the aftermath of the school shootings in Littleton,
Colorado, our society will look for a target
to blame for causing the school violence which
has been occurring across the country.
Undoubtedly, we will focus on the violence and
anger in those who commit such acts. To study
only the anger, hatred or violence will be like
looking at the tip of the iceberg. Looking beneath
the anger and hatred, we find a number of precursors
to anger which are not as obvious as the
anger. All of us have been affected by what has
been referred to as "low self-esteem."
seen the problem in those who have felt the stigma
of mental illness and in others who simply feel
that they do not "fit in." Low self-esteem
or a feeling of low self-worth may be referred
to as a
feeling of "worthlessness" or "worth-less-ness."
Some mental health professionals label it as a
Whatever one chooses to call it, the fact is that
the feeling of self-worth is the "stuff"
that helps to
keep us on track when we face stress, losses,
everyday failures or mistakes. If our self-worth
intact our confidence will not be lost even when
we fail. We will not become vulnerable to
situations that confront us. As our lives develop
a faster pace, and demands placed on us become
more varied and numerous, we often attempt to
find solutions which are usually temporary and
provide only partial relief. Some turn to addictive
substances, medications, overeating or other
external "solutions." There are those
who compulsively approach their responsibilities
demand for perfectionism and, hopefully, before
it is too late, learn that no one is perfect.
look for external ways to hold our "selves"
together or to improve our self-worth, we experience
the emotions associated with feeling worthless
which are typically frustration, fear of rejection,
anxiety, shame and anger. If the anger is turned
inward, we feel depressed. The anger may be
turned outward against others. The reason we recognize
the anger toward others is because it is
shown to others in the form of behavior. Anger
is seen as the "problem." The other
frustration, fear, anxiety or depression may go
unnoticed because they are the "quiet"
This is why school principals, teachers, and parents
may go for months or years without noticing a
"problem" until the anger emerges and
shows its behaviors which are sometimes released
violence. Then we ask, "Why?"
Even as the person with shame or fear prepares
to release the anger, a sense of control and a
sense of self-worth may be felt. The precursors
to anger have made the person vulnerable to
negative influences, such as cults or antisocial
or charismatic figures. After the anger is released,
there are always those who remember the violent
person as nice, well-mannered, or, at the very
least, withdrawn or "off to himself."
Feelings of worthlessness are often masked. The
the mask or cover up is to prevent others from
seeing the vulnerability or weakness in the self.
Who among us would admit to feeling worthless
or weak when only the strong and worthy are
admired and recognized among our peers? Teenagers
mask their feelings of worthlessness or
"worth-less-ness" by a making a change
in appearance, striving to be accepted, or by
to prevent rejection. The masks of worthlessness
can vary from one age group to another. The
adult workaholic may see his or her self-worth
as equal to job performance. The causes of
worthlessness are numerous, and not all people
who are exposed to the same influences develop
the belief that they are worthless. Some may not
be aware that they have the belief that they are
worthless and may suppress it.
The roots of the problem of anger and violence
have always existed. Therapists find themselves
trying to prevent what comes after the anger and
violence, such as posttraumatic stress disorder,
rather than prevention at the roots of the anger.
Law enforcement officials say that most
precautions of anger and violence will not completely
prevent it from occurring. The thoughts
which lie beneath the anger lead us to the core
beliefs that "I m worthless" or "I
don t fit in."
Before a person can walk the halls of a crowded
school building without fear, anxiety or shame
s/he must have some feeling of self-worth. Prior
to becoming violent, students may seem to walk
among other students without appearing to notice
that anyone is around them. This detachment is
a defense against the possibility of being rejected.
The feeling of self-worth can be rebuilt, but
requires meaningful experiences, education and
sometimes counseling, all of which are geared
toward the establishment of what is true about
Self-worth is not determined by the number of
friends we have, the brand of shoes we wear,
whether we are accepted or rejected, or determined
by our successes or failures. Self-worth
remains constant regardless of what happens to
us externally. Each person has the same self-
worth because we are human. A man hung on a cross
2000 years ago and accepted us
unconditionally. He was trying to tell us that
human worth is not based on perfectionism or
because we belong to a certain clique. If we can
establish our own self-acceptance, we will not
become vulnerable to the external influences which
have always existed and always will.