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Externalizing Problems

Apparently mass shooters tend to externalize their problems. Most people who externalize their problems don’t become mass shooters, of course.

People with that trait, however, are very frustrating people. I know I can be frustrating, as I do the opposite. I tend to blame myself for anything bad that happens to me, even when it’s clearly not my fault. Still, the most tedious people I’ve met are the ones who constantly blame others.

I knew a guy in high school. I actually don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Jack. I had a Spanish class with Jack. I think we were part of a study group, or maybe we were on a team for a class project. Either way, I remember Jack constantly complaining that the teacher was out to get him, that the teacher was plotting for him to fail. He was struggling with Spanish (as was I — I was consistently mediocre at foreign languages through high school and college). I argued with him for at length that the teacher wasn’t trying to bring about his failure, but he was having none of it.

Later, I had another friend who on occasion exhibited similar behavior. One particularly vivid memory involves me picking him up to take him to work as a favor. He was getting a ride from me, smoking my cigarettes, complaining about how he would “give and give and give” but that everyone else would just “take and take and take” from him. He was apparently oblivious to the irony.

Now neither of these individuals, to my knowledge anyway, have engaged in any anti-social behavior. As I said, many, many people have this quality and don’t do anything wrong. But a couple things stand out. First, by virtue of externalizing their problems they are unable to recognize their own negative, corrosive traits. Their beliefs are reinforced when they alienate others, because others distance themselves from them.

I don’t encounter these people very much anymore. My wild guess is that people like that might tend to have a hard time getting through college and ending up in industries like the one I’m in. Or maybe people get better at managing it as they get older.

It does worry me, though. If you don’t believe yourself to have any problem, you’re unlikely to seek help. And as I said, most people like this don’t end up shooting up schools. So how do you identify the people who are likely to do that, considering they likely aren’t going to end up in counseling or therapy prior to a shooting?

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