Inside the mind of a killer: What caused Hawkins to snap?

Yesterday a 19 y/o man named Robert Hawkins entered the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska with an AK-47 assault rifle and killed eight people before killing himself. News commentators have been discussing what happened and several are discussing the question of whether he was depressed and taking antidepressants. I think people feel better blaming antidepressant medication for these incidents because it is too frightening to accept that there are so many sociopaths (with the potential for violence) living among us.

Hawkins apparently had no arrest record prior to this event and was not known to be violent. At the time of the shooting he was living with the mother of a high school friend, Debora Maruca Kovac. He called her immediately before the shooting, saying he was, “sorry.” He also left a suicide note saying that he would now be “famous.” Ms. Kovac also said she took Hawkins into her home because, he “reminded me of a lost puppy that nobody wanted.” (Watch landlord describe phone call from shooter) Let this be a wake up call to those of us who have felt sorry for a suspected sociopath. Hind sight is always 20/20 when it comes to people who have the traits of sociopathy. Foresight is never as good.

Researchers have discovered that people with a lot of sociopathic traits fall into two groups. The first group are the “primary psychopaths.” Primary psychopaths are not neurotic, they are in fact immune to anxiety and depression. In his famous book, The Mask of Sanity, published in the 1940s, Dr. Hervey Cleckley described many people who were primary psychopaths.

In the 1980s, Dr. Robert Hare developed a widely used test called the PCL-R. He used Dr. Cleckley’s research to develop this test and his initial intent was to identify these primary psychopaths. The PCL-R has subsequently been used to assess thousands of people. Further research has identified a second group of psychopaths. These people have been called “neurotic,” and “secondary” psychopaths. Researchers who want to distinguish this group also call them sociopaths. This second group is much more common, than the first!

Neurotic or secondary psychopaths are more behaviorally impulsive and so are very prone to violence. This impulsivity also means they can’t control their emotions, so, different from primary psychopaths, these individuals experience a lot of negative emotions, anxiety, depression and anger. These emotions make others feel empathy for them.

Both primary and secondary psychopathy are caused by the human social dominance drive. In primary psychopathy this drive gives rise to a personality that has unshakable, high self esteem (grandiosity). Primary psychopaths perceive themselves as having status and ruthlessly pursue acquiring more status and defending the status they have. This is why they never admit fault and they are not able to experience shame.

Secondary psychopaths also have very strong dominance motivation. However, because they have poor impulse control, they have a hard time acquiring status and maintaining that unshakable grandiose view of themselves. When secondary psychopaths experience a status threat such as the loss of a job or love relationship, they are very likely to react violently; they also do not experience shame, but they do experience humiliation. While people who feel shame, submit and act remorsefully, people who feel humiliation blame everyone else and act aggressively.

Hawkins and his behavior fit the profile of a secondary psychopath. In the last two weeks, he reportedly lost his job and his girlfriend. Please understand that his desire to be “famous” reflects the abnormally high activity of his social dominance drive, as does his violent behavior. People who are not under the power of this drive shut down and feel shame/remorse when they have these setbacks.

The social dominance drive is behind all of man’s inhumanity to man. It is therefore very important that we learn as much as we can about it. Unfortunately there are very few researchers studying the role of dominance motives in human behavior. I know of only two in the United States. Furthermore, the role of dominance motivation in sociopathy/psychopathy is not acknowledged much. I hope to change that. I look forward to the day when news commentators stop talking about antidepressants as causing this behavior. It is only through acknowledgement and understanding of the dominance drive that we can begin to combat its effects.

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21 Comments on "Inside the mind of a killer: What caused Hawkins to snap?"

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Since sociopaths existed BEFORE there were “chemical laboratories” I would say that not all psychopaths or sociopathic killers were created by “mind altering drugs” cooked up in laboratories.

“Causation” is not proven by the fact that “all killers were in the hands of psychiatrists,” even if that were the case.

99% of all Heroin users ate cornflakes as children. Does that prove that Cornflakes cause heroin use? Of course not.

Yes, antipsychotic and other medications do alter the mind, and generally for the better, though this is an ongoing learning process in medicine. In earlier days people who were mentally ill were considered demon-possessed or killed or confined by society. Today, with the medications available many people live productive and happy lives with medication.

Psychiactriac medication is not perfect, but in only the last 10 years great strides have been made as the human genome has been cracked, and as improved scans have allowed us to know more of what is going on inside the human brain.

Just as immunizations have allowed most women to raise their childrenn in the western world free from the “childhood” diseases that ravaged our fore-mother’s families so that they could hope to raise only a few of their many children. These same immunizations do have rare side effects and one child in many may actually be harmed by the immunizations, but the millions of lives that are saved more than compensate for the rare side effect in the overall good of humanity.

Smallpox and polio have essentially been eliminated from our world. Diptheria, mumps, measles, typhoid and many other horrible diseases are now essentially unknown, and these are the diseases that as recently as 50 years ago killed or disabled many children every year. Yet, there are those that are violently opposed to vaccinating their children because they do not understand how important it is to protect not only their children but other children from these diseases.

While I believe there is a mix of genetic and environmental factors that make sociopaths/psychopaths what they are, the cameleon factor in them, in that they can appear “pitiful and needy” and prey on the sympathy and empathy of others “like a lost puppy no one wanted” makes others vulnerable to their scams, cons, and advantage-taking. While this unfortunate young man’s actions (killing at random in order to be “famous”) certainly appear sociopathic, I have no way of judging what his lifelong pattern of behavior has been so won’t go so far as to label him sociopathic. There could be many other factors that came into play. I am sure the media will ferret them out for exposure though. However he may have also have been bi-polar, or some other mental illness instead.

The main thing about a sociopath or psychopathic person is that they have a life long history of antisocial behavior, not just one random episode.

While his landlord did not expect this kind of behavior from him, at the same time she did know that he was having some problems. I think we do need to be aware, though,, that any human being can behave violently under the right circumstances and if someone is obviously not “doing well” they should be referred for profesional help ASAP. Before my retirement as an advanced practice nurse, I would never Rx an antidepressant medication unless the patient would also receive therapy on a regular basis. I communicated closely with the therapist as well.

I have a son who is a psychopath, who is in prison for murder. My biological father was a psychopath as well, so I am well acquainted with psychopathic violence. My son was and is quite capable of convincing people that he is a “poor pitiful” person who needs their syjmpathy and help…but it is for his own purposes of manipulating them for the things he wants. My biological father was the same way. Both had life-long patterns of manipulative behavior, not just one or two random “psychopathic” deeds.

I think it behoves us all (as a society) to learn to spot the sociopaths and psychopaths among us. It is only the very trusting and naive among us (and I include myself at one point in time) that are conned by these people for extended periods of time. Both my father (I wasn’t raised with him only met him when I was an adolescent) conned me, and so did my son—for years, because I hung on to malignant hope that I could “fix” him, stayed in denial that his behavior was sociopathic even when it should have been apparent to the dullest of people. Until even I could no longer deny that my son was beyond redemption and I had to accept reality, as painful as it was.

Learning to “spot the red flags” that they DO give off, to spot the cracks in their masks (and the masks can be quite good) and to SEE beyond the dark vision of the illusion that they project and give up the illusion that we can love them into normalcy.

I still believe in helping people who want help, but not in enabling people who only want to use you. But at the very first sign that a person is lying or any other “red flag” they are out of my life. Permanently. Even a number of small pieces of the sociopathic puzzle—even ones I can’t exactly put my finger on, more a gut feeling (and I believe our instincts are very good at spotting these people if we will listen to them) I distance myself immediately.

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