Paris Beheadings & Islamist Attacks on Love, Humanity, and God

Memes are information structures that inhabit the mind and inform action.  Memes are alive.  They reproduce in their host organisms, they spread from brain to brain.  Information structures evolve over time.  They can be symbiotic or predatory.

Understanding that meme-structures, information structures in the brain, can be predatory of other meme-structures is important.

Specific information structures in the attachment networks are damaged by trauma, resulting in characteristic sets of emotional responding and behavior patterns as a result of the damage.  The set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain are a pathogen, a trauma pathogen. The pathogen was born in trauma and it replicates trauma – it reproduces itself and spreads from mind to mind in its host organism – us.

The term “terrorism” is not accurate, the actions are not with the goal of inducing fear.  The actions are motivated by sadism, a gratification in causing our suffering – in their thought disorder, their delusions, they create a self-perception as a revenging angel of God, they are gratified by the suffering they cause to those who “deserve” to suffer.

Jews, Blacks, women, gays, you, me… whoever they place in the “them” of their thought disorder… we “deserve” to suffer for what we did… whatever they decide that is.

The set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks that create sadism, also create a characteristic set of thought processes, emotional processes, and actions.  The terrorist mind has three prominent features;

1. Absence of Shared Morality. The terrorist mind has lost its moorings in shared social morality, it is deviant in its extremism and not subject to reason or influence.

2. Absence of Empathy. The terrorist mind is adrift in a profound psychological isolation – the absence of empathy

3. Sadism. It is sadistic. The terrorist mind receives gratification from causing the suffering of others.

This pathogen was alive in Rome.  It was alive in the Crusaders of the middle ages.  It was alive in the French Revolution.  It was alive in World War II. 

It is alive now in the terrorist mind.  It is a trauma pathogen, a set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  The sadism is the rippling of sexual abuse trauma, that’s its origin.  It is a malignant and highly predatory meme-structure, it is is the structure of evil.

This particular strain of the Muslims in France is an especially virulent and nasty strain of the pathogen.  It is highly predatory of alternative and challenging meme-structures.  When it begins to run out of its capacity for self-control and self-regulation, it begins circling upon itself in self-accelerating loops of increasing extremism and intolerance – all ideas must be its ideas – any other ideas must die.

The instructions from their god-imago of the meme-structure is that no other god-imago is to be tolerated, and anyone who professes that god-imago must die.  That is the predatory nature of the meme-structure. It was in the Crusaders, it was in Robespierre, it is in the terrorist mind of the Paris pathological hatred and pathological violence.

Their god-imago has overwhelmed the boundaries of their psychological structure and they’ve been captured by the god-imago archetype emerging from their pathological orientation – I am the Lord thy God – Thou shalt have no God before me – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. 

No images of the Prophet are allowed. Notice that no mosque is decorated with pictures of people. Islam is a devout faith in its information structures of understanding and meaning.

But when distorted by trauma pathology, the pathogen unleashes its pathology in “religious” guise in the violence of “righteous” revenge for actions prohibited by their god-imago – whatever they decide that to be.

They are lost in damaged information structures that are distorted by the neuro-pathology of splitting (extreme polarization of perception into all-good and all-bad) by the trauma-induced suppression of the frontal lobe reasoning systems, and they are lost in the sadistic gratification in causing the suffering in others who they believe “deserve” to suffer.

They have lost perspective, the capacity for self-reflective insight, in their failed frontal lobe executive function systems for emotional self-regulation and rational self-perception. They have a thought disorder.

They are wrong.

Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Mathew 7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The pathogen is entirely absent the capacity for self-reflective insight – a frontal lobe executive function system.  The pathogen is a trauma brain, it has a characteristic set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain – damaged by trauma that ripples out from them to us, to cause trauma in others, and across into the generations to the children through the damaged parenting that the unresolved trauma creates.

The minds of the monsters in Paris are a product of a pathogen, a trauma pathogen.  It is the same mind as the Las Vegas shooter.  It is the same mind as in Parkland.  It is the same mind that blew up the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  It is the same mind as in the Cultural Revolution.

From Wikipedia: The Cultural Revolution was a sociopolitical movement in China from 1966 until 1976. Launched by Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, its stated goal was to preserve Chinese Communism by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Mao Zedong Thought as the dominant ideology in the CCP. The Revolution marked Mao’s return to the central position of power in China after a period of less radical leadership to recover from the failures of the Great Leap Forward, which led to approximately 30 million deaths in the Great Chinese Famine only five years prior.

From Wikipedia: The Cultural Revolution damaged China’s economy and traditional culture, with an estimated death toll ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million.  Beginning with the Red August of Beijing, massacres took place across China, including the Guangxi Massacre, in which massive cannibalism also occurred; the Inner Mongolia incident; the Guangdong Massacre; the Yunnan Massacres; and the Hunan Massacres.  Red Guards destroyed historical relics and artifacts, as well as ransacking cultural and religious sites.  Tens of millions of people were persecuted: senior officials were purged or exiled; millions were accused of being members of the Five Black Categories, suffering public humiliation, imprisonment, torture, hard labor, seizure of property, and sometimes execution or harassment into suicide; intellectuals were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted—notable scholars and scientists such as Lao She, Fu Lei, Yao Tongbin, and Zhao Jiuzhang were killed or committed suicide. Schools and universities were closed with the college entrance exams cancelled. Over 10 million urban intellectual youths were sent to the countryside in the Down to the Countryside Movement.

It is a trauma pathogen.  Trauma damages particular information structures in the attachment networks of the brain, it was born in trauma and it creates trauma as it replicates and moves from brain to brain – from host organism to host organism for the pathogen of trauma.

The Paris strain is especially malignant and predatory, it was only a matter of time before it showed up.  There is no treatment, it must be surgically removed from the common-mind of our humanity.  Our meme-structures must eliminate it, then we must stop its re-formation in the trauma that abounds.

Eradicating this trauma pathogen will be as hard as eradicating small pox or the plague. We must first understand the pathogen’s “molecular” structure so that we can develop an “anti-viral” agent to eliminate the pathogen and control it’s spread.

It is the trans-generational transmission of trauma, it transmits though the distorted parent-child bond created by the unresolved trauma in the parent.  The pathogen is a damaged set of information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.

We must restore healthy information structures in the attachment networks.

Which ones were damaged?  What needs to be restored?

Monsters in France – not the first time.  From monarchy to the Great Terror, its not the first time France has seen the pathogen arise. It lives among us all.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Guns or Mental Illness

Will gun control measures impact the expression of pathological anger and pathological violence?

Dr. Childress:  No.  Gun control measures will not impact the expression of the pathology.  When it activates, it will find a means.  Hardening targets and direct interruption prior to or during activation are the best way to address current risk factors from the pathology.

Are the actions of Parkland, El Paso, Dayton, and elsewhere, these episodes of mass violence and killing, are they a product of a mental health disorder?

Dr. Childress:  Yes.

Not formally in the DSM-5, but that’s because the DSM-5 is not current in its understanding regarding pathological anger and pathological violence.  I am confident future revisions, for DSM-5.1, will provide substantial additional consideration of a trauma-related pathology surrounding pathological hatred and violence.  In my current view as a clinical psychologist, these events are pathological, they are created by a “mental health” (psychological) problem with the person.

What is the mental health solution?

Dr. Childress:  There is no current solution, but there are paths to a solution.

Currently, professional psychology has no solution because they do not yet even recognize the existence of pathological anger and pathological violence as even being pathological… it’s considered to be on the normal-range spectrum.

According to our current psychiatric diagnostic system, the DSM-5, the mass killing of people because of their racial identity is simply a variant of normal, it is not a DSM-5 psychiatric pathology.  Of course it is pathological, the DSM-5 needs review and update their diagnostic formulations regarding pathological anger and pathological violence, of course it is pathological.

Mass killing random people in the community, while clothed in body armor and armed with substantial firepower, is not normal-range.  Of course it is pathological.  If there is no current DSM-5 diagnosis, I suspect that one will be developed by DSM-5.1.  Of course that is pathological.

Is racism a pathology?

Dr. Childress:  Yes.

The brain is biased toward in-group/out-group, and one of the organizing structures in our brain is race… however…. however… being a Dodger’s or Giant’s fan overrides race.  Whether someone is a Dodger’s or a Giant’s fan is more important than what race you are for the in-group/out-group identification system of the brain.

Must-must-must view: Sapolsky

When racism becomes associated with sustained anger and violence, that is pathological.   Being a Dodger’s fan overwhelms racism.  Sustained anger and violence is pathological, racism is a pathology.

Do media have an influence on pathological anger and pathological violence?

No.  Somewhat.

Violent video games have no impact.  The terrorist mind – isolated-alienated variant – may gravitate to violent-content video games, these games do not influence, they are a symptom expression.

Pathological anger and pathological violence finds support in social media outlets, and this support from like-minded psychology (the social-distribution feature of the trauma pathogen) can facilitate triggering of the pathogen into violent action.  The truck attack in Nice would likely be an example of this, as would likely be the Manchester and Boston Marathon bombings, and El Paso, these would all likely be examples of this social media support triggering activation of the violence (deferring to direct clinical interview of the surviving mass killer in El Paso).

Targeted online interventions may potentially hold promise for intervention-disruptions to the pathogen’s flow and enactment.

Where do you stand on gun rights?

I support the Second Amendment and the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution of the United States provided for the right to keep and bear arms as part of a well regulated citizen’s militia.  The reasoning was oriented to the world of their times, before shoulder launched missiles could shoot down passenger airlines that didn’t yet exist.  The Courts have recognized a reasonable public-safety limitation on absolute weapons ownership, no personal M-1 tanks, no personal surface-to-air missile system in your backyard.

Where the line is for that reasonable demarcation is for the Court to decide, the founders and framers of the Constitution also provided for three separate and co-equal branches of government, and it is to the Courts that matters of interpretation lie, and to the Legislative branch to define statute.  At one point we prohibited alcohol consumption, then decided better, these were both Legislative decisions, as was the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.  Legislative decisions.

Each branch is co-equal.  I respect the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

I am a personal gun owner for personal protection.

I do not hunt, I don’t kill animals for amusement.  If I don’t need to eat it, I typically try not to kill it.

Open carry laws have a reasonable argument for rights of self-protection, especially in the context of civilians as combatants, and especially in Western states with a more gun-oriented cultural understanding.  Open carry in Montana or west Texas is different than open carry in Manhattan or Chicago, I’ll let Texas decide on Dallas and Houston… and El Paso.

This is a matter for locals to decide, the well regulated militia of personal responsibility.  I would listen strongly to law enforcement for counsel on open carry laws.

Other nations have a more sane and rational relationship with weapons.  I respect the wisdom within the Constitution of the United States, there are three co-equal branches, the Second Amendment grants the (limited, no rocket launchers) right to keep and bear arms, in order to ensure a well regulated militia.

How that becomes interpreted in the days of stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, nuclear weapons, and terrorism becomes a matter for governments, and their branches, to decide.  When citizen’s become combatants in an a-symmetrical “war” of trauma and pathological violence, to what extent do they have the right of self-protection, for themselves and for their family?  Are their children at risk at the mall, at the movies?  Does response time of law enforcement require self-protection of family from threat of pathological violence?

