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The Psychology of Hasan: The Ft. Hood Shooter

The Psychology of Hasan: The Ft. Hood ShooterI’ve held off in writing anything about the tragic Ft. Hood shooting, allowing some time for details to emerge and for emotions to settle. Random acts of violence always leave us all scratching our heads, but sometimes the violence seems so extreme, the act so irrational, one can’t help but turn and ask, “Why did he do it?”

Major Nidal Malik Hasan is now apparently conscious and talking in his hospital bed, after being shot multiple times by Sgt. Kim Munley, a civilian police officer, who selflessly and heroically put herself in harm’s way in order to save countless of others’ lives. Munley is in stable but good condition and is very upbeat, according to news reports. Virginia Tech helped guide Munley’s aggressive response to Hasan’s shootings. “The lesson from Virginia Tech was, don’t wait for backup but move to the target and eliminate the shooter,” says Chuck Medley, chief of Fort Hood’s emergency services, telling the Christian Science Monitor. “It requires courage and it requires skill.”

It’ll be interesting to hear what Hasan has to say, but don’t be surprised if he sheds little new light on his actions. Criminals often justify their acts with rationalizations that make rational sense only to them.

What is clear is that Major Hasan was a troubled, conflicted individual. Some are calling him a terrorist, which means, literally, the systematic use of terror (a state of intense, extreme fear or anxiety), especially as a means of coercion. I’m not certain what Hasan was hoping to coerce by his actions — perhaps an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? — and I’m not sure he was very systematic about it, since he chose a place where most of have never been, seen or knew much about (an Army training camp). But indeed, if his aim was to induce terror, I’m certain he was successful that day.

Hasan’s Increasing Opposition to the Wars

Hasan increased his opposition to the wars as his military career — and the wars — progressed (he entered the military before the wars). According to the most recent New York Times article, during the past five years, Hasan also began openly opposing the wars on religious grounds. But amongst the rank of doctors, opposition to war is not uncommon. After all, doctors see the bloody reality of war in their work every day. And Hasan — in his work as a psychiatrist as someone who sometimes saw and talked to veterans who returned from combat — likely understood the psychological and emotional toll such combat can have on a human being.

The New York Times also reports that over the past decade, Hasan had increasingly turned to his own religion, Islam, for answers. This is not uncommon for a person to do, especially after he lost both his parents within 3 years of one another in 2001. Combined with the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, instead of making Hasan more pro-American, it apparently turned him more pro-Islam. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be much an issue for most people. But it certainly could become an issue when you’re fighting two wars against people who are primarily Muslim.

The heart of the matter is this, however — Muslims serve with honor throughout the military, in society and in our government every day. While many of them object to the wars — just as many, many Americans in general do — most of them don’t take forceful, violent action with their objections.

Hasan Lacked Support, Conflicted About His Religion

Hasan was different. He psychologically had difficulty with accepting his conflicting roles as a Muslim and as someone who would be called upon to heal those who are actively fighting Muslims. (As a psychiatrist, while he may have indeed been in a combat zone, it’s unlikely he would’ve seen any direct action himself.) When most of us are seriously conflicted about major decisions in our lives, most of us take actions to find a solution to the conflict — we work it out with others, we talk to a professional, we seek guidance in our faith, friends and family.

Hasan apparently didn’t have a lot of friends and also doesn’t seem to have had much contact with his family. Social support — so important in keeping us connected with society and those around us — seemed to be seriously lacking in this man’s life. He sought others’ counsel and friendship, but apparently did little with the advice he was given and had only a few acquaintances.

The Psychology of Hasan: The Ft. Hood Shooter

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). The Psychology of Hasan: The Ft. Hood Shooter. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Nov 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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