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We can expect more massacres. We can expect more prisoners. We can expect more premature deaths from overdosing. We can expect more selfish people without empathy. We can expect mental hospitals will become the order of the day, and some people will never leave, if they are being treated according to the medical model.

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We will see more domestic violence, and we will see the courts abused and more false complaints will be filed as well as real ones. More parents will lose their children because children’s protective services and the courts don’t know how to tell the difference between a false complaint and a real one.

– Dr. Faye Snyder, Child Forensic Evaluator

With another tragic recent mass shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, we are seeing a flood of articles about what happened, and the controversial debate on gun laws.

However, these articles often are missing an angle that is incredibly important for us to start looking much deeper at, and that is, what might have happened to Nikolas Cruz in his life, for him to carry out these terrible atrocities.

His lawyer has publicly stated that he is a ‘sad and broken child’, and we know that he was adopted at birth, and we also know that at age 5, his adopted father died. Late last year, Nikolas also lost his adopted mother, Linda, who passed away from pneumonia.

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It is also reported that Nikolas’s younger brother Zachary, was committed involuntarily for mental observation, after his brother carried out the shootings. 

Clearly these boys have suffered greatly due to their past, from the broken attachment from their birth mother and from the subsequent loss of both of their adoptive parents.

What we do not know in detail is, what else has happened during Nikolas’s life that will help us to understand why he wanted to kill so many people. 

We know that many people also suffer similar pasts, and do not carry out acts like this. But in Nikolas’s case when did the cracks begin to show? Just in the last few years, or were they always there?

Neighbours are now coming forward and sharing bits of information, like that Nikolas was a ‘deeply troubled’ child who often displayed violence, sometimes even to animals.  How did his adoptive parents deal with this? How did they help him deal with problems and his emotions? 

We must also ask, why on earth did he have access to guns if people around him knew he had a fragile mind?  On his instagram he had selfies with knives and guns and left comments on youtube that he was going to be a ‘professional school shooter’. Why wasn’t this a clear warning sign for those around him to do something about this?

More is also coming to light about all of the complaints (some were even to the FBI) and police visits regarding Nikolas’s behaviour.  In a video by Stefan Molyneux called The Truth About The Florida School Shooting And Nikolas Cruz, Stefan shares some very alarming information that shows there were so many warning signs that were just blatantly ignored.

After Nikolas’s adopted father passed away, Linda his adoptive mother, asked a neighbours daughter if she would care for the children. Whether she meant for a short while or permanently we do not know, however was that a sign that things were not well in the Cruz’s home and support was desperately needed?

In Nikolas’s life, Linda would have been the only person that had remained for the longest time – even if things were not perfect at home – she was still there and so, for her to pass away also, may have been the final straw on what broke Nikolas and sent him on a downward spiral.

Are we are looking at someone here with a deeply broken heart which led to a deeply broken mind, where he wanted to take his pain out on others?

In this case, we may never know the answers to these questions. However, we cannot continue to just say someone like Nikolas is ‘evil’, and leave it at that, and blame other things, this will not help us stop these acts from happening again.  We must look at why and start talking about what broken attachments are doing to peoples minds.

I asked Dr. Faye Snyder, Child Forensic Evaluator, author and the founder of the PaRC parenting school, who has spent the last several decades studying and evaluating why people like Nikolas carry out such violent acts, what do we need to do to ensure that these acts don’t keep happening.  I also asked her what she thinks about the high rates of American children and teens who are on psychiatric medications.

Interview with Dr. Faye Snyder

Anna Rodgers: Dr. Faye, What causes the violence we are seeing in USA schools?

Dr. Faye Snyder: Do we really want to know? With so much focus on stopping the violence, it would be great if we really wanted to know what causes it.

Why do you think we don’t want to know what causes it?

We don’t want to know cause, especially if it is a problem of broken attachments. There are too many ramifications for asking mothers or fathers to maintain an empathic attachment to their babies for at least three years.

Can you explain what that means?

