Since Maier's (1912) initial conception of catathymia, devised to explain the development of the content of delusions, the term has been used mostly, but not exclusively (Sedman, 1966), to describe various forms of violent behavior. Wertham (1937) was the first to borrow Maier's notion to explain severe aggression that stems from a process similar to a delusion. The homicidal ideas that Wertham's subjects developed were not exactly delusional, but Wertham considered them quasi-delusional in that they were fixed, rootlike, and inaccessible to reason. However, not all authors have used the theory of catathymia to explain violence that is preceded by a protracted period of obsessional rumination. Some have used the term to explain sudden unplanned acts of extreme violence. This chapter discusses acute catathymic homicides: sexual murders involving a sudden loss of control when an under-lying conflict is triggered by an external circumstance.
Menninger and Mayman (1956) viewed personality disintegration as a series of stages of adaptation to life's stresses. Their notion is based on Freud's (1923) concept of the protective function of the ego. With increasingly greater degrees of failure in adaptation come correspondingly lower levels of functioning. Their “first order” of adaptation is the experience of anxiety. If anxiety becomes too intense, neurotic defenses are formed, which constitute a”second order” of adaptation. The “third order” of adaptation is episodic dyscontrol. This explosive outburst of violence represents a failure of the higher order stages to prevent disintegration. It is also a concomitant attempt