also important. You would be surprised perhaps to know that when free clinics operated in the 70s people came of their own free will. Philanthropists must be made aware of the importance of mental health and asked to support therapy for all. And social media must be used to make talk therapy a good thing. Even in New York City there is still a stigma attached to seeing a shrink.

Violence stems from rage. Replace the right to bear arms with the right to be heard. Getting therapy does not mean something is wrong with you – it means that something is right!

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9 Comments on “The Sandy Hook Massacre: What We Can Do by Jane Hall”

  1. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Henry Kaminer:

    There is much to mourn about national tragedy, and much for us to discuss about psychopathology, ego deficits, childhood deprivation, and deficiencies of our mental health care system. However, on a pragmaticlevel, what can be done quickly?

    Many people despair of the power of the NRA lobbyists and their influence over Congress. A recent article in the NY Times stated that NRA donated 3 million dollars to Congressional candidates, all Republicans. 3 million dollars in today’s world is not an extraordinary amount of money. There are 635 voting members of Congress. This means that approximately $15,000 per member, or $30,000 per Republican member, can buy Pro-Gun votes.

    Various organizations that are for stricter controls on semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity cartridge magazines, armor-piercing bullets and so forth, can begin campaigning and raising money.

    An honest Congressman, like an honest Judge, can then accept an equal amount from each party and then decide the issue on its merits rather than be swayed by money or fear. Arguments about the Second Amendment and the
    intent of our Founding Fathers are all rationalizations for preconceived biases. I myself am willing to compromise and propose that every rational responsible adult to posses a working muzzle-loading flintlock rifle or musket, which is what Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton understood.

    henry kaminer

  2. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Merton Shill

    I will not repeat all the sentiments expressed on these listservs and elsewhere about this horrific tragedy. My purpose in writing this is different.

    I may have missed it, but I have not seen any reference in the media to the potential impact of violent videogames and movies, many of which appear specifically targeted to teens and young children in influencing vulnerable young people to commit horrific acts and indeed to traumatize many other children who may never act such impulses out.

    I propose APSaA form a task force on Children and Violence in the media to present and explain a psychoanalytic view of the extremely noxious impact of the violent overstimulation of children and the need for parents to provide auxiliary ego support and guidance for children in regard to their viewing and gaming activities. I have heard so many accounts in treating children of all ages of almost unfettered access to any and every kind of stimulation available electronically and graphically one can imagine. This has got to stop if we are going to be able to preserve childhood as a protected phase of development and perhaps reduce the incidence of tragedies like Newtown. The ***Old town*** way we see constantly is to continue as we are as a society, to permit graphic violence to continue to traumatize our children and especially those who are psychologically least capable of binding the anxiety and the impulses which this exposure occasions.

    My intent would be to prepare a psychoanalytic position paper on violence in the media and children and publicize it widely in the media. I applaud Mark Smaller***s statement on the APSaA website but we need to present a more prominent public face and position and make our extraordinary understanding of these issues available for the benefit of society at large.
    I hope you will join me. Please contact me directly if you are interested so we can get something going ASAP within APSaA. Clearly this is only one aspect of this problem. It would be marvelous if APsaA could also now lead a strenuous effort to lobby for the expansion and improvement of children’s mental health services. Any takers?

    Merton A. Shill, JD., LLM., PhD., FIPA
    Department of Psychiatry
    University of Michigan Medical School

  3. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Henry Lothane:

    The Newtown massacre of innocents has recurred throughout history, perpetrated by Herod’s or Hitler’s executioners of Jewish children in the pits of Babiy Yar, Auschwitz, and elsewhere. We can use all kinds of theories to “explain” the Newtown massacre: The Book of Revelation, Freud’s death instinct, or a disease of the brain.

    However the brutal sociological and psychological motives for murder are rage and revenge. It took Freud decades to acknowledge the role of aggression in life and disorder after he had explicitly brushed off the importance of Alfred Adler’s insights about the role of aggression in life and neurosis published in 1908.

