Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides

By Louis B. Schlesinger | Go to book overview

Chronic Catathymic Homicides

6

The chronic form of catathymic process as conceived of by Revitch and Schlesinger (1978, 1981, 1989) is an updated and simplified version of Wertham's (1937) catathymic crisis. Revitch and Schlesinger reduced the process to three stages: (1) incubation, (2) violent act, and (3) relief (see Table 6.1). During the incubation phase, the future offender becomes depressed and obsessively preoccupied with the future victim. His behavior at times may appear bizarre, while at other times his outward conduct or demeanor does not change. At this stage, he may have suicidal thoughts that later become mixed with homicidal ideas involving the future victim. The idea to kill slowly emerges, takes hold, and then becomes fixed. The future offender may notify friends, family members, his therapist, or even a member of the clergy. His pleas are frequently ignored or rationalized as the offender often reassures the confidant that he will not act out and that he is in control. But despite his inner struggle and efforts to seek help, he carries out the deed.

Following the violent act-usually a homicide-the offender experiences relief as the catathymic tension is discharged. Occasionally a chronic catathymic homicide may be followed by suicide or a suicide attempt. The event is often recalled in a detached, remote manner. In fact, the violent act-and even the offender's thoughts and activities during the incubation period-impress him retrospectively as being dreamlike and ego-dystonic. The inexperienced examiner may take such a lack of emotion to be an indication of callousness or indifference, especially given the often close relationship between offender and victim.

Although there are many similarities between the acute and the chronic catathymic processes, as noted in Chapter 5 (see Table 5.1), there are a number of differences as well (see Table 6.2). For example, acute catathymic

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