Making Sense of the Tucson Tragedy

By Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph

Larry J. Sabato’s commentary on the recent Tucson tragedy is excellent. I have some followup comments of my own as a long-time student and practitioner of Dr. Murray Bowen’s pioneering family work.

The public discourse [never] focuses on the roots of an assassin’s rage but it is high time that it did.

Until we do, the public at large (including the media) grasps at any straws they can to try to explain things that are not understandable by simply looking at the assassin himself. All that brings is a flood of inaccurate and naive finger-pointing, and a lot a politically-charged hoopala.

The fact is, credible knowledge about how family emotional systems function has long been available. But the mental health system is dominated by individually-focused practitioners in both psychology and psychiatry who point the public discourse in all the wrong directions. For them, the individual is primary and the family is secondary, if that. Mainly they see the family as a collection of individuals without defining patterns that connect them.

What we need to be looking at are the defining emotional patterns that characterize the Tucson assassin and his multigenerational family of origin — distinct patterns that can be traced back two, three, even four generations or more — patterns that track the transmission of familial anxiety and the dysfunctional adaptations that arise in certain family members in the face of that anxiety.

Once the focus is properly placed on the facts of the emotional relationship system it is not difficult to see the roots of rage that suddenly abrupt in violence.

But what we do hear about instead? We hear about the assassin’s current college experiences and occasionally his high school history; we sometimes hear stories from teachers who expressed concern about him several years back; and we endure interviews with neighbors who typically describe the assassin as ‘a nice neighbor, OMG.”

We never get any real familial information about the assassin because the assassin’s family is allowed, out of deference to their feelings, to remain out of the pubic eye. And, of course, there are legal prerogatives in that regard, as well. That said, the public discourse must necessarily include this information if we are going to make any real sense out of the tragedies that occur around us. In my mind, once violence is perpetrated in a public place the assassin’s background should be open and transparent.

Lawyers and police investigators don’t know any more about family emotional patterns than the next guy, even when those patterns stare them in the face day after day after day. They come up with profiles of serial killers but for the most part they act on the basis of little or no real familial information and concentrate, instead, on assassin motives.

Every tragedy like the most recent one in Tucson is an opportunity for public education and we are missing the boat on that.

We need to change the direction of the public discourse now — today. There are answers out there that will surely be eye-openers for all concerned. Maybe, just maybe, some in-depth background information about assassins for the public to digest will help make us all more aware of our surroundings.

Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph
Bowen Theorist and Therapist

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