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  • Destiny?

    A few thoughts after reading a textbook for article research. Also posted on my blog (shameless plug - , but thought I'd share it here:

    Today I would like to share the following with you:
    Taken from “Bad men do what good men dream: A Forensic Psychiatrist illunimated the darker side of human behaviour” by Robert I. Simon M.D.
    “But for the genetic and parental luck of the draw, might you or I have become a serial killer? Yet as a practising psychiatrist, I have been greatly impressed by patients who have been dealt a very difficul, not impossible, hand by life. Nevertheless, these people have assumed full responsability and have led productive and meaningful lives. A patient with a severe manic-depressive illness, who was married and ran a successful business once told me, “Doc, it’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them.” Becoming a serial killer, to some extent at least, is exercising a choice.”
    So do we have that choice? Are all of us capable of doing great evil? Of killing for our own perverted pleasure? Are you capable of that? You’d probably say no.
    “Perhaps Heraclitus had it right when he stated that character is destiny. The serial sexual killer’s character is one so firmly formed that it fashions his destiny. We who live with a few of these killers in our midst can only hope that our destinies do not cross. But we cannot escape our human destinty. There is a bit of the sadist, the psychopath, the killer in all of us. The basic difference is that the character-driven destiny of bad man is to consciously do what good men are destined to unconsciously dream.”
    Nature alone cannot explain the evil that men do. Nurture alone cannot explain it. A combination of the two must be why people can commit evil acts that make us retch in disgust. But then they’re fixed in their destiny, a luck of the draw. Fate is inevitable. Free will does not exist for the evil among us. That would be such an easy explanation.
    Time for some pop-culture philosophy:
    “Bottom line is, even if you see ‘em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.”
    Though not quite spot on, I like the quote so I’m going to apply it. The big moment is the act of nurture, the childhood trauma that drives those who already have some form of psychopathology to kill, torture or mutilate. I like to think that even after the mental illness, even after the triggering trauma, we can still choose to be good. We are not dominated by the fate of our birth and upbringing. We can spread our proverbial wings and leave the proverbial nest of pain and anger, emigrating to the proverbial south of warmth, kindness and good acts.

    Thoughts? Comments?

    "It is far more comfortable to point a finger and declare someone a devil, than to call upon your imagination to try to understand their world."

  • #2
    Becoming a serial killer, to some extent at least, is exercising a choice.”--from Jon Rees' previous post.

    Worth its weight in gold,Jon.

    Good threadstarter,buddy.
    To Join JTR Forums :
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    • #3
      Gluttons for Punishment?

      Hi Jon,

      Very interesting, and many thanks for posting.

      My own view is that no matter what bad experiences we have in our early lives, and no matter who may be directly or indirectly responsible, we have the choice (unless we also happen to be mentally ill) whether to dwell on the negative, and allow it to colour our lives and our future behaviour towards ourselves and others, or to learn from it, get over it and become stronger as a result.

      In short, I suspect that one has to give oneself permission, either to turn all the pain inwards and go on punishing oneself, or outwards to start punishing others - both ultimately self-destructive. Some people have more trouble than others seeing, or taking, the third option: to survive and thrive.

      I wonder if what makes serial killers different is that they take (or exaggerate, or even imagine) their worst early experiences as their personal 'permission' to be as destructive as they choose, in any way they choose and to anyone they choose. In that way they can keep their consciences wiped clean.

      It might make sense of the mumbo-jumbo about mothers being to blame for their little boys (not so many of their little girls) turning into monsters. Mothers, after all, bear the grim responsibility for introducing their helpless babes into a world where nobody is entirely free of pain and disappointment. Happy are they who go on to be 'glass half full' types. Not so happy the 'glass half empty' ones. Maybe the serial killer wakes up every morning to find an empty glass, and sees it as his divine right to keep trying to fill it with a pint of what everyone else is drinking - and then some.


