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When Hurt People Hurt People

I believe that most young people who go on a rampage of shooting others in malls or schools, do so because of a combination of two things…hopelessness for their current situation, and a sense of abandonment by others. It’s an attempt to “pay back” mankind for their misery, forcing others to feel a similar hurt that they have been carrying for years. An understanding of what is driving these young people to plan and carry out mass murder can help bring a sense of “sense” into the “senselessness” and a plan to help ensure it doesn’t happen with a teenager you know.

I always wince a little right before a newscaster shares the name of the shooter who took out his aggression, anger, or disappointment with life through the senseless killing of many at a mall, school or a church. I wince not just because I have a tough time hearing of such a tragic event, but I wince with the thought that in the next second I may hear the name of a young person from a family I know.

shooter.jpgI wonder about this 19-year-old kid in Omaha, Nebraska and what his motivation was to shoot and kill 9 innocent people and injure several others in a crowded mall on December 5 –the deadliest mall shooting in US history. Did anyone sense that something like this could happen? Where were the shooter’s friends? Where were Mom and Dad? Why did he feel that the killing of others would compensate for loss in his own life? Where did his hopelessness and rage come? Don’t you find yourself asking the same questions, trying to “make sense” of it all?

Many of the increasingly common mall, school and church shooting tragedies are met with comments from friends of the shooter that say in some form, “I never knew that this person would do this…” or, “We did all the right things…how could this have happened?” or “This young man was a Christian kid, how could he have….?” These are questions that we probably won’t know the answer to this side of heaven. But, I’m convinced of this. We live in a hurting world that hurts people. And those hurt people, hurt other people.

Hurt people, hurt people. And if we can help those who hurt, it will stop them from hurting others.

Hopelessness is a tough state of mind to be in, no matter who you are. And hopelessness left alone can breed depression and even contempt. In a state of depression people just don’t think well. They feel isolated. They feel that no one likes them. They feel “dark.” They are sometimes consumed with irrational thoughts like, “Why was I even born?” or, “I’m nothing but a failure.” Left alone and untreated, these people can justify just about anything….ending their own life, an uncaring attitude about other’s lives, and a mindset that “things will only get worse.” It’s a tough place to be.

If those thoughts are fueled by the unkind actions of others, whether actual or perceived, it can be enough to send a hopeless and depressed person over the edge. As rare as these incidents are, they capture our hearts and attention, and should cause us all to reflect on what could have been done to prevent such tragedies, since in many more cases that we don’t hear about, the hopeless teenager simply ends it all without a fanfare.

I am sure that I have met many young people just like each of these shooters. Had they not worked through their “issues” and developed new coping skills in our Heartlight program, it would not have surprised me to hear their names on such a newscast. I know, because I have sat and talked with them for hours, weeks and months helping them through it — helping them get to the other side.

Now, there are people that have psychological issues far beyond the common person’s ability to help them. In most cases, these issues are quite apparent and good doctors and medications can help. But there are many more people, and teenagers in particular, who silently struggle. If we never try to reach out to those silent ones who are struggling, they will continue down their dark path.

“Faithless is he who disappears when the road is dark.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

If you think you cannot help a teen through such a situation, let me assure you that it doesn’t take a degree or some great skill. It takes a “with-ness”….being with someone as they struggle through tough times, to bring light to those dark places.

Here are a few ways to bring light to the life of a hopeless teenager:

1. Brush off the Push-Off — Don’t avoid what you think is a person’s attempt to keep you away. Always offer yourself in ways that let a young person know that there is nothing they can do to push you away.

2. Just Listen — Spend time “being” rather than “fixing.” Be with them and don’t try to fix everything. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and don’t get mad when they say things that are “sharp” or confused.

3. Encourage Help — Encourage the help of others. Counselors, doctors, therapists, pastors, teachers, school staff, and even law enforcement if things get beyond what you think you can handle. Just don’t give up. Hang in there with them. The reason many people don’t reach out for help is because that action would confirm in their own minds that there is something wrong with them. So any way that you can help them feel and understand that it’s okay to not have it all together. The best way to transfer this concept is to let them know that you don’t have it all together either.

4. Be Watchful — If you see something that is suspect, get other people involved. Don’t just ignore what your heart is telling you. I’m not saying that you should have a license to be paranoid about everyone you see, but I am convinced that there are many people out there, that would welcome a helping hand to literally cling onto as they walk through their struggles.

5. Keep With It — Stay in relationship for the long haul. Hurt people take time to heal. Let them know that you will walk with them on the “long walk,” not just the “short stroll.” Don’t abandon them.

Bringing light to dark situations with teenagers is what our full-time Heartlight residential program in East Texas is all about. We’ve helped thousands of kids get on the other side of such issues, and I cannot help but wonder what kind of trouble those kids would have gotten into had they not received the kind of love and treatment we provide. Many of them later say, “I’d be dead today had I not gone to Heartlight,” and their parents and friends usually echo that sentiment. Question is, would they have taken anyone else with them? If you know of a young person who is struggling, please tell their parents or counselor about Heartlight. From the full-time residential counseling program to various books, audio and video training resources, we provide many ways to help teens in crisis.

The Good News of Christ is not only found in His Word, but through the actions of those who love Him. For young people around us who are hurting, we are to beckon to them to come to us when they are weary and heavy laden. Such undying love on our part, consistently applied and never denied, sends a message that “fleshes out” the Gospel to a hurting young person and points them to the hope found in Christ.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.