Revenge and Forgiveness Part II: Adam Lanza as Scapegoat

Sandy_Hook_MemorialAt the time of this writing, it’s clear that Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, was identified as having a serious mental disorder previous to the massacre. We hear about how his isolating behavior had led to alienation in the classroom, about how alone he was in his daily life. It is inappropriate for me to deal with likely diagnoses or the competence and scope of treatment required and given. That is the stuff of detailed psychiatric examination—the in-person evaluations with those who had known or treated him, as well as access to medical records.

But all of us can imagine how someone with Lanza’s emotional and social problems might have been treated in school. Perhaps there was a modicum of understanding and consideration bestowed by parents, teachers, and group leaders among his peers. Yet certainly he wasn’t included in the same way; he didn’t act “normal.” And most importantly, there also had to be long, intense periods of ridicule, hazing and bullying, peer-group actions that are incredibly punishing to any child, particularly someone like Lanza, already so burdened by his own mind.

No blame meant here on his peers; it’s just the way humans behave and the way groups work during childhood days—and sadly beyond adolescence, in ways potentially even more injuriously as we become adults. That’s why educators and mental health prevention experts try to identify and limit bullying and hazing activities in groups early in the educational process, before adult “muscle” and access to technology become scapegoating’s coercive instruments.

Reacting to ‘a Powerful Drumbeat of Revenge’

Lanza’s illness led to his becoming a scapegoat and inevitably, within him, sounded a powerful drumbeat of revenge, which resonated unceasingly in his mind, heart, and soul. Is that feeling of revenge a bad thing? At first, probably not. Revenge works. It gives   victims a way of focusing their humiliation and self blame out to the world instead of taking and storing everything inside. But revenge also often evolves in unexpected directions. The road that takes revenge to forgiveness is not the road most traveled: It is a long, hard and rarely achieved journey.

Spurred by immense tragedies borne out of scapegoating—Apartheid, the Holocaust, genocides, and, yes, massacres like the one in the Newton, Conn., school, and in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater—our world culture is working harder than ever before to understand and then actualize ways to take revenge cycles out of their endless destructive loop and instead turn them toward the path of reconciliation. In the next posting I look more closely at how this might work at an individual level.

Next post: Revenge and the Road to Forgiveness


  1. The victim’s father, Robbie Parker forgave the gunman. Think of the good Lanzas: Mario Lanza (the singer) and Walter Lanza (real family name of the Woody Woodpecker guy!).

    • drscapegoat says:

      Thank you V.E.G. for you apt comment. Wouldnt it be great if that were the end of it for Mr. Parker. Unfortunately forgiveness is part of the long and ongoing process. I hope that Robbie Parker is comforted by this generous act but words at the beginning of mourning are not the end of the process. Do you know more about the ‘situation; of his forgiveness? There’s not much else he or the other victims can do or say at this stage but losses of this kind and reactions such as feeling of anger, revenge wont be so easily stilled.
      And yes the Lanza name is has brought huge joy to
      Dr. S

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