I don’t believe I recall any violent predator who has not suffered a broken attachment. In my book: The Predictor Scale: Predicting and Understanding Behavior, according to Critical Childhood Experiences, I have included about 25 vignettes on real people, and the formula holds in every case.  

This is the primary cause, far above abuse.

Not only that, but insecure attachments magnify all other emotional injuries, while secure attachments mitigate them. From broken attachments there stems separation anxiety, fears of abandonment (leading to a cold acceptance of isolation), mistrust, emptiness, expectations of rejection, feelings of worthlessness, jealousy, bitterness and a need to blame (pretty much in that order)… and from there becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if someone doesn’t read the cues and intervene in the family.

In all of this, there is no development of empathy—only rage and hatred. One must experience empathy to give it. That’s the way it is with mirror neurons. We treat others as we have been treated.

Below is an interview with Dr. Faye and Stefan Molleneux, about what loneliness, broken attachments and traumatic childhoods do to people. 

Why don’t our ‘experts’ identify these children before it’s too late? 

I don’t believe forensic evaluators understand the essential causes of violence. There is too much focus on genetic explanations and too much assumption of inborn behaviours with very little understanding of attachment trauma and the role of mirror neurons in our development.

Unfortunately, the harm done by male privilege and the backlash of the women’s movement has depended upon genetic assumptions. It is rather conflicting logic and difficult to follow. We believe that there is no difference in capabilities for women and men, but we believe mothers can put their babies in daycare, and the negative results are from genes, rather than daycare.

We ignore the science of evolution and how babies were evolved over millions of years to spend the first three years with their mothers followed by an individuation process facilitated by fathers. We blind ourselves to the results of rotating caregivers and of behaviours imprinted in the home via mirror neurons.

We miss what is right in front of us to see. The damage done by rotating caregivers is exploited by the pharmaceutical industry as evidence of ‘fragile genes’. The imitation by one generation of another is assumed to be evidence of genetic instruction rather than evidence of imprinting by mirror neurons.

Schools offer more funding for children who have a medical diagnosis, and they prefer medicated students, because they are easier to manage. HMOs prefer the medical model, because they can get them in and out faster and save money.

Employers like women in the work force, because we lower the wages by flooding the market. We don’t want this information from our experts.

Do you have a simple formula we could follow for looking for signs? 

Actually, I have spent the last thirty years trying to develop a clear formula, based upon my observations. I have put together this:

40% failed attachment – whether lack of attunement or lack of continuity, as in having rotating caregivers

30% child abuse – whether physical, sexual or emotional

15% being raised in a family that blames  the child (leading to bitterness, revenge and retaliation)

15% from requiring members of the family to keep their complaints and emotions to themselves (which forbids self-reflection and ultimately healing). 

It sounds like we could use this formula to help with prevention?

If we really do want to prevent violence, our attempts to assess children should include school counselor’s notes on their attachment history (quality and continuity); the family’s method of modifying behaviour (abuse, shame, or exploitation versus safe affection, coaching and encouragement); the family’s inclination to judge, blame and retaliate, versus self-reflect and self-correct; and the family’s inclination to repress the authentic personality, creating a child who is withdrawn and who lives “underground”, telling adults what they want to hear, instead of learning respectful ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings, something some parents don’t want to hear, all the while building up more anger and bitterness inside.

Would the schools be willing to give parents the option of coming in to learn better parenting techniques as well as giving the child a consequence? If the parents decline, maybe then the child’s name goes on a registry.

Are we ready for that kind of renewal? By the time they enter school, they will be highly symptomatic with the above developing traits. Are we ready to ask questions? Are we ready to intervene in families because their children exhibit these traits?

Below: Constitutional Attorney Jonathan Emord speaking on the link between psychiatric drugs and school shootings and why there should be a federal investigation.

So many children and teens in the USA are on psychiatric medications more than ever – do you think this is going to help?

Bear with me for taking a detour here. When I was in school, we all sat nicely in class, went home and did our homework. We didn’t have domestic violence, guns, drugs, rapes, suicides, shootings and a lot of mental illness at school. There was some, but nothing like today. Children are not what they used to be. Today’s children are more symptomatic than in evolutionary history because evolution designed small children to be with their mothers continuously until at least three years of age, if not until age five.