Does self-protection raise the threat of bystander violence, how and to what degree?

What is the long-term solution?

The solution is found in professional psychology.  Until we have a substantial solution from professional psychology, the justice, police, and military responses will be required, and sustained hardening of targets is warranted.

Hardening of targets, however, is of only limited effectiveness, the target simply needs to shift to an alternative soft-target that serves the same function.  We cannot protect every child’s soccer game, every shopping mall, every line of people waiting for entry to the sporting events, backed up, waiting to pass through “security” that lay up ahead – our targets are ultimately too vulnerable – food system, water system, electrical grid, transportation networks.

The longer term solution is to identify the pathogen’s structure, as the CDC would do for a viral public health risk, and then to develop “anti-viral” workshop-oriented interventions for children of trauma to recover and restore normal-range healthy development, and that will interrupt triggering of trauma into pathological anger and pathological violence.

Identifying racism, antisemitism, misogyny, LGBTQ violence, war, as pathological, as a mental health psychiatric disorder recognized by the American Psychological Association, would represent a significant step forward for all of humanity into healthy psychological development.  There are roles for co-equal branches of government.  There are roles for the private sector, such as the American Psychiatric Association and the DSM-5.

Is pathological anger and pathological violence normal-range?  Or is Parkland, 911, El Paso, Las Vegas, Dayton a recognized pathology by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5.1?

Never anticipate you will have tomorrow.  Make sure today is complete.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

The Trigger

Don’t worry about the motive.  Look for the trigger.

I can explain the pathogen’s structure and variants, the issue becomes why did this brain trigger.  There is damaged empathy – lots of brains have that and they don’t trigger into acts of pathological violence.  There is damaged social morality – lots of brains have that, and they don’t trigger into pathological violence.  There is sadistic gratification in causing suffering…

That’s not common.

In fact, that’s very uncommon.  Our brains are naturally wired to feel-with the pain of others, activating a revulsion, the disgust tracts in the nervous system that make us draw back in horror, or activating attachment bonding networks motivating us to reach out and comfort in compassion.  When we see immense pain and suffering, we either pull away in horror (our disgust system), or we reach out to comfort (our empathy response).

We don’t… enjoy… the suffering of the other person.

That’s the sadistic line.  It has strong sexual abuse factors.  Shame is central on this line.  Sadistic shame is not a feature of many traumatized brains, I suspect the trigger is along this domain.  That’s where I would look.

Why?  Not why, the reason why the person did it.  Why now?  Why not yesterday, or the day before that?   Why not tomorrow?  Why… now.  When did that happen?  What was that like?

Look for the trigger, the activating trigger.  Why, no not that why; why this, why now?

There will be a lot of general reasons given – the reasons of justifying awareness.  They aren’t true.  He doesn’t know the trigger.  He’s not that self-aware.  You need to locate it.

We lost the Dayton shooter.  The suicide line is a strong-strong line with the pathogen.  It has to do with both despair and redemption – the sacrifice.  When a brain activates into pathological violence… and lives… that’s a valuable brain.  Don’t look for motive, look for trigger.

Why now, why today?  What’s the structure for triggering.

The reason we need to identify the triggers has to do with the solution, how we are going to deactivate the pathology.  We won’t be able to predict one-by-one which person is going to trigger into pathological violence, to then apply one-on-one interventions, not because we won’t be able to do it, we will, but because it will be way-mega too expensive to assess every child, and entirely impractical… and unnecessary.

If we understand the pathogen… and the trigger… we can develop prophylactic interventions in workshop activity formats that can be broadly delivered to address specific features of the triggering link… deactivating it on the child’s side, all children, through the workshop activity.

It wouldn’t be a psychotherapy designed to cure or heal pathology… it would be a prophylactic mental health trauma vaccine, in a workshop activity format.  A prophylactic curriculum designed to deactivate the triggering link, and prevent the pathogen’s eruption into malignancy.

Understanding the structure of the pathogen, its meme-structures, is analogous to identifying the properties of a public health virus in order to develop a vaccine, a set of countering and deactivating meme-structures that can be successfully delivered in a workshop curriculum.

But to get there, we need to know the triggering structure, not the motivational press.

This is not a pathology of fear and domination, those are superficial features in the service of sadistic gratification in causing suffering.  This is a pathogen of grief and shame, a trans-generational transmission of trauma.

Absence of empathy tells us where the damage is.  Absence of shared morality tells us what the damage is.  I suspect we’ll find the triggering meme-structures in the sadistic satisfaction found in causing suffering in others.  It’s the triggering structure we need to target for deactivation.

Interventions deactivating the triggering structures would be delivered in the context of attachment interventions (empathy) and intersubjective shared social connections (shared social morality), creating the comprehensive context for change.

Identify the triggering structures.  If we don’t deactivate the triggering, we won’t be able to deactivate the pathology.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857


El Paso & Dayton: Same

Are El Paso and Dayton the same pathology?

Dr. Childress:  Yes, pathological anger and pathological violence; the terrorist mind.

One is an act of racist hatred, the other an act of psychological alienation. They are both the same pathology, different variants – pathological anger and pathological violence.

Are Las Vegas, the Pulse nightclub, and Parkland the same pathology?

Dr. Childress:  Yes, pathological anger and pathological violence, the terrorist mind.

One is a lone act of random violence by an older man, one is an act of homophobic fear, one is a student shooting and killing fellow classmates.  They are all the same pathology, different variants – pathological anger and pathological violence.

Are the Boston Marathon bombing and Oklahoma City bombing the same pathology?

Dr. Childress: Yes, pathological anger and pathological violence, the terrorist mind.

One is religious oriented violence with foreign alignments against the public, the other is a domestic home-grown attack from a White, staunchly nationalistic American directed toward the government.  They are both the same pathology, different variants – pathological anger and pathological violence.

Are the Charleston church shooting and the Nice truck attack the same pathology?

Dr. Childress: Yes, pathological anger and pathological violence, the terrorist mind.

One is racist violence of hatred, the other is religious violence of distorted ideology.  They are both the same pathology, different variants – pathological anger and pathological violence.

Is 911 the same pathology as Columbine?

Dr. Childress: Yes, pathological anger and pathological violence, the terrorist mind.

One is a planned religious-motivated violent attack by foreigners against the country, the other is the act of mentally and emotionally unstable young American students targeting classmates they know.  They are both the same pathology, different variants – pathological anger and pathological violence.

The first step is to recognize the pathology, pathological anger and pathological violence – the terrorist mind.  The reason we have not recognized the pathology yet, is because we are still captivated in it.  We don’t see pathological anger and pathological violence… as being pathological.  We see it as a variant of “normal.”

From within our unresolved – and unseen – trauma, we consider pathological violence… normal.

War.  We consider war, normal.  It’s not.  It is deeply pathological violence and savagery.  It is not normal.  War is not normal, war is exceedingly pathological.  It is a mass insanity of trauma, savage violence, pathological violence.  It is not normal.

That is why, the first blog on the Terrorist Mind targets the “normalcy” of war.  It is not normal.  Yet we think that savage violence is normal… we even have a word for it… war.  We glorify it, we erect statues and tell stories.  Savage violence, is good when we do it to them.  We need to savagely brutalize whole categories of humans (the Germans, the Japanese, the Americans, the French, the “enemy”) because they are going to savagely brutalize us if we don’t do it to them first, and better.

We develop better and better ways to brutally savage our fellow humans, those we deem “the enemy” humans; developing airplanes that drop bombs, the V-2 rockets on London, the firebombing of Dresden, Hiroshima.  We have armored tanks, cruise missiles, rockets launched from drones by pilots thousands of miles away, like a video game, launching a bomb that explodes flesh, rips and tears bodies open, kills and maims other humans… because they “deserve” it – they are the “enemy” humans.

Acceptable savage violence.  Normal savage violence.

We remain still trapped in the pathology of trans-generational trauma – the rippling of trauma through generations – damaged empathy, damaged social community, damaged human bonding.

It is the same pathology, but we can’t see it because we are still the pathology.

The psychiatric diagnostic system of the American Psychiatric Association (the DSM-5) identifies pathologies of sadness, pathologies of anxiety, pathologies of motivation, pathologies of self-control, even pathologies of happiness (mania in bipolar disorder), yet there is no diagnosis for pathological anger or pathological violence.

We don’t see anger and violence as pathological.  It’s normal.  After all, isn’t war normal, when it’s our war, isn’t “defending ourselves” a good thing, defending ourselves against the “enemy” humans.  Of course it is.  We celebrate our violence, when it’s our violence against “them” – the human “enemy” – the “Germans” – the “Hindus” – the “Protestants” – the “Blacks” – them, the bullies, the others who have when I have none, the “enemy” humans, flexibly defined by our needs and fears and insecurities.

The enemy humans, violence against them is a good thing.  We need to protect ourselves, after all, of course we do, we need to protect ourselves from “them” – from the “enemy” humans – flexibly defined based on our needs and fears.

It is the same pathology; pathological anger and pathological violence, the terrorist mind.

In order to see the pathogen, we must first free ourselves from the pathogen.  We cannot see that which we are, the trans-generational transmission of complex trauma.

Once we see the pathogen, we can begin to identify its core structure and variants.  We cannot identify the structure of the pathogen until we first recognize there is a pathogen – a common set of damaged information structures in the brain – causing the pathology – causing pathological anger and pathological violence – there is a common set of damaged information structures that creates the terrorist mind.


How do we identify the core structure of the pathogen?

In genetics, they’re looking for LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, the life form that was the last common life ancestor to all the other forms of life.  They do this through several methods, one of which is to look at commonalities across the genetic codes of all life.  If all life has that strand of genetic code, it probably originated in LUCA, our last universal common ancestor of all life.

We too have a field population of “all life” for pathological anger and pathological violence, once we see the pathogen’s existence, once we free ourselves from our unresolved trans-generational trauma, once we’re free of the pathogen’s unseen hold on our psychology.  The method for identifying the pathogen’s structure is the same as for LUCA, identify the information-packages, the “genetic code” structures, common to all forms of pathological violence, then group variants by information-structure features.

The key is to first see that there is a single pathogen – Parkand, 911, Oklahoma City, El Paso and Dayton, Nice, the Boston Marathon, Las Vegas, the First Baptist Church in Texas, the Manchester bombing, Paris, Mumbai, Christ Church, Sandy Hook… pathological anger and pathological violence – the terrorist mind.

What is the “genetic structure” for a pathology?

A recognized genetic biologist, Richard Dawkins, wrote a landmark book on genetics, the Selfish Gene.  In this book, in Chapter 11, Dawkins introduced a new construct regarding the code-structure of information, he coined the construct of “the meme” to imitate “the gene” of biology.  A meme, according to Dawkins, is a coherent unit of information.

That is the unit for analysis in identifying the structure of a psychological pathogen, its information structure, its meme-structure.


In clinical psychology, there is a differentiation between content and process.  The content is what we talk about, the process is in how.  For therapy, and as a clinical psychologist, 90% of the valuable information is in process, not content.

What we talk about contains only 10% of the valuable information, process (how) contains the other 90% of both information and value.  Early career psychologists work heavily in content for minimal change and success.  Later career psychologists work more fully in the process, with much greater change and much greater success.

