The cowardly, violent and unjustified acts of mass shooters is implicitly related to malignant narcissism. The perpetrators of such violence feel compelled to act out their brand of justice and revenge in order to satisfy their sadistic desires on those who have, in reality or fantasy, wronged or humiliated them in some way. The perceived wrongs and humiliations challenge their fragile ego, superiority and grandiosity thus inflicting upon them the severest of narcissistic injuries. The mass shooter can no longer contain their repressed anger and humiliation and are forced to unleash the full wrath of their narcissistic rage.
It is alleged that Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant produced a 73-page manifesto in which he claims, among other things, to be exacting revenge for the attacks in Stockholm in 2017 and the Sydney, Australia gang rapes which were committed by a group of up to fourteen Lebanese Australians. Mass shooter Elliot Rodger claimed in his videos that he was exacting revenge on all the girls who had ‘rejected’ him throughout his life.
The Columbine high school shooters were exacting revenge against their peers who had teased and ostracised them. The gunman behind the Virginia Tech mass shooting was also getting revenge on his peers and society for rejecting and alienating him. Elliot Rodger (Isla Vista shooting), SeungHui Cho (Virginia Tech shooting), Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine high school shooting), had either written and published manifestos and/or made and uploaded videos expressing their manifesto to social media prior to their heinous acts.
Mass shooters often use the excuse of revenge to justify their actions. They are, in their minds, defending themselves. They are fighting back against the rejection and humiliation they have ‘suffered’ at the hands of others. It is not their fault that they need to kill people. It is the fault of society for making them do it. Narcissistic personalities have an external locus of control. That is, they blame outside forces for their actions and reactions. Thus, they continually shift the blame and responsibility from themselves to others.
Narcissistic personalities feel entitled to special and preferential treatment. They are superior and should be treated as such. The narcissists sense of entitlement, grandiosity, superiority, attention seeking and lack of empathy creates a highly volatile and dangerous individual. The attention seeking behaviours of narcissists is why it is common for mass shooters to publicise their attacks. They choose public venues. They choose significant landmarks (i.e., churches, schools). They film and upload videos of their attacks. They choose significant and meaningful dates on which to launch their narcissistic rage. They fantasise of grand acts of violence which embodies their God-like status. It is all done so as to garner as much attention and publicity as possible and promote their deluded cause/beliefs to as many people as possible. In the mind of the narcissist, any publicity is good publicity. Mass shooters such as the ones mentioned earlier feel so superior and grandiose that any perceived slight against them, whether intentional or not, incites tremendous internal rage.
In the case of Brenton Tarrant, the ‘I am white and thus superior to other races’ mentality may have motivated his actions. Any perceived attacks against his superiority, whether directly aimed at him or aimed at his brethren, would have sparked intense feelings of inferiority, humiliation and rage. How dare anybody attack or challenge my superiority. How dare anybody make me feel vulnerable or inferior. How dare anyone challenge my perception of the world where whites are superior and should be treated as such. His desire to seek revenge against Muslims who had done wrong against his fellow whites (who are also superior) was, to him at least, justified. It is possible that Brenton, in his grandiosity, superiority and entitlement, viewed himself as a martyr. That he believed that only he had the power to exact revenge and reposition the white race at the top of the hierarchy. That only he had the courage to stand up, take action and teach these ‘inferior’ beings a lesson. The decision to live-stream his act most likely fuelled his attention seeking compulsions. In the narcissists mind, the grander and the more shocking the act, the better for attracting their life source - narcissistic supply.
Elliot Rodger was supremely narcissistic. In his videos he shamelessly promotes his good looks, money, kindness, benevolence and his superiority over other males. His sense of entitlement, grandiosity and superiority plainly prevents him from seeing the truth. The truth that his arrogant, entitled and narcissistic behaviours most likely turned woman away from him. The narcissist however must shift the blame. It is not them, the God-like being who is in the wrong. It is the women. They fail to recognise and appreciate his beauty. He craves woman to supply him with his life force. But they reject him and refuse to give him his much-needed narcissistic supply. Therefore, they must be forced to recognise his greatness even if by force. Their screams of terror and pleas for forgiveness will give him the attention and admiration he so intensely craves. His status as omnipotent and omniscient will be, at least in his mind, restored. If that fails, the publicity will ensure that he is immortalised in the fabric of society for generations to come. His desire for, and consumption of, narcissistic supply must continue to fuel him in the afterlife.
Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Seung-Hui Cho were haunted by the introjects of their cruel and insensitive peers. It is contradictory that in this respect, the narcissist adopts an internal locus of control. They internalise the cruel and insensitive comments of their peers and attribute truth to the comments (‘they say I’m stupid therefore I must be stupid”) rather than adopting the usual external locus of control and realising that the ones making the cruel and insensitive remarks are the ones with the problems not themselves. However, they cannot rid themselves of these introjects and compulsively obsesses over them. They continually recall the cruel remarks which enrages their growing sense of superiority and grandiosity. Their fragile egos will not let the cruelty pass by without punishment. In the narcissists mind, severe and brutal punishment is the only way to restore balance. They must be made to feel what he feels.
The narcissist converts their mixed feelings of rage, fear, inferiority, powerlessness, helplessness, superiority, and grandiosity into an act of violence so extreme that there will be no doubt as to who is boss afterwards. Whether they live or die is of no consequence to them so long as they teach the others a lesson and they malevolently embed themselves into the minds of the friends and families of the victims and the emergency services personnel that are tasked with the horrific aftermath. Only then will they have righted the wrongs made against them.
Note: There are instances when mass shootings or killings occur as a result of other psychological disorders or conditions (psychosis, hallucinations, etc). However, the main point here is examining the mindset of mass shooters who seek publicity and notoriety, through the publication of manifestos and video recordings of the attacks, and how their pursuits can stem from narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage.
Carlson, E. N., Vazire, S., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2011). You probably think this paper's about you: narcissists' perceptions of their personality and reputation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(1), 185–201. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023781
Ronningstam, E., & Baskin-Sommers, A. R. (2013). Fear and decision-making in narcissistic personality disorder-a link between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 15(2), 191–201.
Vaknin, S., & Rangelovska, L. (2015). Malignant self love: Narcissism revisited. Skopje [Macedonia: Narcissus Publications.