Cynical Shyness Can Turn Tragic
> 8/20/2007 11:42:00 AM

The young student who is not at least somewhat intimidated by making new friends and incorporate him or herself into the school social structure is a true rarity. And the flawless confidence to which so many aspire is, in fact, a myth best relegated to high school comedies and young-adult fiction. Nearly every student encounters the proverbial butterflies-in-the-stomach anxiety on trying to gain the approval of vaunted peers or elicit the desired response from members of the opposite sex. But the much-discussed shyness of the sensitive soul may be a chronic clinical condition leading, in its most extreme cases, to powerful resentments made manifest through violent fantasy; with enough internal pressure and perceived oppression, these primal urges may become all too real.

Unlike the truly introverted personality, the cynically shy want very much to be accepted, and they suffer even more when they cannot achieve their goals. The painfully shy teen may, in fact, suffer from one or more individually diagnosable conditions: Avoidant Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, etc. Are these labels simply complex solutions to a basic equation? Perhaps. But contrary to urban mythology, such issues do not resolve themselves on graduation day, and lifelong problems with assimilation can cripple otherwise healthy individuals. We can never truly name what drives isolated high-school juniors to homicide, but we can pinpoint their shared characteristics.

In a retrospective study of several of the past decade's high-profile school shooters, researchers found that they overwhelmingly qualified as "cynically shy" under a 29-point linear classification system; on a ten-point scale, most scored 8 or above. One may ask how precisely researchers can gague the respective personalities of the perpetrators, especially those among the dead. But by reviewing the material they left behind, researchers were able to determine at the very least that each of these individuals was plagued by social problems much more severe than those of the average high-schooler. Possessing the same desire for acceptance and fraternity as every other adolescent broaching adulthood, their conditions led them to react to perceived rejection with a bitterness and sense of oppression severe enough to erupt into physical violence. Far from committing simple acts of bullying behavior, these young men lashed out with a tragically magnified degree of force, exacting a final "revenge" on those responsible for wrongs real or imagined.

Unfortunately, researchers cannot determine which kids will be more likely to strike out at others, but they can estimate the probability that some will breed increasing resentment and a noted disconnect from those whom they see as the source of their social failures. Such emotional detachment makes it far easier for these kids to develop true resentment toward their peers, seeing them less as individuals than sources of exaggerated ridicule. Given time and provocation, these feelings may expand into uncontrollable anger. Shyness is not a "good or bad thing," and extreme cases should be addressed as early as possible, but we cannot label certain individuals as potential killers, and paranoia in pursuit of prevention will do more harm than good. If only we could predict when such violence will occur. Hindsight is acute but it cannot save lives.

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