Is it a question of evil or mental disorder when someone intentionally kills, rapes or abuses others? Next question; should they be punished or treated? These are among the fundamental questions we address in this psychological analysis of the psychopath.

There exist substantial disagreements in relation to whether serial killers ought to be referred to as mad or bad individuals. This thesis will examine this controversial topic, by first making a self-psychological case study of the serial killer, David Berkowitz. This is aimed at giving a thoroughly understanding concerning why serial killings were conducted. That understanding will be underlying in the second part of the work, as understanding gives rise to the ability to discuss the relationship there are between serial killing and evil (badness) and/or mental illness (madness), and also to investigate the possibilities there are for psychological treatment.

What is argued in this work, is that David Berkowitz seems to have had had an upbringing characterized with substantial losses and failures from selfobjects, which have caused fragmentations in his self with an attendant narcissistic personality. This way, it is further argued that these aspects seem to characterize as psychopathology, in which it is raised question to the general assumption that serial killers are responsible for their actions. In relation to psychological treatment with serial killers, it is argued in this thesis, that the widespread tendency to conceive criminal psychopaths as untreatable, is mainly due to the countertransferences, and the induced lack of empathy that is likely to emerge in the therapist. This way, self psychological treatment with its essential focus on empathy is suggested to contribute positively in treatment with serial killers and also with narcissistic personalities in general.

As a psychologist I will try to understand the relationship between human thoughts, feelings and actions. In the face of cold-blooded killers and anti-social behavior, this is a difficult task. How can a man abused another without being tormented by pain and guilt? Is it at all possible to understand the psychopath's mind?

When working as psychologists, one wants to understand the motivation behind peoples’ mind and behavior. But, the more cultural deviant the symptoms are, the more challenging it seems to be to understand them. Jack the Ripper, Theodore Robert Cowell (Ted Bundy), Gary Ridgeway (Green River killer), Dennis Rader (Bind, Torture, Kill) and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) are men that have in different ways killed several women. They seem to lack more human qualities than any other living people, and because of this prominent deviance, I want to establish whether it is possible to understand their behavior. An understanding of the criminal phenomenon of killing is important as it, within criminological terms, can ease the hunt of the defendant (the man behind the pseudo Jack the Ripper is, after over 100 years, still a controversial topic, and it took 10 years to find the Green River Killer and 31 years to find Dennis Rader) and most of all, it will have implications for how they ought to be handled. The main focus in this work will thus be on an extreme form for deviant behavior that is not very usual. However, one may think of extremes as an upper level of a continuum. This is as personality often is seen as a matter of dimensions and not as definite categories (Karterud, 2001, p. 27; Schroeder et al., 1992; Reisby, 2000, p. 31; Jaspers, 1997, p. 577). This way, a serial killer might share a wide variety of features with other individuals that are not murderers. This can indicate that an analysis of a serial killer also can contribute to an understanding of less extreme antisocial behavior or other milder forms for pathology.

There is indeed different kind of consequences for people who commit multiple murders. Someone are legally termed “insane”, as they were psychotic when they committed the murders, and thereby get treatment as a consequence, while others, even though in public often referred to as “sick”, are termed as sane and thereby deemed to jail or death penalty (Hare, 1999, p. 22). There is an underlying understanding that offenders from the two different circumstances can be separated to respectively one “mad” and one “bad” category. This classification can make one wonder about whether or not serial killers are somehow mentally ill too. This is a relevant question, as the American Psychological Association (APA) has stated that the “mentally ill” have the right to “adequate care and treatment” (APA, 1976).

Is It Real 3 - Jack the RipperRelated to this, is also the question of whether to punish or somehow try to rehabilitate them with treatment or educational inputs. To decide this, it is of importance to investigate whether their behavior can be improved. As there has not been a tradition for trying to treat serial killers, there have been minimal, if any, theories or research about this topic. But, as for criminal psychopaths in general (the link between serial killing and psychopathy will be discussed later), there has been conducted substantial research and also written a lot. However, a search in literature concerning treatment of psychopaths shows that the vast majority of views predict poor results (Hare, 1998; Reid & Gacano, 2000). If one were to evaluate the possibility for therapy with serial killers, one might, based on the destructive nature of the serial killers’ actions, suppose, that two of the often claimed essential factors for successful therapy; the therapeutic alliance and the patients’ attitude to therapy, would be deeply challenged. This is as serial killers usually seem to lack remorse, guilt and insight to their problems. One might wonder if it is at all possible for a therapist to appear as a “warm” and “understanding” towards the patient, which is often seen as essential in therapy (Hougaard & Rosenberg, 1999), with a client that might state: “I like to kill. I wanted to kill.” (Ted Bundy in Stevensen, 2005, p. 2). Despite the deep pessimism, or rather to say, because of the deep pessimism, the potential for serial killers to be able to behave in accordance with the culture’s norms, and not commit killings again, will be investigated. In this, it will be discussed what it is that makes the majority of therapists dissatisfied with the treatment outcome of patients who are capable of conducting destructive antisocial behavior. The pessimism for treating criminal psychopaths and the claim that serial killing has been “largely understudied and neglected” (Ferreira, 2000, p. 16), indicates a possible need for the society to reconsider the nature of serial killing and also to consider the possibility for promising treatment strategies of these criminals. This forms the basis for the following problem formulation:

“Is it possible to understand serial killers? Can they be successfully treated?”

It is hard to understand, and we call it by many names: Psychopathy, sociopathy, antisocial and dissocial personality disorder, evil, insanity or madness. It´s terrifying because it is so deviant. What is behind the different definitions of that which first and for the most resembles pure evil.

1.2.1. Serial killing and mass murder

Despite some disagreements in the literature concerning a definition of serial killing, it is most often defined by; “the intentional killing of at least three or more individuals in a series, with a latency period between the killings”. (Meloy & Felthous, 2004, p. 289). This is in contrast to the “mass murder”, which means the intentional killing of at least two or three individuals in one event. Most mass murderers use a gun, indicating a certain emotional distance to the victims in opposition to most serial killers, who seems to be concerned with the act of the killing, and often, though not always, involves sexual rituals (p. 289). Mass murderers and serial killers do this way appear in different forms. Because of that, mass murderers will not be directly considered in this work, even though it seems likely that they share some of the same characteristics as serial killers.

1.2.2. Psychopathy, sociopathy, antisocial and dissocial personality disorder

There seems to be a general tendency among people to associate serial killers with the term “psychopath”. There are, however, massive disagreements in the current psychiatric classification concerning socially harmful antisocial persons. The term, psychopathy, is often used interchangeable with concepts such as “sociopathy”, “antisocial”- and “dissocial personality disorder (PD)”. But the meanings of these terms are not identical. The term, sociopath, is the least used nowadays, having no actual diagnostic tool besides the first edition of DSM. This term was introduced in 1952, as the phenomenon of antisociality was seen to be developed purely as a consequence of social factors and not as well by psychological, biological and genetic factors as indicated in the term, psychopath. It was also used to avoid the confusion of the words’ similarity with the term “psycho”, which has a totally different meaning (Hare, 1999). However, professor in psychology, David T. Lykken, has maintained to use the term sociopath, when referring to “persons whose unsocialized character is due primarily to parental failures rather than to inherent peculiarities of temperament” (1995, p. 7). But making a decision concerning whether the antisocial behavior is a result of the parents’ upbringing or due to inherent factors, can seem problematic, and maybe also unethical. Antisocial PD is nowadays used in the American diagnostic tool DSM-IV, whereas dissocial PD is used in the European diagnostic handbook, ICD-10. Psychopathy is not considered in any of these classification systems, but is diagnosed with the use of a diagnostic tool that is developed by Robert Hare “The Psychopathy Checklist” (PCL-R). He based the 20 diagnostic criteria that it is containing, on the 16- item psychopathy checklist that was made by Hervey Cleckley in 1942 (Hare, 1990; 1995, p. 106). Hare and Cleckley seem, when studying literature about psychopathy, to be, or have been, some of the most prominent experts within the field of psychopathy.

The following is an illustration of the differences between the four terms:

Antisocial PD (DSM-IV): Three or more of these criteria have to be present in addition to pattern having lasted since age 15 and also evidence of conduct behaviour before age 15 (Gabbard, 2000, p. 493). Dissocial PD (ICD-10): Three or more of these criteria have to be met. Additionally, the behavioural pattern must have endured since childhood or adolescence and the general criteria for a personality disorder has to be present (WHO, 2002). Sociopath (DSM): These criteria are, according to Hare (1970, p. 4), from the first DSM from 1952 and the present of all of these symptoms is characteristic. Psychopath (PCL-R)
1)Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest. 2)Disregard for social norms, rules and obligations;
2)Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations. 2)Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility. Lack of responsibility 15)Irresponsibility
3)Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead Impulsivity (one of the general criteria for personality disorder). 13)Lack of realistic, long term goals. 14)Impulsivity.
4)Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. 4)Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
5)Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
6)Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. No real loyalties. 4)Pathological lying 5)Conning and manipulativeness 6)Lack of remorse or guilt.
7)Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another. 5)Incapacity to experience guilt.
Pattern occurring since age 15 Pattern lasting since childhood or adolescence Chronically antisocial 12)Early behavioral problems
6)Marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behavior that has brought the patient into conflict with society. Ability to rationalize their behavior so that it appears warranted, reasonable and justified. 16)Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.
3)Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them; l7)Many short- term marital relationships.
5)Incapacity to profit from experience, particularly punishment; Profiting neither from experience nor punishment
I)Callous unconcern for the feelings of others Frequently callous 8)Callousness and lack of empathy
Always in trouble
Marked emotional immaturity
Lack of judgment 9)Parasitic lifestyle
10)Poor behavioral control
11)Promiscuous sexual behavior
18)Invenile delinquency
19)Revocation of condition release
20)Criminal versatility
1)Glib and superficial charm
2)Grandiose self worth
3)Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom
7)Shallow affect

The symptoms for the different diagnosis are overall quite similar, and the symptoms that are approximating identical meaning are, in the diagram, put together in the same line. Symptoms that are not put together in lines, however, are symptoms that have a different meaning than symptoms from the other diagnosis and can contribute to a differential diagnostic outcome.

