Traits of Violence: Why Do Some People Snap?

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Why Do Some People Snap?

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH


What are the traits of violence? The hints before someone snaps? Ah, if only we knew, we could prevent massacres like Newtown from occurring. Or could we?

Back in 2008, I published one doctor’s take. Here’s the link. I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how right he was. And what we can add to his traits. And even if we identify a potentially violent person, what can we do?

I’d like to get your comments and suggestions. It might mean the difference in life and death in survival situations.


Photo by Kalun L on Flickr.



  • David

    Even in states with laws and resources, people with severe mental illness (psychosis with command hallucinations, for example) often refuse treatment, and involuntary commitment is almost never permitted by law (and for good reason, actually).

    A greater complication is that some murderers are not severely mentally ill, but have a slowly growing rage that is evil, not a treatable condition. The Columbine atrocity is just one example.

    Beware of pundits with simple solutions for complex problems.

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, David.

  • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

    Thanks, John. And don’t forget the Aurora Colorado shooting. I think that involved a troubled ex-student also.

  • John Gardner

    Doctor, this is very hard.
    I wrote a note about this yesterday, on a forum that I frequent. I tried to focus on the frustrations of mental health professionals. I was one of these, and spent a pretty good amount of time doing it in a large jail system.
    The young fellow, the madman, the shot Congresswoman Gabby, and killed others, was “disenrolled” from the Pima Community College system due to his “behaviors” (they were more specific). What happened? Lots of people knew something was terribly wrong.
    Having been there, done that, I know that AZ has neither the laws or resources to deal with this.
    A frighteningly similiar story played out in Virginia.
    Since this problem is so complicated, and will take time to fix, we need to address interventions that can be done more quickly.
    Schools? More fences and “resource officers”. Not perfect, but better than most have now.
    Tough times…tough decisions.