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No one can predict the next mass murderer, but a grievance collector is a loaded gun

No one can predict the next mass murderer, but a grievance collector is a loaded gun

The next mass murderer will likely:

  • be male
  • be a loner or recently have become more introverted
  • have a mental health issue
  • have an interest in violence or violent acts
  • have easy access to guns and ammunition
  • experience some kind of trigger incident
  • be a grievance collector

Despite the ability to identify key traits, no one can reliably predict a mass murderer before they act. The warning signs that predict a violent tendency can be found in millions of people but very few will actually go to the extreme of harming another person.

However, the last trait, “grievance collecting,” is consistent enough among mass murderers that the public should be aware of its significance in predicting violent behavior. In case after case, the person pulling the trigger in a mass public shooting has kept a list of ‘wrongs’ against him and has difficulty in moving past the grievances he has with his employer, his co-workers, his family, his government, his life, and/or his God.

Dr. Willard Gaylin, psychiatrist, author, bioethicist

Dr. Willard Gaylin, psychiatrist, author, bioethicist

In his 2004 book, Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence, Psychiatrist and Bioethicist, Dr. Willard Gaylin describes the Grievance Collector:

A grievance collector will move from the passive assumption of deprivation and low expectancy common to most paranoid personalities to a more aggressive mode. He will not endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources.

Dr. Gaylin continues:

Grievance collectors are distrustful and provocative, convinced they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share.

Dr. Gaylin also points out that a grievance collector may have been truly wronged, which is oddly comforting because it confirms his overwhelming belief that his lot in life is to be the loser. In some cases the grievance collector has followed a process of appeal, which may be less about achieving resolution, but rather is an opportunity to confirm the list of wrongs against him culminating in the loss of the appeal. Workplace and family violence can sometimes occur soon after a legal or appeal process has reached a conclusion.

To prevent a grievance collector from becoming the next mass murderer, people should be sensitive to the friend, co-worker, or acquaintance who seems preoccupied with the unfairness of the world and how he has been made a victim. Critical warning signs could be a heightened interest in guns, and/or discussion of committing a violent act (even if it is delivered as a joke.) In some cases the person might withdraw from friends, co-workers, and family. This could be a sign that the person is contemplating violence and is in a spiral of self-justification that avoids an independent perspective on the situation.

Dr. Gaylin also suggests that the grievance collector often has a history of feeling inadequate that may have originated in family dynamics with a skewed distribution of love and attention to some children, but not others. Because the root of the issue may track back to childhood, the grievance collector may lack a basic ability to recover from a new injustice without extended psychological counselling. Ultimately, treatment may be the only option that avoids a body count.

(A special note of thanks to Dr. Larry Barton, Crisis Management and Violence in the Workplace expert. While not specifically quoted, much of my awareness of  violence in the workplace issues has been thanks to countless hours on the road with him and role-playing in his seminars.)