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  • ronnie gladden

The Idaho Murders and the Need for Authentic Identity

In December of 2022, the police apprehended Bryan Kohberger for the November 13th murder of four college students. Kohberger was a Ph.D. student studying criminology at the same school his victims attended and reportedly was cocky enough to inquire who else the police had arrested before coming to him.

Kohberger’s Misplaced Identity

Mike Baker and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs recently reported for the New York Times on Kohberger's troubling past with mental health. Linking the alleged murderer to his social posts from his formative years, they found troubling trends of depression, anxiety, and isolation.

At one point, as a teenager on an internet forum, Kohberger remarks “As I hug my family, I look into their faces, I see nothing, it is like I am looking at a video game, but less.” After recovering from a period of heroin dependency, he decided to pursue a career in criminology and showed a renewed interest in life as a result.

As the tragic murders and Kohberger’s reaction make clear, this became a substitute for emotions, identity, and purpose. Despite his adamant attempts to claim innocence and throw the police off his trail, they have mounted a significant sum of evidence against Kohberger.

The Epidemic of Misplaced Identities in America

The murders in Idaho are extreme but unfortunately, they’re far from obscurity. Setting aside other instances of mass killings stemming from mental health disorders, much of America lives with an identity they don’t own.

Instead, they borrow identities from around them — their job, studies, hobbies, gender roles, etc. Bryan Kohberger struggled with not having access to his authentic self through much of his childhood according to his social media posts.

When something came along he felt he was good at and could take hold of, he seized the opportunity and made it all he could become. As Vinette Robbinson’s character said of Sherlock Holmes in the show Sherlock, “One day just showing up won’t be enough. One day we’ll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes will be the one that put it there.”

The Role of Identity on Mental Health

Dr. Eiko Fried recently argued in his paper that mental health problems are “systems, not syndromes.” Instead of thinking of them as diagnosable conditions, it’s better to think of them as complex problems rooted in “biological, psychological, and social elements.”

Until we can address the world around us and identify ourselves from within, tragedy will continue to be a symptom of this disease. This path of processing this tragedy isn’t about “thoughts and prayers,” this one begins right at home.

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