These disturbed children are perfect tools for the medical model to convince us that some of us are born defective. We have been told that research exists to prove these children were born with fragile genes. The research has been modified to sell more drugs and to make us believe the problems are inborn, not from our parenting. Thus, we conclude that these children who threaten us also victimize their poor parents. The cause is disguised by the belief that our children were born that way, at least in part. So, instead of offering the parents parenting classes, we give drugs to their children.

Thus, the solution to medicate is often an absolute disaster. Almost all the children and young adults who have become mass shooters were on psychotropic drugs, which put these disturbed individuals over the edge. Some say that it’s the drugs alone that put the individual in a homicidal or suicidal state. These medications interfere with learning. They neutralize the evidence of neglect and abuse. They create addiction. They create symptoms of lower intelligence. They create psychosis rather than insight. They alter reality and a child’s capacity to adapt to it. They are chemical lobotomies to make these acting-out, symptomatic children more manageable.

Instead of getting that they suffer and need our help, we attempt to neutralize them, but the side affects are psychosis and intolerance. In some cases, they were not even that disturbed, but the medication caused them to become psychotic.

Nearly all the shooters have been on psychotropic medications and got reportedly worse under the medication. That is, their thinking about their plight in life becomes more disturbed, and their solutions become more psychotic. Did you know that we are giving psychotropic drugs to infants and toddlers now? This is getting out of control with terrible consequences.

Do you think parenting is getting better or worse?

Yes, it’s better and no, it’s worse. What is better is our understanding of the harm of corporal punishment. Sex abuse is out of the closet. Intolerance of gay children has diminished. Today, agents from children’s protective services take children away from parents who hit their children or they require parenting classes to parents who spank, which present alternative and more effective ways to discipline than teaching children violent ways to respond to disagreements.

So, fewer children are punished with whippings or spankings these days, but other parents have become so sympathetic with their children’s lives that many of them have become ‘rescuers’. They protect their children from learning, growing and discovering cause and effect. They fail to learn to solve problems or to become resilient. They often raise childlike adults who throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. These children act entitled. They often believe they should not have to bear a negative feeling or a difficult task. They are wimps. The results are epidemic.

Some mothers actually believe they ‘need’ their children. They don’t help them grow up and individuate. Often, because mothers want to compensate their children for not being there or because they have inferred that discipline is traumatic, we have seen them rescue their children from negative consequences. Every time they do for their child what the child could be learning to do, they weaken their child for life.

Some fathers may even think bullying behavior by a toddler is a cute display of high self-esteem. Some parents rescue children from bad grades by doing their homework for them. They rescue them from consequences in school, by fighting the authorities on behalf of their children or by ignoring the negative reports, as if they are just phases that will be outgrown.

I apologize for beating a dead horse, but the worst parenting is sometimes done with regret. Putting babies and toddlers in daycare (especially for full days 5 days a week, although some infants won’t do well being separated, even for small periods at all) causes the greatest harm, because abandonment trauma predisposes us to all other trauma, as if we have those “fragile genes” that researchers infer when they interpret their results.

The usual response I get is that, “I have to work. Some mothers just have to work. What are we supposed to do?” Sometimes it’s said in hopelessness. Sometimes it’s said in anger. I usually respond, “I am a feminist, myself, and I understand. I’m so sorry, but I didn’t create the human design. I’m just the messenger. Maybe we can brainstorm about what else you can do.”

If something isn’t done to help children and teens deal with their trauma’s what do you think will happen in the future?

You know, I watched the town hall meeting after the massacre. I was very impressed with the character of those older children. I do believe there is good parenting going on out there, but maybe it’s in more affluent neighborhoods, where mothers or father can commit to being the stay-at-home parent. The parents who have the healthiest children have the children who will be the wisest and make the best leaders. They will excel.

