He was too weak to live down the shock of the killing. That's what he suspected must be troubling him. A real man could have come out of it in a short time and resumed a normal life. After all, he had done all he could that night. He had nothing to feel bad about. Nothing at all. It was easy for some of them to criticize him. To have their training classes and criticize him and Ian and say what should have been done. Then he was crying. It was the first time he had cried like this. Karl Hettinger sat hunched in his chair and his wet cheeks glistened silver from the light of the television, and his shoulders began heaving and great shuddering sobs ripped out. He lost control. He wept and the shame of it made the tears gush hot. There was nothing left, not a shred of self-respect. One day while walking through a department store with O'Lear looking for thieves, he saw a masonry drill he needed. He started to buy it but instead just put it in his pocket. It was as baffling and inexplicable as the weeping. --Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field (1)
The notion that a traumatic experience produces an extreme reaction is an ancient one. When confronted with serious, often life-threatening situations, crime victims instinctively resort to various cognitive mechanisms that allow them to cope with their sudden victimization. (2) Many people are familiar with the more common of these coping strategies, or "defense mechanisms" as psychologists call them, which include regression, denial, and repression.
In addition to these, crime victims also can cope with life-threatening trauma by "identifying" with their aggressor, just as Karl Hettinger--an officer with the Los Angeles, California, Police Department--did after witnessing two thieves murder his partner. Identifying with the aggressor has become a …