Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence
Revenge fantasies are at the heart of many mass murders. "The most ominous fantasies," says Frank Robertz, a criminologist who studies school shootings, "gradually consume ever more psychic space and become buttressed by a distorted sense of what it just." Some target specific victims, while others pinpoint symbolic targets anonymous to the killer. Some killers focus on a specific goal, while others kill reactively. Some incidents have clear triggers, while others remain a mystery. Mass murderers may feel victimized and, to compensate, develop an inflated sense of self-worth.
Forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy, author of Violent Attachments, says that sudden violent crimes may occur as the result of "catathymia," a gradual build-up of anger and frustration that threatens to overwhelm a person's fragile sense of self. Sufferers desperately fear a loss of control that could turn into psychosis, so they construct layers of stabilizing deceptions. When the first ones work, they continue with more and more. But when reality intrudes, the possibility of losing their mask threatens to overwhelm them. Then something stresses them to a crisis point. The sudden flow of desperation capsizes their meager defenses, and they act out. Sometimes they murder, even if they've never committed an act of violence before.
It seems that underlying conflicts that have a strong emotional charge give otherwise normal concerns exaggerated proportions. The emotional energy turns an idea into a fixation with momentum, defeating all attempts by reason to waylay it. Whatever plan develops during this time of build-up, it seems the only possible way out. As inner tension increases, the need for violence as the response becomes demanding and the urge to act is nearly overwhelming. Psychologically, this process may be a safeguard within the self against the formation of a disabling psychosis.
But is that what happened with Cho?