Content is safer for the therapist psychologically, process is more challenging because it requires greater self-authenticity.  Therapists start with content when they are anxious, they trust process as they develop comfort.

The units of process in psychotherapy – the meme-structures – are found in the themes of the pathology.  Themes, both large and small, the organizing themes for the issues, each reveals an underlying meme-structure of the pathology – internal working models of attachment – schemas of being with – our transference – a unit of our organizing structure.

Our brain is organized to make meaning of information, and the meaning we make reveals the imprint of the experiences that created those organizing structures.  The individual structures are recognized by their distinctiveness in individual psychology. The pathogenic structures are recognized by the commonality of their meme-structures across variants.

There are three common information-structures, meme-structures, to the pathogen of the terrorist mind:

  1. A profound absence of empathy.
  2. A failure of shared morality.
  3. A sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

El Paso: a profound absence of empathy, a failure in shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

911: a profound absence of empathy, a failure of shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

Parkland: a profound absence of empathy, a failure of shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

Paris: a profound absence of empathy, a failure of shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

Mumbai: a profound absence of empathy, a failure of shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.

Christ Church: a profound absence of empathy, a failure of shared morality, a sadistic gratification in causing suffering.


It is the same pathogenic structure across all cases of pathological anger and pathological violence; the terrorist mind.

The first step is to see the pathogen.  We cannot see the pathogen as long as we are captured by it.

World War I was mass insanity, pathological anger, pathological violence.  World War II was mass insanity, pathological anger, pathological violence.  And in truth, there is no such thing as “war” – that is a politely said pathological euphemism for extreme human savagery, brutality, and human cruelty to other humans. .

We are family.  Have you forgotten?

We come from one source, we are people from a single tribe, we are a people of a shared humanity.  We are family.

There is no enemy in our family, there is pathology, there is treatment.

We cannot see the pathogen until we are no longer captured by the pathogen; pathological anger and pathological violence is never normal.  Then begin to identify the common structures.  Group the structures into their variants, variants of damaged empathy, variants of damaged social morality, variants of sadistic-shame.

Each of the pathogen’s main structural lines for the Terrorist Mind (1. absence of empathy, 2. absence of shared morality, 3. sadistic gratification from causing suffering) will unlock a door.

It is the same pathology, the same trauma pathogen.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857.




Sadism, Pathological Anger and Pathological Violence

I belong to a Congregational Christian church.  Every Sunday between the 8 and 10 services the church offers an Adult Education talk for those parishioners leaving the 8 o’clock service or for those arriving early for the 10 o’clock one.  I was that talk today.

I spoke on The Terrorist Mind: Domestic Terrorism.  Here is the handout from that talk.

The Terrorist Mind: Domestic Terrorism

We need to re-develop how we conceptualize the pathology.  It is not “terrorism”, the pathology is one of pathological anger and pathological violence.  It is on the anger-violence line, not the fear-terror line (although the fear-terror line is prominent in origins and expression of the trauma pathology).

If we continue to trace origins into the anger and violence, we will enter the fear and terror line.  If, however, we trace the – pathological – lines (process not content), we enter sadistic gratification in causing suffering as the the reinforcer, drive gratification, object goal, of the action (a focus on cause not content of the act).  Sadism is a twisting of the fear-terror lines, creating subsequent prominent overtones of power, control, and domination.  When we follow the pathological lines of anger and violence we enter sadism, power, and control.

It is my habit when entering into any field to turn to source material.  For example, with depth-psychology I’ve read all of Jung (and Freud), all of Joseph Campbell, the Golden Bough, the Iliad, and Julian Jaynes.  When entering sadism, source material is the Marquis de Sade.  So I bought his book and began to read.

I’ve only finished about a quarter of it, and it’s been idle for about a year now.  I think I’m done and I don’t anticipate going back.  It was slow going.  I had to take it in small doses and then back out and cleanse my psychological being for a bit before re-encountering another piece of the pathology.  Part of the pathology is to indulge in the absence of boundaries as an expression of identity, with strong lines of shame and degradation as the absence of boundaries.

de Sade was exposing the horrors of his pathology – the horrors of the pathogen.  He did such an exceptional job of exposing the pathogen of shame and violence within him that we named that pathogen for his description of it – sadism.  It is a vile and disgusting pathology – it is the sex abuse pathogen joined with the violence pathogen, and the damage to empathy systems is extreme and twisted by shame.

In the first quarter of his book he is describing the “philosophy” through his descriptions of the character-actors in his upcoming drama, and then the preparations for the self-indulgent display of an absence of all boundaries on shame and degradation, with gratification through violence and suffering as the pathology.

Once he began to enter the indulgence of indulgent descriptions of self-indulgence, it became repetitive, i.e., self-indulgent of his self-indulgence, wallowing in his – and our – shame, degradation, and humiliation.  For that was his point… de Sade’s exposure of his degradation and shame was not only his statement about him – it is imposing his shame and degradation onto us.

In simply reading his filth, I became filthy.  He did that knowingly to the reader.  He knew someone was reading his words, so he gave us his vile filth, and he knew it.  I’m a clinical psychologist, I’m on the trail of the pathogen.  His filth is the pathogen.  I would take a dose, process it, move it through and cleanse it, and then return for the next exposure.  He was exposing the pathogen, and he knew that too.  His mind was destroyed by the pathogen.  He knew that.

He was doing something phenomenal, he was exposing the trauma pathogen.  We – the world – are the source of the pathogen, it is the combination of the violence trauma with sexual abuse trauma – power, control, and domination and  gratification in causing suffering as the twisted damage to empathy (compassion).  We inflict this trauma onto our children.  We are the ripples of what was done to our parents, to our grandparents, to our great-grandparents… trauma ripples through the generations through the parenting practices it re-creates.  We create the trauma in child abuse.

This is the line of de Mause and the History of Childhood and Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World.  Child abuse trauma moves through generations in the parenting practices it creates with each new generation.  What the Marquis de Sade was doing was exposing the pathogen that had destroyed his mind, and the mind of the world.  This is the world of the French Revolution and the guillotine, the Terror… and the Great Terror.  This is the world of the pathogen’s trauma, that produced monarchies, starvation, and Robespierre, the world of pathological violence, fear and terror, gratification in creating suffering, because they “deserve” to suffer, and because I can, power, control, and domination.

The pathogen has a long history of moving through generations, from the Crusades and burning times, back further into Roman oppression, more recently rippling as World War I and World War II.  Now in the days of the terrorist, in the bombing in Manchester, in the savagery of 9/11, the Parkland trauma, the organized shootings in Paris and random acts in Nice and Las Vegas; trauma rippling through generations.

Acts of terrorism are not motivated by the desire to cause fear, they are motivated by the desire to cause suffering – a cold and sadistic gratification in creating suffering in others.  Calling the pathology “terrorism” misunderstands the core of the pathology.

The pathogen is larger than fear and terror, it is pathological hatred and pathological violence, it is along the anger spectrum of pathology – the gratification in causing suffering – the twisting of empathy.

We need to define “terrorism” more broadly, within the larger pathology of pathological anger and pathological violence.  Acts of “terror” are acts of anger and violence that have their foundations in sadistic self-shame and damaged empathy, both born in complex trauma.  The source of the terrorist mind is in damaged empathy and social bonding networks in the attachment system of the brain (the love and bonding system of the brain).

The Las Vegas shooter, the Parkland school shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the shootings at workplaces in San Bernardino and Virginia Beach, and at churches in Texas and South Carolina, are all variants of a single pathogenic source – a trauma pathogen born in violence and sexual abuse, rippling through generations in the parenting practices it creates – trauma to empathy, trauma to bonding, trauma in the information structures of the attachment system.

We cannot understand the terrorist mind by applying our own normal-range psychology of anger and violence.  Our minds are not pathological.  The terrorist mind is not on a continuum of anger and violence, they are apart.  That is tracing the pathological line into sadism; the gratification in causing suffering and the descent into vile shame and degradation.

The pathogen of the terrorist mind in all its variations shows up in three features:

1.)   The Absence of Empathy. 

Yet it’s more.  Because the sadist does have empathy, they do feel what their victims feel, their suffering… the thing is… they enjoy the feeling.  We are not pathological.  We have normal human empathy networks.  Our empathy networks are repulsed by suffering.  The empathy networks damaged by this pathogen are gratified by suffering in others.  That’s a critical feature of pathological anger and pathological violence in the damaged empathy networks… in what way they are damaged.

The empathy networks are twisted 180 degrees opposite, into gratification rather that repulsion.  What’s missing is compassion.  There is an absence of compassion to the empathy of pathological anger and pathological violence.  That’s the sociopathic line, the capacity for extreme brutality.  When the cold brutality of no compassion is added to the twisted empathy of gratification… the pathogen is created in the attachment networks of the brain… and it moves as an organized constellation of trauma networks from generation to generation through the parenting practices it creates.

2.)  Absence of Shared Morality.

The absence of shared morality reflects the damage to the intersubjective networks from the child abuse attachment trauma.  There are two brain relationship systems, the attachment system for emotional bonding and the intersubjective system of psychological connection (Stern, Tronick, Siegel).  The trauma that creates the terrorist mind destroys the capacity for intersubjectivity, leading to two symptom variants, tremendous self-alienation and social alienation, and a social fusion into cult-like shared psychological states that lack boundaries of autonomous self-experience; they are entirely isolated psychologically, or they are entirely fused to a narcissistic leader (thereby absorbing the narcissistic inflation of the leader).

Within the social distribution of the shared psychological fusion, the cult may have a shared morality, and it will be one to justify and condone the pathological anger and pathological violence.  This shared morality will demean and degrade the target – the shame line of the pathology – and elevate the importance and “cleanliness” of the in-group – as the organizing morality for the group.  The pathological morality of the terrorist mind is not contained within a broader shared morality of normal-range human empathy and compassion – a normal and healthy attachment system.  The morality of the cult is pathological.

The act of the terrorist mind is evil.  It is outside of a shared human morality.

3.)  Sadism & Shame.

Sadism is created by the fusion of violence trauma with sexual abuse trauma.  This is the devastating addition from the sex abuse pathogen, the shame and violence fusion.  This is the descent on the pathological lines.

The Marquis de Sade was a vile entity.  His exposure and transfer of degradation to the reader should not be endured by anyone without a purpose in absorbing his pathogen.  I am a clinical psychologist, I had a need to go there.  Indeed, I think at a pre-conscious level he knows this.  He is speaking to clinical psychology that was not in his world, but would eventually come.  Someone will eventually come into the madness of the trauma, he wanted to provide understanding, he was exposing his pathology of shame and violence.

It is a primitive form of empathy.  We make other people feel the way we feel.  If I’m feeling frustrated, I’ll make you feel frustrated.  If something you said hurt my feelings, I’ll say something to you to hurt your feelings.  It is a primitive form of empathy, “I’ll make you feel the way I feel.”  de Sade knows the reader is reading, and he is transferring his degradation and shame onto and into us, as his most primitive form of cry from his horror, a cry for empathy, he will create in us the horror of his darkness.

We cannot transpose our minds onto the terrorist mind.  The information structures in the terrorist mind are not along the same continuum as a normal-range mind – the information structures in the attachment networks are so severely damaged that they act in alternate and deeply pathological ways.

