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Why Do They ‘Go Postal’?

Updated on January 28, 2017
Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr. Billy Kidd was a psychotherapist and researcher for 20 years. He has also studied history, religion, and has been active in politics.

It seems like the copycat thing to do: Grab a gun and shoot everyone around you.

I’m a shrink, so I get asked, why do people do this? It’s simple, but you would have had to have been pretty hard pressed—your life, your family, your job being threatened—for you to understand it. But let me try to explain, anyway.

You can strip a person of almost anything, and they will figure that they can pick things up again. So people move on after disasters, like tornadoes that smash their homes in an instant. That’s because they are resilient and have the support of friends and family. But think of what it would feel like if someone assassinated your identity—the very core of your being that makes you feel like you. You would feel pretty alone—right?—if you didn’t have you.

Identity Assassination is one of the Key Ingredients to Going Postal

Identity assassination is one of the core issues behind going postal. In order to imagine this, let’s say that you put everything into your job. You try hard to advance. You keep track of every detail. But your boss has a Top Dog/Underdog List. At the top is the employee who the boss uses as an example of how a good employee does things. This person gets all the extra training and gets to go to all the conventions. At the other end of the list is the person the boss singles out at meetings when saying this is not how to do things.

Now, let’s say you end up in the underdog position. You don’t know why you are singled out at meetings for being the slacker. Doesn’t the boss realize you’re already donating an extra 5 hours a week to the job, have the most responsibilities, and get the lowest pay? What’s with this?

What you don’t understand is that the boss wants to take credit for everyone’s work in order to advance. You, however, stand out too much. You’re making even the boss look lazy. But when you talk to your so-called friends at work, they give you a blank stare. They’re worried just as much as you about losing their jobs. But they say they don’t know what to tell you.

You Feel Sick, like You've got a Black Hole Eating Away in Your Stomach

The stress mounts when the boss calls you out on a sexual harassment charge. Someone reported that you touched an employee of the opposite sex. You say, “What?” The boss explains what was seen, and you explain that it was the other employee who touched you—and it was only on the arm. The boss says you shouldn’t have allowed it to happen and that you’re going to be fired the next time it does. Suddenly, you feel ill, like you’ve got a black hole eating away in your stomach.

Back at your work station you think about how you’ve given it all to the company but no one is there for you. You realize that you’re a ‘nobody’ and that shortly you’ll be without a job.

When you get off work, you call your one friend with whom you can discuss this type of thing. Your friend says that you need to talk to your boss about how your feel or quit the job. You know your boss would fire you immediately if you said that what was going on made you sick. You also know that you’ll never get a good reference from this company as long as this boss is there. So, if you quit, it’ll be like starting over—ten years wasted.

You Feel Ripped Off

You feel ripped off. The freaking boss has stolen all those years of work from you—those years in which the job made you a ‘somebody’. You suddenly get angry and stomp around your house. You scream about how you’re going to kill the boss. But strangely … just hearing the words makes you feel better.

You calmly get your gun and get in the car. You stuff the gun in your bag and enter the office. Catching sight of the boss, you laugh. You pull out the gun. And suddenly, you feel blissful as the boss stares down the barrel at you. The boss begs you to put the gun away. You've never felt so in charge before. You pull the trigger. As the boss hits the floor, you grin. When you see the scared looks on the faces of coworkers, who would not give you moral support on the sexual harassment charge, you shoot them, too.

In the aftermath, your neighbors say you were a soft spoken, nice person. Your coworkers who survived say everything was going fine at work. They thought you enjoyed your job. It’s only you who knew, however, as you put a bullet in your brain, how humiliating it is to give it your all and have some self-centered narcissist take it all away.

You can substitute “lover” for “boss” and write your own scenario for the type of situation where someone goes postal when rejected by a lover. You could say, for instance, that the lover walked all over the person, who believed he or she was giving the relationship their all. The end game is the still the same. The person that is rejected identified with being a couple, and that is stolen away when the person’s partner rejects him or her. Other scenarios might include a student who suddenly felt like a ‘nobody’ after continuously being bullied. No one came to his or her defense. The student feels there are no real friends in his or her life. The black hole in the stomach grows and the solution is to take a gun to school.

Interestingly, women generally don't go postal. That is because their identities are built on a larger social network than men. This would include at least three or four very close friends. Men often do not have this sort of social support around which to build their identity. So they get more of their identity from their work or from being a part of a couple than do women.

There are, of course, other reasons for going postal, but identity assassination is the number one reason.


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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      angiepie, I wish more people would act the same way they would like to be treated. Just imagine the guy I saw the other day who got out of his car and wanted to fight another driver. All over a parking space!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I think it's a good idea to treat people the way u want to be treated cause u can get your ass blown away if u don't lol

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Yeah, Mr. Happy, it all seems unreasaonable, and of course, I didn't kill my boss. But the situatiation was so rediculous (everyone having to give 5 hours a week in order to keep their job at a top 30 medical university). That is why I could empathize about giving it your all and then getting it all tossed up in your face.

