For most people, thought about serial killers often bring about negative connotations such as insane, unintelligent or just down-right cold-hearted. Most people have a fair amount of control over their impulses; no matter how angry they get, there is something that stops them from taking their aggression out on others. It’s hard for most people to comprehend why, or how, it is possible for someone to perform such gruesome acts. Even Dahmer himself said, “It’s hard for me to believe that a human being could have done what I’ve done, but I know that I did it” (Newton). As hard as it may be to believe, most serial killers are indeed sane, but simply posses a dulled conscience. The aggressive behaviors of serial killers are physical manifestations of a combination of lifelong habits, motivations, and fears.
There are many theories as to how a serial killer becomes one. One theory is based on the fact that many serial killers have a lifelong habit of daydreaming along with compulsive masturbation. Usually a fairly evolved fantasy that combines violence with sexual release is developed. Many serial killers show significant acts of violence in their early teens. If there is an abuser in the child’s life, these daydreams may include gaining power over the abuser or taking revenge on them. These fantasies, combined with the sexual release of masturbation, create a tight grip on their reality until it is absolutely necessary that their fantasies be acted out.
As adults, their minds have been conditioned to associate their fantasies of violence with sexual gratification. The frightening part is if this theory is correct, then it is nearly impossible to prevent, or maybe even detect (Knight-Jadczyk). Another theory states that serial killers may be lacking a “safety latch” that would typically prevent most people from hurting others. Scans of several murders’ brains show that the region responsible for checking unwise impulses-the prefrontal cortex – poses actual holes in the activity level. They are significantly less active than the average. “When you have a lesion in this area… part of our behavior is at risk for poor judgments. Not that this flaw is an excuse for a killing spree. These are circumstances that make it more difficult for you to function, but you have to compensate… That’s your responsibility” (Chang). That could be the “latch” that they’re missing.
Motivations involved in serial killings are fears of rejection, power, and perfection. Serial killers tend to be insecure, and irrationally scared of rejection. He will try to avoid developing a painful relationship with his object of desire and is terrified of being abandoned, humiliated, or exposed. Many killers often have sex – the ultimate form of intimacy – with their victims, and often with the corpse. That way, the possibility of rejection is null. Serial killers also enjoy prolonging the suffering of their victims as it gives them a sense of power over the victim. They get to decide whether, and how, the victim will live or die.
They have a belief that “the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill you are always subject to those who can” (Card). Gacy often brought his victims in and out of consciousness and asked them, “How do you feel, knowing that you’re going to die?” (Newton). Killing is usually the only way they can achieve those feelings of empowerment. Fears of rejection and power are major themes of most serial killings, but perfection plays a role in some cases. Some killers seek to “improve” something. They often see a category of people, such as women or prostitutes, as “unclean”, and see their removal of those beings as improving the world. Or, they think that killing the victim, usually in some sort of a ritualistic manner, redeems the victim their wrongdoings. In that case, the killer is a special being and the victim is “chosen” and should be grateful. They often find the victim’s ingratitude infuriating, though unfortunately foreseeable (Lester).
Serial killers must continuously kill simply because they are addicted to the feelings they get when they do. They also rationalize every aspect and detail of their behavior so there is no reason in their head as to why they should stop. They know what they’re doing, the consequences of their actions, and how to avoid getting caught. Most serial killers, and psychopaths in general, are “consummate chameleons” who are able to hide their rage and true intentions behind a charismatic, civilized faÃ?Â§ade called the “mask of sanity” (Newton). Psychopaths are amoral and though they knowing the difference between right and wrong, they do not care and lack feelings of remorse or guilt. They tend to objectify other people and treat them as if they were objects. They don’t know how to have sympathy for others because of their psychopathic nature, but they do know how to simulate it by observing others.
Most serial killers are highly charming and persuasive, but it is only a manipulative act designed to lure victims into a trap. Their killings are material symptoms of the combination of their lifelong habits and personal motivations and fears. Though those factors are not excuses for hurting others, they are interesting explanations and provide fascinating insight on the killers’ minds.