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Massacre in Isla Vista | an enneagram perspective

By now, the deeply troubling and devastating news of the mass murders in Isla Vista near Santa Barbara has spread worldwide, and much analysis has been done about cause and blame. For me, this event is more a pervasive pattern than an event, alerting us, particularly in the United States, about how we raise our children, how we get them the real help they need, the role of mental health professionals, the function of the police, the newest form of sexism in our society, and more.

It particularly affected me for many reasons. I have a son in this age group – my son is 23 and just finishing UCLA – who was raised in Los Angeles culture (call it Hollywood culture), and many of his friends are just finishing their college degrees at UCSB (University of California at Santa Barbara). In fact, my son was supposed to visit these friends that very Friday night, making the 2 hour drive from Santa Monica to Isla Vista, the small community where most UCSB students live. That evening, his gut said, “Don’t go,” though he did not understand the reason for this until we later heard the news. Where he was to stay was 1.5 blocks from one of the crime scenes; one of his friends was on the street exactly at the time of the murders.

I also did my PhD at UCSB, where I also taught in the School of Education and also in the undergraduate programs. Shelley, who manages the office, also graduated from UCSB several years ago. All of this is too close to home.

Much has been made of why this happened, and certainly there were multiple causes: his experience of the parenting he received; psychological disturbances he may or may not have had; the ways in which mental health professionals did not and might have played a preventive role; why the police did not go into his home when they did a well-being check one month before the murders; the role misogyny played; the impact of privilege in this situation; gun control; and more.

I want to comment about many of these factors, but that is after the basic idea of this blog. When I saw his hideous tape describing the ravage he was about to do, I thought this: “He obviously has mental disturbance, but he does not feel or look mentally ill like other mass murderers (Adam Lanza, for example). He looks coherent, albeit deranged, and lucid, though warped. He looks and sounds like a very low functioning Enneagram Four of a 1-1 (aka sexual) subtype.” Once I read his 140 + page manifesto, and it was torture to read, I became even more confident in my Enneagram assessment.

Here are some direct quotes from his treatise, “My Twisted World.”

Fours have the pervasive existential belief that they are different from everyone else and focus on how they are different, whether they are deficient and defective or superior, and if the former, how to remedy the deficiency so they feel good enough. Fours are fueled by envy.
“By nature, I am a very jealous person, and at the age of none my jealous nature sprung to the surface. During playdates, [my friend] would have other friends over as well, and I would feel jealous and upset when he paid more attention to them… jealousy and envy…those two feelings that would dominate my entire life and bring me immense pain.”

Comparing themselves to others and noticing what others have that they do not, Fours try to redress this perceived deficiency by acquiring something (usually visible to others) they believe will supplement what is missing in them to make them equal or superior. If that doesn’t solve their deficiency dilemma, they will find a way to demean or negate the other(s) who they perceive as the agent of their own feelings of inadequacy.
“Buying new clothes would always give me a temporary boost of confidence, and I practiced it as if it were a drug.”

“When I was wearing better jeans [$200 designer jeans] than most other guys…that made me have a slightly higher sense of self-worth.”

“[In late 2013] to make me feel more confident, my mother provided me with a better car to drive in Santa Barbara, a BMW 3 series Coupe. I had always wanted this, since I cared a lot about my appearance.”
As a note, the ways in which Rodger demeaned women is well documented. In his manifesto, he makes abusive and demeaning remarks about men as well, but is particularly scathing and racist about men of color, particularly if they are with white, blond women. These remarks are not included here due to their ugliness.

Fours like and need to feel special and unique, even privileged in some way, and this may include ways that convey status, elitism, and sophisticated taste, although not all Fours seek status-related ways of feeling special.
“I loved attending exclusive events; it made me feel special.”
“I have always had a penchant for luxury, opulence, and prestige.”“
“The problem was that most of the jobs that were available to me at the time were jobs I considered beneath me.”

There are three subtypes of Enneagram Fours, all of whom have a special relationship to suffering. Self-preservation subtype Fours suffer in silence, with the hope that they will be acknowledged for all the pain they are keeping inside without showing it. Social subtype Fours suffer and show their suffering, wanting comfort but not really being consoled by it. One-to-One subtype Fours, known by the name of “competition”, are more in touch with and vocal about their needs, are demanding and expectant, and when they do not get satisfied exactly how they expect to be fulfilled, move into a cycle of rejection and anger. Their competitiveness is a way to feel better than others; if they win, they are superior; if they lose, they are deficient. When winning doesn’t work, One-to-One Fours use a different strategy: they transport their suffering to others, akin to “I suffer, so you shall suffer equally if not more.”
“If I cannot join them, I will rise above them; and if I cannot rise above them, I will destroy them.”