The PCL-R is a list of 20 symptoms, where each of these items is scored with a 3-point scale (0, 1, 2). Points are given depending on how well it fits the individual. The score one is able to get, is this way between 0 and 40. To be diagnosed as a psychopath, one has to get a minimal of 30 (Hare, 1996). This indicates that meeting the criteria for psychopathy is more difficult than meeting the antisocial diagnosis, where only three or more of the criteria has to be met. This might explain that the prevalence of psychopathy is found to be lowest with only 1% whereas antisocial PD is 3%. In relation to the antisocial PD and psyhopathy, it can seem like it would be right to say that psychopathy is as a subgroup of antisocial PD, as psychopaths most often meet the criteria for antisocial PD, and it is rare to be a psychopath without meeting the criteria for an antisocial PD (Gabbard, 2000, p. 493). As for ICD-10’s related diagnosis, the dissocial PD, this actually includes the antisocial, psychopathic and sociopathic PD’s (WHO, 2002, p. 202), which indicates that this prevalence is higher than the other two. But as for exact prevalence of dissocial PD, there does not seem to have been conducted ambitious research (Rosenquist & Rasmussen, 2001, p. 201). This is probably as most of the research in this field seems to have been conducted in the US, where DSM-IV and PCL-R are mainly used. For this reason these terms are also mostly referred to in this work.

1.2.3. Narcissism

NarcissismNarcissistic personality disorder is a diagnosis in DSM-IV, and is indicated by a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and a lack of empathy (Gabbard, 2000, p. 266). This diagnose does, however, not exist in ICD-10. This is doubtfully due to its non-existence outside the US, as it probably rather reflects the methodological challenges there are with diagnosis.

According to self psychologist, Heinz Kohut, it is a problem that the term narcissism is attached to one single personality disorder, as he claims that narcissism is a fundamental and essential dimension within every human being. Narcissistic pathology occur, when the self fails to develop in a mature manner, and continue to have an exaggerated need for being gratified and recognized from others people. This is as the self has not learned to regulate itself. This way, Kohut’s term of narcissism, does not directly referrer to what is meant by a narcissistic personality disorder in DSM-IV, even though the symptoms can be seen as related (Kohut, 2000, p. 27; Karterud & Wilberg, 2001, pp. 51-52). Kohut does not pay attention to the terms antisocial or psychopath, in his theory. He does instead refer to antisocial behaviours as “narcissistic ” (Kohut, 1978, pp. 634-635). Also Otto Kernberg who has been occupied with the disorders of narcissism, claims that narcissistic pathology is placed on a spectrum. This way, he ranges severity of narcissism, from a “narcissistic personality disorder” to “malignant narcissism “and to “antisocial personality disorder”, which is the most severe form for pathologic narcissism (Kernberg, 2003, p. 373). Out of these understandings of narcissism, and its link to antisocial behaviour, narcissism will be an important term in this work. Thus, when narcissistic personalities are referred to in this work, it does not necessarily referrer to the DSM-IV diagnosis, but it is more linked to the assumed presence of a narcissistic pathology (Kohut, 1978; Kernberg; 2003).

1.2.4. Evil

When the general public express their opinion and reactions in relation to serial killers, one often hear serial killers be referred to as, on one hand; evil, wicked, cruel and bad, or, on the other hand as; sick, ill, pathologic and mad. This indicates that one might overall separate the understandings of serial killers into two rather different categories. A presentation of some ordinary ways to define the terms evil and mentally ill/disordered will, because of that, be given in the following. As for evil, there are countless ways to understand and define its appearance. Traditionally (especially within a Christian point of view), evil has often been referred to as “…acts, and sometimes thoughts and ideas, commonly known as sin, that are thought to originate with Satan and challenge the law or will of God” ( This definition is stated in an online encyclopedia, which has also defined evil as something that is “morally bad”, “corrupt”, “destructive”, “selfish” or “wicked”. Within a respectively psychological and philosophical perspective, however, Roy F. Baumeister (1999) and Lars H. Svendsen (2002) have both written books about evil, where they define evil as something that involves an intentional wish to hurt other people (Baumeister, 1999, p. 8; Svendsen, 2002, p. 19). Kuschel and Zand (2004) criticize these definitions, as they claim that Baumeister and Svendsen, with their definitions, do not see evil as distinct from what is meant with aggression. Kuchel and Zand have defined evil in their book “Ondskabens psykologi” this way: “those that in their character are extreme and cross-frontier in the cultural and social context where they appear, and have as a purpose to reduce others’ quality of life (physically and/or psychological) and when the act is committed without empathy for who it is affecting.” (2004, p. 17. My translation). Thisdefinition seems to be consistent with what people in general are referring to when they talk about evil, and this definition will such be used as the basic underlying meaning, when referring to evil in this work. The dispute of whether to referrer to serial killers as evil or as ill, will be discussed later in this work. First is a presentation of how one can understand mental disorders.

1.2.5. Psychopathology and mental disorder/illness

There exist remarkable little agreement and accuracy in a definition of psychopathology and mental disorder/illness. In a psychological encyclopedia, psychopathology is defined as a mental disorder or deviance (Hansen et al. 1999, p. 324) and mental illness/disorder (Danish sygdom) as something that threatens the personality and that can be manifested in inadequate reactions (p. 320). These definitions can seem to have limited utilizability, as they can be argued to be somehow circular in their nature, and to be difficult to use when deciding who should be termed as having a mental disorder or illness.

The Danish research professor, Gretty Mirdal (2001), makes a clear definition of mental disorder/illness (Danish; lidelse). She defines it as the “patient’s subjective experience of being sick”, whether there are objective symptoms or not (p. 6. My translation). A definition like this seems, though, to involve a significant problem. If one is asking a person with schizophrenia, who experiences being controlled by aliens from another planet, he might answer negatively to the question if he is sick This way, an individual that is both severely paranoid and delusional, is not defined as having a mentally illness or disorder as he does not necessarily have the “subjective experience of being sick”. However, it might be that other people, like for example relatives, are feeling substantial discomfort.

Taking this aspect into consideration, Adrian Raine (1993), a professor in psychology, states that he has collected the definitions that have received most attention in the literature and thus what is usually seen as disorders. These definitions are; distress/suffering to self or others, deviation from a statistical norm, deviation from ideal mental health, deviation from the social norm, seeking out treatment, impairment in functioning/efficiency, listed in DSM and biological dysfunction (pp. 3-17). (It is also to be notion in relation to this, that the title of the “Diagnostic and statistic manual of mental disorders” (DSM), indicates that all of the diagnoses in this manual can be termed a mental disorder). These definitions of Raine will be the considered ones when the relation between mental disorders and serial killers are discussed.

Niels Reisby, having written some chapters in the book of Hemmingsen et al. (2000) “klinisk psykiatri”, states that mental illnesses is about a continuum, where it stretches from normality to severe degrees of mental disorders, in which the less ability the person has to participate in the “normal societies activities”, the more severe is the disorder (pp. 31-32. My translation). This understanding of mental disorders as a continuum will also be considered when discussing serial killers’ potential mental disorder. This is, as it will be illuminated where, on the continuum of “normal society activities”, a serial killer can be found.

With help of psychological theory we will try to understand the psychopathic mind. We will use the serial killer, David Berkowitz, as a case study. With the case study in mind, we will discuss what the consequences for antisocial behavior and serial killings are, and how the consequences potentially could be viewed differently.

This work will have two main parts, where the first part will be aimed at understanding the behavior and mind of serial killers. This part begins with an introduction, where an outline of the appearance of serial killing will be given. The remaining text in part one, will be related to a serial killer who named himself “Son of Sam” and killed 6 and wounded 7 others in New York in the year between 1976 and 1977. His real name is David Berkowitz, and he will in this work be refereed to as D.B. This case is used to give insight into a serial killer’s life and history. D.B.’s serial killings will first be introduced, then, interpretations of his mind and behavior will be made, based on Heinz Kohut’s self psychology. Self psychology is chosen because a complete understanding requires a theory consisting of developmental, personality and psychopathological aspects, and because the problems in D.B’s life can be seen to consist of losses of empathic self objects, fragmentations in self and narcissism, which is some of the main concepts in self psychology. Other theories might also have contributed to an understanding, but the use of one main theory in this thesis, is due to the substantial insight that yields, compared to using several theories in a more superficial manner.

One analysis of D.B. has previously been made and published. That has been done by David Abrahamsen, who uses a traditional Freudian approach in his understanding. Abrahamsen is a forensic psychiatrist who made a mental observation of D.B. after he was caught for the murders, and later wrote a biography of him: “Confessions of Son of Sam”. The main aspects with his interpretation and understanding will be included in this work. This will be done within a comparing discussion between the understanding of Abrahamsen and the Kohutian based self psychological interpretation. This is to show that there is not only one way to understand a serial killer like D.B., and also to shed light on the differences there are between Kohut’s self psychology and the theory it derived from. An aim with discussing them side by side will also cause the ability to find out which theory seems to make the greatest frame of explanation, in relation to the case of D.B. The last paragraph in this part will consider potential critical aspects with the method that has been used and also take a critical look on Kohut’s theory.

With the self psychological understanding of the case in mind, part two of this work, will be aimed at giving an insight to what the consequences for serial killings are, and how the consequences for serial killing potentially could be viewed differently. The actual legal consequences for serial killers will be presented, based on laws in Denmark, Norway and in the USA. Then there will be some philosophical and psychological reflections concerning whether people committing multiple murders do have (full) responsibility for their actions and whether they ought to be referred to as evil or ill, as this probably will have implications for deciding whether treatment or/and punishment is the suitable consequence for their behavior. In relation to this, psychological treatment of serial killers will be the focus in the last and main section in part two. What will be done to investigate this issue, is to present the views there are on treatment with patients with criminal antisocial tendencies in general, and also to reflect upon what it is that seems to make them so difficult to treat. There are generally negative attitudes regarding treatment of this clientele, which might cause withdrawal of effort to develop new strategies for treatment and a request for new ways of approximation (Hare 1998, p. 206; Reid & Gacano, 2000). Based on that, it seems necessary first to dig deeper into the understanding of, in this case a serial killer, to be able to make a therapeutic strategy that can lead to a successful outcome. Such a strategy is not to be found in literature. Whether this absence is due to serial killers incurability cannot be stated until it is actually tried. This is the motivation for working out a suggestion for what seems likely to be essential if treatment was given. In the end, there will also be some critical reflections concerning whether it seems possible to use the indicated therapeutic strategies and. A final concluding remark to the treatment aspects will also be given. The contribution in this work, will such consist of a self psychological based theoretical understanding and a planned strategy for what can seem like a constructive intervention method. However, it to be noted that even though a serial killer is used as the case in this, this does not necessarily mean that the understanding and implications for treatment are applicable only for a serial killer, but also for related cases and issues.

