Several days ago I read My Twisted Life, by Elliot Rodger. After reading it I knew that it was a work that would require deep thought before I could comment on it. After much contemplation I think I am ready to summarize my thoughts.
Elliot Rodger was a young man who felt himself different and apart from the world, and he was. There are many in this life who will know the great pain that comes from being socially rejected. Some will know this as children, as I did, and yet others such as Elliot will have happy childhoods but as puberty approaches they will know this loneliness and rejection as young adults. Still others will know this all their lives.
As humans, we want to be accepted by our counter parts. Although some may be introverts to varying degrees, I don’t think even the most hard-core introvert wants to be rejected at their core. There is a difference between wanting to spend alone time and being rejected by the population at large. Some might choose to be isolated but no one chooses to be rejected.
The easy thing to do, after reading My Twisted Life, would be to judge, to assign labels on Elliot such as misogynist, socially inept, egotist… harder still to reach for a common ground, to reach for understanding, compassion.
Many will say that we need to spurn the killer and have compassion for the victims and yes no doubt about it, we do need to have compassion for those whose lives were ripped away, however that does not preclude having compassion for the young man that felt so much despair and depression that his hurt stayed festering for years until he finally erupted.
It has been said that Elliot was a high functioning autistic. I know something about this, as a friend and family member to several people with Asperger’s. I have witnessed the way that society treats these people that have something a little different about them.
I’ve heard it said that over 50% of human communication is nonverbal. That means that most of us are programmed to pick up nonverbal clues in communication. When someone doesn’t know the language of communication very well, such as when to smile, what to do with their hands, when they don’t project friendliness, relaxed expressions and body language and in essence don’t do the “right” nonverbal things, then other humans will automatically react with uncertainty, hesitancy and fear, and that fear leads to rejection. I have seen this many times in watching how some of my friends react to my other friends that have Asperger’s. “He’s weird.” “I don’t know, something about him that isn’t right.” The person may not have actually had a conversation with my Asperger’s friend or family member but have already felt this sense of awkwardness emanating from the person enough to have formed an opinion and a judgement. In all fairness, this is something that keeps us protected from harm as we try to decipher clues about another person to figure out if they mean us harm. Ultimately we are always conscious of our survival, which leads me back to Elliot.
The most basic human need and the one that drives us as a species is the need for love and acceptance. It’s why babies cry the minute they are pushed into this world. Without attracting love and attention to themselves they will surely die. As we grow up in a family we are taught and trained to lose our neediness for others and schooled to become independent, to feed and clothe ourselves and to become less needy towards our parents and eventually to find a mate to love and marry.
What though, if you are like Elliot and put off signals that constantly repeal not only the opposite sex, but people in general? Humans are a complicated system of emotion and survival, programming and deprogramming and we have to live under an umbrella of almost impossible-to-follow social constructions, rules and expectations. This is why the show Seinfeld was such a hit because it brought to light the crazy social rules we twist ourselves like pretzels to follow.
When you don’t fit into society it can be extremely lonely, disheartening and depressing. For some it can signal the start of a physiological disturbance. Elliot didn’t just feel lonely one day and went out and killed people the next. It took years of rejection and pain to bring about the conclusion that it did.
Now most people who experience rejection and the pain of being a social outcast don’t go out and shoot up a town of people. That’s where mental health comes in. There are many ways that people deal with this sort of thing. Some will accept it and learn to live with it. Others will keep trying to find friends that accept them for them. Many will succeed in this and find at least one or two friends that accept them and many have even found a mate. Some though, like Elliot continue to sink deeper into depression and some will commit suicide. For still others, depression turns to frustration and then to anger. As evidenced in his manifesto, Elliot’s thoughts circled again and again to the fact that he was socially rejected by females and he began to hold a deep-seated rage towards not only the women who he claims rejected him but also towards the popular jocks who seemed to win where he failed. Elliot held a rage towards all those who lived a “normal” life that included love and sex primarily, but also friendship and acceptance, as that is what he claims that he wanted above all else. He began to blame the world around him and even his own mother for the fact that others had the life that he couldn’t have.
Through it all, Elliot refused to explore the possibility that he himself could do some things to improve himself, to make himself a person of substance to have something to offer a potential mate. His manifesto is filled with the attitude that he was perfect and the world was wrong.
It is troubling to look at ourselves as imperfect. It is painful to consider why we have failed and that we might be flawed. Elliot seemingly could not perform this task of self-reflection and problem solving. It was beyond him. His writing reveals his problem-solving to be quite superficial, stating that the reason he didn’t have a woman was that he wasn’t rich, rather than a personality flaw that he could work on. He spent great expense and effort to try to win the lottery as a way to gain approval and was wrapped up in a materialistic attitude about life. As his rage deepened his focus became singular, not to ‘settle’ for a life that included whomever would be his friend and whichever girl he could win, no, he had to have a pretty girl, a blonde and be the most popular kid. He would never lower his standards and so his rage continued to build. Towards the end of his life, it was plain to see that he had lost all sense of reality and only had the most superficial wants and desires. His anger had built to the point of no return and this failure to accept reason and reality is what truly lead him to his hate filled murdering spree.
Elliot Rodger’s life is a sad tale of rejection and then rejection of rejection, which resulted in a rage that could not be quenched. On some level, we all know the pain of rejection and we also know the anger that wells inside when we feel we are dealt with unjustly. Elliot knew it all but his anger rose to such heights that not many of us have felt, namely the anger that causes one to take a life and feel glee while doing so. Elliot needs a moment of our compassion, not in the same sense that the victims do, but yet in a way unique to him, for a person carrying that much pain inside should garner our consideration, our sympathy and maybe, just maybe, our forgiveness because we all have this great capacity to feel pain and rage and it is only our reason, something which was worn away in Elliot, that separates us from a killer.