Unlocking the terrorist mind requires a deeper understanding for the nature of pathological anger and pathological violence and the damage within the information structures of the attachment system.  The terrorist mind lives in a world that is not ours, their brain is damaged in empathy, and there is a sadistic line of deep disturbance.

The “terrorist” act is not an act of terror, it is an act of sadistic gratification from causing suffering, it is an anger-violence pathology, it is a delusional-psychotic pathology of pathological shame.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857A


New Zealand

The pathogen is global.  It is in the human brain.  A set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  Damaged by childhood abuse and trauma. 

This set of damaged information structures ripples through the generations, carried in the distorted parenting practices it creates.  The manifestation of this trauma pathogen takes a variety of forms, but always with the same core line – an absence of empathy – sadistic cruelty – and an absence of shared morality.

Woven into the pathogen’s fabric is the influence of shame.  It is through the shame line that we enter the world of sadistic cruelty.

The attack on humanity that occurred in New Zealand is not ideological, it is psychological.  It is not merely racist, it is pathological.  It is pathological hatred, a trauma pathogen contained in the attachment networks of the brain; damaged information structures, damaged by childhood trauma.

The Brain of Childhood Trauma

The brain created in childhood trauma is different than the brain that bonds in attachment.  The childhood trauma brain is even different than the brain that forms attachment and then is traumatized, such as through war exposure.  Trauma delivered in adulthood is delivered to a mature brain. Trauma delivered during childhood forms the brain.

The brain that contains the trauma pathogen (a specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain) functions differently than one that doesn’t have this damage.  The constellation of damaged information structures affects the psychology of the person, but not in overtly obvious ways… but childhood trauma does things to the psychology of the brain’s organization.

The person whose brain contains the trauma pathogen is fear-oriented and threat based.  Its organization is around anxiety and threat management.  That’s the schema-pattern formed by exposure to childhood trauma; threat and danger.

For the rest of us with undamaged (non-trauma) attachment networks, our orientation is toward social bonding and social cooperation.  The attachment system is the brain system governing love and bonding.  It is a goal corrected motivational system, meaning that it always maintains the goal of forming an attachment bond.

Goal corrected motivational system.  What happens in the attachment networks when that goal of bonding is met with abuse and trauma?  The goal of bonding becomes twisted back upon itself.  No longer does bonding extend into the world, instead the world is threatening and dangerous.  The ports of attachment to the social world of the human community are blocked by the dangers of childhood trauma.

Instead of being psychologically organized toward social engagement, the traumatized brain of childhood becomes organized around fear and threat.

It is a different brain, the brain that carries the trauma pathogen, the set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks.  One of the primary features of the trauma brain is that it shuts off contact with the social community.  It shuts off love and bonding, because it’s afraid.

Attachment bonding occurs in the context of safety and psychological vulnerability.  The brain formed in the crucible of childhood trauma is never safe, it can never relax into a psychologically vulnerable state.  The childhood trauma brain is cut off from attachment bonding.

This creates a profound loneliness in the psychology of the traumatized brain.  The brain of childhood trauma wants love, desperately wants love, because the attachment system is a primary motivational system of the brain, it always motivates us to seek love from our social community.  But the inherent fear and threat orientation of the childhood trauma brain cuts it off from the binding state of safety and security needed for bonding to the social community.

The brain formed in childhood trauma is cut off and alone, but the trauma brain doesn’t realize this because it only knows its own experience.  It doesn’t know what it’s like to live bathed in the love of the human community – because the love of a parent is the doorway to that community, and that doorway was shut.  They are psychologically alone.  Devastatingly alone.  And yet, they don’t know that because they don’t know differently.

Suffering and No Escape

Their profound isolation is immensely painful.  But they can’t identify the source of their pain.  They know it has something to do with others, a need that isn’t being gratified.  But a need for what?  They don’t understand that their brains are different because of the childhood trauma and the fear orientation that trauma creates.  They don’t realize that they don’t have access to the bonding connection areas, the ports of entry into psychological union, because of the fear-based orientation of their brains.

The chronically elevated fear and threat perception of the traumatized brain shuts it off from the ports that bond to others.  Those ports are available only when the person is safe and secure.  The trauma brain never feels safe and secure, because that was a central line of the damage caused by the trauma, to primal safety and security.

Trauma is fear.  The ripple of trauma is anxiety and elevated threat perception.  Fear and anxiety block access to the ports of attachment to others that require vulnerability, trust, and safety.

As a result, they are alone; forever alone.  Alienated from the social community with no path available to us, blocked by the inherent fear-based organization of their childhood trauma brain.  It is immensely painful for them, and they cannot figure out why.  Just that it has something to do with the human community, with us.  We’re hurting them in some way that they can’t figure out.

So they look for and create reasons.  The most obvious reason for them to grasp on is that other people are bad and malevolent in some way.

“That’s why it hurts, because “they” are bad people who are doing bad things to me.” 

All of them? 

“No, because then I am alone, and I desperately don’t want to be alone.  That’s what hurts so much, my loneliness.  So not all of them, just the “bad” ones.  There are other, “good” ones, who won’t hurt me.  My allies.”

So sometimes they seek their groups of outsiders; us (the “good” ones) against them (the “bad” ones).  Sometimes they remain alone, trying to fit in… but being unsuccessful because always, inside, there is a tremendous loneliness, a great pain they cannot identify and cannot escape… and it has something to do with us.

Racist hatred, antisemitism, and misogynistic violence against women are all products of this trauma pathogen.  The racist-antisemitic organization of childhood trauma channels fear into power in various forms; anger, hatred, contempt, and the assertion of dominance over the targeted group who supposedly represent “a threat.”  Anger is the emotion of power.  Hatred and contempt amplify the power of anger.  Pathological anger and assertion of dominance over the perceived threat manages the incessant inherent fear of the trauma brain.

The attachment brain is not organized by fear.  It is organized by bonding.  It is not blocked by fear but is instead motivated toward joining in collaboration, toward bonding and attachment in the human community.  It is a relaxed brain.  It is a brain at peace.  It is a different brain than a brain formed in childhood trauma.  The trauma brain is organized around fear and threat management.

The violence of pathological anger and the terrorist mind is created by fear in the developmental crucible of childhood attachment trauma.  The violence is an effort to manage the fear of the trauma brain.  But there is more.  There is the shame line created in childhood trauma.  The abused child internalizes the rejection:

“I am fundamentally bad and unlovable; that’s why I’m being abused.”

With child sexual abuse, the internalization of the abuse by the child includes a line of shame; a damage to the soul.  Hidden shame is the hidden line of causality in the terrorist mind of pathological hatred.  Shame intertwined with pathological hatred created in the crucible of childhood trauma becomes the volatile psychological alchemy of the terrorist mind.

Does that mean the shooter was sexually abused as a child?  No, not necessarily.  The pathogenic damage is to the information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  This pattern of damage is then transmitted through generations by the distorted parenting practices created by the damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the trauma brain.

In each generation of attachment bonding the damaged attachment networks are transmitted to the next generation through the distorted parenting practices created by the damaged information structures of the attachment networks.  It takes about four to six generations for the ripple of trauma to fade from influence, with each generational iteration becoming less severe in the pathology it creates.

In the terrorist mind, the shame line of motivational organization is strongly indicated, suggesting sex abuse trauma within a generation or two of the perpetrator; either to the perpetrator directly or to the parent of the perpetrator, possibly a grandparent.

It’s the expression of buried self-shame that creates the sadistic motivational line to the terrorist mind; the gratification received in causing the suffering of others.  The pathological hatred is a response to fear, it’s the buried shame that is the source of sadistic cruelty, the gratification taken in causing suffering in others.

It is not a pleasant psychological place of study for me, it is distasteful to empathically understand.  I am only partially down the path of sadistic violence and shame, and I want to go only as far as is needed and no further.  It is not a pleasant place.

It is a primitive form of empathy. 

“I am making you feel the suffering that I feel – because you don’t love me; because I am unlovable.  You make me suffer and there is no escape from the pain you cause me.  I will make you suffer and you will have no escape from the pain I cause you.  You will feel my pain and suffering.  You will be unable to escape, as I am unable to escape.  I will make you understand my suffering.  It feels good that you understand my suffering.  Your suffering feels good to me.”

It is the “your suffering feels good to me” line that opens into sadistic violence.

At it’s core, it is a primitive form of empathy; I will make you feel what I feel.  What feels gratifying to them is the empathy – a primitive form of understanding for their suffering.  I will make you feel what I feel.  What becomes horrific are the means of obtaining this primitive empathy from others, the creation of cruel suffering in others.  No empathy.

In our shared pain we provide an empathy for their suffering, they find release from their trauma by creating our suffering.

The shame line is the dangerous one, and it’s hidden.  The hatred of pathological anger (the trauma brain organized by fear and anxiety) creates the emotional context for the violence, the hidden shame of childhood trauma creates the sadistic line of gratification and pleasure (release) in creating the suffering of others.

The racist-antisemitic strain is against “them” – the other; the misogynistic strain of violence toward women is against “her” – the mother.  Misogynistic violence against women is more directly a psychological expression against the “bad mommy” of the childhood attachment trauma – a violent hatred and retaliation against women because the perpetrator vaguely identifies the source of their psychological pain as being associated with women (the “bad mommy” of the attachment trauma).

The racist-antisemitic line sees its full expression in the vile pathology of the Holocaust, the misogynistic strain in the psychopathology of the burning times.  In 2019 the trauma of racist pathology ripples in Christchurch, and of misogyny in the sex trafficing of children.  In 1917 we were using mustard gas on each other in Europe in an “authorized” war – as a society we were doing that.  We are making progress. 

But it is a hidden pathogen, child abuse and trauma, and it’s never far away.  It’s next door in the abuse of Intimate Partner Violence, in the “cultural” domination, enslavement, and gender violence directed against women, in the racism we allow without rebuke.  The trauma pathogen is in our schools, in Parkland and Sandy Hook.  It’s in our cities, Paris, New York, London, and Christchurch.  The pathogenic agent of childhood trauma is found in our places of worship, in Charleston and a baptist church in Texas.

No Shared Morality; Evil

The pathogen created in childhood trauma damages a specific set of information structures in the attachment networks of the brain, which then leads to a profound psychological isolation of the person – an inner alienation from the human community – caused by the fear-based orientation of the trauma brain.  It sees threat; not love, not bonding.  It is forever apart, forever alone, held apart by fear.

The psychological self-experience of alienation from others that is characteristic of the fear orientation of a traumatized brain, an alienation even when surrounded by others, even when offered love, is reflected in the absence of shared morality.  They may sometimes form groups, the allies of like mind to relieve their isolation, but there is no social morality.

This is a pathology of right and wrong and the absence of shared morality.  It is the pathology of evil.  It cannot be comprehended by an attachment brain because the trauma brain is different, it is not the attachment brain.  The attachment brain moves toward bonding and social community.  The trauma brain is isolated from others by fear.  It is tremendously alone.  It suffers always, with no escape, because the ports of bonding are closed by fear.

And there is the shame, the buried inner shame of childhood trauma.

Morality becomes twisted by the fear into a justification for cruelty:

“They” are a threat.   “They” are causing my pain.  “They” deserve to suffer. 

