After each major gun incident pundits revisit the debate: Are mass shooters mentally ill? Conservatives and gun owners s claim that mental illness is the real problem, not the prevalence of gun ownership. Of course, statistics and common sense refute this illogical assertion.

Beyond this debate is a more important discussion we need to have about how we define supposed “mental illness.” First, let’s clarify that that term “mental illness” is inaccurate, unscientific, and antiquated. There is no research to prove that “depression,” “anxiety,” and “personality disorders” are caused by imbalances in brain chemistry or in genetically transmitted brain malfunctions.

But what does cause emotional difficulties? Well, perhaps it’s emotions! Unfortunately, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) used to diagnose “mental disorders” completely ignores emotions as a cause of human behaviors.

Under my Self-Acceptance Psychology paradigm I explain how shame is a major factor leading to problems currently described as anxiety, depression and other issues. Those with low self-worth and a resulting inability to handle shame use three main Blame-Shifting Strategies to manage this experience: Other-Blaming, Self-Blaming and Blame Avoiding.

Using this framework, it is easy to understand that Other-Blaming mass shooters have a different emotional response to problems than other people.

The real reason these aggrieved people, usually men, became violent is they lack an ability to tolerate shame in healthy ways. They have learned that shame is painful to their sense of self, so they try to off-load this emotional experience by lashing out at others, perhaps in completely irrational ways, such as shooting up a school, church or concert.

In contrast, emotionally healthy people can tolerate a feeling of inadequacy and failure and have an ability to be accountable for their problems with equanimity. Self-Blamers and Blame Avoiders also have an unhealthy tactic for handling shame — they tend to “lash in” at themselves in self-reproach.

Most of the people we see in therapy are Self-Blamers — usually diagnosed with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, OCD and similar mood disorders. Self-Blamers are very rarely violent toward others. They are much more likely to use a gun to harm themselves. If they do become violent toward others it is because they are the victim of an abusive or narcissistic relationship with an Other-Blamer and are pushed to the brink. Anyone emotionally or physically abused severely enough will lash out, perhaps in violence. These aggressive acts are often completely out of character for Self-Blamers, who are generally compliant “people pleasers.” Because of their character traits, Self-Blamers are extremely unlikely to become violent toward strangers in an unprovoked manner.

Other-Blamers rarely voluntarily show up for therapy and usually only appear when their behaviors have gotten the attention of authorities, such as a school or police, and they are mandated to attend therapy. This is why many studies show that only a tiny fraction of mass shooters have a prior mental health diagnosis — because they have assiduously avoided contact with the mental health field. Because of their high levels of defense against hearing criticism, therapy is rarely effective for these types of people.

I have written extensively about the Five Factors that cause the three Blame-Shifting Strategies (Fear, Fear of Social Exclusion, Shame, Trauma, and Attachment) in my book Self-Acceptance Psychology and have outlined them on my website.

Let’s Reform the Mental Health Diagnostic System

I believe we should reform the mental health diagnostic system or DSM using the descriptions of human behavior in Self-Acceptance Psychology, as they are more accurate and scientifically based than the current system. In addition, by using the three Blame-Shifting Strategies as a framework, we could distinguish between Other-Blamers and Self-Blamers/Blame Avoiders.

As an expert in domestic violence, I can state that abusive, sociopathic and narcissistic types of people are a completely distinct type of personality and are much more likely to be dangerous. When provoked to feel shame, their inclination is to be angry, vindictive, aggressive or even enraged and violent.

The poor shame tolerance of Other-Blamers leads directly to them behaving in a variety of immoral ways, such as lying, cheating, criminality, irresponsibility, and addictions, whereas Self-Blamers are much less likely to engage in immoral behaviors that harm others. Other-Blamers feel compelled to justify and excuse their egregious behaviors and some do so to extremes that even make them feel justified in killing dozens of people.

By inaccurately conflating Self-Blamers and Other-Blamers, the current mental health diagnostic system stigmatizes those who struggle with emotional problems but who are very unlikely to cause harm. It also fails to accurately identify those who may become violent and so these people slip through the cracks

…be kind to yourself

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