One might say that serial killing differs from other kind of killing, but what are the most common reasons for killing? People can have very different reasons and motivations' for making the drastic action of killing. We will discuss 7 reasons for killing, and we will look at some examples of serial killers. We will also discuss the relation between serial killing and mental disorders.

2.1.1. Serial killing as distinct from other kind of killings

When hearing about people taking other peoples life, one might spontaneously react with a feeling of contempt for the killer. People have, however, very different reasons and motivations’ for making the drastic action of killing. It does seem like one can argue that there are 7 different circumstances where killing takes place:

(1 What is meant by the term motivation is the conscious or unconscious purpose that decides the behavior of an individual (Hansen et al., 1999, p. 264)).

  1. Serial killing
Ted Bundy, one of the worlds most known serial killer. He was a psychologist and a politician and is referred to as a charming and intellectual man. Raped, bit and killed at least 28 and perhaps over 100 women during a 7-year period (Newton, 2000, p. 25).
  1. Psychotic killing
A 30-year old man shot and killed three persons and wounded two others in Farsund, Norway in 1988. When asked why he did this, he answered:”I thought it was war, and I had to defend myself!”
  1. Merciful killing (euthanasia).
A patient is incurable sick, suffering a lot of pain. He is begging his doctor to help him die. The doctor assists the patient by placing the medication in the patient’s hand, helping the patient place the medication in the mouth, and allows him to drink fluid and swallow the lethal medication.
  1. Killing in defense
A stranger approaches a person on the street that pulls out a knife and threatens to kill. The person being attacked takes a hold on the knife and kills the attacker in the battle.
  1. Killing for stealing, monetary motivation
Drug addicted person who has no money, robbing a store and realizing he has to kill someone to get a hold of the money.
  1. Revengeful killing.
A person has lost several members of his family as a person has executed them. The person takes revenge and kills the executer.
  1. Politicallideological killing.
Thousands of people in Germany took part in mass extinction and execution of millions of Jews during World War II.

These 7 circumstances can be seen as somewhat simplified, and they are often somehow mixed together. But they do tend to give insight into what kind of motivations that are present, and what motivation that is the prominent one when the action of killing has been made.

One of the most complex of these circumstances, but still the most ordinary, is probably the political conviction and mass executions as for instance that in Germany during the World War or that in Rwanda in 1994. This is, to a smaller or larger degree, what happens during wars, and occurs very frequent. Between 1900 and 1989, there were killed 86 million people in war (Svendsen, 2002, p. 22). The ordinary appearances of people who kill in war do not make these killers deviant from the culture they stem from. And also the aspects of social phenomenon as conformity, power, crowds and brainwashing are significant explanations for the deadly behaviors in war. Serial killers, on the other hand, seem to totally lack what the rest of the culture consider being a reasonable motive for the killing. Killing seems to be made, motivated by the killing in it self, or the violent or sexual actions that are often made in relation to the killing, in opposition to killers who have as a goal to get money or to get revenge on a specific victim, or psychotics who kill because they think they have to defend themselves. The question is whether it is possible to find anything that is reasonable behind the conduction of multiple murders when the offender is not psychotic, and when there are no war or no monetary-, self-defense- or helping motivation involved. Even though the reason for serial killings might feel reasonable for the offender, it is another issue, whether it is possible from an external point of view to understand the rationale for serial killing. This theme will be discussed closely, but first, the following section gives an insight to some episodes with serial killers.

2.1.2. Examples of serial killers

One of the most known serial killers of all times is probably Jack the Ripper. He murdered and incinerated five prostitutes in Whitechapel, London in 1888. Among other things, he placed the organs in different spots around the victims and claimed to have eaten some of them. What has caused these murders such a crucial role in criminal history is probably the fact that the murderer has never been found despite dozens of theories concerning the guilty killer.

In the US there has recently been an important event in relation to serial killers. A long-lasting hunt for a serial killer has finally ended. It all started in January 1974 when three young children arrived home from school in Wichita, Kansas to find their father, Joseph Otero, mother, Julie Otero, and their two siblings Josephine (age 11) and Joseph II (age 9) strangled to death in their home. Joseph was found lying face down on the floor with his hands and feet bound with a cord that had been ripped from a Venetian blind from one of the rooms. Julie was found in the

bedroom, lying on the bed, bound in a similar manner. After this, during a 12- year period, six girls in the twenties were found in the same ways. The killer wrote several letters where he claimed responsible for the killings and included detailed descriptions about how the murders had been made. The letters were signed BTK which was a shortcut for “bind them, torture them and kill them”. This however, did not result in any significant leads to the killer. Recently, 31 years after his first crime, Dennis Rader has been detected and has pleaded guilty to most of these killings (Online crime library).

2.1.3. Some epidemiologic considerations

It is to be stated that serial killing has a rather rare occurrence. A total of 357 have been identified as serial killers in the U.S. between 1960 and 1991. However this number makes a total of 3169 victims (Mitchell, 1997) and does indeed seem to request a need for investigation upon the existence of this behaviour.

The vast majority of serial killers are men. Female serial killers do, however exist. But they only count for approximately 12% of the serial killers in the U.S. 2 An example is Aileen Wuornos that was arrested in 1990, for having killed 7 men (Newton, 2000, p. 241). (A recent movie called “Monster” is based on her story).

Most of the literature and research on serial killings are made in the US. This is however, not peculiar, as the U.S., with less than 5% of the worlds’ population, have produced 84% of all known serial killers since 1980 (Newton, 2000, p. 1). It is also found in a cross-cultural study of David J. Cooke (2003), that there are significant differences in occurrence of psychopathy (measured by PCL-R) in European countries than in the US. Despite the indications found for a difference in the prevalence of psychopathy across cultures, Cooke also states that the evidence available indicates that psychopathy occur in most societies and at all eras. He refers to a statement of Robin et al. from 1990, that claim that antisocial personality is not a product of a “modern ‘sick’ society” (Cooke, 1995, p. 14).

But opposite views also exist. Kirsner (2003) can in this connection be mentioned, as he states that it is associated with the postmodern society to feel uninvolved, split and afraid, and that this is making it almost impossible for people to trust themselves, other people or the general environment (p. 167). Karterud (2001) also states that feelings of ones sense of self is, in the postmodern human, must change in a rapid speed with the rest of the world and people around, forcing changes upon beliefs and perceptions that the self already has (p. 13). Thus, they will argue that the (post-) modem society probably has an impact on the development of mental disorders and personality disorders in general.

2 As for this majority of men as serial killers, and also as the case in this paper is a man, the naming “he”, will in this thesis often be used. This is mostly to avoid writing he/she consequently, which will such make this easier to read. It is still to be noted that, this does not mean that females are excluded from an understanding.

2.1.4. Serial killers and mental disorder

Psychopathy/antisocial PD

The widespread assumption that all serial killers have one of the antisocial diagnoses, like psychopathy or antisocial PD, does not seem to be an underestimation. On behalf of their own research and with references to other studies, Geberth and Turco (1997) states, based on a study, that all most serial killers have an antisocial PD and that nearly all are psychopaths. Beasley (2004) has also made a case study of serial killers, where he, based on a qualitative analysis of seven serial murderers, has found that there is a substantial presence of psychopathic traits among them (measured with PCL-R). They are among others, poor behavioral control, shallow affect, callousness, lack of empathy, pathologic/chronic lying, manipulations and lack of remorse and guilt. It can also be argued that the nature of the serial killing actions is indicating a presence of one of the antisocial diagnosis. This way, one can argue that the actions are speaking for themselves. However, to shed further light on the personality of serial killers, the following is a selection of statements they have made. This is to illustrate the psychopathic symptoms: 1) shallow affect: 2) Failure to conform to social norms, callousness and lack of empathy and 3) impulsivity.

1)   “There are emotions- a whole spectrum of them- that I know only through words, through reading and in my immature imagination. I can imagine I feel these emotions but I do not.”                                         (Jack Abbott in Hare, 1995, p. 105).

2)   “I am looking for whores and I will not stop ripping them up until I get caught. The last job was a great piece of work. The lady did not even get the chance to scream a single time”.
(Jack the Ripper in Abrahamsen, 1992, p. 53. My translation).

3)   “…I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t plannin, I was just doin'”.
(Gary Gilmore in Hare, 1999, p. 58).

As there seem to be a link between serial killers and psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder, serial killers will, in this work, be used interchangeable with the terms criminal- psychopath or antisocial personality. This is not suggesting that all psychopaths or individuals with antisocial personalities are serial killers or that absolutely all serial killers are psychopaths or have an antisocial PD, but as serial killers are often found to characterize to these disorders, and there are substantially more literature and research about criminal psychopaths/antisocial PD, these terms will be relevant in relation to serial killers. In this work, the term antisocial behaviour will also be used, when referring to appearances of several of the traits in those diagnoses, when it is not specified whether it is clear presences of any of the diagnoses.

This apparent relation between serial killing and one of the antisocial diagnoses is what in a great extent has been the motivation for this work. As it can seem like serial killers are suffering from a severe form for psychopathology, one might wonder if psychiatric help would not be a more correct intervention, than punishment. However, psychopathy and antisocial PD are not the only mental disorders that are linked to serial killers.

Other mental disorders

Attached to serial killers, a great variety of DSM diagnoses are often seen. Mood disorders, drug and alcohol dependencies and also exhibitionism, voyeurism and transvestism have been found often present (Meloy, 2000). Geberth and Turcos’ (1997) study is also indicating that a majority of serial homicides are sexually motivated and that there is most often a presence of sexual sadism. This diagnose is, they claim, together with antisocial personality disorder, the most frequent one, in serial killers. As D.B. did not involve sexual acts in the killings, these other diagnosis will not be specifically considered in this work. However, as narcissistic personality traits are also very often seen related to serial killings (Meloy, 2000) and as narcissism and antisocial behaviour are often linked to each other, like mentioned in the introduction, narcissism will, in addition to antisocial PD and psychopathy, often be referred to in relation to serial killers.

One can imagine that a psychopath lacks empathy because of biological defects in the brain. It may also be that the psychopath behaves recklessly as a result of childhood trauma and neglect. A third possibility is that the psychopath's behavior is a reaction to pathological structures in society and social problems. Few, if any, biological inspired researchers neglect social or psychological aspects, and the opposite.

