Saturday, July 21, 2012

Deconstruction of a Psycho: James Holmes

On gathering more of the back story on James Holmes, the psycho who killed 12 people at an Aurora CO movie theater and wounded 58 others, we find these markers:

- He was socially aversive, pathologically shy – according to a lab partner in Colo: Holmes’s “disposition was a little off” and that he could be socially awkward, one of the quieter people in the lab. He "spent much of his time immersed in his computer”

- He had some ideations of grandiosity as after he graduated from UC Riverside with Honors but learned the only job he could get was at a McDonalds

- He was accepted  in the Fall of 2011 at a Univ. of Colorado campus (Anshutz, in Aurora) to do a Ph. D. in neuroscience.

- He dropped out in June because of reported “academic problems” (according to Jackie Brinkman, a spokesperson for the campus quoted in today’s NY Times)

- After dropping out, he purchased his weapons, and played violent video games in his apt.

- He adopted a rebellious persona which he called “the Joker” and had become this persona when he entered the Aurora theater to kill 12 and wound 58.

- His rigged apartment was designed to obliterate all traces of the persona he rejected.

I puzzled over this set of behaviors for some time, weighing whether the guy’s profile more fit in with a schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder. After some further rumination it clicked that here was a classic case of submerged personality disorder – so well explicated in the excellent book: ‘Psychotherapy of the Submerged Personality’ by Alexander Wolf and Irwin L. Kutash. As they observe, submergence is characterized by the development of two pseudo-egos in conflict with each other and the submergence or suppression of an intact ego called “the submerged ego”.

The “submerged ego” is the authentic one, which if allowed to come out would be consistent with the individual’s aspirations, goals and personality. It becomes submerged when a child’s behaviors and personality are greeted with tremendous hostility and rejection (as well as punishment) by a parent, usually the mother. The little one is then bereft of his moorings, parental love and acceptance until and unless he discharges the unwanted (by the parent) Self. Hence, to receive the desperately needed approval he must become an appendage of the parent, by introjecting her values, behaviors, priorities and even demeanor.

In the Wolf-Kutash anthology, Michael Lindenmann (p. 96, 'Identifying the Defensive Pseudo-Ego maneuvers in Psychotherapy') notes: "Throughout their lives these individuals will have been most consistently rewarded for what they know or for what they can do- for thinking and acting, but not much for feeling. They will have learned most to rely on their ability to reach intellectual or active solutions to their life problems with little consideration given to emotional needs or subjective reactions. Out of a profound fear of loss of connection with the mothering object, much attentive energy will have been focused on the wishes and reactions of others and away from oneself."  And (ibid.):

"As a consequence, these individuals may act as though they do not really know how to be IN life" (emphasis mine). "There will be difficulties with assertiveness, confrontation, or the ability to express such feeling as anger or criticism. ....for all in all, repressing the authentic ego and accommodating to the mothering object, these individuals have become quite accustomed to setting their own emotional reactions aside and dissociating from their own authentic needs."

Lindenmann goes on to observe (p. 97): that "with the authentic ego repressed, developmentally stymied and unavailable for rich and authentic experience, these individuals will often report feeling cheated by life".

This feeling of being "cheated" is a natural accompaniment of the individual's loss of psychic energy via introjecting his or her mother's paranoid, narcissistic or depressive demands. While he thereby forms a defensive, maternal pseudo-ego it comes by way of enormous psychological cost. Following this, the submerged personality must invest more energy into a second pseudo-ego whose purpose is to protect the submerged ego and oppose the maternal pseudo-ego. This oppositional pseudo-ego  is called "the rebellious pseudo-ego". The individual with a submerged personality then displays ongoing ambivalence between compliance with the mother (or other dominating parent) and rebellion against her.(Note: the rebellious pseudo-ego gives the illusion of finally having found real outlets for authentic aggression, emotion....but in reality it's a confection. The responses are nearly always out of proportion to the actual stimuli.)

