Terrorism, the Sociopath, and Shame

Posted on June 20, 2016

As supposedly rational actors, terrorists pursue violence to further a political cause; sociopaths suffer from a severe personality disorder that makes them behave in antisocial, often violent ways. When it comes to understanding horrific acts of mayhem, we prefer to have one explanation or the other, but as psychologists and thoughtful commentators have repeatedly noted, terrorism and mental illness are not so easily distinguished and often overlap.

Jeet Herr noted in The New Yorker that conversion to Islam does not, in and of itself, explain the violence committed by lone wolf killers like Omar Mateen. “What seems to be the problem, rather, is the fusion of radical jihadist ideology with other personal problems, whether they be alienation, anomie, or various shades of mental illness.” Heather Hurlburtt of the Washington-based think tank New America believes that ISIS deliberately targets mentally unstable young men in the West. She told Herr that these “propagandists seem to understand the link between certain forms of mental illness and susceptibility to mass violence, even if we don’t.”

Shame/humiliation thus provides the link “between certain forms of mental illness and susceptibility to mass violence” identified by Heather Hurlburtt. Individuals who struggle with profound core shame often react with violence when their self-esteem is threatened; societies and cultures are prone to violent acts of terrorism when their members feel humiliated by other countries.

In the case of Omar Mateen, it may turn out that self-hatred arising from homosexual desire was the actual driver toward violence, and ISIS sympathies but a pretext. Even so, we see how an individual’s shame and a culture’s wounded sense of honor may converge in explosive ways, with tragic and traumatic results that reverberate throughout the world.

To read the full article, click the link below.


Category(s):Fear, Shame

Source material from Psychology Today


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