No Dispersions Meant to Be Cast on Type Fours
Please do not read this blog to mean that Fours (or One-to-One Fours) are potentially mass murderers, any more than my Oscar Pistorius blog was meant that type Threes are likely to murder their girlfriends. Pistorius, in my opinion was a below average functioning Three; Rodger was, in my view, a very disintegrated Four who became more so throughout high school and his college years. This blog is meant to illuminate more that his behavior is consistent with a severely low-functioning person of his type.

The Asperger’s Connection | Not!
There are a few more items I want to mention. First is the comment made by a Rodger-family spokesperson that Elliot Rodger had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, suggesting this was his mental health issue. I give credit to many newscasters who have not followed up this story line for the following reasons: (1) Asperger’s syndrome is not a mental health illness; it is a developmental disability that impacts a person’s social skills and ability to communicate; (2) Asperger’s, like autism, is a term widely thrown around and not well understood, even among physicians and other providers, so it is not even clear that Rodger even had this syndrome; (3) with the proper support from family and providers, children who really have Asperger’s can be helped in dramatic ways and lead highly productive, fulfilled lives.

It would be too easy to blame this on Asperger’s, and it would be not only wrong but unfair. My step-daughter’s son has Asperger’s (his diagnosis is high-functioning Asperger’s), and she has dedicated every ounce of her life to guiding and helping him grow and feel good about himself. At 18, he is doing quite well, so I called her to see if she thinks Rodger had Asperger’s. She wasn’t sure at all, except for his social awkwardness, which could be from a variety of other sources. She also had read the manifesto and said that Rodger’s ease with giving up activities he loved (Pokémon, as an example) when he thought they were suddenly “uncool” was inconsistent with what she knows about children with Asperger’s. They tend to fixate on something they love doing and do it repetitively, not relenting under the possibility of social disapproval. When I asked her how her son (really anyone) would have reacted when several police came to the door for a well-check a month earlier, she agreed that her son would never have been able to hold himself together without going into panic (if he were guilty) or anxiety/anger (if he were not). Rodger’s calculating calmness in the face of threat is not something most 22 year-olds are capable of doing, Asperger’s or not.

Misogyny and the Men’s Rights Movement
A not-subtle context for what, on the surface, appear to be the mad rants of Elliott Rodger, are apparently taken directly from the Men’s Rights Movement (aka MRA for Men’s Rights Activism) playbook, something I had not heard about but was vaguely familiar with. Rodger was aligned with this movement, a member of various sites that promote the superiority of men, the disdain for women (who have control because they can withhold sex), and focus on how males are discriminated against and oppressed, and more. Violence is not out of the question for them!

It is, apparently, a branch of the men’s liberation movement from the 1970s. The initial men’s liberation movement was a partner to early feminism, set on examining the roles of both men and women in society. The MRM or MRA, by contrast, is the counterpoint to feminism, a backlash or countermovement that seeks to support men in their view that they are not privileged, that power has been taken from them, and they seek to redress these grievances.

One of their formative leaders was a man I met in the 1970s, whose name I will not mention for fear of retribution. He was a leader and author of the men’s liberation movement at a time when I was doing my PhD on gender bias and consulting to organizations, particularly schools, on gender and racial equity. When I met him, I had a bad feeling about him (as in there was something out-of-integrity) and one of my friends, also a consultant, told me that he had made sexual advances to her which she refused and he had then become very nasty to her. 40+ years later I see his name as one of the early leaders of MRM; a shock but not a surprise!

So this is what Rodger was using for brain-food. But this movement, however small, is apparently active in many countries under different names. This is scary, especially considering the avalanche of sexual assault and rape at university campuses. Is this an epidemic?

Guns, in my opinion, are only part of the problem; this could be an entire blog. But guns are not the only issue here. Most people in the US want some gun control; I would like a lot of it. I do believe that Rodger would have completed his plan without guns. Many of the people injured or killed were not harmed by gunfire alone.

But the saddest part of the gun control issue is something that I have been thinking for years. Why is a person’s right to own a gun (if it should even be a right; we could debate that) supersede a person’s right to live a life and not be innocently killed by one?

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7 years ago

Hi Ginger

Very astute observations – thanks so  much!

Charles Miller

7 years ago

Ginger, like most people, I am shocked and saddened by this extreme act of aggression and want to understand how this can happen. You have provided a very insightful perspective into how a disintegrating “4” might get violent an even feel entitled to the destruction he created.  I am left with so many questions and a big concern.  My concern is, Are we getting immune to this type of violence?  I am feeling heart broken and helpless.  Thank you.

7 years ago

Loved this insightful article Ginger – thank you so much for sharing.

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