The study of criminal behavior has a long history. In Medieval times, demons and evil spirits was the explanation when crimes were made and also for madness as the supernatural powers would take possession of the individual, and hence causing the individual to do bad things. Also the ancient Romans had a theory in relation to the origins of madness and criminality. They believed that human behavior changed with the phases of the moon. The word lunacy, which is derived from the Latin word for moon; “luna”, reflects that belief. But what seemed like a valid explanation in one period of time, were rejected in the next period (Corner, 2001, pp. 9-18). Today’s theories in relation to antisocial behavior can be sharply separated into biological, social and psychological.

Within each of these, there exist numerous sub categories. Few, if any, biological inspired researchers neglect social or psychological aspects, and the opposite. However, usually aspects from one of them are considered more relevant than other aspects.

Within a biological frame, that became prominent for understanding human behavior in the 1970’s, one approach considers genetic material to be essential for the development of behavior (Berk, 2000, p. 480). This is based on studies that suggest that there among the family of a criminal psychopath, are more people with antisocial traits like criminal behavior than other, in other families, even though there has not been a shared environment (Paris, 2003, p. 278). This view can be traced back to Darwin’s traditional evolution theory, in which the psychopath’s “disregard” for other people can be seen as adaptive, and as a matter of survival, as people with psychopathic genes therefore might be allowed to produce more offspring than people without these genes (Greenspan, 2003). Professor in neurology, Antonio Damasio, adds importance to the crucial roles damages in the brain and especially in the frontal lobes has for emotions and consequently for irrational behavior (Damasio, 2001, pp. 71-80). Another biological approach, like that of Coccaro et al. (2000), places an emphasis on abnormalities in neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, but also to other biologic factors like testosterone and glucose to understand criminal aggression. They suggest that antisocial behavior can be reduced with the use of medications. A well-known factor in criminals and psychopaths is the presence of an attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Weiss and Hechtman have, according to Joel Paris (2003), found that one of three with ADHD conduct criminal behavior. Paris does this way, even though this is a controversial field, see ADHD as a biological factor that might influence the development of psychopathy. Some more reflections about the biological aspects will be further discussed later in this work (part 3.3.3.).

Social and psychological theories can sometimes be difficult to sharply separate, as they can be seen as substantially interwoven. However, they are different in their views upon where the origin of problematic behavior is to be found. Social psychological theories weight the importance of the environment, whereas psychological theories seek the answers within the individual. Essential social factors in the development of criminality are, among other things, that it is more common in younger individuals, in males and in lower socioeconomic classes. The prevalence for antisocial PD is also, for speculative reasons, found to have cross-cultural differences as some places in Eastern Asia, the prevalence is found to be unusually low. It is also found that in the US, there is a rapid increase in the development of antisocial PD, which, according to Paris (2003), supports the crucial role of the social environment in pathology.

As for psychological theories, it is often pointed at problems in childhood, like family violence and conflicts (Corner, 2001, p. 521). But there are indeed differences in the theories. Some of the prominent ones are psychodynamic in which can be separated into the classical psychoanalytic-, ego-, object relational-, attachment- and self psychology (Mitchell & Black, 1995). Other prominent psychological theories are cognitive, existential and behavioristic theories (Ewen, 1998).

From a psychological perspective, one can argue, that brain damages or other biological factors are not always present or at least possible to track down in antisocial persons. One can also argue that sociological explanations for crime are in some way simplistic, as the well-known clinical psychologist working with criminal behaviour, Stanton Samenow (1984, p. 13), does. He states, that if sociological theories were correct, there would be far more criminals because most poor people are law-abiding and that it is wrong to anticipate that all criminals come from one sort of neighbourhood. He agrees that the environment does have an effect, but what he emphasizes, is how people perceive and react to similar conditions of life very differently.

However, there is no doubt that both the biological and the social perspective can contribute to an understanding of criminality and serial killing. Still, it is crucial to define the purpose and delimitations of one’s study, as the diimain otherwise will be too comprehensive. As is also Samenow’s entrance angel, this work will enthasize the psychological dimension with a phenomenological method to understand how, in this case, D.B. has experienced his problems and dimensions in life. This is to search for an answer to what made him conduct what has widespread been perceived as a chocking and destructive behaviour. Before starting to analyse the case of D.B., the next part will be aimed at introducing the murders that he committed.

Meet David Richard Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam”. He is an American serial killer who shot six victims dead and left seven others wounded. He claimed to be insane and driven by daemons, but the Norwegian forensic psychologist and psychoanalyst, David Abrahamsen, reviled Berkowitz as a liar.

2.3.1. The deadly crimes

On July 29, 1976, what was to become a series of six murders in New York City, started, leaving the city and the rest of the country into states of chock and fear. This day, an 18-year old girl was shot to death when she was sitting in a car together with a female friend, that was lucky to survive, but got a bullet in one thigh. This incident was not in itself seen as unusual in New York, as deadly criminality is not rare in big cities. On October 23, a young couple was shot at as they too sat in a parked car. The bullet did not hit the woman and the man survived despite severe injuries. At this point, a pattern began to emerge. The killer seemed to strike at young women with long, dark hair, sitting in parked cars after dark. This pattern continued, as on November 26, two young girls in a car were shot in the same way. They did survive, but one of them became paralyzed in her legs. On January 30, 1977, a couple sitting in a car was shot in the same way. The woman did not survive but the man did and was able to give a description of the killer to the police. On March 8, a girl was killed differently from the other victims as she was shot in her face when walking down the street. When a couple was killed, again in a parked car, on April 17, the killer, who previously had been referred to as the .44 caliber killer named after his gun, left a note (Newton, 2000, pp. 15-17). The note was addressed to the captain in charge of the hunt of him and contained this message: “I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemenhater [sic]. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam…. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game- tasty meat. The weman [sic] of Queens are the prettyest [sic] of all”. (p. 16).

Son of sam in the papersOn June 26, a couple was shot similarly as the others, but they survived. However, the next and last killing, on July 31, the victims were not that lucky. A girl was shot to death and her male partner became partially blind. In relation to this incident, a woman had seen a man climb into a car and drive away in a rush. This was a car that she had just seen some police officers placing a parking ticket at. With the tip from this witness, the police tracked down all the parking tickets they had given that day and this was to become the damning evidence to find Son of Sam. When the police went to the owner of one of the cars, D.B., they found the car with a rifle in it, together with a note written in the same style as the notes from Son of Sam. When D.B. was confronted, he immediately confessed that he was the man behind the multiple killings in Bronx and Queens during the 13 months (Newton, 2000, pp. 15-17). But the next step in the prosecution did not seem like an easy one. What was now to be decided was whether D.B. had been judicially insane or not when committing the killings. This would determine whether he was accountable for what he had done and hence competent to be punished for his actions.

2.3.2. The prosecution

berkowitz_dogThe first question raised was about the name Son of Sam. Why had he used this name? D.B.’s explanation was that Sam was the first name of his neighbor Sam Cart This Sam had a dog in which D.B. referred to as Son of Sam. He stated that this dog was possessed by ancient demons that commended D.B. to kill: “I wanted to live a normal life, you know. Then Sam came. The demons came, the two things came in. I went along only because they forced me and my heart was never really in it, although sometimes they- I said yes it was. But it really wasn’t you know. Serving Sam was all it was- in the end, but I hated it” (Abrahamsen, 1985, pp. 128-129). Based on D.B.’s statements, two psychiatrists that were used to examine D.B. shortly after the arrest stated in a report the following: “…the defendant is an incapacitated person in that he, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense. The details of our report are as follows: I. Diagnosis: Paranoia; 2. Prognosis: Guarded” (Schwartz and Weidenbachker Jr. in Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 111). This was also the common opinion about D.B.’s state of mind. Abrahamsen, however, was an exception. He was contacted later in the procedure, and asked if he could make a statement about D.B.’ mental status. What Abrahamsen concluded was that D.B. had been sane and that he had constructed the demons as an excuse for his violent and murdering behavior. He claimed D.B.’s diagnose to be a psychopathic personality with some paranoid and hysterical traits (p. 155). Despite the general opinion that D.B. had been insane when making the murders and his defense attorneys’ claim of a non-guilty plea, the court did agree with Abrahamsen, and D.B. was ordered to stand trial. When the trial begun on May 8, 1978, D.B. plead guilty for the crimes he had committed. He was sentenced to 547 years in prison (p. 161). In March 1979, Abrahamsen received a letter from the prison Attica. In this D.B. confessed: “Sam Carr and the demons… was all a hoax, well planned and thought out. I just never thought this demon story would carry out so much… I did know why I pulled the trigger…. It would be a good idea if we talked” (p. viii). In this extract of the letters D.B. wrote, it is obvious that he had been successfully manipulative against many people, and that Abrahamsen was indeed right about D.B.’s sanity. What is now to be discussed is, when it wasn’t the demons, what made D.B. a man responsible for a year with terror in New York? Why did D.B kill six, apparently, innocent people? As self psychology will be used in the analysis of D.B., an introduction to this theory will first be given.

Heinz Kohut was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst best known for his development of self psychology. He wrote extensively on the subject of narcissism, narcissistic rage and empathy. His theories are well known and appreciated, and may be he can show us the way to the antisocial mind.

Heinz Kohut
Heinz Kohut

Until the end of 1960, Kohut was highly respected within traditional psychoanalysis. But gradually he started to disagree with some of the fundamental concepts in this theory, which resulted in a new direction within the psychoanalytic tradition, self psychology3. This approach is seen to have been established in 1977 after Kohut published his second book: “The restoration of the self’ (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 39).

(3 This way, self psychology is often characterized as psychoanalytic. But, to avoid confusions, when psychoanalytic or psychoanalysis is referred to in this work, what is meant is the traditional Freudian psychoanalysis.