      I wish I were two puppies then I could play together - Storm Petersen


      • #4
        Originally posted by Big Jon View Post
        Nature alone cannot explain the evil that men do. Nurture alone cannot explain it. A combination of the two must be why people can commit evil acts that make us retch in disgust.
        A very thought provoking post.

        I'd add fear of retribution of some sort. And if one thinks that serial killers start out with smaller crimes, it might be fear of the law that stops some of them when the feelings are nascent.

        I also think some are lucky enough to channel their impulses towards the military and other forms of service.


        • #5
          It's not the cards we're dealt with...

          Jon, sor, you come up with very interesting questions, that inspire me to write answers of epic length!

          For those who don't want to read my elaborations, here's the short version: choice

          Long version: (I seem to be going around in circles, but I'm actually trying to make a point <g>)

          To consider the deed as "evil", the serial killer has to be capable of understanding that what he does is considered wrong and not accepted by the society he lives in - no matter what his motive is -- as opposed to a killer who is suffering from a psychotic episode with profound loss of reality, for example he might be seeing his victims as monsters that are trying to destroy him, so that he considers himself using self-defence.

          A lot of serial killers have been diagnosed with what is now termed "Antisocial Personality Disorder" in the DSM-IV. (For those not familiar with the diagnostical points, I placed them at the end of my post)

          "ASPD" is quite a combination of what was before differentiated as psychopathy and sociopathy (heated discussions whether that makes sense are ongoing) Important to know: sociopathy used to include the "Macdonald triad", i.e. the combination of
          3 behavioral symptoms in children: bedwetting, pyromania, and abuse of animals, which by forensic psychologists is present in most serial killers.

          Some rough statistical figures:

          According to DSM-IV ASPD is diagnosed in 3% of all males and 1% of all women.
          There are round about 300 mio people living in the USA.
          Even if we say, only 1% would match the diagnostic for ASPD, we end up with 3 million people.

          There are different estimations how many serial killers may be active at a given point in time but without real evidence to base them on, the figures range between 20 and 300.
          Anyhoo, the 300 fits so nicely in the statistics above, so I take this "generous" estimation (I read that in an FBI study it was estimated that during the entire 20th century had 400 serial killers in the USA)

          Of the 300 mio US citizens 0,0001% and of all people in the USA with ASPD 0,01% are serial killers.
          ASPD is considered to be the result of genetic as well as environmental factors.
          So this is the point where nurture comes into play.

          Jon, you quoted:
          "There is a bit of the sadist, the psychopath, the killer in all of us."

          I want to add, there is more or less trauma in all of us. It is almost impossible to go through life without being traumatized at one point in time.

          There are different forms of trauma - a one occasional trauma, more or less severe or a long-standing trauma, more or less severe


          one occasion:

          witnessing an accident or being involved in an accident
          an operation
          witnessing a friend/relative die in an accident
          losing a limb
          getting raped
          witnessing a disaster or terrorist attack
          being in imminent danger in a disaster/terrorist attack
          being harmed or losing a relative in a disaster/ terrorist attack

          long standing trauma:

          living with a sick or (drug/alcohol) addicted relative
          a chronic disease
          continuous abuse by a teacher/neighbour /priest etc.
          continuous abuse by a close relative
          living in a war zone

          The list is almost endless and I think it's obvious that the chance that one is exposed to trauma in some way is high.
          As it is for all those estimated roundabout 3 mio people with ASPD. So, there's the genetic predisposition and the trauma - but only 0,1 % of them turn out to be serial killers.

          Fate or Choice?

          Two examples:

          Andrei Chikatilo who killed 52 women and children. He grew up in an Ukrainian village. In his childhood there was a famine in the Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 with mass starvation. People were so desperate that some refrained to cannibalism. It was an open secret. People whispered to each other, that when someone looked well-nourished, he or she was feeding on
          human flesh.
          To live under this kind of circumstances is a long standing, horrible trauma. But Chikatilo wasn't the only person to live with it. Millions of people were exposed to the same horrors.
          What made the difference?