Still, we are all watching children go down hill. We can expect more massacres. We can expect more prisoners. We can expect more premature deaths from overdosing. We can expect more selfish people without empathy. We can expect mental hospitals will become the order of the day, and some people will never leave, if they are being treated according to the medical model. We will see more domestic violence, and we will see the courts abused and more false complaints will be filed as well as real ones. More parents will lose their children to the lesser parent, because children’s protective services and the courts don’t know how to tell the difference between a false complaint and a real one.

What do you think may have tipped Nikolas over the edge?

If I knew what I would need to know, I could answer you, but I don’t have enough information. After every mass shooting I am struck by the lack of coverage over the shooters early childhood. Nothing told yet explains his actions.

The other real question is why don’t reporters seek to find out what happened in the first five years. They assume, as does the public, that those years are irrelevant. We will remain in the Dark Ages until we appreciate the critical importance of those first years and learn to ask those questions. That, in it self is evidence of what happens when we don’t believe parenting and childhood cause these behaviors. We like to think the behaviors were inevitable and inborn.

I can somewhat answer your question about what caused this killer to kill. First there are people on psychotropic medications that have committed violent acts and murders who would not have otherwise done so and who did not have childhoods sufficiently horrible to otherwise account for their behaviors. So, simply bad childhoods, as well as terrible childhoods, can end in violence if you add psychotropic medications to the mix.

I know one researcher, who says that those who can’t handle the meds can be identified for intolerance via lab testing before taking them, but it would cost us a few hundred dollars to do the advanced assessment, and most people don’t want to spend the extra money.

Otherwise, I have to speculate. In order for Nicholas to turn out this violent, he would have to have suffered a failed attachment. Nothing in the news indicates a failed attachment, but he suffered several experiences before his rampage that would trigger a failed attachment. Adoption at birth would not create a failed attachment. That’s not to say that some infants don’t suffer being taken from their biological mother, but they can recover if the adoptive mother is sufficiently attentive. It’s hard to imagine a couple that wanted to adopt so very much not creating a sufficient attachment, but we really do not know as his adoptive parents are no longer here to ask.

We know Nickolas’ father died when he was younger. He probably experienced some bullying and social rejection after he had no father to lean on. We can’t know whether the attachments with his parents created social skills and a sense of lightheartedness. I wonder if he had that.

Cruz does have the slight look of fetal alcohol syndrome, which could explain why he was adopted at birth. He might have been taken from his birth mother, because she was an alcoholic. You might see the same sort of look in Adam Lanza and some other shooters. If he had FAS, he would have had more difficulty attaching and more difficulty adopting social skills.

He could therefore end up on the autism spectrum, which only means that he would have had difficulty forming social relationships. Between the lack of social skills and the odd appearance, the child would possibly attract social ostracism and bullying. In that situation, you could say that students at the school could have contributed to the rejection, isolation and rage that Cruz seemed to suffer, something that perhaps his adoptive mother was able to mitigate. (A similar phenomenon took place at Columbine, despite the inept assessment by the FBI.)

He did seem to react to triggers of a failed attachment like social rejection. Another trigger was a breakup with his girlfriend followed by seeing her with another guy. After that, or perhaps before that, he experienced the death of his mother and expulsion from school. For someone who felt so much rejection and loss, the medication could have put him over the top.

What issues can adopted teens have? 

Adopted children don’t have major attachment or abandonment issues if they are adopted at birth. However, “adopted at birth” often does not mean adopted at birth. I have known of multiple situations where adopted at birth mean that there was no mother until the legal system allowed for the adoption. Sometimes the newborn is motherless for weeks or even months. That would create major insecurity in a personality for life.

Children who are adopted at an older age, but still during the attachment years of zero to three or four, have often undergone a trauma or two before they lost a parent and experienced abandonment (even by the death of a parent). The younger they were, the worse the impact on the child when the attachment failed. Children with attachment failures, whether adopted or having suffered a failed attachment in the home (i.e. post partum depression, parents leaving the infant for a vacation, putting the baby in daycare or a cold, non-empathic mother) will have major behavioral issues as teens.

