When I was around 30, I remember starting to erect mental barriers between me and tragedy.
Or trying to.
“Did you hear that Erica was diagnosed with cancer?”
“No, oh my gosh… how old is she?” Or, “Does she smoke?” Or, “What were her symptoms?”
Anything to put a wall between me, and tragedy. I was younger, a non-smoker and had none of the symptoms. So I was safe.
You can’t be a therapist for long without realizing that these attempts at denial are superficial. Bad things happen to people who are trying to live kindly and with integrity.
The mother of one of the Columbine shooters, Susan Klebold, recently reminded us of this. Whether you think you could have detected what she and her husband did not, whether or not you believe this would not happen in your family, her story is frightening.
People, even children, hide things about themselves. They have addictions, or have done something that, to them, is shameful. These problems are common, and with treatment, can get better with a lot of effort.
Ms. Klebold loved her son. But she didn’t know things about him. She asked questions. He didn’t tell her who he was becoming, or that he was very depressed and suicidal.
That is one kind of tragedy, when someone’s mental illness influences or leads them to hurt others.
There is another kind of evil.
People who abuse, manipulate, and lie. They hurt others, even children, because they can. They justify the most despicable of behaviors.
I lost my naivete a long time ago, about the depths of what one human being can do to another.
To add to the complexity of this problem, things are, far too often, not what they seem. “You never know what’s happening behind closed doors.”
I remember hearing that phrase as a child, and wondering what things could possibly be occurring. I was a huge Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames fan, eagerly reading how they solved crimes that they seemed to run across on a regular basis. Maybe that’s what it meant. Maybe you had to be vigilant and discover who the bad guys were.
What I know now is that people who don’t have a conscience don’t announce themselves. They don’t wear black hats for all to see.
We use the words “sociopath” or “psychopath” at times to describe people like this — people who lack the ability to form a true connection or attachment with others, whether due to their own abuse or their genetic makeup. It is a mental disorder technically, but lies in the category of a personality disorder. Sociopaths are capable of the worst kinds of crime, and hurt others without remorse. They don’t seem to feel.
These are sometimes people that you thought you knew, that are well-respected, and that you had entrusted with your children, your money, or your confidence. And they, very intentionally and methodically, hurt you, or someone you love.
It could be your husband, your wife, your employee, your friend.
The shock and rage that follows threatens your very sanity.
“How could I not have known?”
It takes a long time to heal from that kind of wound.
It takes a long time to forgive yourself, if someone you love was hurt. It takes a long time to trust your judgement, if you were manipulated.
It takes a long time to quit asking “Why?” as if there is a rational answer.
There’s not a rational answer.
Was Susan Klebold’s son a sociopath? Or was his judgment severely comprised because of major depression?
I don’t know. I haven’t read his writings. She seems to believe the latter. She believes he intended to kill himself that day, and justified taking others with him.
Her message is clear.
If you suspect that your child is disturbed, dig. Don’t let things go.
And if you have been abused, either as a child or as an adult, by someone who you initially trusted, by someone who everyone thought was a good father, a loving wife, or a wonderful friend, please seek help.
Anyone can keep a secret.
No victim should have to bear that responsibility.
If you are being abused, please call this National Domestic Violence hotline for help.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!