2.4.1. A theory about the self

What Kohut emphasized when explaining personality and its pathology, was the phenomenon of the self and how it is developed. Kohut (1990) defines the self as “…the centre in the individuals psychological universe”. (p. 216). The self makes it possible to experience one self as oneself The sense of being the owner of the self is often taken for granted. This is because the crucial and excellent capacity of the self to bear with it feelings, thoughts and history is more an automated processes than something one reflects upon. But the psychological structure, self is indeed something that should be valued, as it makes consistency in life possible. Because of this structure, one does not need to learn about oneself and the rest of the world whenever a new day begins Kohut does not pay much attention to the term “personality”, as he sees it as a more general and superficial term where the self is essential as it is the nuclear core of the personality (Consolini, 1999; Kohut, 1984, p. 99; Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 43). As for the psychoanalytic psychic apparatus (id, ego and superego), he sees it as a rather distant abstraction, in which he does not reject, but neither pays very much attention to. He sees the id, ego and superego as totally different systems that can not be compared to the structure of the self. However, he did state that the different systems could somehow complement each other. Thus, he considers both of these systems, but structure of the self is the key word in Kohut’s theory and he underlines that this is not a psychological instance, but a structure in the psyche that is not as abstract as the psychic apparatus (Kohut, 2000, p. 10; Karterud, 2000, p. 15). self psychology, “self cohesion” is the ultimate condition, and refers to the opposite from “fragmentation in the self”. What is necessary in developing self cohesion is a “consolidated core self’. If the core self is somehow injured, the fragmentation can be so serious that dissolution of the self might be the result, where a psychosis is possible. This can lead to the experience of being in an alien and destroyed body and/or the experience that others direct ones thoughts, feelings and actions (Kohut, 2000, p. 15; SchlUter & Karterud, 2002, p. 43). Kohut talks about three classes of mental disorders, where the functional freedom of the self is impaired. The first is the psychoses. He claims that this disorder has developed as a consequence of that there has never been developed a nuclear self in the early development. Narcissistic personality and behavior disturbances have, oppositionally developed a specific core self in the early development. But the pattern of the self has remained incomplete, with the result that the self reacts to narcissistic injuries with temporary break-up, enfeeblement of disharmony. The last disorder is what he terms “the classical transference neuroses” or “the structural-conflict neuroses” (Kohut, 1984, pp. 8-11).

The aim with the following pages is to give an elucidation of the most significant self psychological terms that are essential in the development of self.

2.4.2. Narcissism and selfobiects

Kohut’s disagreement with the traditional psychoanalysis was among other things, based on the different view they had on the nature of narcissism. Kohut defines narcissism as an obsession of the self and he adds importance to narcissism, as he sees it to concern one half of the content in the human psyche (Kohut, 2000, p. 9). Kohut did not, however, invent the term narcissism. This has been used by mainstream psychoanalytics as well. But it is said that Kohut did the same for narcissism as Freud did with sexuality. This is as Kohut suggested that, instead of judging narcissism and try to make it disappear, like the traditional psychoanalytics did, narcissism should be studied and understood. Kohut saw narcissism as something everyone has and develops in one’s own way. Narcissistic needs would, in his eyes, always be present. But they would optimally develop from an immature to a mature fashion. He later renamed narcissistic needs to selfobject needs. This renaming gave a more accurate description of what was meant by the term. This was based on Kohut’s experiences of the intense needs for recognition from others his narcissistic patients had (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, pp. 41-42). Selfobjects are, according to Kohut (2000, p. 10), objects that are experienced as parts of the self. The consequences of an empathic selfobject that provides its functions unconditional, is the child’s experience of totality, harmony and vitality. Karterud (2000) defines a selfobject as: “… the function and meaning another individual, an animal, a thing, a culture manifestation or a tradition has for the maintenance of ones feelings of being a coherent and meaningful self”. (p. 16. My translation). Individuals can such have several selfobjects and they can be practically everything, but most often it is another human being and most frequently ones parents. What characterizes a selfobject is its ability to cause another person to experience either a strengthened or a weakened sense of self. Selfobject needs are attached to the sense of self, which is the most fundamental of all emotional qualities. If this staggers, fragmentation in all emotional experiences will occur. This might happen if the individual has experienced failures of selfobjects (Kohut, 200, p. 10; Schltiter & Karterud, pp. 41, 45, 51). As for what can cause a fragmented, weakened or disharmonious self during maturity, Kohut has stated that it does not usually have to do with singular episodes (unless perhaps the most severe forms of traumatization in concentration camps or other inhumane experiences) (Kohut, 1984, p. 70). Instead he states: “What creates the matrix for the development of a healthy self in the child is the self-object’s capacity to respond with proper mirroring at least some of the time; what is pathogenic is not the occasional failure of the self-object, but his or her chronic incapacity to respond appropriately.”(Kohut, 1977 in Messer and Warren, 1990, p. 386).

2.4.3. The bipolar self

Kohut described the self as consisting of tree different poles, in which he termed “The tripolar self’. Kohut sees these three poles as having their own healthy fundamental needs. One of them is the need to experience sameness or likeness with another person (twinship or alter ego). With a confirmation from others similar to one self, the individual will feel accepted and as a part of a unison. An example of this is the very normal behaviour of finding a best friend. Without a confirmation from this similar other, the individual might feel odd, isolated, different and alone and this lack of a twinship might lead to frequent fantasises about a similar other.

The two other configurations in the self are more frequent used in Kohut’s theory. He paid much more attention to these two poles, which he named the “bipolar self’. One of them is related to the need to be acknowledged and admired and mirrored by selfobjects (the grandiose self). Children have by nature expectations about being empathically mirrored and recognized by others. Kohut refers to children’s immature need of being mirrored as exhibitionistic. This is as they early in life have wishes about being admired and praised, and that they fantasize of being the centre of the world, like for instance a princess or a king. One of the selfobjects’ functions is to mirror and confirm the child’s grandiose fantasies in an adequate and balanced way. If this does not happen, a healthy and mature development of the grandiose self is threatened. The consequence of this is that immature, exhibitionistic and grandiose fantasies of being almighty, perfect and admired will potentially endure as the child grows up. The failure of adequate responses from selfobjects to the grandiose self’s needs might also cause difficulties with self-regulation. This means that the individual will not develop a mature way to regulate the self. If this happens, the individual will continue to be dependent on being acknowledged and confirmed by others, and self-assertion will such be essential in its behaviour while growing up. This way, the self does not developed into a coherent self, and the individual is not able to obtain meaningful responses from its self (Kohut, 1984, p. 193; Kohut, 1990, p. 127; Schluter & Karterud, 2002, pp. 47-50).

As children have the fundamental need to be recognized as perfect by selfobjects, they also have a natural need to experience selfobjects as perfect. This is the other part of the bipolar self that is concerned with the need to admire others (idealized self). This need is, just like the grandiose self often related to the parents, which is why this is named “the idealised parent imago”. Attributing characteristics that one does not have, but wishes to have, to another, idealised person is a way for the individual to compensate for its own constraints. The purpose with this structure is, like with the grandiose self, to maintain perfection. This is as the idealized other can contribute to the child’s assumption: “You are perfect, but lam a part of you”. (Kohut, 2000, p. 33. My translation). By getting to maintain this idealization of the selfobjects, the need for idealized others will develop maturely. The two other selfobject needs (grandiose self and alter ego), will in a similar fashion develop maturely if the need is met in a balanced manner, and the exaggerated selfobject needs will cease. If the idealized self develops in a healthy way, safety and trust will develop maturely. However, the idealized almighty selfobject sometimes fails. These failures can be due to their neglect, absence, instability, mistreatment, illness or death. If the selfobject is not able to meet the fundamental needs of the child, the needs will continue to be present and, he will continue to strive to fulfil its archaic goals as he grows up.

Under normal circumstances, the archaic grandiose and exhibitionistic self will be controlled, and the idealized self will be adequately satisfied. If this happens these two structures will be integrated and a consolidated core self can be said to have developed (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, pp. 48-50; Kohut, 2000, pp. 33-34).

2.4.4. Narcissistic rage

Know yourselfKohut describes two different types of aggression. One of them is of an elementary, healthy and non-destructive character, which occurs as a reaction to delays of reactions from selfobjects. This form for aggression will optimally develop from an immature form, where self-assertion is primitive, to a form that is characterized by mature self-assertion where aggression no longer is significant. Aggression will, both in its primitive and mature form decrease when the aggression-provoking stimuli, is found (Kohut, 1990, p. 93).

The other kind of aggression that Kohut describes is “narcissistic rage”. He defines narcissistic rage as: “The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims, which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury”. (Kohut, 1978, pp. 637-638). He states that this aggression is derived from a narcissistic imbalance, and is the result of lack of empathy or control of selfobjects in childhood. Narcissistic rage appears when an insult to the self is experienced. The function with this aggression is to repair the insulted self by getting back on the offender. This is because the insult is experienced as a threat of a destruction of the core self (Kohut, 1978, p. 616 & 645; Kohut, 1990, p. 90-95).

Most people have experienced to, for example, tell a joke without getting feedback or to ask someone a question or a favour, without getting a reply. Most people that experience this are somehow affected by this (embarrassment or shame). But if they have a sufficient enough coherent self, they will, despite some emotional reactions, be able to give the gratification to its self from its self, and forget about the episode. However, if an individual with a fragmented and vulnerable self is experiencing this lack of recognition, the reaction is, according to Kohut connected to the biological term “fight-flight reaction”. When a vulnerable and fragmented self is exposed to the narcissistic injuries like that of a lack of gratification, the reaction will be either a flight reaction with shame and withdrawal, or with a fight- reaction with narcissistic rage. When the fight-reaction occurs, it is because the experienced insult causes regression to earlier stages in life when mirroring and idealizing selfobjects were markedly absent. The present situation is this way representing what was experienced earlier in life. The only way to handle the situation is to re-establish control of the archaic selfobjects, meaning that other individuals in the present situation are experienced as being representative of the archaic selfobjects (selfobject transferences) (Kohut, 1978, pp. 636-637 & 645).

The narcissistic rage that is based on damages in the self is what causes destructivity and is, according to Kohut essential in all forms for destructive behaviour. He sees the Nazi extermination of Jews as an example of narcissistic rage, as he points that Hitler and his main followers were possessed with chronic, narcissistic and destructive rage (Kohut, 1978, pp. 634­635).

2.4.5. Empathy

SelvpsykologiKohut was one of the first analytics to recognize the major role empathy and support had when working therapeutically with psychopathology (Karterud, 2000, p. 12). Kohut’s definition of empathy is: “The capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.” (1984, p. 82). He stated that only when one is able to step into the shoes of the patient, and see the world through the eyes of the other, is one able to really understand the patient. This, he stated, was the way to be able to respond in an authentic, accurate, and fitting way in therapy (Kohut, 1990, p. 216; Kohut, 1984, p. 82). Though empathy is generally seen as essential in therapy today, the introduction of this term was an issue of controversy. This is as the traditional psychoanalytics like, for example, Otto Kemberg, finds the support strategies of Kohut, as causing maintenance of the pathology. Instead Kernberg uses a more confronting style in his therapy (Consolini, 1999).