      But back to going postal. Let's imagine that I have nothing going on in my life and I live for the job. And it feel that the employee who told that boss that a client touched me did it to get me. And let's supposed, I guess, in my loneliness, I do not know how to communicate well, so I do not demand to know who said I was touched.

      So I get angry and I dwell on it and here in the U.S. I've got a gun of course so I take it to work with me and then do what all the nuts are doing. I do it because I feel the only thing I had in the world was stolen from me. I'm a little wacky to start with, of course, or I wouldn't be in that situation.

      Now, what that little wackiness is can be many things. And a whole long discussion.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I have a few questions for the scenario You presented here.

      "Doesn’t the boss realize you’re already donating an extra 5 hours a week to the job, have the most responsibilities, and get the lowest pay? What’s with this?" - If this happened for longer than a few weeks, I would have a word with the "boss" - why wait ten years? That seems illogical from my perspective, or some sort of masochistic stoicism.

      "Someone reported that you touched an employee of the opposite sex." - That "someone" would have to be involved into the discussion at this point and perhaps charges should be laid. Now, we could be looking at a criminal investigation. I am sure the boss would love to blow things out of proportion.

      From the following statement: "You feel ripped off. The freaking boss has stolen all those years of work from you", to the thought of "When you see the scared looks on the faces of coworkers, who would not give you moral support on the sexual harassment charge, you shoot them, too", is a bit of a jump in my opinion.

      I can see how from the thought of feeling ripped off, someone on the edge may go and take what seems like revenge on the boss but to go on a full-out rampage ... there has to be more than just anger at a lost career, or identity ... to me, it seems like there is a serious lack of understanding, of critically being able to analyze a situation, to emotionally handle a situation and so on.

      The way You have described this anger with the assassination of identity, I can also see it as an indulgence in the ego: I lost my so very important job and spend all these years and I got nothing: "So, if you quit, it’ll be like starting over—ten years wasted": me, me, me ... lol

      How about thinking that: "That's alright, I gained a lot of experience in those ten years, I learned a lot about business, relationships, life ...". I suppose here we have the glass half full or half empty story.

      Interesting read. I appreciate You offering this perspective about people who go on rampages.

      All the best!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The killing of Moslems' daughters goes on in the UK as well as in Asia - something they brought with them

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Had not thought about the arsonists. Funny, but the latest one in L.A. was a Gernman national, who torched 50 cars and apartments. We have not had the killings of daughters like in the Middle East and Central Asia. That's one thing that offends Americans. But killing someone with a gun--that's kind of like Wild West fun!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      To make up for the dearth of gun-killers, we have an army of arsonists and 'honour killers' (Moslems who have their daughters murdered for wanting to associate with boys of the wrong Islamic persuasion or just wanting to go out with a white boy). Now we have a father of sixteen children who's accused of torching his house, killing six of them. Arson seems to be a substitute for 'gun-happy' in this part of the world. There also those who chop up their wives and leave the body parts in suitcases up and down the country. A sort of 'jig-saw' mania in reverse. Don't forget also, Dr Crippen was one of ours, the wives in the bath murderer who dissolved his wives in acid and nearly got away with it. He was arrested on a liner bound for New York. Who needs guns?

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      You're lucky in the UK, you do not have 40 million households with handguns. People shoot each other just over being insulted in the U.S. Only about a third of these murders get solved. Obviously going postal would not be so deadly if the U.S. were, say, the Philippines and people only had machetes.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Only top-level public schools like Eton, Harrow or Marlborough are likely to have ranges, if at all. The character who took a gun to the Acklam school was just another loser with a grudge who'd got hold of a weapon.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Right, reagu, it's everywhere that you do not feel the group support. I had not heard about the shootings in UK, alancaster149. Probably related to a school shooting range, I'd guess?

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Now why didn't I think of that? Trouble is getting a firearms licence in this part of the world is lot less likely for people like me than winning the lottery. Yet there are many who seem to have no trouble finding weapons, even here. How would you assess our friend Breivik? We had one shooting away at Reading (Ryan) and another went through a school at Yarm near Middlesbrough. Now there are ten-foot high fences around schools. I daresay someone who's stressed-out enough would still find a way in. They seem to have that much more determination to achieve their aims.

    • reagu profile image


      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Sadly, I felt pressure similar to this in the corporate world. I suppose that it's part of living in a society that encourages the winner-take-all mentality rather than let's-go-along way of life.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      That is quite interesting. Thank you rasta1. I'll have to look into this.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 

      7 years ago from Jamaica

      I have also noticed first world citizens are more likely to go postal than residents from third world countries. I think it is because poorer people are already accustomed to not getting what they want and have little to lose.


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