Though it’s not even a question that Trayvon Martin suffered a tragic and completely unnecessary fate, what has happened to the mind of George Zimmerman? What happens to a person, psychologically, when they kill another? Can they ever get over it?
Therapists say, as painful as it may be, they key to it is reliving the incident as slowly as possible. Remember it in slow-motion, in other words. Whether a killing is accidental or intentional, therapists have their patients recount the event vividly, detail for detail. Most become fixated on one specific thing: they bargain whether they could have reasoned with their victim, or had enough presence of mind to inflict a non-lethal wound instead.
This is where psychologists step in. They remind their patients that though remembering the incident in slow motion, at the time they relied on split-second thinking, and should be cautious when blaming themselves for it. They ask patients to learn from the killing, and that in-depth analysis is meant to help patients behave better in the future. Psychologists avoid making a moral judgment in each case.
Most research on the subject is based on police officers who have killed either in self-defense or in the defense of others. Cops kill roughly 550 people each year for those reasons and are required to undergo counseling in the aftermath of the shootings. Physical symptoms accompany emotional difficulties. Headaches, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and sexual dysfunction are among the most common. Flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia, and nightmares are also common.
In George Zimmerman, many of these symptoms are apparent. His lawyers dumped him for strange behavior, he had isolated himself from all contact prior to arrest, was highly taciturn on his first day in court, and if you’ve been paying attention to photos, you’ll notice that he has lost a lot of weight.
Though many patients can overcome such concerns with proper counseling, a small percentage experience symptoms for months, even years.
Regardless of the final verdict, it seems as though Zimmerman will get his just-desserts, self-defense or not, for killing young Trayvon. He could very well be haunted for life. Maybe that’s poetic justice.