That is the morality of the terrorist mind of pathological hatred.  In crossing that line into “they deserve to suffer” a psychological threshold is crossed into the violence of pathological hatred; the KKK driving the back roads in a pickup truck looking for a black person to lynch.  The husband beating his wife because his dinner is cold and she “deserved it.”  The genocides of people, from first nation tribes, to Stalin’s starvations, to the Armenian genocide, and the Jewish Holocaust, because they “deserved” to suffer.  In Christchurch and Orlando, and Parkland, and Nice – someone deserved to suffer. 

It is the same pathogen, a specific set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  The same pathogenic agent in different clothing.  The sadistic line of buried shame added to the pathological violence of fear… “They deserve to suffer.”

The Protector Role

The trauma brain self-adopts the protector role of their trauma reenactment narrative. They believe they are protecting “us” (psychologically, themselves as a child) from a threat that no one sees, the trauma brain sees itself as protecting “us” from “them” (psychologically, protecting themselves as a child from the perpetrator of their own child abuse – their hidden childhood abuse and trauma).

“I am protecting us from the threat that you are too blind to see.  Only I see the treat posed by them.  It’s a hidden threat that no one sees.  Except me, and I’m protecting us.” 

The trauma organized brain recognizes that it is somehow different from the rest of us, that we don’t seem to be responding to the pervasive fear the trauma brain experiences, a generalized all-pervading perception of threat that they very much experience every waking moment.  We don’t seem to be afraid, and the trauma brain cannot understand that, but it accepts that something is different.  It doesn’t fit in.

It tries to fit in, but its ports of bonding are closed by anxiety and fear.  The ports of attachment bonding require a psychological state of safety and vulnerability that the trauma brain never enters.  They can’t join with us psychologically because their generalized fear and threat perception blocks their bonding ports for attachment, which requires a relaxed and secure psychological state of vulnerability.

They know something is not right, that they don’t fit in, but they cannot understand why we’re not responding to the “threat” that they perceive —  a perception of generalized threat they feel, that is created by the fear-based orientation of their traumatized brain.  In an effort to make sense of their fear they create a cause of threat in “them” and a belief surrounding why no one sees it – a thematic recreation for the unseen abuser of their childhood trauma; no one saw, only the child knew of the abuse.

This leads them to see themselves as special, as the specially appointed “protectors” – protecting us from the threat that they perceive, but is not seen by others.  Oklahoma City.  Christchurch.  Baader Meinhoff.  White nationalism.  The belief in a hidden danger that they must act to protect “us” from; the threat that they alone perceive and to which we are blind (no one ever saw their abuse).  They are protecting “us” from danger.

Recovering Our Children (of all ages)

Pathological violence and the terrorist mind is the product of a trauma brain.  It contains a particular set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  These damaged information structures in the attachment networks create a characteristic set of symptoms found in the pathology of pathological violence and the terrorist mind.  It is an attachment trauma pathogen moving through generations.  It is a problem in the love and bonding system of the brain; the attachment system.

Once we understand the damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain that are shutting down access to the ports of social connection, then solutions emerge.  There are ways to free the trauma brain of its fear-based orientation and reopen the ports of entry into attachment bonding. 

We can address the damaged information structures created by childhood trauma, and we can open the ports of social connection with our children – all of our children, everywhere –  no matter how old they may be now.

Freud noted that childhood trauma keeps the brain stuck at the developmental period of the trauma, a developmental stuckness he called fixation.  There’s a brain-based reason that the trauma brain becomes stuck at the developmental level of when the trauma occurred.  It’s waiting for us to come fix things.

I don’t care what the chronological age of the person is, the trauma brain is a child’s brain waiting for us to come and rescue it.  That’s what fixation is.  The brain stops and is waiting for us to come fix things.   In trauma it is a fearful brain that lacks the capacity for bonding.  The attachment networks are turned inward upon themselves, creating a tremendous experience of profound psychological loneliness with no escape.  The trauma brain cannot find bonding to us.  We must find bonding to it, to our children, no matter what their chronological age.

During childhood and young adulthood our normal-range attachment organized brains all move on with our  growth and development.  The trauma brain doesn’t.  It remains trapped in its “child of fear” and its immense loneliness, with no rescue, with no end to the suffering, waiting for us to rescue and recover the child from trauma.

They pretend to be like us, because they want to be like everyone else; they desperately want to be loved, to be bonded to the human community.  But the fear-based orientation of their trauma brain is shutting down the ports of attachment bonding, because these ports require a psychological state of safety and security and a brain formed in childhood trauma never feels safe and secure.

Their development has become stuck; fixated.  Their brains are waiting for us – the loving other – to come and provide an emotional and psychological nurture – called empathy.  Empathy is the human connection that releases the brain from its fear.  It is the port of attachment.  Empathy is another word for love. 

But its not love from the outside in, it’s love that starts on the inside and moves out.  Empathy is our joining them on the inside, with their suffering; a shared suffering.  Empathy is love that has its source in the other person, in their experience.  This is the release for the trauma brain.  Human contact.  Somebody who comes to find them; because we love them and they are important to us.

Are our children important to us?  That’s a question of importance.

Right now, the answer I see is, no… our children are not important to us.  Only some of our children: only “my” children, not “their” children.

Solutions for the terrorist mind and pathological hatred will not be found in police or military efforts, although protective efforts are essential.   This is an incredibly dangerous pathogen.  But there is no protection against Christchurch, or Manchester, or Las Vegas, or Sandy Hook, or Parkland, not once the trauma brain is activated to sadistic expression of the pathogen.  The trauma brain is too widespread among us.  It’s not in them, it’s in us. 

Whether it is from our personal childhood trauma or the ripple of trauma from our parents (or grandparents), transmitted through the distorted parenting created by the trauma damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain, the pathogen of attachment trauma surrounds us hidden and unseen… “He seemed so normal, and nice.  I don’t understand what made him suddenly do something like this.”

Nor will solutions be found in social programs of bringing resources and economic development to those in need.  External support is wonderful, but it is through the empathy of human psychological connection, not through things, that we unlock the trauma brain and release it from its fear-reactive orientation.  The trauma brain waits for us, for our love, not for our things.

If people need things, then empathy for suffering generates the things needed to stop their suffering.  The source is empathy.

When your suffering is my suffering, then oh my goodness we need to end this right away; not because it is happening to you but because it is happening to me as well.  You are not alone… because I love you; I have empathy for you. 

When bad things happen to my child, that is just as horrible (perhaps more so) than when the bad thing happens to me.  If my child is suffering, my entire motivation is on making it stop. 

Our children are suffering.  But no one cares.  We are busy.  We have “our own children” to raise.  These other children, they’re not as valuable as “our” children.  We’re busy.  What can we do?

That creates the trauma brain of child abuse; abandoning the children to their trauma.  No one cares.  The child’s brain remains fixated in fear, waiting for us to come rescue them… we’ll come because we care.  But we don’t care, because that’s not “my” child.

We should never abandon any child to their trauma.   Every child – every human – is of value.  We need to find a way.

Every child is important, except to the shooter in New Zealand, to the Manchester bomber, to the killers in Paris, to the Las Vegas shooter, to the nations of WWI and WW2, to the gulags of the UntitledSoviet Union, to the brutality of ISIS and extremism, to the lynchings of blacks in the South… to the terrorist mind of pathological hatred. 

In these brains, “the child” housed in their victim is not valuable. There is no empathy.

We reap what we sow; the absence of empathy. When we abandon children to child abuse and trauma, evil has fertile soil to grow in the psychology of the traumatized brain.

Childhood trauma creates characteristic damage to a set of information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.  One of the areas of primary damage is to the empathy networks.  The absence of empathy is the cause of child abuse, and damage to empathy is the resulting product of child abuse, and the trauma pathogen is transmitted across generations though the distorted parenting practices it creates.

The trauma brain is not like our brain. That’s why the motivations of the trauma brain seem so odd and incomprehensible to us.  How is it possible to do something so horrific? 

Because that brain was forged in childhood trauma, and no one ever cared enough to recover that child from their trauma, releasing them to join us in the human community… because we didn’t care about that child.  That child wasn’t valuable.

This is not a war on terror.  The insanity of war is this pathogen in all its full glory.  This is a psychopathology, a vile, cruel, and evil psychopathology born in the crucible of childhood trauma.  We need to rescue our children.  Their brains created in trauma wait for us to come and release them to join us in the shared human community; into an attachment organized brain of bonding and social integration.

Because we love them and they are valuable.  All of our children.  Even you.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857


Parkland Florida.  Seventeen children dead, twenty wounded.  The deep sorrow of parents.  Our hearts grieve with the parents of Parkland Florida.  A mindless insanity of immense suffering.  Our hearts break with yours. 

This pathogen is at the core of evil.

The pathology of the Parkland Florida shooter is located in a terrorist mindThe Parkland Florida school shooting is a terrorist act of pathological anger and pathological violence.

Technically, the Parkland Florida school shooting probably won’t be classified as a “terrorist” act because it lacks a political agenda.  But the presence or absence of an expressed political agenda is merely a superficial feature of the pathology.  The core of the terrorist mind is the same in the Parkland Florida shooting, in the Las Vegas shooting, in the Manchester bombing, in the Orlando shooting, in the Boston marathon bombing.  These are all variants of pathological violence.

I would define acts of traditional terrorism that are couched in a political agenda and the school shooting in Parkland Florida that is more clearly mental illness as being variant forms of the same pathological anger and pathological violence.

Pathological violence has an isolated mind variant and a group-mind variant, but it is the same core pathogen of pathological anger and pathological violence.

The construct of “terrorist” needs to be more fully conceptualized.  The goal of the terrorist mind is not to create terror, its goal is to create immense suffering.  The fear created by the terrorist mind is a byproduct of the power-control dimension of the pathology, but the primary motivational goal is not to create fear, the desire of the terrorist mind is to create immense suffering.

The pathogen creating the shooter’s motivations, distorted thinking, and horrific actions are the damaged brain networks that twist into deep sadness into pathological anger and pathological hatred.

The act creates immense suffering.  That’s the motivational goal.  Unlocking the origins of this motivational goal will be found on a sadistic line.  Understanding the pathology of sadism is key to unlocking pathological violence.  The terrorist mind WANTS to create immense suffering, and it receives gratification in creating immense suffering.

The pathology of pathological violence and the terrorist mind displays in three features:

A complete absence of empathy.  The violence is emotionally cold and completely heartless.

An absence of shared social morality.  The act of violence is unconstrained by shared social morality and values of right and wrong.

Gratification from inflicting immense suffering.  The terrorist mind seeks to create immense suffering and receives perverse gratification from the suffering it creates.

These three features define the terrorist mind, and each feature leads to unraveling the damaged information structures in the brain that creates the terrorist mind.

The Manchester bomber, the Las Vegas shooter, the shooters in Paris, in Orlando, and in Sandy Hook, the Boston marathon bombers, 911, are all variants of the same core pathogen, the same set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.

The school shooting in Parkland Florida is an act of the terrorist mind.

How can we prevent this?  We can’t… at least not yet.

Gun control legislation will not stop the pathology of the terrorist mind.  America clearly has a gun culture that acts to support the emergence of pathology, but seeking to limit access to guns will not stop the terrorist mind because the terrorist mind does not reveal itself before the act.  Gun control legislation may be reasonable and sane, but it will not stop Las Vegas, or the Boston marathon bombing, or Sandy Hook, or Orlando.