If they fall in love and everything goes well, there is some healing. If they fall in love and they are rejected, their internal scars are re-opened. If they have not learned impulse control as a child, they are in big trouble and their acting out will be commiserate with their level of rejection and rage.

Nikolas was recently expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Would this have also triggered abandonment issues?

Rejection inflames abandonment issues. Children in schools should be taught this, for their own safety’s sake. They should all care about a child who is being bullied for their own safety’s sake. Bullies put all the children at risk. Oh, and bullies have been bullied.

The media don’t seem to report much on the childhoods of perpetrators.  What would you like to see the media start to do? 

I would like the media, school counsellors, therapists, judges, police, social workers and FBI to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What happened in the child’s first three to five years?
  • Who took care of him as an infant?
  • What kind of care was it?
  • Was he enjoyed as an infant?
  • Were there attachment breaks?

This is critical. Dig, and they will find it. Guaranteed (about 40% of cause).

Find out what kind of interaction the child had with his parents. Was his father critical and rejecting, as is often the case of shooters, or was he a supportive coach about how to navigate the world? Did he hold a high bar and encourage growth? Was the child’s mother critical and rejecting or nurturing? How was he disciplined? Was there abuse (sexual, emotional or physical)? (About 30% of cause)

Did the family have a blame ethic where they just blame the child for everything, or were they modeling self-reflection and self-correction? Reporters will probably find that the families are critical of others if not of the child. They will be prone to blame and may have a drive for punishment (15% of cause).

Was the child driven “underground” or did they encourage him to express his thoughts and feelings, even if critical of them? The parents may have innocently been oblivious to the child’s feelings and thoughts and are simply not good at recognizing suffering and enfolding a sufferer, because their own parents didn’t. The child may have learned to keep his tormented thoughts to himself, leaking outside of the home if not in it. A child who cannot share his suffering with a caring adult will not be able to heal and may become a time bomb.

Hopefully, that caring adult would be the parents.

I believe reporters are afraid to walk on this ground, even if they know about it. It is forbidden. As long as it is forbidden to identify parenting as the cause, we will have shooters and other disturbing grown children amongst us. If reporters would gather this information, we could begin to keep the data on causation and begin to prove to the public what they must know for things to improve.

Otherwise, reporters indirectly telegraph the notion that these behaviors were inborn. That we look at the problem with so much concern but don’t see parenting as a cause is evidence of our deliberate blindness, as consumers of the media.

Should we be angry with Nikolas Cruz? Where do we lay the blame? Guns?

Time bombs are created in the home. They are not born. They are created with a specific formula, which even the FBI does not understand. Forensic evaluators often do not understand this formula.

If reporters would begin to cover this news, we could turn this around. Since this news is taboo, and there is only one institution that gets to oversee childhood treatment, we need child protective services to release information to the press about these factors. They should not be confidential. This information should belong to the public. Bad parenting should not be protected as confidential information. That’s us sending suffering underground.

We are entitled to privacy, but not secrecy when our choices harm others. I’d like to add that these social workers should be trained much better in assessment, as well. (I wish I could do it. I almost became a trainer for “front end” responders with child protective services, but they became suddenly very private and the arrangement was off.)

Nickolas Cruz was a child who had to grow up. Given the events of his life, it was not going to end any other way. It’s up to us. Do we really want to know why people behave this way? Are we prepared to make changes?

Faye Snyder, PsyD, aka Dr. Faye, has written seven books on understanding behavior. She is an expert on parenting, attachment, relationship skills, anger management, domestic violence, child custody, trauma, healing, sexual trauma, sex offending and assessment. 

Dr. Faye also is the founder of  PaRC The Parenting and Relationship Counseling Foundation is a non-profit agency dedicated to educating the world on the critical importance of parenting and relationship skills via the Snyder Causal Theory and Treatment, while raising mental health to new levels, one person and one family at a time.

You might like to watch a video called Blaming Parents – is this what Dr. Faye thinks we should do?

Further ReadingWhat the Florida school shooting reveals about the gaps in our mental health system

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