          He definitely knew he was doing wrong. He did a good job at not getting caught. He showed no remorse but claimed at one point that he cleansed the society of worthless people.

          Chicatilo went through with it because it granted him a sort of satisfaction And I believe he went through with it because he made the choice to do it.

          The second example: In 2000 Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, President of the Violent Crimes Institute wrote in a profile "This is not a person who would stop killing on his own. There are 3 reasons to stop:
          1. Death
          2. Prison
          3. Too disabled or sick to kill

          She was referring to Dennis Rader aka BTK. He had extinguished several families in order to live out his perversions, yet he did stop killing.
          He couldn't entirely resist and after 30 years he started to send letters, which finally lead to him being caught, but he didn't start killing again. Maybe he would have started to do hadn't he been caught, but we don't know and it doesn't matter, because he stopped for 30 years.

          Serial killers when caught are often heard saying "I can't control my impulses!"
          Well, maybe. Maybe Dennis Rader was the only person with ASPD who had enough self-control to stop eventually, other than maybe Andreij Chicatilo?

          But, seriously, what keeps a person who has these terrible impulses and desires that he feels so unable to control from having himself committed, preferrably before he harms another person, if not choice?

          He chooses to put his own satisfaction above the life of one of his victims.
          He chooses to give a damn about values, ethics, morals, rights and wrongs, and, of course, other human beings, but decides that the only thing that matters in this world is him and his desires.

          I might be wrong and might be proven wrong, but until then, it's my opinion on this.

          One more thing in that text I want to comment on:

          "The basic difference is that the character-driven destiny of bad man to consciously do what good men are destined to unconsciously dream"

          Do we unconciously want to do what these serial killers do?
          I don't know about you, but admittedly at the end of "Silence of the Lambs" I gleefully thought that this creep Dr Chilton kinda deserved to end up as Dr Lecter's dinner.
          And sometimes when someone really annoys me over a lengthy period of time, I might come up with a "What would Dr Lecter do?".

          But that's because Lecter is an artifical product.
          He's as real as the refined Jack The Ripper in the movies, with his top hat and cape, ready to go to the Covent Garden Opera House, but instead travelling to the East End in a coach to carve up a pretty, young, healthy looking prostitute in frills and laces.

          Lecter's "life story" is based on Chicatilo's but go and compare the sophisticated Lecter on screen with footage of Chicatilo during his process. A lot of Lecter's victims we get to see are kind of creeps. Chicatilo's victims were women and children.

          Lecter may be the idea we have of the killer we would want to be if we *were* a serial killer. Chicatilo is the reality. I personally know nobody who wants to be like that, not even in his darkest fantasy and I sure don't want to know a person who would want to be like that.

          If someone comments on this, currently I'm due to computer problems only sporadically online and it might take me a while to answer.

          Antisocial Personality Disorder in the DSM-IV

          "Three or more of the following are required:

          1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
          2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
          3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
          4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
          5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
          6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
          7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another."

          [Similar behaviour may occur in a schizophrenic or in a manic episode, but it's not a constant state in the person afflicted.]


          • #6
            Originally posted by SirRobertAnderson View Post
            A very thought provoking post.

            I'd add fear of retribution of some sort. And if one thinks that serial killers start out with smaller crimes, it might be fear of the law that stops some of them when the feelings are nascent.

            I also think some are lucky enough to channel their impulses towards the military and other forms of service.

            I wonder if it's fear of retribution as much as lack of imagination? Perhaps the inexperienced bad guy gets a thrill from a "small" crime like theft or assault and realizes that there's nothing stopping him from doing a lot more but his own inhibitions.


            • #7
              Dissociation - Identification with the aggressor.

              Enuresis (bedwetting) has no studies linking it to a predictor of serial murder. Enuresis can be used as a predictor of either fire-setting or animal cruelty. Persistent enuresis past the age of five can be humiliating, especially if belittled by a parental figure or adult about it. This can then cause the child to use fire-setting or cruelty to animals as an outlet for their frustration.

