Many unhinged people live among us. Every culture has them. A majority of families have at least one. Their problematic behaviors manifest from a variety of diagnosable disorders, and, although much of their conduct is annoying, disruptive, even isolating, they do not generally qualify as criminals or potential candidates for institutionalization.
Controllers, manipulators, the anxious, the addict, even the sociopath do not usually rise to the level of a need for police protection for those around them, nor do family members want it. Statistics tell us it is more probable than not to have at least one of these people with a condition that is troublesome for family members.
So, when do we become concerned about our loved one’s potential behaviors? When does it rise to the level of a legitimate crisis? Although it might be an indicator of a probable, imminent infraction of law, we can’t call the police every time Uncle Joe storms away from the dinner table because no one else agrees with his radical political views. The same can be said for cousin Scott’s expressions of racist rhetoric. The authorities would laugh if you tried to report Aunt Jane for her vicious rumors designed to pit family members against one another. And no one wants to turn in cousin Amy for showing up to Thanksgiving high on heroin and stealing money from the purses in the guest bedroom.
Many of us grew up learning lessons about family through religion. The Genesis account of Cain and Abel served as a powerful example. After Cain kills his brother, he asks an angry God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rabbis often claim that the entire rest of the Bible is the answer to that question.
No wonder most of us believe we are ultimately responsible for our family. We choose our friends, we even choose a spouse, but we do not choose family. Often, those we do not choose pose the greatest challenge.
Despite the grim results of success over the long-term, many try to control or positively influence a family member’s injurious behavior. Often, they repeatedly fail because the mental illness is organic. As a society, when family fails, we hope these people get help. Although family is the most likely proactive group to seek professional help, there is a growing mountain of reasons why they might fail to secure real help.
There are also families that do something by doing nothing. More than likely, these are people driven by paralyzing fear, most of which is in response to life experience. Some of them are deniers who simply cannot handle reality. Some have separated themselves from the problem, only to leave the transgressor isolated. These do-nothing people are likely victims of their loved one. They know better than anyone what the perpetrator might be capable of doing. They also know what dangers to expect if they reach out to a system that fails to retain the aggressor.
There are so many things that influence the situation. Surely, in every situation like the gunman in Alexandria, Virginia, who opened fire on the congressional baseball practice, someone knew that, eventually, there would be a horrible outcome.
The real question is: Could they have done anything to stop it? Usually, nothing would have stopped the tragedy. Some actions might change who the eventual victim is but not the time-bomb about to explode. In most cases, we don’t lock up people indefinitely who have yet to commit a horrible crime. So, let’s stop with the blame.
If you can help someone get mental-health care early, do so. Mental-health care is a preventative; why not make it immune to deductibles? In the end, it might save lives and money.
Besides blaming a perp’s family, what can we do keep safe? Many professions make a person more vulnerable than others. Political figures certainly fall into that category, as do all public figures. On the heels of this tragedy, the revelation of the lack of security for congressional members was shocking.
Is this lack of personal security irresponsible? As a writer, my safety has twice been breached by sick fans. As a woman, I have also experienced situations that were frightening. As a result, I take measures to help secure my safety. It is important to me and my family.
Realistically, there is not one thing that can make a person safe. All we can do is assemble a compilation of premeditated precautions. We live in a society where nothing is secret. If someone wants to find you, they will. Be prepared!