    Silent waters run deep, and so does resentment accumulated for years in the souls of shy and timid young people like Adam Lanza or the Columbine kids before him. Suppressed and repressed rage simmers like a silent volcano and then erupts in seemingly senseless acts of violence. There must be some sense in the fact that Adam killed his
    mother and the other victims with the very weapons he took from his mother’s hoard.

    We Americans must accept responsibility for the roots of rage and revenge rampant in our society and for the lax rules of gun control. Eulogies and tears are a much needed solace, social action and protests are the only solution.

    Henry Lothane, MD
    Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    Office address: 1435 Lexington Avenue
    New York, NY 10128

  4. Bennett Roth PhD Says:

    The vestiges of Freud’s errors are still present when Henry Lothane speaks of aggression rather than cruelty, murder and destruction of life. My paper on a kid killer could not find a journal till recently and few readers believed he actually did kill someone, the work I have been doing on ” the hierarchical structure ” of genocide in Germany found little support. We still have a death penalty in this country. murder on nearly every prime time TV show, and video games that sell animated killing.
    Freud devoted himself to understanding libido and few are committed to understand violence and killing. I will contact Dr Shill and join him in his efforts. As a small note I became interested in this through the above mentioned patient and working as a consultant near the WTC . I puzzled over the
    people who flew the plane while also seeking those traumatized by the events

  5. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Joshua Erhlich:

    I appreciate Jane Hall’s invitation for discussion of the Newtown tragedy. I want to add a caution. Confronted by phenomena that we have found confusing and/or disturbing “e.g., autism, schizophrenia, homosexuality” we as psychoanalysts have a long history of confidently espousing explanations based on toxic parenting. Many of these theories were notable in that, first, they were completely wrong and, second, they blamed (or partly blamed) mothers. It certainly is conceivable, as Jane Hall and Rina Freedman suggest, that Adam Lanza’s mother abused him and that his horrendous actions emanated in trauma. Alternatively, as Alice Maher suggests, Adam Lanza may have suffered from mental illness. For all we know, his mother may have been a beleaguered parent (albeit with an unfortunate penchant for guns) trying to cope with an impossible situation. Based on the information that I have heard so far, we simply do not know. As psychoanalysts, we know an enormous amount about the traumatic impact of toxic parenting and abuse and have a great deal to offer to the national dialogue on gun violence. However, if we offer conclusions unsupported by data (e.g., Rina Freedman’s comment that “Adam was telling us how much he hated women (his mother) whose power enslaved him and made a living bomb out of him”), we risk marginalizing ourselves from the conversation and repeating an unfortunate feature of our history.

    My Regards, Joshua

    Joshua Ehrlich, Ph.D.
    Licensed Psychologist/Psychoanalyst
    400 Maynard, #1006
    Ann Arbor, MI 48104 Ph.D.
    Licensed Psychologist/Psychoanalyst
    400 Maynard, #1006
    Ann Arbor, MI 48104

  6. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Henry Lothane:

    Leon Hoffman sent me this highly relevant article School Shooting as a Culturally Enforced Way of Expressing Suicidal Hostile Intentions by Antonio Preti, MD published in the Journal of the American of Psychiatry and the Law.

    Of course Adam Lanza deserves our compassion as therapists, but that does not solve the problem. You may speculate whether he suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and remain oblivious of the more obvious one of a psychopathic (now called antisocial) personality disorder, which what I would bet on. Or you might fantasize about how much his mother provided him with a superego lacuna with her collection of firearms, or what role she, or Lanza’s father played in shaping his personality, i.e., character. But whereas major mental disorder result in the individual seeking treatment on his own, or compelled by his family, or by the safety net of psychiatry and the law, antisocial persons do not seek treatment, heavily defened by their rationalizations. The secret rage and revenge they harbor is discovered after the the fact. The signs and hints they leave before the fact go unnoticed or are ignored by those who should be vigilant.

    Late in his career Freud discovered the importance of sociology for psychology: “”strictly speaking there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and natural science * For sociology, too, dealing as it does with the behavior of people in society, cannot be anything but applied psychology.”