              Animal cruelty is mainly used to vent frustration and anger the same way fire-setting is. Extensive amounts of humiliation were also found in the childhoods of children who engaged in acts of animal cruelty. During childhood serial killers could not retaliate towards those who caused them humiliation, so they chose animals because they [animals] were viewed as weak and vulnerable.

              Extensive periods of humiliation have been found to be present in the childhoods of several adult serial killers. These repetitive episodes of humiliation can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, which need to somehow be released in order to return to a normal state of self-worth.



              Mutuality and interdependence in a relationship, including mirroring and validating of the other's experience, affect, and perspective, allows the child to articulate her own perspective as well as to learn the roles of both persons in a connected fashion. In contrast, in traumatic procedural learning and in dominant-submissive relationships, there is no opportunity for interchange of perspectives, no modification of the aggressor's behaviour in response to the victim's plea for understanding, and the roles of victim and aggressor cannot be linked. Hence, they remain rigid and dissociated. There ensues a very constricted internal working model of the aggressor controlling the victim, and a similarly constricted model of the victim complying with the aggressor.

              Janet described how constriction of the field of consciousness often characterized traumatic situations. In chaotic, neglectful or abusive familial environments, the child may focus intently on the abuser's postures, motions, facial expressions, words, and feelings, for these are the most immediately relevant to personal welfare. As a result of being intensely attached to the aggressor (often much more intensely than if there had been no abuse), the child's mimicking of the aggressor's behaviour becomes a form of enactive, procedural learning. All other stimuli and aspects of self-experience, such as proprioceptive cues, or awareness of any other affect other than fear, may be irrelevant. Although the child learns the roles of both abuser and victim procedurally, this learning is adaptively focused on the abuser's behaviour and experience.


              In his discussion of child sexual abuse, Ferenczi coined the term 'identification with the aggressor'. He wrote,

              These children feel physically and morally helpless... for the overpowering force and authority of the adult makes them dumb and can rob them of their senses. The same anxiety, however, if it reaches a certain maximum, compels them to subordinate themselves like automata to the will of the aggressor, to divine each one of his desires and to gratify these; completely oblivious of themselves they identify themselves with the aggressor... the weak and undeveloped personality reacts to sudden unpleaure not by defense, but by anxiety-ridden identification and introjection of the menacing person or aggressor. ...One part of their personalities, possibly the nucleus, got stuck in its development at a level where it was unable to use the alloplastic way of reaction but could only react in an autoplastic way by a kind of mimicry.

              But this comes about in an anxiety-ridden way. Ferenczi is describing how the child is responding to the aggressor's needs or wishes by knowing his mind rather than specifically with the aggressor's role and position of power - behaviour with a very differently motivated self-protective purpose from that which Anna Freud three years later labelled 'identification with the aggressor'.

              How then does it happen that the aggressor's behaviours seem to be reenacted ? The child orients around the aggressor from the victim position, yet as a result of trauma procedurally learns the aggressor's position. As a consequence of peritraumatic dissociation, the child's agency and initiative have not been adequately synthesized among various self-states, and aggression has been dissociated. It is not that a part of the aggressor's identity has literally become part of the child, but that the child mimics out of intense attachement and dissociates out of sheer terror. Thus, rageful self-states are likely to be dissociated from more situationally adaptive ones.

              The term 'identification with the aggressor', here used in Ferenczi's sense, is not identification in the positive sense of adding to the qualities that a person already possesses, such as behaviours, affect, ways of thinking, and so on. It is not a question of how the object becomes part of the self, but how the object overtakes the self. This latter kind of identification (Ferenczi's 'identification with the aggressor') occurs as a result of trauma.

              Elizabeth F. Howell, The dissociative mind, pp. 164, 166-167.


              • #8
                Hi All,

                I do think that one child's traumatic experience (eg humiliation/abuse/neglect/accident/illness/bereavement/warfare), leading to destructive and/or self-destructive tendencies, is going to be another child's learning, adjustment and survival process.