The clear psychopathology of the act leads to hopes that the mental health system can solve the pathology.   Professional psychology cannot stop the pathology.  I am a clinical psychologist.  The mental health system cannot solve the pathology.  We can identify risk factors.  In 100,000 people who present risk signs, only one will trigger into pathological violence.  We can identify the 100,000, but we cannot identify the one who will trigger into pathological violence in the 100,000.

There are many people who feel alienated, who harbor grudges, who are angry.  Yet none of these people become a terrorist mass killer.  The terrorist mind isolates, it does not seek therapy.  It spins deeper into its disturbed isolation until it triggers.

Perhaps mental health services have stopped hundreds or even thousands of mass school shootings, but we just don’t know about it because the killings never happened, because mental health services prevented the act.  So maybe mental health services are doing wonderfully, yet it only takes one isolated brain to slip past the mental health system to create the trauma of the mass killing.

We live in a world where the trauma pathogen of the terrorist mind will be able to inflict immense suffering on our psychological whole.  It will find our vulnerability and strike at our vulnerability.  This is the world we live in.

The most effective immediate-range solution is to harden the targets and reduce our vulnerability.

The longer-term solution is for professional psychology to develop a more complete understanding for the terrorist mind and the structure of the pathogen that will allow us to unlock the pathology, restore empathy and shared social morality, deactivate the desire to cause immense suffering, and intervene on triggers before they activate the violent act. 

The task facing professional psychology is to more fully understand the pathogen of the terrorist mind to identify a more specific set of risk indicators, reducing the 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000, and it is to develop the interventions based on the pathology of the terrorist mind that will unlock the pathology and restore normal-range socio-psychological functioning.

And we must understand the triggers that activate the terrorist mind into pathological violence, to identify the 1 in 100,000 who presents the immanent danger.

Professional psychology faces two tasks:

1.)  We must be able to identify the pathogenic agent in the terrorist mind that motivates the violence, improving the quality in identifying the risk factors to more clearly identify the terrorist mind;

2.)  We must identify the triggers that activate the pathogen into the act of pathological violence.  Why did this vulnerable person trigger into this event of pathological violence today?  What was the surrounding psychological state that formulated the motivation, and then activated into the motivation.

The absence of empathy (emotionally cold and heartless violence) and the absence of shared social morality of right and wrong speak to the social isolation of the terrorist mind.  This is caused by damage to the intersubjective networks of the shared psychological state.

Yet loneliness, isolation, and alienation is abundant in modern culture, and is ubiquitous in young adulthood, yet does not trigger into the coldly sadistic violence of the terrorist mind.  The key to stopping the pathological anger is identifying the triggers to the violence.  

That is what I’m working to unravel, the triggers that set one brain on the path of pathological violence while in another brain the pathogen remains dormant.  Early indications are that the triggering structures are on a line of shame and self-destruction, when the psychological isolation is combined with self-shame, self-destruction, and hopelessness triggers, the pathogen activates into pathological anger and pathological violence.

Interventions targeting the self-shame and hopelessness lines are likely to be productive at deactivating the triggers to pathological violence.

The terrorist mind contains a self-destructive meme-structure.  The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter did not complete the self-destructive line of the pathogen.  His life is over, the self-destructive line is present.  He will be in a prison cell (a cage) for the remainder of his life and may likely face the death penalty.  His act of pathological violence ended his life along with the lives of his victims.  But the Parkland Florida shooter also remained alive through the event, he did not self-suicide or provoke his killing by police.  His violent act did not include his own death, although it involves his self-destruction.

The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter therefore contains the pathogen that activates into the terrorist mind, as well as the triggering structures that activated the terrorist mind into pathological violence.  The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter holds a wealth of information.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857




Sadistic Cruelty

The terrorist mind is marked by three characteristic features:

  • The absence of empathy
  • The absence of shared social morality
  • The desire to cause great suffering

Each of these features reveals important components of pathological hatred and the terrorist mind. 

How does empathy develop and how does it become so severely damaged?

How does social morality develop, and how does it become evacuated?

How does gratification in causing suffering develop?

This last question is the psychological origins of sadism, the psychology of evil.

Research has identified the origins of evil as the Dark Triad personality of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellian manipulation (Book & Viser, & Volk, 2015).  But evil is more than that.  Evil is the gratification created by causing the suffering of others, evil takes pleasure in creating immense suffering.

Professional psychology acknowledges the pathology of sadism, but there is limited research into its origins and it remains poorly understood.  Sadistic personality disorder was referenced in the DSM-3R, but was removed from later versions of the DSM diagnostic system. As far as I can tell, Theodore Millon is the only major theorist who addresses the dark cruelty of the sadistic personality.

The time has come for professional psychology to capture the dark cruelty of sadism.

Unlocking the terrorist mind requires unlocking the pathology of sadism.  The Manchester and Boston marathon bombers who packed their explosives with nails and screws to increase the carnage find sadistic gratification in causing immense suffering.  The Las Vegas shooter who creates a killing platform on the 32nd floor of Las Vegas hotel room to kill random people attending a concert is motivated from a sadistic pleasure in causing immense suffering in others.

The Texas church shooter who walked through the church aisle killing innocents, including children, took a sadistic gratification in causing immense Ward family Texassuffering.  Mindless, senseless cruelty. 

How does a mind become sadistic, how does a mind take pleasure in the suffering of others?  Answering this question unlocks the terrorist mind of pathological hatred and pathological Crystal Texasviolence.

Many of the current terrorist “experts” assert that the terrorist is not created by psychological pathology because these “experts” cannot identify any known form of psychopathology.  They are wrong.Holcombe children Texas

The sadistic gratification of causing immense suffering in others is pathological.  Walking down the aisle of a church shooting people, shooting women, killing children is pathological.  Loading nails and screws into a bomb to cause greater mutilation and carnage to the victims is pathological. Of course the terrorist mind is caused by psychopathology.

It is completely insane for terrorism “experts” to assert that the terrorist mind is not pathological.  They simply don’t know where to look.

Look to how empathy is formed, and how empathy becomes damaged.

Look to how social morality develops, and becomes evacuated.

Look to the origins of sadism.  Taking pleasure the suffering of others.

Unlocking the origins of sadism, however, is a dark journey into an extremely Untitleddisorienting pathology.  The normal mind cannot comprehend the mind that takes pleasure in the immense suffering in others.  How can suffering in others be pleasurable?  We will be traveling that road and unlocking the mind of evil.

The first thing to understand about evil, is that it never sees itself as evil.  The Nazis believed it was the Jews who were evil, who where the threat.  Evil never sees itself as evil, it sees the victims as evil and “deserving” to suffer. 

Lloyd deMause (deMause: The History of Child Abuse) has a wonderful phrase for this, the victim becomes the “poison container”  who holds the projected dark malevolence of the perpetrator.  The perpetrator’s self-perception is of being a noble, good, and righteous person, it is the victim who is evil.  The self-perception of the Islamic terrorist is of being a holy warrior of Allah.  The self-perception of the White supremacist is of being the noble defender of Aryan purity.  The self-perception of the Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Texas church shooters is of being an avenging angel of justice.

From Kernberg: “The normal tension between actual self on the one hand, and ideal self and ideal object on the other, is eliminated by the building up of an inflated self concept within which the actual self and the ideal self and ideal object are confused.  At the same time, the remnants of the unacceptable self images are repressed and projected onto external objects which are devalued.” (Kernberg, 1977, p. 217)

The terrorist mind sees itself as noble and good, its dark and malevolent poison is projected into the victim.  Through the suffering of the victim, their own projected dark malevolence is being psychologically purged from the perpetrator.

This explains part of the motivation, but it does not explain how pleasure is achieved from creating suffering in others.  The normal mind recoils in horror and disgust at the suffering of others.  The terrorist mind takes pleasure in it.  Why?

In the mind of the perpetrator, the victim becomes the “poison container” for the projected dark malevolence of the terrorist’s mind, the victim “deserves” to suffer.  In creating the victim’s suffering, the terrorist mind sees itself as noble and righteous.  But there’s more.  There is the satisfaction and pleasure taken in the suffering of the victim.

The key to unlocking the origins of sadistic pleasure in creating suffering of others is in the confluence of power and domination, deep shame and the dark cruelty of vengeance.  To Slide2understand the terrorist mind, we must take the journey down this dark path into sadistic pleasure in the suffering of others.

Words will not be able to fully convey the dark cruelty of the sadistic mind, a mind that takes pleasure in creating suffering.  We must enter the mind of horror to discover and unlock the damage at the core.

The terrorist mind is created by a set of damaged information structures in the attachment system – in the love-and-bonding system of the brain.  These damaged information structures were created in childhood, through the childhood transmission of complex trauma.  But not just any trauma, a specific type of trauma.  The trauma that creates sadistic cruelty – that creates pleasure from causing suffering in others.

This trauma has certain themes present in its creation; power and domination, the degradation of shame, that creates in the love-and-bonding system of the brain a vengeful anger that is born in a cold absence of empathy.  This is the path to the terrorist mind.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Book, A., Visser, B.A., and Volk, A.A. (2015). Unpacking ‘‘evil’’: Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences 73 (2015) 29–38.

The Las Vegas Shooter: The Absence of Moral Foundations

Normal people do not take 23 guns to a Las Vegas hotel room to randomly kill innocent people attending a concert.  Normal people don’t do that.

Why don’t normal people do that?  Because it is morally repellent.  A person who does that does not live in the same moral universe as the rest of us do. 

The terrorist mind must overcome normal-range morality of right and wrong.  It accomplishes this termination of normal-range morality by developing empty and twisted justifications that excuse the violence as somehow being a “righteous” act of deserved retribution.

In his research on morality, Johathan Haidt identifies six foundations of morality:







The act of the Las Vegas shooter violated all foundations of morality.


The moral foundation of caring emerges from the love and bonding system of the brain, attachment and empathy.  We feel the pain and suffering of others.  Our empathy and love prevents us from causing harm and motivates us to provide care and comfort to suffering.

This moral foundation is shut down by turning the other person into an object.  When the other person is an object rather than a person, our empathy and care systems don’t activate.  We don’t consider the “suffering” of a chair or a table.  Objects don’t activate the love and empathy systems of the brain (attachment and intersubjectivity systems).

The love-and-bonding system of the Las Vegas shooter was deeply damaged (the attachment and intersubjective systems; emotional bonding and empathy).  The victims weren’t people, they were objects, like chairs and tables.  The attachment and empathy systems of the Las Vegas shooter were silent, and the caring moral foundation was silent.


The fairness moral foundation responds to justice.  It is sensitive to proportionality in the rewards and punishments received in social relationships.  The fairness moral foundation evaluates whether the rewards and punishments received are proportional to the person’s contribution and role.

However, dysfunctions to the love-and-bonding systems of the brain (attachment and intersubjectivity) will turn off the moral justice foundation.  Justice is an irrelevant construct when applied to a chair or table. 

In response to the damaged attachment and empathy networks of the Las Vegas shooter, the justice moral foundation was also turned off.  The victims weren’t people, they were objects.


The moral foundation of loyalty binds our actions to the goals of the social group.  From the loyalty moral foundation, the needs of the group take precedence over personal comfort and gratification.  Our actions become motivated toward the common good of the social group.

