Monday, August 4, 2014
When people think about serial killers, and psychopaths, they tend to idealize them, and also have no idea what they are talking about. The idea that the psychopath is of above-average intelligence and cunning is perpetuated by the fact that unintelligent psychopaths quickly land themselves in jail. Psychopathy can be scored using a 40 point checklist developed by Robert Hare, and is often lumped together with the DSM and ICD’s anti-social personality disorder.
Many people have a hard time understanding exactly why individuals commit crimes but the reasoning behind it is actually the same as for those who commit serial rape and arson, or even those who excessively go clubbing: escaping present stressors through experiencing something so intense, which feeds into their fantasy, as to block out their real problems.
The most famous of all psychopaths are serial killers... serial killing can be compared to picking up singles at the club. people are the prey....
During the week many people avoid confronting their real stress by feeding a “party-hard” fantasy. Unfortunately, when they finally act to fulfill it, the experience is disappointing compared to the fantasy they’d been entertaining, which leaves them yearning, and determined, to do it again but this time to get it “right.” Serial crimes almost always follow a similar pattern: a never ending attempt to achieve an increasingly unreachable fantasy.
The biggest difference between this and serial killing is, whereas getting drunk and picking up a random girl fulfills a primary sexual need, the serial killer is also (and sometimes only) expressing a secondary sexual need: mainly for total control over their victim. Both mostly do it to, as Ted Bundy put it, “get your rocks off.” Both primarily lack a respect for people as individuals.
You cannot assume that all serial killers find the same things exciting, and the core of what creates the sexual thrill for them is called the “signature” (Keppel), which despite potentially changing modus operandi (or the exact methodology), will remain relatively constant. Although constant is the wrong word, since particular types of signatures tend to develop to extremes, although there is always room for human variable.
The part of the problem of the serial killer is what Robert D. Keppel describes as a “clinical anger“: they hold onto anger, frequently, and even if they hide it well, it interferes with their normal life and even their health. At the root, their anger likely stems from dysfunctional attachment taking the form of “avoidant attachment,” and a lack of meaningful or positive relationships. This means that as infants, they don’t cry when the caregiver leaves and also don’t want to play with the person giving the experiment, they don’t look for “proximity, interaction, or contact by reunion” when the caregiver returns. Much in the same way circumcision lowers a male’s sensitivity to pain, early and frequent experiences of abandonment and feelings of being an “outsider” in the own family, makes them prone to not voicing their emotions since they are used to no one caring anyways. Whether they show/know it or not: they experience emotions on a physiological level.
These people, as a survival mechanism to regularly experiencing such situations, do not really develop emotional intelligence. They do not consciously notice how unbelievably stressed they are: they create a diphasic personality to cope with it. This does not mean they have multiple personalities, it means they create a fantasy world for themselves and mirror behaviors for everyone else on the outside. With serial killers, this fantasy world is just far darker than with other subgroups to whom that description applies. These people “didn’t mature, because choosing to live in his fantasy world allowed him to say a child with no respect or consequences” (Keppel, p.325).
These people are not all geniuses, and they are not inherently particularly effective at anything other than being ruthless. Their high levels of stress tolerance, or inability to feel their stress and process it, let them fool lie detectors, as well as most of us. To them, lying is such a small occurrence that it wouldn’t necessarily cause a real spike in their heart rate or pulse. But, as Ted Bundy said: “if it’s properly administered…if you have a good person, they should be able to figure that out… if your man is good enough, I don’t think the person who’s killed all these people will pass.”(Keppel, 1995) A polygraph and associated technology only looks for signs of physiological stress (or even excitation) , which can be potentially elicited with questions into the killer’s signature, as opposed to alibi. (in other words to understand a psychopath's priorities watch their actions, do not listen to anything they say because they lie to themselves and all communications are based on those lies designed to manipulate)
These individuals are able to feel empathy, but have to use conscious effort to turn/keep it “on”. They are also so deeply involved in their fantasy life, avoiding their real life stressors, that they often never really process the consequences of their actions, or understand the patterns in their behavior. The repeated replaying of fantasies often paired with television programming, helps cement these fantasies and fuse them with the individual’s understanding of sexuality and/or stress release.
We also have to address that there are many toxic myths about men and emotion that leads many people to see anger as a more acceptable means of expressing social isolation than sadness: from childhood onwards. Not everyone is taught how to deal with emotional stress in healthy ways, and this can entwine itself with sexuality.
How many individuals have this kind of anger, this sense of separation, these violent fantasies? We’ll never know. In every case though, these individuals do not live in what famous psychologist Carl Rogers called “congruence,” or that that their experiences fit their self-image. Many of these people have a negative self-image, which allows them to do heinous things without creating dissonance. Anyone who believes themselves a psychopath is doing themselves, as a human, a great disservice by giving themselves such a negative label.
So, if you are a “psychopath”, or you have what could be called clinical anger, or just a tendency to hold onto anger like hot coals, burning yourself with the ambition of throwing them at someone else. How can you change your path?
The answer is to not force yourself into a negative self-image because of any strangeness you may have in how you experience the world. You do not have to be who you have seen yourself as, or make yourself a secret slave to any dark fantasies you may have. You can decide which thoughts you indulge in: you don’t have to hold onto anger. Practicing mediation is adviseable, as is taking responsibility for everything you do.
As Ed Kemper “co-ed killer” said: “I was emotionally impotent…a little wasn’t enough: it is like drugs or alcohol…“. These people do not trust the world to fulfill their needs, and build a fantasy word, transferrable to reality, which isn’t dependant on the will of others, which grants them total control. In some cases, it is actually at least partially dependent on them not wanting it. Their extremely narcissistic escapism literally throws other people to their death, and puts them through great suffering, in order for the perpetrator to misguidedly seek to relieve their real life stress and/or obsessive fantasies.
Your personality is not set, but it also doesn’t change drastically unless the circumstances change. What makes the biggest difference, what allows people to “change”, is compensatory strategies. There are ways to deal with emotional stress, other than blocking it out or turning it into anger: one can meditate, talk to others, and inhibit yourself from pursuing maladaptive ways of dealing with it. And although it is easy to blame psychopaths for the world’s problems: things really aren’t that simple.
Any serial killer could have changed their path and started to take responsibility for how far they had come already, the same is true for any rapist or arsonist. Many would never gone so far if they had trusted themselves to deal with their issues directly, had found better coping strategies, or if they had opened up to someone they could trust and let out some of the anger they are storing up inside. Whether psychopath or not: we could all do with holding more onto happiness, practicing the active art of love, showing empathy to other life, building meaningful social connections, and meditating. The only way to change your path, or that of others, is to be the change yourself.