Kohut did not only relate the importance of empathy to the therapeutic setting. The crucial role he placed to empathy in the therapeutic setting was based on his general assumption that a person’s mental health depends on how empathic other people are to its needs. This is as he saw it as essential that the selfobjects in the individual’s life are empathic. If not the potential to develop a coherent self, might be challenged (Kohut, 1990, p. 19).

What made Berkowitz kill? Can his childhood explain his murderous intentions? Is it because he lacks empathy or because of an unstable personality? He was obsessed with death and with a gun in his hand, he acted out something that we might call narcissistic rage. We try to understand Son of Sam with self-psychological theories.

Within a self-psychological approach, it is of importance to look into the childhood and earlier experiences to understand the behavior that is later present. For this reason, the following that are aimed at understanding why D.B. committed the destructive actions will, to a large extent contain analysis of D.B.’s background.

2.5.1. Experiences of selfobject failures and the three dimensions of D.B.’s self

Selfobject failures in childhood
Pearl & Nathan Berkowitz

D.B. was adopted in June 1953, when he was three days old. Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz became parents for the first time and took the little boy, who back then had the name Richard David Falco, with them to their home in Bronx in New York. He was told at age three or four that he had been adopted and that his biological mother had died when she had given birth to him (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 44)4. Whether D.B. somehow had been aware of the separation with his biological mother is speculative. Kohut does accept the unconsciousness and such it is likely that D.B. has at some level felt this separation. Anyhow, he was familiar with the adoption at a very young age, and it is possible that the knowledge of the “loss” of and separation from his biological mother can have been experienced as the first failure of an important selfobject in D.B’s life. This can be supported by Philip D. Jaffe (1997), who has studied the relation between adoption and murder, as he states that it is not to be avoided that an adopted child will have the feeling of having been “abandoned” by the biological parents.

(4 The information about D.B.’s background and childhood is primarily from the interviews Abrahamsen had with him, which is published in “Confessions of Son of Sam” in 1985. Abrahamsen made extensive analysis of his quotes and statements, but for now these interpretations are neglected and the focus is exclusively on D.B.’s own story that he told in these interviews.)

David Berkowitz at age 8
David Berkowitz at age 8

D.B.’s adoptive mother was not able to get pregnant and it is therefore likely that she was very happy when she got the opportunity to get a son, and adopt D.B. This can explain why, as D.B. explains, he could get everything he wanted from her, and that she overindulged him. But D.B. also describes other behavioral characteristics of her. When he was a child and his mother was having her female friends on visit, he always had to meet them, even though he had other things to do. He also states that every time a photo was taken, she forced D.B. to wash himself and to change clothes and that she cherished the pictures and had them with her when she was visiting people. He also tells about another episode from when he was about 5 years, and he had been playing in a sandbox. Some girls had put sand in his hair, and when his mom saw all the sand, she slapped him (Abrahamsen, 1985, pp. 34, 54). By the stories D.B. tells about his mother, one can get the impression that she had a substantial need to be acknowledged herself. She might have thought that one of the ways for her to be the center of attention and gain admiration was to be a mother of a perfect son. This is why she might have wanted to show her son off in front of her friends and why she wanted him to appear perfect, both in real life and in pictures. When he had sand in his hair, he was not as perfect as she wanted, which might have motivated her to slap him. If the assumption of her grandiosity and narcissistic traits are right, the consequences for D.B. are, within selfpsychological terms, considerable. If a child is exposed to significant selfobjects that are occupied with fulfilling its own selfobject needs, it will naturally be at the expense of the child’s needs for being empathically mirrored and recognized (Kohut, 1998). This might have characterized as a failure of a significant selfobject in D.B.’s life.

D.B.’s adoptive father has told in an interview with Abrahamsen (1985, p. 169) that he worked a lot during D.B.’s childhood. This is also something that D.B. frequently mentions in the interview. It is likely that D.B. had a need to be both recognized from his father and also a need to idealize his father and be a part of his perfection. But because of the regular absence of his father, D.B. might have experienced selfobject failure not only from his adoptive mother, but also from his adoptive father.

In addition to this, D.B. claims that he slept in his parents’ bedroom, and often in their bed, until he was 10. He says that his presence in his parents’ bed annoyed his father and in relation

to this D.B states in the interview: “I always resented him quite a bit because he wanted to be with my mother. I resented my father because he had my mother (p. 169). “He made me leave the room when they wanted to be alone. I resented it.” “I felt deprived.” (p. 170). This way, it can be seen that even when D.B.’s father was present, he failed to function as a selfobject for D.B. This is as D.B. might have felt that his father made him leave his mother, and thus causing D.B. to lose the attention that he would otherwise have received from his mother.

When D.B. was 14 years old, his adoptive mother died of breast cancer. D.B. described her as the anchor of his life and as the person who raised him (Berkowitz, 2005). Understandable, this must have been difficult for D.B. Her death is probably experienced as a loss of a substantial selfobject in his life. This is despite, as has earlier been mentioned, she might have been engaged with her own needs of recognitions, when she was giving D.B. attention, D.B. states that he couldn’t deal with the pain of losing her and that he also was struggling with guilty feelings over his few short visits at the hospital, when his mother lived there the final weeks of her life. But not only did D.B. lose his mother. He was also left with his father, who he says that he had felt neglected of, for many years. According to D.B., his father continued to be frequently absent and he states that he was alone all the time (Berkowitz, 2005; Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 60).

Kohut (1984, p. 18) describes, with an oxygen-metaphor, how dependent all individuals are on an empathic selfobject. Just like one cannot physically survive without oxygen, one cannot psychologically survive without responses from empathic selfobject, he states. To sum up on the lacks of responses that D.B. can be seen to have had in his life is the separation and failure of his biological mother, his exposure to his adoptive mother’s self-assertive needs, his adoptive father’s absence and his neglect of him at home, and also the loss of his adoptive mother. The consequences of the failure from selfobject to meet the fundamental needs of being recognized and mirrored and also to be a part of others perfection, is that these needs are likely to continue to be present as he grows up.

Selfobject failures as a grown up

Until D.B. was 22, he had thought that his biological mother was dead and he stated the following: “I always believed she had died, I had that feeling constantly, that I somehow caused her death”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 71). This bad guilt had, according to D.B., followed him for years. But when he was 22, he found out that his adoptive parents had lied about the circumstances of the adoption. His mother had not really died. When this fact was disclosed to D.B., he probably felt it like a substantial disappointment that his adoptive parents had lied to him.

At the same time as D.B. found out the truth about his biological family, he got a message from his father, concerning his decision about moving to Florida with his new wife. These two incidences might have been an essential element in D.B.’s decision about finding his real family (p. 70). However, it was not only joy connected to his decision. What D.B. gradually started to realize was that not only had his caregivers lied to him for all these years, but it also occurred to him that: “Mother didn’t really die. She just couldn’t take care of me”. “I was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born-unwanted.” (pp. 71-72). Based on this quote, it seems likely to assume that D.B. felt that the adoption was associated with feeling neglected, rejected and worthless. However, he still intended to meet his mother. But the reunion with his biological mother did not turn out the way he hoped:

“I think my first reaction was one of disappointment. I don’t know what I expected. She was a nervous and frightened little woman. I felt sorry for her.” “No, I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t scared. I was disappointed.” (p. 77). “I still, to this day, have negative feelings for my mum, Falco. Despite her nice and friendly ways, I don’t have it in me to totally forgive her. I told her when I first met her and a great many times afterwards that I forgave her. But this isn’t really the case…” (p. 78).

It does not seem like a surprise that D.B. was not able to accept and forgive his biological mother. This is at it is likely that she got the role as an archaic selfobject for D.B. What is characteristic for the person, who gets this role, is that he or she becomes a slave for the other individual’s demands and expectations (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 85). This way, it is likely that she would never have fulfilled the expectations that D.B. has about her.

Further, D.B. also gets to know that he had a biological sister that his biological mother had kept, in opposition to what she had with D.B. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 76). As his grandiose self might already be vulnerable, because of the failures from selfobjects earlier in his life, the fact about his sister having been taking care of by his ‘pother was probably experienced as an additional neglect. It is possible that he felt that he was not good enough and that his sister was better than himself.

Even though selvobject failures are most critical in the childhood, the need for them is forever present. However the experiences of losses of selfobjects when one is grown up, will, if the coherent self is not developed, possible represent archaic selfobject failures from childhood. In the case of D.B., the narcissistic injuries that he is likely to feel in relation to his experiences with his biological family, might feel more intense for him than they would for others. This is because they are likely to have triggered regression and hence what he now experiences, are archaic feelings of being rejected (Kohut, 1978).

The assumptions that D.B. might have experienced several failures of selfobjects in his life, would in the self psychological perspective, be seen as potentially causing fragmentations in the self. A fragmented self is occurring when the different parts of ones self (the grandiose, idealising and twinship-seeking self) has not been integrated into a meaningful and coherent self (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 64). The following is an analysis of how D.B.’s experiences can be seen to have affected the different parts of his self, hence possible having eliminated his potential for developing a coherent self.

D.B.’s grandiose self

According to D.B., his adoptive mother was sometimes overindulging him. If he smashed toys, she replaced them, and when he went with her to the groceries, he would take a bit of some food he wanted and her mother paid for it and gave him the rest (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 53). The claimed overindulgence of D.B.’s adoptive mother might be seen as a contra-indication to what has earlier been understood about him. But however, it is plausible that she can have spoiled him at some times. Whether the spoiling is motivated by her own narcissism is not to be known, but it can be a possibility. The spoiling and overindulgence of D.B. that he claims to have happened at some times might have encouraged his grandiosity in an exaggerated manner. But also on the other hand, the sudden absences of recognitions from her, where she for example slaps D.B., and the absence and lack of attention from the father, might have forced D.B.’s grandiose self to fantasize about being admired and praised instead (Kohut, 1998, p. 71). The consequence of a failure in being balancing mirrored is as has earlier been mentioned (part 2.4.3.), that exhibitionistic and grandiose fantasies of being almighty, perfect and admired will endure, and that the individual will continue to be dependent on being acknowledged and confirmed by others.

