Judging by the sheer amount of documentaries
and podcasts on the market, it’s safe to say that true crime has become an obsession
for many. Serial killers, especially, have attracted
the attention of the morbidly curious. Here’s a quick look at the traits most serial
killers have in common. Most serial killers suffer from some kind
of personality disorder, usually psychopathy or antisocial personality. The difference between these two disorders
is simply nature vs. nurture. For example, a psychopath’s brain has underdeveloped
impulse control and emotional centers from birth. By contrast, antisocial personalities are
learned, and usually develop during an abusive or neglected childhood. However, neither of these disorders equals
insanity, which is why the "not-guilty by reason of insanity" defense rarely works for
a serial killer.
Killers deemed criminally insane are not mentally
able to discern right from wrong. Serial killers, however, know very well how
evil their actions are, they just don’t care. In his book Real-Life Monsters, criminal investigator
Stephen J. Giannangelo calls the "calm, purposeful behavior" of a serial killer "predatory aggression,"
comparing it to the aggressive behavior of carnivores. Predatory animals kill simply to satisfy a
need, there isn't any rage behind the action. In other words, while other killers may kill
because they are provoked, a serial killer kills because he truly believes he needs to. A person who has a "predatory aggressive personality"
believes other people are inferior, which makes it easy for him to justify hurting or
preying on others. Serial killers don't have normal human empathy,
but they're very good at pretending like they do.
Therefore, it’s up to the rest of us to
learn how to recognize fake empathy when we see it. Simply put, if your instincts tell you someone
is just going through the motions when it comes to exhibiting empathy, love, or concern,
your instincts are probably correct. Listen to your gut. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Most of us live our lives believing that the
person sitting next to us couldn’t possibly be a serial killer.
That kind of stuff only happens in movies,
or to other people. We think we’d know if one of our loved ones
was actually an undercover monster. However, the terrifying truth is that serial
killers are incredibly skilled at twisting perception and controlling those around them
like marionettes. They prey on the insecurities of those closest
to them and masterfully manipulate loved ones to never suspect them of any wrongdoing. That’s why the families and friends of serial
killers are always shocked to discover the person they thought they knew is evil incarnate.
"Just can’t be. I just keep shaking my head saying 'How can
this be?' Because he had lots of friends. Very good student in school. Very normal, active boy." According to Psychology Today, Jeffrey Dahmer's
father simply accepted his son's lies at face value because it was easier for him to believe
the lies than to admit to himself that his son was a monster. But even those of us who aren't already emotionally
invested in a relationship with a dangerous person can be manipulated. Generally speaking, if someone appears to
try and bribe you or distract you from flaws in a story using flattery, flowers, or gifts,
you should definitely keep your guard up. Abuse during childhood is not a direct path
to serial killerdom, but many serial killers were abused as children.
A Radford University study looked at the childhood
experiences of 50 serial killers and discovered that 68 percent of them had experienced "some
type of maltreatment," either physical, sexual, psychological, or neglect. An earlier study even reported that 100 percent
of serial killers studied had suffered some kind of abuse in childhood. David Hosier of Childhood Trauma Recovery
says psychological abuse in particular has a strong correlation with future behavior. Children who are shamed, humiliated, or punished
disproportionately can develop a propensity for cruelty as a direct result of that abuse. Neglect is also a huge factor, as when children
don't experience empathy from a parent or caregiver, they sometimes don't develop the
ability to empathize with others.
People who feel their own lives are out of
control will sometimes look for smaller, more manageable situations to attain complete control
over. If the person lacks empathy, that need for
complete control may involve other human beings. Childhood abuse isn't the only factor in a
person's past that can lead him to develop that oversized need for control. Kids who come from unstable homes, move frequently,
or bounce around between foster homes, may feel like they have no control over their
lives, and therefore no time to develop real relationships with their peers. Not only do these children develop control
issues, they also grow up with deficiencies in empathy. Combine this lack of empathy with a pathological
need to control others, and you’ve got yourself a deadly combination. Serial killers almost always lack remorse. That's not really surprising, since the ability
to repeat a brutal crime sort of depends on not feeling too bad about the first brutal
crime you committed.
However, a lack of remorse isn't necessarily
specific to psychopaths and sociopaths. People who have fairly ordinary psychological
makeups can also kill without remorse, provided they can successfully "compartmentalize and
dehumanize" the people they kill. "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it
gets the hose again." But most of the time, lack of remorse is directly
related to a killer's lack of empathy.
If you're unable to empathize with someone
who is afraid or in pain, you probably aren't going to feel much remorse about ending a
person's life. According to Psychology Today, the most common
type of serial killer is the "power/control" process-focused killer. John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and the BTK Killer,
Dennis Rader, all fall into this category. Power killers can be said to have a sort of
They kill slowly because the ability to decide
how and when their victims will die makes them feel empowered. Most killers who sexually assault their victims
aren't motivated by lust, they're motivated by the feeling of power they get from the
act. One of the FBI's favorite techniques for interviewing
serial killers is flattery. Psychopathic killers in particular tend to
have a grandiose sense of their own self-worth, so investigators can use praise to get them
talking. According to behavioral analysts, psychopathic
serial killers don’t respond to altruistic interview themes, meaning that trying to make
them experience guilt or sympathy for their victims is a waste of time. Instead, interviewers might praise them for
their intelligence or for their skill at outwitting investigators. Forensic psychologist Stephen A. Diamond calls
this quality "psychopathic narcissism," and likens it to an "immature, selfish, self-centered,
resentful, and raging child inside a powerful adult body." Children are inherently narcissistic and must
be taught the rules of social behavior, but when children grow up physically but remain
in a state of immaturity, they can become extremely dangerous people.
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