But objects don’t activate our loyalty obligations.  We are not loyal to a chair or a table.  We are only loyal to our social group, not to an object.  The damaged love-and-bonding networks of the Las Vegas shooter’s brain turned off the loyalty moral foundation as well.


The moral foundation of authority is closely linked to power, and in the isolation of a narcissistically organized brain the two constructs of authority and power are synonymous.  In a socially bonded brain, authority emerges both from power and also from an agreed social contract in which authority is conferred by consent of the social group.  In the socially isolated narcissistically organized brain, however, the social contract granting authority is not recognized.  To the socially isolated narcissistic brain, only the power component of authority is recognized.

For 64 years the Las Vegas shooter functioned well enough within the shared morality of authority.  Prior to the shooting on October 1, 2017 the Las Vegas shooter did not break the law, although it’s interesting to note that his father was a bank robber on the FBI’s most wanted list.  According to reports, prior to the father’s arrest in 1960 for bank robbery (the father was first arrested in 1946 for multiple counts of auto theft), the father of the Las Vegas shooter was described as a “family man, operating a filling station while raising four boys” (NBC News).  The Las Vegas shooter was born in 1953, meaning that he spent the first seven years of life with his father prior to his father’s arrest in 1960.

Yet despite the father’s apparent difficulty abiding within the authority moral foundation, the Las Vegas shooter had no criminal background.

Yet on October 1, 2017 the Las Vegas shooter violated the moral boundaries of authority and assumed the power to arbitrarily take the lives of innocent people.  For the Las Vegas shooter, the moral foundation of authority was about power, he complied with laws because of society’s power to punish.  On October 1, 2017 the Las Vegas shooter rejected the moral foundation of authority and adopted the narcissistic grandiosity of his own self-perceived power.  The moral foundation of authority no longer prevented his violence, he was outside of our shared social morality, he became narcissistically inflated into his own self-perceived power and he no longer recognized the legitimacy of outside authority, he felt himself to be exempt from the rules and laws that governed other people.

From Beck: “Unlike the antisocial personality, they [the narcissist] do not have a cynical view of rules that govern human conduct; they simply consider themselves exempt from them.” (Beck et al., 2004, p. 44)

From Beck: “Another conditional assumption of power is the belief of exemption from normal rules and laws, even the laws of science and nature.” (Beck, 2004, p. 251-252)


The moral foundation of sanctity recognizes the sacredness of certain ideas and concepts.  The ideas and concepts can have a religious foundation or can be secular values.  The moral foundation of sanctity becomes extremely distorted in the terrorist mind, providing exceedingly important clues into the psychological damage creating the pathological hated and pathological violence of the terrorist mind. 

Following the path into the terrorist mind created by the damage evidenced to the sanctity moral foundation will lead us to critically important insights into the meme-structures – the information structures – at the source of the pathological anger and pathological violence created by the terrorist mind, but I will defer this exploration to a future date. 

Violations of the other moral foundations for caring, and justice, and loyalty, and authority, and liberty will activate our moral judgement of the act as being inherently wrong.   Violation of the sanctity foundation, however, leads to our moral judgement of the act as being “evil.”  The act of the Las Vegas shooter wasn’t just morally wrong, it was evil.

There is a fundamental sanctity to life.  Taking a life is serious and requires moral justification.  Randomly killing innocent people violates the sanctity moral foundation.  Randomly killing innocent people is evil.  When we enter the world of the terrorist mind we transcend normal morality of right and wrong and enter the world of evil.


The moral foundation of liberty opposes domination by the oppressor.  The moral foundation of liberty inspired the American revolution, and the activation of the liberty moral foundation continues to inspire many national and ethnic liberation movements around the globe.  It can be challenging to disentangle the pathological violence of the terrorist mind from the violence of a “liberation” movement in response to oppression.  The violence inspired by the liberty moral foundation often combines with the justice moral foundation, and these two moral foundations can activate overtones of the sanctity moral foundation – a “righteousness” of purpose in fighting a “just war” of “liberation” from the oppressor.

No such moral cause inspired the Las Vegas shooter.  He was not “oppressed,” he was not fighting for his liberty from domination by the oppressor.  Instead, he violated the moral foundation of liberty for the innocent people who were simply attending a concert, their fundamental right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

The Origins of Shared Morality

Shared morality binds the social group, building its cohesiveness.

From Haidt: “Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.” (Haidt, 2012)

From Durkheim: “What is moral is everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to … regulate his actions by something other than … his own egoism.” (Durkheim 1984/1893, p. 331; as cited by Haidt)

From Stern: “Cohesion within human groups is greatly enhanced by moral suasion.  I will argue that intersubjectivity is the basic condition for morality.  The “moral emotions” (shame, guilt, embarrassment) arise from being able to see yourself in the eyes of another” (Stern, 2004, p. 104)

From Stern: “In brief, intersubjectivity contributes to group survival.  It promotes group formation and coherence.  It permits more efficient, rapid, flexible, and coordinated group functioning.  And it provides the basis for morality to act in maintaining group cohesion and language to act in group communication.” (Stern, 2004, p. 105)

The enhanced group cohesion created by a shared morality increases survival.

From Haidt: “But human nature was also shaped as groups competed with other groups.  As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists.” (Haidt, 2012)

From Haidt: “Whenever a way is found to suppress free riding so that individual units can cooperate, work as a team, and divide labor, selection at the lower level becomes less important, selection at the higher level becomes more powerful, and that higher-level selection favors the most cohesive superorganism.” (Haidt, 2012)

The terrorist mind violates all of the foundations of shared social morality.  Damage to the empathy system (the intersubjective system; referred to as the “hive mind” by Haidt) creates an isolated, narcissistically organized mind.  The empathy system (intersubjectivity) develops through the use-dependent “scaffolding” it receives when the child is shown empathy by parents during childhood (The Mind of the Las Vegas Shooter: Empathy Deficit).  The absence of parental empathy during childhood creates an isolated brain in the child that has core deficits in its ability to feel empathy for others.

The damage to the empathy system of the terrorist mind is created by a failure of parental empathy during childhood.  The child’s inner emotional and psychological experience was irrelevant to the parent (an absence of shared intersubjectivity), the child was an object rather than a valued psychological person.  The isolated mind created in the absence of parental empathy remains forever apart from the shared social field of humanity, alone and alienated, an object incapable of swimming in the shared social mind of the intersubjective group. 

When the person is an object, everyone becomes an object.

The damage to the attachment system (the love-and-bonding system of the brain) and empathy system (intersubjectivity systems) turns off the moral foundations for caring, justice, and loyalty by making other people objects; chairs and tables rather than human beings.

In the isolated narcissistically organized mind of the Las Vegas shooter, the moral foundation of authority was only power, not the social contract of recognized authority.  Only power is recognized, not laws, not rights, not authority.  In the mind of the Las Vegas shooter, the moral foundation of authority is only power.

Based on the increase in his gun purchases over the last year (33 gun purchases in the year prior to the shooting), it appears that the narcissistic grandiosity of the Las Vegas shooter activated sometime in 2016/2017 to inflate his self-perception of power and entitlement sufficiently to remove the authority-power inhibition on his acts.  He likely made a decision in 2016 to end the psychological emptiness of his life, and his decision on how to end his life was to gratify his narcissistic grandiosity of wanting to be “special” (to fill the deep emptiness within his attachment system).

The guns were an expression of his power, and in his narcissistically organized brain of social isolation he felt entitled to impose his power onto others because they were merely objects – objects just like he was an object.

Without the moral restraints imposed by caring, loyalty, justice, authority, sanctity, or respect for the freedom of others, the Las Vegas shooter felt he was entitled by his self-perceived narcissistic grandiosity to impose the domination of his power onto the objects attending the concert; tables and chairs – objects – devoid of humanity.

But why?  Even if he was absent the constraints of shared social morality, why did he want to kill? 

Because he wanted to inflict immense suffering on others.  This is the third feature of the terrorist mind; 1) damage to empathy, 2) a vacancy of shared social morality, and 3) a desire to inflict immense suffering on others.

The absence of empathy is associated with the capacity for human cruelty, and the absence of empathy is described by Baron-Cohen (2011) as the origins of evil. 

The profound deficits to shared moral foundations, particularly the sanctity foundation, displayed by his act triggers our moral judgement of his actions as evil.

But it is in the psychological gratification he sought in creating immense suffering in others that the core of understanding evil is found.  

Understanding the core of evil will be the next level we’ll uncover.  Why did he want to create immense suffering in others?   Once we uncover the core of evil, we’ll bring all three symptom features together into understanding the terrorist mind and the pathological violence of the Las Vegas shooter.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011). The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. New York: Basic Books.

Beck, A.T., Freeman, A., Davis, D.D., & Associates (2004). Cognitive therapy of personality disorders. (2nd edition). New York: Guilford.

Durkheim, E. (1984/1893). The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: Free Press.

Haidt, J. (2012).  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. NY: Random House.

Stern, D. (2004). The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

The Mind of the Las Vegas Shooter: Empathy Deficit

What was the motivation for a 64-year-old White male to turn his room on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel into a killing platform, with premeditated and purposeful intent to kill random innocent people attending a concert?  What motivated him to purposely cause such horror, grieving, and loss? There seems nothing to explain his motivation.  He had no “cause.”  He had no extremist ideology.  He left no delusional manifesto.  He seemed so normal… up until the killing of innocents.

It seemingly makes no sense.

I am a clinical psychologist.  Understanding the human mind and human motivation is what I do.  I understand why he did what he did, because I understand the way the human mind works, and the features of his actions reveal their cause.

I will attempt to reconstruct the shooter’s motivation based on the act.  There are only a limited number of psychological factors that can create that action.  Normal-range humans do not do what he did.  The abnormality of his actions provide the key clues into the motivational origins for the killing.

Like Alice having fallen down the rabbit hole of unfathomable insanity, we find ourselves in front of three locked doors.  On the table in the center of the room are three keys, one for each door.  One-by-one I will unlock each door and we will view the damaged mind within.  Once all three doors are opened, and once we have viewed the psychological damage behind each of these doors, I will weave together the psychological motivation for the senseless killing.  Then I will open a small bottle on the table that reads, “Drink me.”  This is the psychological trigger for the event.  Why now?  Why after 64 years of a seemingly normal life, did the shooter decide to kill and die, now.

There are three key features to the shooter’s action, the characteristic features of the terrorist mind of pathological violence:

1.)  A profound absence of normal-range empathy.

The developmental origins of empathy are understood by professional psychology, we understand how empathy networks develop, and we understand the causes for damage to the empathy networks.  There are a limited set of factors that will create such profoundly absent empathy.  The absence of empathy creates the capacity for human cruelty.

2.)  The absence of shared social morality.

Normal people do not turn their room on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel into a killing platform to randomly kill innocent people.  Normal people understand that this is morally repugnant and horrific.  The actions of the Las Vegas shooter are morally repulsive, emotionally and psychologically repulsive.  There are a limited set of factors that can overcome our normal-range moral repulsion for such an abhorrent act of senseless violence.

3.)  A desire to inflict immense suffering.

