Some Thoughts on the Psychological Roots of the Behavior of Serial Killers as Narcissists: An Object Relations Perspective

Article excerpt

This article documents the definition and context of serial murder. The main theoretical framework adopted is object relations theories which have been particularly renowned for drawing close attention to the process and development of the early dyadic mother-infant relationship as a primary departure point for understanding both healthy and pathological psychic development. These theories have been especially comprehensive in depicting the inner world of the infant as magical and terrifying, fractured and kaleidoscopic. Within the context of narcissistic dynamics, one aspect of human behavior may be described as non-pathological and the basis for healthy ambitions and ideals, while another may be identified as pathological and destructive so that individuals behave in grandiose and murderous ways. Some of these individuals are sadistic serial killers who enjoy the sexual thrill of murdering and who are both pathological and destructive narcissists. This study examines the psychological roots of the behavior of sexually motivated male serial killers, and why they do what they do. The context of serial murder is presented, with a refined definition of sexually motivated serial murder. The development of narcissism is described as this forms the basis for understanding such behavior.

Keywords: serial killers, narcissists, behavior, object relations theory, murder, motivation, sexually.

Serial murder is perhaps the most baffling crime as it is difficult to comprehend that certain individuals would enjoy killing others. This kind of criminal and abnormal behavior is disturbing because it highlights a small but troublesome group of people in society who engage in acts of insanity and terrorism but who are not insane. Victims selected are most often strangers unprepared for the violence inflicted upon them. This article documents the definition and context of serial murder. As the focus is on sexually motivated serial killers, their characteristics are described along with the principal components of sexualised serial murder. A refined definition of sexually motivated serial murder is offered and in order to set the scene for the presentation of some thoughts regarding the psychological roots of the behavior of serial killers, the development of narcissism is delineated. The conceptual framework of object relations theories is adopted with the inclusion of some psychoanalytical concepts.


Serial murders, especially if they are sexually motivated, are perhaps the most repugnant acts of violence as they embody the ultimate capacity for human cruelty. Serial murder - which has been recorded throughout Western European history since the 1400s (Hickey, 1997; Schlesinger, 2000) - is a type of abnormal behavior which breaches the boundaries of consensual rationality and normality. Three types of multicide have been identified; mass murder, spree murder and serial murder (Holmes & Holmes, 1998a, 1998b). Mass murder is the killing of three or more people at one time and in one place. There is no, or very little, cooling-off period. Spree murder involves the killing of at least three or more people within a 30-day period and is also accompanied by other crimes. Serial murder is the killing of three or more people over a period of more than 30 days, with a significant cooling-off period. This cooling-off period may be weeks, months or even years (Geberth, 1996; Hare, 1993; Hickey, 1997; Keppel & Bimes, 2003).

The aetiology of serial murder is unclear. Researchers have proposed various sociological, biological and psychological theories that seem to offer a partial understanding of the nature of serial murder (Hickey, 1997; Hohnes & DeBurger, 1998; Geberth, 1996; Keppel, 1995, 1997, 2000; Keppel & Birnes, 2003; Miller, 2000; Ressler, Burgess & Douglas, 1988; Ressler & Shachtman, 1997). Some authors have proposed as the basis for criminal behavior the notion of a predisposition to violence (Lewis et al. …


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