                I think we have to be very careful to distinguish between actual documented trauma in any identified offender's early life and trauma they believe they have suffered. Does anyone really know what the chances are, for instance, that little Baby Peter (in the news here) would have gone on to inflict similar injury and suffering on strangers, had he not died as a result of what was inflicted on him? And would it be considered any less of a crime than when someone with no hard evidence of severe early trauma becomes a serial killer?

                What worries me is that the child who regularly wets the bed, sets fire to the school bike shed and tortures small animals (and may go on to do much, much worse) may be the one who is simply not wired to cope with any trauma, perceived or real, from the minor everyday stuff that other kids take in their stride and learn from, to the devastatingly real and damaging kind. In short, I really don't think we can look at one child's disturbed behaviour, and another's seeming ability to cope with life, and infer anything about their individual quality of life and trauma levels.

                If we could work out why some people take huge offence over the slightest thing, whether any was intended or not, and where most of us would not even notice or simply shrug it off, we might get somewhere. I suspect that some of us are born more sensitive than others, and those at the extreme end of sensitive would self-destruct if they didn't repeatedly channel it outwards. That's kind of depressing, because it would suggest that the proportion of serial offenders in society is not going to diminish by efforts to make the world a less traumatic place for our children. In fact, it's the pampered, lazy, creature-comforted modern world that seems to be producing the kind of individual who takes offence at nothing.

                Who are you looking at?


                I wish I were two puppies then I could play together - Storm Petersen


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Caroline Morris View Post
                  I suspect that some of us are born more sensitive than others, and those at the extreme end of sensitive would self-destruct if they didn't repeatedly channel it outwards.*

                  *My emphasis.


                  • #10
                    In contemporary society women still give birth to sons and nurture them during the early periods of self-formation. The attitudes of the mother influence the male experience of the maternal self-object. This influence is significant in its depth and consequence. Sometimes the influence is pathological. For example, in a study of three male children who had "threatened or attempted to mutilate their genitals, [and had] ... expressed an intense wish to be a girl," the children's mothers "suffered from defective object relationships, experienced a sense of emptiness and rage, and were jealous of men" (Lothstein, 1988) The relationship between the mother and child led to the creation of an idealized self-object that conveyed "the notion that masculinity was dangerous and dreadful". (...) Women are, consciously and/or unconsciously, pained and angered by the conditions men have created for men and women to live in. That attitude could and, in the above cases, does affect the narcissistic development of the male self. In turn the male self reduplicates the social attitudes and structures, which reflect the underlying fear of women experienced by men. It is probably correct to suspect that the little boys Lothstein studied may one day turn their self-destructive idealizations onto female self-objects for what U.S. soldiers in Vietnam called "payback time." Such narcissistic rage leads to the continued devaluation and denigration of women (see French 1985, 87-112). The continued devaluation of women leads to a new cycle of women's pain and anger, and so on, and so on.

                    William Beers, Women and Sacrifice - Male narcissism and the psycology of religion, pp. 184-185.



                    • #11
                      There are definetly people out there who cannot seem to cope with every day set backs, so who knows what a major trauma would do to them!

                      Does anyone here prescribe to the idea that someone can be born evil? I know it's very prevalent in public opinion/the media, especially when you look at cases like the James Bulger murder. Anyone agree with it?

                      "It is far more comfortable to point a finger and declare someone a devil, than to call upon your imagination to try to understand their world."



                      • #12
                        Hi Jon,

                        I think it has to be much more complicated than that.

                        But I do smile whenever I read that it's the female of the species who is the truly evil one, quietly responsible for turning her sons into society's most savage beasts.

                        A grown man who is not mentally ill has nobody but himself to blame for his own selfish and destructive behaviour.



                        PS What I was trying to get at is that maybe a serial killer in the making would see an everyday setback as a major trauma, while less sensitive and selfish souls learn to cope with everything life throws at them without feeling the need to kick the cat or themselves.
                        I wish I were two puppies then I could play together - Storm Petersen