According to D.B., however, acknowledgements did not occur for him when he grew either. At the time of the killings, when he was 24 years old, he had never had any girlfriends and had barely any sexual experience. In relation to this, he states:

“I’ve always fantasized about being close to young girls with whom I was sexually attracted to. However in reality I never had sex with them, much less talked with them. I was too shy to talk with them nor was I handsome or popular enough”. “All my childhood playmates were girls who existed in real life. But, as I said before, I never even talked with them. In my relationship, though, my imaginary one, I had a wonderful relationship with them. I talked with them, revealing my innermost desires, thoughts and secrets. I also made out with them often.” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 35).

Grandiose selfThis absence of relation with peers and girls is likely to have affected D.B.’s twin-seeking self, but this lack of love from others can probably have affected the grandiose self as well. This is because he claims that he did attempt to hook up with girls, but only to find out that they didn’t find him attractive, and that they had no sexual interest in him. If his grandiose self is immature, as has been hypothesized, it will have the character of seeking exaggerated almightiness and attention. If this is the case, it is not a surprise if his grandiose self is experiencing a substantial reject. In relation to this he states: “It was just too much.” “Never would I have a real girlfriend and intimate companionship to share my life with. I wanted these things so much but they seemed unattainable. I couldn’t please a woman or make her love me. It was all hopeless.” (p. 208).

There are several incidents where the immature archaic grandiose self can be seen as being manifested in D.B.’ behavior. Referring to when he was a child, he states: “I wanted to have praise. Praise for heroism.” (p. 49). He also claimed, when he was interviewed by Abrahamsen, that: “I do feel more important to God than other people” (p. 173).

During D.B.’s adolescence, he frequently set fires: “Many of them were not serious (fires in vacant lots), but the Fire Department had to be called. I also did this myself I had no motive except I loved to cause the excitement. I NEVER got caught.” (p. 40). Setting all the fires and call the fire department, can indicate a grandiose need in him to appear as a hero. First he is, in an indirect way, “recognized” as being the person who set the fire and got away with it. Second, he is the person who gets help by calling the firemen.

In relation to the murders, he states that: “…I also realized I was doing something that was not only illegal but also dangerous. I, too could have been killed or wounded” (p. 102). As this was a concern of his, it might look like he perceived himself as unique and almighty and as more worth than the other people. He also claims in relation to the sixth incident, that it was his best job, since it resulted in two deaths. This was probably experienced as a success for D.B. He has further stated that “I believed that I had every moral right to slay a chosen victim.” (p. 93). According to Kohut (1998, p. 71) the feeling of having “the right to” can be seen as a narcissistic demand of the grandiose self.

Also, when all the US was searching for the multiple killer, D.B. says that he had difficulties with not telling anybody that he was the killer: “There were so many times that the temptation to share my hidden secret became overpowering.” “I often stared at my telephone, my hands were trembling…as I thought of picking up the receiver, dialing, then saying to the party at the other end: Hello, is this the Son of Sam Task Force? Well, guess who this is? (Abrahamsen, 1985, pp. 99-100). This can be an indication for the exhibitionistic trait that is characteristic in a grandiose self, and for a wish to be seen as a hero and being recognized for having accomplished to kill so many without being captured (p. 104).

D.B.’s idealizing self

Not only can D.B.’s grandiose self be seen as having been injured, but it is possible that also his idealizing self has been ruptured. Idealizing others is about winning strength through the fantasy of others perfections and this way, be a part of the others perfection. D.B.’s adoptive father’s frequent absence might not only have caused some failures in mirroring D.B.’s grandiose self, it might also have caused a failure in the optimal development of an idealized self. Especially after D.B.’s adoptive mother’s death, it is likely that D.B. needed a flawless father that he can seek strength from. However, D.B. states that his father, also at this time, was usually absent (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 60; Kohut, 1990, pp. 22-24; Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 80).

After the things D.B. had experienced in his life, he probably saw the ability to meet his biological family as an opportunity to find someone infallible that he could lean himself to. But the reality of the meeting with them did not turn out to match his fantasy about it: “I had fantasized a beautiful woman. But all I found was a totally ordinary person. There is nothing about her which stands out.” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 77). This experience might have caused further injuries in his idealized self.

D.B.’s twinship-seeking self

D.B. says that he, in most of his life, had trouble with establishing and maintaining relationships with other people, and also to identify himself with others. He also states that he was chubby when he was a child and had a hard time fitting in (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 70; Berkowitz, 1999). With reference to this, he adds: “I always begged my parents to get a brother or sister”. “I always wanted someone”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 53) This, in addition to not having any real friends, suggests that his twinship-seeking self has not developed optimally. This might have influenced the feelings D.B. had of being so alone and like an outsider and also caused him to have so many (alter ego) fantasies about girls.

2.5.2. Lack of empathy

D.B. describes his behaviour as a child as generally destructive and states that he had behaviour problems. He claims that his behaviour was often out of control and that he destroyed property at school and broke furniture at home (Berkowitz, 2005). What can be seen related to his destructive behavior: “…I hit Lory (a female friend. My remark) over the head with the butt of [apparently a toy] gun. I almost split her head open. It was one of the most vicious things I ever did during my childhood. I was about five or six years old.” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 35). Also the following confession is relevant in this context: “I was destructive, I killed and tortured animals. I killed my mother’s parakeet Pudgy. She loved the bird with a passion. I killed thousands of bugs, tortured them, burned them glued them with rubber cement. I was killing maiming and destroying since 1 was a child.” (p. 40). Causing serious injuries to another child, torturing animals and killing the mother’s pet does seem to bear the stamp of a lack of empathy. Further, he also states that: “I stole from my parents often. Just nickels and dimes mostly. I’d rifle their piggy bank and my mom’s purse.” (p. 40). Again it does not seem like he had any considerations of what his adoptive parents felt and one might say that empathy was absent at this early time of life.

D.B. states that his acts of real vandalism started after his adoptive mother’s death. At this time he started to set the fires. This interest of his might also be characterized as a lack of empathy for the damages he potentially could cause other people and the economical costs for other people (p. 40). D.B. signed for the army when he was 18 years old and stayed there for 11/2 year. When he got home again he continued to do fires. At this point of life, he says in an interview, that he couldn’t stay away from doing evil, in which he among other things meant fires (Berkowitz, 2005).

The possible lack of empathy in D.B. seems to be connected to other antisocial behavioral tendencies in him:

“I got to stay at home a lot when I was in public school. Most of the time, however, I wasn’t sick. I just played sick. You see I had this trick of pressing my head against the radiator before I went over to my mother with my ‘sickness’ complaint”. “1 loved staying home. My mother, Pearl, thinking I was sick, would wait on me hand and foot. I felt like a king. Staying home was great. But I laugh when I think about it. Boy, what a con artist I was”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, pp. 38-39).

Already at an early age, he seems to have figured out a manipulative way to get it as he pleases. Additionally, in the way he tells about these things, there does not seem to be any feelings of guilt or regrets in him. A diagnostic evaluation of the issues of conduct behaviour, empathy, guilt and regrets can possibly imply an antisocial PD. Additionally the assassination in 1976-1977, does seem to, per definition, involve a presence of an antisocial PD. This is because of the lack of empathy, lack of guilt, failure to conform to social norms, disregard for safety, recklessness and deceitfulness that can be seen in the killings. Abrahamsen (p. 37) states that D.B.’s intelligence was found to be superior, which excludes that his antisocial behaviour is based on retardation.

2.5.3. Unstable personality

Based on the investigations of D.B.’s self, it does seem like he has defects in different parts of his self. It does seem clear that the most serious defect is in the grandiose self, but that he also shows some defects in his twin-seeking and idealising self. Defects in both the grandiose and idealizing self are what might result in unstable emotional PD (borderline) (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 55).

Individuals who have a prominent grandiose self will often react to failures from selfobject with shame or anger and make desperate effort to gain the selfobject back or take revenge. On the other side, individuals with a prominent idealizing self, will typical react with disappointment, withdrawal, and depression.

One side of D.B. seems to be the worthless and abandoned self in search for an ideal other to seek comfort in. This can be seen in his reactions of disappointment, depression and guilt (the meeting with his biological family and in relation to his adoptive mother’s death). The other pole, which appears as the most prominent side of D.B., is characterized with the opposite. Here can his idea of being a flawless individual be seen. This side typically devalues others and reacts with anger and vindictiveness (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 55; Kohut, 1998, p. 110).

It seems like D.B.’s unstable behavior and emotional life can be found in an early age. When he was 11, a teacher of him stated in an evaluation of him that he is a moody child (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 16). Also in relation to David’s stealing when he was a kid, there can be seen a prominent ambivalence in his emotional life: “I feel bad about this. Sometimes, I felt good when I got away with it and I always did.” (p. 41). There are also several incidents in D.B.’s confessions that points in the direction of unstable emotions. Regarding his relation to his adoptive father, he once stated: “We didn’t get along that good, but we didn’t get along that bad”. (p. 18). In relation to his adoptive mother’s death, he stated: “I was both happy and sad”. “It was freedom. She was a pest sometimes. She was nagging” (p. 19). This does perhaps underline the lack of empathy in him, but it can also imply ambivalences within him. This ambivalence is likely to be related to the ambivalent relationship he has claimed to have had with his adoptive mother. But also, it might be because of the injuries in his grandiose and idealizing self. His grandiose self might have made him invulnerable and almighty and able to be indifferent and happy, which can have had the function as a necessary defense against the anxiety that would otherwise have occurred. The idealizing self, on the other hand, that is in need for an idealizing other is what can have caused him to feel the deep depression after her death. This way, he might appear as emotional unstable.

D.B. himself makes the claim that he has two sides, in which one of them is his “evil sadistic and homicidal side” (p. 42) and the other is the good side: “I often gave to charity an amount larger than what others would give.” “Doing this made me feel very good.” “I did favours for several of the elderly tenants of my old Bronx building, such as carry out their garbage or go to the store for them” (p. 43). He stated, to point on his ambivalences: “Its been said that 1 have a split personality like Jekyll and Hyde.” (p. 187). These two different “sides” of him can be seen as being anchored in respectively his grandiose and idealizing self. But his helping behaviour might also be a manifestation of his grandiose self. This is because this behaviour is making him feel good, and is thus helping him to uphold his grandiose fantastic representation of himself. But the split in him can also be seen in how he was ambivalent in relation to the murders. One part of him, he claims (presumably his grandiose self) was enjoying the power and the pleasure of having so much attention, even though it way in an indirect way, but the other part didn’t receive any joy over the things he did (possibly the idealizing self). Maybe this side of him realized that what he really needed was someone that could take care of him. And thus, that, the killings would make this even more impossible (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 92; Berkowitz, 1999). In relation to this he stated: “I wanted to take a life, yet I wanted to spare a life. I wanted to and I didn’t want to” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 92).

