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My name is Darrell Gray. I have a question. I have had some mental and emotional problems throughout my life and have probably come closer to becoming a serial killer than anyone I know. I exhibited strange behaviors from childhood and through adulthood. These included setting fires, killing animals and torturing them, lewd behavior, etc. I have dealt with these issues and believe I am okay now. It has been a few years. When I went to see my psychologist he helped me step back in my life year by year and try to trace the origin of my problems and the start of my strange behavior and mental problems. I discovered that I believed the starting place to be a time when my Dad killed a dog in front of me with a baseball bat. He beat it to death in front of me when I was about 5 years old. It had a profound impact on me and the way I saw things later on. I believe that it started me down a path of thinking and rationalizing life that was not normal. He killed several animals like this that I know about. Both my parents claim to be educated in psychology and do not accept that this would be the reason for me to make decisions later in my childhood that were not normal. My Dad specifically asked me, "yes I killed that dog, but it was not the only one. What you should ask yourself is what was different about that time than the others. Why did that one affect you the way it did?" He is telling me that he thinks my problem came from somewhere else before he killed a dog in front of me. He does not believe that it was anything of his doing or that it is not possible that something like that could influence a young mind in such a way to affect me later in development. I did not start acting out in a way that was obvious to anyone that I was not normal till about the age 10. My question is this: Are my parents right? Is it not plausible to think that these acts by my father influenced my way of thinking. My 5 year old mind did not know how to process what I was seeing I think. I did not understand what to do with what I was seeing. I think I took away from the incidents something I should not have and developed irregularly over the years and I thought differently and acted differently because of it. Is this not possible? I think I have found the answer I was looking for but they think I am full of it. They think I should keep looking for the "REAL" problem they say. What do you think?

ask dr-robert

Hello, Darrell--

First let me say that I am terribly sorry to hear that you had to suffer such brutal parenting which left you traumatized with distorted ways of seeing the world around you. You must be a strong and determined person to have been able to turn away from your antisocial behaviors, and to have made the reasonable adjustment to ordinary life which you now say you have made.

Your parents are totally and completely wrong about this. They are so wrong, and so far from understanding anything about the harm done to you, that their claim to be educated in psychology would be laughable if this matter were not so atrocious. And their claim that a child would not be affected by having to witness such barbarity is not just ignorance, not just stupidity--although it is surpassingly stupid--but obviously a self-serving attempt to get themselves off the hook for failing you so grievously. It is more than "plausible" to think that those acts influenced your way of thinking. It is, in my professional opinion, indisputable. To take just one aspect of this (and there are many), what is to stop a five year old child who sees his father beating a dog to death with a bat from becoming afraid that he, the child, might be the next victim of this out-of-control crazy man?

In short, it is obvious to me from your account that your father is a seriously disturbed person whose killing of that dog was tantamount to a criminal act. His views on this matter or anything else having to do with child development, human psychology, or, indeed, anything else in the realm of emotional life, have absolutely no validity whatsoever.

ask dr-robert

This sad excuse for a human being should be deeply ashamed of that action--the brutal murder of a defenseless, sentient being--and at least as ashamed, if not more ashamed, of having exposed a five year old child, or a child of any age, to such fearsome sadism. Since he is not ashamed, but instead justifies his actions, evading all responsibility for the harm he has done both to the animals he murdered and to you, I strongly advise you to stop speaking with him and with your mother about your inner life, your mental health, or about any of the sad incidents of your childhood. You should understand that these two people are the ones with the mental and emotional problems. You will never make them understand, and so I advise you to keep your distance—at least emotionally if not physically—from both of them.

Perhaps you will want to show this correspondence to your psychologist to ask his or her opinion as well. If it differs from mine in any way, please let me know.

Congratulations on having somehow come through this, and godspeed.

Be well.

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