    The relevant sociology is the effect upon antisocial personalities of ideologies of hatred (e.g., the Norwegian mass murderer Breivik, who was found by a court not to suffer from any diagnosable disoder); mass murders in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda; the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and many more, after WW II was supposed to be the path to end all wars; and more.

    Last but not least, but not least, the gun laws in the US. The latter are in contrast to the anti-gun laws enacted in Australia which reduced the prevalence of past mass murders. The protest against the NRA and our gun laws has begun.

    Henry Lothane, MD

  7. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Paula Hamm:

    Dear Colleagues,

    Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful discussion on Newtown. Wrapping thoughts together concerning the complexity of these national traumas that include multiple levels of reality is helpful, provocative and at the same time containing. Feelings of helplessness in moments like this pushes upon a need to do something, say something anything but just stand by and watch. Silence can be the greatest evil when what really needs to happen is a joint effort to be the responders. I agree with David Goldberg that offering insights about the long process of mourning to the victims is a way to help. Learning to go on living alongside death is an unnatural process. Parents who have lost children to trauma or illness never fully recover.

    A psycho-educational statement about mourning from the ApsaA President that could either be in the National newspapers or through the National News channels, (like Brian Williams who is a great advocate for people suffering) would raise the level of consciousness about these issues.

    Paula J Hamm

  8. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Henry Lothane:

    Details old and new were recounted today on CNN. Adam’s mother left him to himself in the house and took a two and a half day trip to stay at a hotel in New Hampshire. The relationship Adam had with his father was fraught with disappointment over the divorce and his father
    remarrying. In the divorce agreement big sums of money were earmarked for Adam while less may have been given in terms of personal closeness.

    It is remarkable that the killings of children and teachers were preceded by Adam killing his mother. Parricide is far more common than matricide. Equally heinous and rare is infanticide committed by a mother.

    Philip Rieff remarked that Freud’s interest in the Oedipus complex, i.e., father- son aggression, was shaped, in part, by reading Sophocles. Had he studied the Oresteia of Aeschylus, he would have also considered mother-son aggression, as depicted in the murder of treasonous Clytemnestra by her avenging son Orestes. Did this dynamic play a role in Adam’s behavior? We need to learn much more from his father, his brother, and others.

    Henry Lothane, MD
    Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    Office address: 1435 Lexington Avenue
    New York, NY 10128

  9. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from Sasha Rolde:

    The problem with the details of Adam Lanza’s family sage is that we all see, at least I do, countless children with similar histories, who do not commit such heinous crimes, even if they carry a psychiatric diagnosis such as some form Asperger or developmental delay. The only different detail in the scanario painted for us is the presence of guns in that home and his mother introducing him to them. I could not even assert with certainty, without knowing the characters that the lack of mental health care was the contributing factor. At least in the past decade or two, even if children came to the attention of the state welfare agencies almost at birth for abuse and neglect, they have not received much consistent and prolonged treatment and were generally shunted from one foster home to another to one treatmetn faciltiy to another.

    I am grateful to Dr. Lothane for bringing up Greek history and Freud’s basis for the Oedipus complex, as it provides a nice entre to a theoretical discussion amongst us. However, I hesitate to offer it as an explanation for Adam Lanza’s behavior. After all, Freud was referring to a neurosis ( a feeling state) rather than to actions. It has always seemed to me that there is a danger in equating feellings with actions. Laws are created against actions, but not against feelings. This gets fuzzy when we beging to talk about war acts – why is it OK to kill many children per day in attacks ( as in dropping bombs) on civilian populations etc., to send young adults, barely out of adolescence and put them in line of danger to often get shot or killed, and why is it not OK to act out aggression on an individual basis in society? Even Freud possibly stopped making that difference when he began to theorize about group behavior. I feel that there is a lot that we don’t know- possibly having to do with some genetic or neurological abnormalities in certain individuals when it comes to an event like the Newtown catastrophe. It is also possible that group behavior leading to wars has different underpinnings than our psychoanalytic theory can provide.

    Sasha Rolde

    Alexandra K. Rolde, M.D.
    27 Fields Pond Rd.
    Weston, MA 02493

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