Leaving home doesn’t necessarily liberate the personality from the control or domination of the introjected parental ego. Indeed, any authority – say a school administration or even a therapist thererin – may subsume this maternal ego in the submergent personality’s mind. Thus, I conjecture that Holmes, while in Colorado, perceived the university administration (and likely even his advisor) as coupled with the introjected ego. The “second pseudo ego” created to defend and protect his submerged ego was none other than “the Joker”.

Tragically, by the time Holmes’ protector ego (“Joker”) was released, it was out of control. Everyone then became identified with the introjected parental or authority ego. The warped perception of the defender ego then decided the only way to achieve liberation from the introjected “parent” was to eliminate all who were seen as in its way. In this case, all “normal”, i.e. non-submerged people. Those whose personalities had not been coerced into psychological lockdown and submergence by a dominating parent. An alternate possibility, perhaps more convincing, is that the retributional "Joker" persona felt outraged and murderously envious of those normal folk (say in socialized units present at the theater) who were not developmentally stymied and hence whose lives were available for rich and authentic experience.

Why would the Ph.D. level have been the one that finally triggered release of Holmes’ Joker? Good question! My belief is that Holmes, lacking an authentic personality, was unable to deal with the extraordinary research demands at the Ph.D. level which necessitate originality. I mean, even if the thesis advisor offers you a thesis subject, you still must have the ability to carry out an original theory! It’s not simply like piling up As and making “honors” at lower levels. No real originality is needed to make the "Dean's List", after all. Even brilliance, so-called, doesn't assure originality at a high research level! (Aside: we now know from a Denver 7 News report by Keli Rabon that Holmes failed a preliminary oral exam before pulling out of the neurosciences program at Colorado University. A day later he purchased his most lethal weapon, the Smith and Wesson MP15. )

The problem is that a submerged personality, because it is suppressed, will not be able to display the originality needed for ground-breaking research in the field. If it had a scintilla of originality potential, it wouldn’t be submerged and permit an introjected ego to occupy its psychological space! In Holmes’ submerged ego’s perceptions, he’d have been exposed as a fraud, cover blown. When it really counted, to do original research, he couldn’t cut the mustard. The interior or submerged ego was still hostage to parental demands and could find no way out.

We know from a recent survey (by the DSM-V background research group) that up to 26% of those over age 21 are described as “mentally ill” in this country. Even leaving out depression (10%) that leaves 16% or 1 in 6 with other serious disorders. Given there’s no way all of these millions can be locked up or effectively controlled (especially if they go off any meds), the only alternative is to find a way to regulate gun ownership via rigorous laws.  Then it becomes less likely any of the outright misfits (like Jared Loughner, Seung Hui-Cho or James Eagen Holmes)  will get hold of high capacity automatic weapons to effect mass murders!

Our two presidential candidates, in addition to calling for "prayers and condolences", need to do something even more effective: release their balls from the grip of the NRA gun lobby, so they can then USE those cojones to push for effective legislation to control automatic weapons and mega-capacity clips! Then maybe so many occasions for offering prayers and condolences wouldn't be necessary since our glorious leaders would be addressing the problem at its opposed to offering symbolic pap which merely enables the cycle to continue!


Mike said...

Nice analysis. The old "Guns don't kill people, people do" is getting rather stale. I believe there are more "triggers" developing in society which will set these people off; hence the even more dire need for some sort of control on these modern weapons.

Copernicus said...


Rachel said...


Lisa Sc said...

This is a great article. It really explains allot. I think James Holmes and that kid Adam Lanza both had submerged personalities. And both probably had at least 1 dominating parent that caused submerged personality. Many of these people commenting on Youtube video "Claim: Batman Shooter James Holmes Said Therapist Programmed Him to Kill" thinks there's a conspiracy and actually think Holmes should be set free. They called me stupid, idiot and said other cruel words to me.