This third door is the most important door to unlock.  Behind this door we will find the source-origin for the savage brutality.  Normal people desire bonding.  Normal people want to be loved.  Normal people have compassion for others.  Normal people do not seek to inflict immense suffering on others.  Normal people do not obtain psychological gratification from the suffering of others.  Behind this door we will find the dark malignancy of evil.  What damage to the normal operation of brain systems is needed to create psychological satisfaction from causing immense suffering in others?  Unlocking this feature is key to unlocking the motivation of evil.

Absence of Empathy

In the developmental wiring of brain networks the guiding principle is, “We build what we use.”  This is called “use-dependent” development.  Every time we use a brain cell or brain network, structural and chemical changes take place that make it more likely that this brain cell or brain network will fire in the future. 

If we want to learn to play the piano, all we have to do is use the brain networks responsible for playing the piano over-and-over again, practice playing the piano, and soon we will be able to play the piano.  This is the use-dependent development of the brain networks for playing the piano.

The same is true for all brain networks.  If we want to become timid and afraid, then all we must do is continually focus our attention on frightening imagery and thoughts and we will become timid and frightened.  We build what we use.  If we want to learn a foreign language, we simply repeat the language, using it over-and-over, and we will build the brain networks used in the foreign language.  Use-dependent development; we build what we use.

Empathy is a set of social networks that allow us to feel what the other person feels as if we were having the experience ourselves.  The empathy networks of the brain are bi-directional social networks that bind us psychologically to the social group.  Being shown empathy in childhood builds our capacity to have empathy for others as adults.  Showing empathy for others build’s their capacity for empathy.

The foundational wiring of the empathy networks develop early in childhood through their use-dependent development by the parent who responds empathically to the child’s inner experience (rather than outward behavior).  When the parent responds with empathic attunement to the child’s inner experience, this builds through use-dependent neural processes the child’s own social-empathic capacity for others.  Use-dependent development; we build what we use.

Empathy networks are a bi-directional social brain system.  The child’s empathy networks are built when they are used by the parent who shows empathy for the child’s inner experience.

The profound absence of empathy evidenced in the actions of the Las Vegas shooter indicates that the shooter was not psychologically connected to the social community of shared humanity.  The absence of empathy is linked to the capacity for human cruelty.  The absence of empathy indicates that the shooter had a foundational deficit in the development of the empathy networks of the brain, meaning that as a child he was not shown empathy for his inner psychological experience so he did not develop the social-psychological capacity for empathy with the experience of others. 

He was psychologically alone to a degree that most of us cannot comprehend.  This psychological isolation from the shared social field meant that other people were objects for him.  He wanted us to be people, he wanted to be part of our shared social field, but his social-empathy networks were damaged.  He couldn’t live in us.

Through the empathy networks of the brain (called “intersubjectivity” in the developmental research literature) we create a shared psychological state.  This shared psychological state is called an “intersubjective field” in the research literature and has been extensively studied because of its central role in language acquisition and emotional regulation (the Harvard researcher Edward Tronick calls it a “dyadic state of consciousness”).

From Tronic:  “When mutual regulation is particularly successful, that is when the age-appropriate forms of meaning (e.g., affects, relational intentions, representations; see Tronick 2002c, d) from one individual’s state of consciousness are coordinated with the meanings of another’s state of consciousness — I have hypothesized that a dyadic state of consciousness emerges.” (Tronick, 2003, p. 475)

The preeminent child development researcher Daniel Stern describes it as a “mutual interpenetration of minds.”

From Stern: “The present moments that interest us most are those that arise when two people make a special kind of mental contact – namely, an intersubjective contact.  This involves the mutual interpenetration of minds that permits us to say, “I know that you know that I know” or “I feel that you feel that I feel” (Stern, 2004, p. 75)

This brain system for the “mutual interpenetration of minds” has a neurological foundation in a set of brain cells called mirror neurons (NOVA: Mirror Neurons).

From Stern: “Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others.  Our intentions are modified or born in a shifting dialogue with the felt intentions of others.  Our feelings are shaped by the intentions, thoughts, and feelings of others.  And our thoughts are cocreated in dialogue, even when it is only with ourselves.  In short, our mental life is cocreated.  This continuous cocreative dialogue with other minds is what I am calling the intersubjective matrix.” (Stern, 2004, p. 76)

The Las Vegas shooter was severely damaged in the development of this shared-psychological-state brain system for intersubjectivity (the capacity for empathy).  He lived in an isolated brain.  Psychologically he was deeply and profoundly alone, at a level most of us cannot comprehend because we live in a normal-range brain, with a normal-range capacity for shared empathy.  In his father, this deficit in empathy (intersubjectivity) was described as “psychopathic” in his FBI wanted poster.  This would be an accurate descriptive label for the neurologically-based (with developmental origins) absence of empathy (intersubjectivity).

Was the shooter psychopathic?  Labels are not useful.  He had a profound deficit in the capacity for shared social empathy (intersubjectivity).  This will create a set of symptom features often identified as “psychopathic” – but it’s a circular definition.  The absence of empathy is psychopathic, and the psychopath is identified by an absence of empathy.  Labels do not lead to understanding the cause.

The rest of us naturally live embedded in the motivational intentions of other people.  We swim in the sea of shared psychological experience and are so fully immersed in our shared “mutual interpenetration of minds” that we are not even aware of our shared social-psychological state because it is so natural to our experience. 

The 1960s philosopher Marshall McLuhan is attributed to have said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish,” highlighting that we don’t see that which surrounds us.  Like the fish who don’t see the water that surrounds them, we don’t see the social water in which we swim, we don’t see the “mutual interpenetration of minds” that forms the very fabric of our psychological experience – until we see the fish out of water.

The Las Vegas shooter is the fish out of the social water of our collective shared psychological experience.

Our shared psychological experience connects us to the social group.  The absence of this psychological connection is experienced as immensely painful psychological loneliness, a psychological abyss of profound and deep emptiness called “alienation.”  But the person experiencing this psychological alienation doesn’t understand the origins of their suffering because they don’t know what it is to be part of the shared social mind.  They just know something hurts deep to their core.

All they know is that something is immensely painful, it feels deeply and profoundly empty inside at their core of experience, and this pain has something to do with others.  Their suffering creates a vague motivation toward bonding to others, but they have an impenetrable psychological wall that prevents their bonding, that prevents the normal-range psychological intimacy of a shared social mind. 

We cannot comprehend the suffering and loneliness of this isolated mind because we all swim in the sea of a shared psychological state.  Even in our loneliest hours, we nevertheless have a socially connected brain as we sit at the coffee house, as we interact with co-workers, as we attend public events.  In the profoundly isolated mind of the Las Vegas shooter, these social surrounds never led to a shared state of social being, of social belonging.

In the parlance of the attachment system, they have an “avoidant” attachment of low-protest, low-demand, and profound psychological isolation.

To be psychologically alone is immensely painful.  Our “intersubjective” shared connections to the social field provides our lives with meaning, within both a social and personal identity context.  To be deprived of intersubjective social integration is to live a meaningless existence, acting without connection, without joy, without the vitality of shared belonging.

From Stern:  “A second felt need for intersubjective orientation is to define, maintain, or reestablish self identity and self cohesion – to make contact with ourselves.  We need the eyes of others to make contact with ourselves.  We need the eyes of others to form and hold ourselves together.  Without some continual input from an intersubjective matrix, human identity dissolves or veers off in odd ways.”  (Stern, 2004, p. 107)

The symptom feature most consistent with this profound empathy deficit in the Las Vegas shooter is his obsessive focus on video Poker.  Gambling was his limited way of activating at least marginal feelings of being alive within the profound abyss of his emptiness of inner being.  But for him, gambling remained a solitary activity interacting with a machine – one “machine” with another – devoid of life – devoid of soul.  Empty.  A routine of emptiness.  He was surrounded by the sounds of social activity, but he remained isolated in a shared psychological state with an empty soulless machine – for hours on end.

He was drawn to the social – he went to casinos to gamble – but he did not play at the tables where he would be interacting with others in a shared psychological field.  He chose to interact, to establish the intersubjective field of social intimacy, with a lifeless machine.  Why?  Because that’s the best his damaged intersubjectivity networks – his shared empathy networks – could achieve.  His damaged intersubjectivity networks could not establish a “mutual interpenetration of minds” with other people.  We were too complex for his rudimentary and damaged empathy networks to absorb and psychologically model.  We were as much objects to him as the video Poker machine.  His psychological penetration into a lifeless and soulless machine was the best his damaged empathy networks – his damaged intersubjectivity system – could achieve.

He would go the casinos and play video Poker all night long – a deeply lonely life of minimal psychological existence.

He was married twice and divorced twice.  Failed relationships.  Failed intimacy.  He had a girlfriend, a former cocktail hostess (perhaps attracted to his financial support for her).  From his perspective, their relationship was unlikely to be what we would generally consider to be a psychologically loving and intimate relationship, because if there had been love and psychological intimacy with his girlfriend this would have prevented his actions.  When he sent her to the Philippines to be with her family as he enacted his brutality, she thought he was breaking up with her.  She was insecure in their relationship.  She was likely little more to him than the video Poker machine, a means of warding off his deep psychological loneliness and alienation.

For years he maintained the appearance of normalcy.  He could mimic normalcy by engaging reasonably in social actions, but he could not engage in the “mutual interpenetration of minds” that the rest of us all know as the normal ground of our psychological experience – a broad social nesting in the human community.  We belong.  He didn’t.  His social actions were a pretense, an empty facade.  His neighbors in the retirement community described him as socially surly and reclusive, having put privacy barriers on the windows of his home.

Deep in the core of his psychological being he yearned for social connection, he yearned to belong to the human community, but this belonging was forever denied him because of the damage to the empathy system (intersubjective system) of the brain.  He yearned for us, and he simultaneously hated us because we were bonded in a shared social community that he could never join.  He was forever the small child standing alone outside on the icy cold winter’s sidewalk, peering through the window into the warm social gathering of friends and social bonding of the festive holiday party.  Forever denied to him.  Yearning to belong, but an impossibility.  Jealous of our bonding.

There is an adage in clinical psychology, a general rule-of-thumb that can sometimes be useful in understanding the inner experience of others, “People make us feel the way they feel.”  It is the most primitive form of achieving empathy:

“Now you know what I feel, because I’ve made you feel it too.”

The frightened person adopts a threatening stance of powerful intimidation to transfer this person’s own fear into us.  We now understand their fear because we feel it – we are afraid.  The person who is deeply sad and hurt will say and do things to make us sad and to hurt us.  Now we know how they feel.  We feel their pain, not as the more advanced shared experience of empathy, but in its primal raw form.  We feel sad and hurt, just like they do.

By killing us, the shooter communicated to us how profoundly and deeply hurt and alone he was.  We were objects because he was, existentially, an object.  Like the video Poker machine of his psychological intimacy.  He lashed out at humanity, random and impersonal, causing immense pain and suffering, taking away our loved ones, leaving us as alone as he was, suffering.  Now we know how he feels – his act was a primitive cry for empathic joining to a human community from which he was forever excluded because of his deeply damaged brain networks for empathy and intersubjectivity.

His victims and the suffering of their families were objects.  Welcome to his world as an object, excluded by his absence of empathy from belonging to the human community.  His only intimacy was with a video Poker machine.  Two objects in a shared psychological state of emptiness.

This is the first door.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857