If the need to be admired and recognised is not met, the fantasies of this can be repressed from the consciousness. This is the “horizontal split”, and it is the same defence mechanism as Freud is considering. Kohut also describes another type of split, where the grandiose fantasies are not repressed to the unconsciousness but instead, the grandiose fantasies and ideas are split from the rest of the self with a so-called “vertical split”. This causes the grandiose and unrealistic fantasies to be present in the conscious behaviour of the individual. The individual, like in this case D.B., will then potentially appear as emotional unstable, as the self contains of, on one side, the idealized self and the grandiose self on the other (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 55; Kohut, 1998, pp. 110-111). This split can be illustrated with the following figure, based on Kohut (1998, p. 116):

Vertikal splitt

A hypothesis, in relation to this, is that this vertical split is what is accounting for what others perceive as lying. This way, when D.B. states that he wanted to “spare a life”, one might think that it is not true. But, however, for his idealizing self, this might indeed be the truth.

A marked vertical split can be seen as the essential feature with borderline PD. This is as they are characterized with this oscillation between the worthless (idealized) and the invincible (grandiose) states and lack to have these integrated. This is not to suggest that D.B. is suffering from a borderline PD. It can seem like his grandiose pole of the self is much more prominent than the idealized pole, so that the feeling of grandiosity is quite constant, in opposition to the more “unstable” borderline patient. However, the vertical split might still explain some of the ambivalent tendencies in D.B.

Based on the considerations of D.B.’s development and behaviour, the following will specifically be aimed at giving an understanding of why he, at an age of 24, went as far as to kill.

2.5.4. What made David Berkowitz kill?

human minds (series C)The separations and losses in D.B.’s life can seem to characterize as failures of selfobjects. The episodes that seems to have effected him is; separation from biological mother straight after he was born, his adoptive father being absent, his adoptive mother often overindulging him and at other times disappointing him with her own narcissistic interests and also her death, the lack of friends and girlfriends and the revolution about his biological family. These incidents have understandably been painful for D.B., but do they qualify as an explanation for killing people? Giving an answer to this question is not simple. But what will be done in the following, is to take D.B.’s development and his experiences of his life into consideration, and make an interpretation concerning why he ended up as a prisoner in a maximum security prison- for life.

Approximating the unmanageable

D.B. states that he never talked to someone about his feelings in relation to being an adoptive child and his belief of having caused his biological mother’s death. He also states that he, in the case of his adoptive mother’s death, had nobody to talk to (Berkowitz, 2005). Pursuant to D.B.’s statements, it seems like all the unfortunate episodes that happened in D.B’s life, was never worked with when they occurred. This way, one can estimate that the fragments that can be seen to have gradually occurred in his self were not attempted repaired, and that the tendency to fragmentations in the self were not being reduced but rather the opposite.

Right before D.B. met his biological family, his father moved to Florida with his new wife (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 65). D.B. claims that he hated this, but that he did not give any indications to his father about his wish for his father to not move so far away. D.B. handled this like he claims that he always handles problematic incidences; with silence. No matter how strong his negative feelings towards his biological mother and her acts of adopting him away, he said nothing about these feelings to her, or to somebody else. He did nothing but telling her that he understood and accepted her choices, even though he later confessed to Abrahamsen that he hated her because of it: “Behind my mask I was filled with anger and rage toward her. With absolute control I managed never to show or verbalize this.” (p. 85).

6 months after D.B. met with his biological family, the murdering episodes started (p. 90). One might suspect that this was not a coincidence. Based on his descriptions of the reunion with his biological mother, it does seem like it made a substantial impact on him, and that it gave rise to a strong emotional revolution in him. He states in relation to this: “I needed family real bad-a mystical and perfect family- a blissful family- a perfect relationship. Of course this wasn’t to be. I guess this was one pathway that eventually led to murder. My dream family didn’t exist. It was my last hope” (p. 78). It is important to keep in mind that this is D.B.’s statement and that it is not necessarily the truth what he tells. However, it does seem likely that both the episode with his father, and the experience of meeting his genetic origins, caused deep fragmentations in his self. As he apparently had not worked with his problems earlier in life, and did not express what he felt in these resent episodes either, it seem likely that the problems had been build up to the border of what he was able to bear. In self psychological terms, his self was now approximating dissolution.

Satisfying the grandiose self

It does seem like D.B. had during his life used, what Kohut named “defensive structures”, to avoid dissolution of the self. This structure makes one able to cover the defects in the grandiose self, and is often manifested in exhibitionistic fantasies (Kohut, 1990, p. 45). D.B. has stated that he fantasised a lot and that it was often with girls which he “…had a wonderful relationship with”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 35). It can be interpreted that fantasies were no longer enough for him to cover the defects in the grandiose self. As for how the murders affected D.B., he has stated:

“After I killed Donna I felt happy. I felt some peace. Sang songs on my way home after killing Donna. That built up tension dissipated temporarily. While I didn’t have a physical, sexual orgasm, I certainly had a mental one. After a shooting, it was like being on the woods again, I was walking on air.” “I felt powerful and cunning”. (p. 100).

In relation to D.B.’s destructive behaviour in his childhood and adolescence (fires and breaking furniture), he states that he was never caught or even suspected for the crimes and that this made him feel powerful and omnipotent (p. 42). This omnipotence is possibly also a relevant aspect in his murders. He states that he was proud of all the attention that there was upon him: “Now, I was making the papers nearly every day. The chase was on and the public was watching out for me”. In relation to this, there were only one problem; he was the only one who knew who the target of the huge investigation was. It seems like a part of him wanted to be caught. This can be supported as he said it was difficult to not get to share his secret with anyone (part 2.5.1.) and as he signed and left a note after the sixth shooting episode. In all probability, he wished to be caught and recognized as the man behind one of the most feared murderer in the US. This way he would get the attention directly.

D.B.’s murderous acts can be seen as surrounding an attempt to overcome the loneliness and depressions that he had earlier managed with his grandiose and exhibitionistic fantasies. His heroism was now giving nurture to the grandiose self and this might have functioned as a new crucial defence (instead of the fantasies) against the painful and unbearable reality (Kohut, 1990, pp. 18-19).

Acting out on the narcissistic rage

D.B. has stated: “I was determined and in full agreement with myself that I must slay a woman for revenge purposes and to get my back on them for all the suffering (mental suffering they caused me)”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 93). If this is a truthful statement, which seems to be likely, the revenge can be seen as a profound motivation for the killings. This revenge aspect can, in self psychological terms, be referred to as narcissistic rage. This form for rage occurs, as a reaction to insults to the self, where this reaction is characterized by an effort to repair the insults by getting back on the offender. A characteristic trait is the total lack of empathy toward the offender, when one is in the narcissistic rage (Kohut, 1978, p. 645). This can explain how D.B. found it possible to take lives, and also without expressing any feelings of empathy or guilt in relation to the victims.

D.B. has stated: “Women- I blame them for everything. Everything evil that’s happened in this world- somehow it goes back to them. I hate them for messing up everything in this world. They’ve really screwed my life up good”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 190). What he is referring to, is probably how especially girls/women seem to have disappeared or rejected him. After 23 tears with the experienced neglect from the opposite sex, it seems like what had developed in him, was a narcissistic rage where he had an obsessive need to take revenge on them. It can be understood, that only by acting through his narcissistic rage, was he able to re-establish control and power.

TerrorvirusetAs D.B. probably found it difficult to let his rage go out of anyone in his family or some of the females that he had directly been rejected by, he turned to substitutes. But the substitutes do not seem to have been picked by coincidence. They were young women that he indicates that he felt attracted to (p. 182). This way, they probably symbolised to him, the women that had been important selfobjects in his life and that he wanted attention from: “I wanted to destroy her because of what she represented”. (p. 178). By the action of killing these unknown attractive women, he probably experienced to get revenge against all of them; his biological and adoptive mother who had left him and for the girls that he had seen as potential girlfriends, who had neglected him. This can be seen as the only way for him to relieve and stagger the fragmented self of his.

Human aggression is, according to Kohut, most dangerous when it is related to the grandiose self or the archaic omnipotent object. The aggression in D.B. can be seen as related to

both of these. His grandiose self has been indicated to characterize as vulnerable and fragmented. And what had recently seemed to have affected him to a large extent, was the experience of facing the (archaic) rejection of his biological family. Kohut does also state that the most destructive behaviour is not connected to wild and primitive behaviour, but to structured and organized acts where the convictions of own greatness is presence and also with affection to archaic selfobjects (Kohut, 1978, p. 635). This is what can be seen in D.B.’s behaviour. He planned the killings carefully and the incidents probably made him feel omnipotent (related to grandiose self), and it also seems that he killed in relation to the affections he had to his selfobjects in his life (related to archaic omnipotent object).

D.B’s interest in death

Grim ReaperD.B. claims in the interviews that he had ideas about death already when he was a child. He referrers to his thoughts from when he was between 7 and 13: “I would look out the window and prey to God to kill me, that I would be hit by lightening. I begged to God for death. I used to sit on the fire escape and thought of throwing myself down, wanting to jump”. After this age, he states that he did not longer think of suicide, but instead: “I still wanted to die, but with heroism, with honour. I wanted to die while saving lives, battling a blaze. This is why I wanted to become a fireman, helping people, rescuing them, and being a hero, or possibly dying in the blaze”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 31). What can be seen here is an early and continual interest in death, but also a shift from a prominent idealizing to a prominent grandiose self. This it, as D.B., when he was between 7 and 13, seems to attribute God almighty qualities and where he iritlicates a wish to merge with God’s power and where he later pursued heroism himself. D.B. also claims that he is generally occupied with death (p. 22) and he states:

“I do love death. I’ve always loved it. I’ve wished for it, and tried to understand it. Death is fascinating… its power, its hold; it is wondelful.” (p. 88). “I had homicidal fantasies as far back as I could remember. Sudden death and bloodshed appealed to me. I remember numerous car accidents in which people (young people) were hurt or killed” (p. 30).

SuicideSuicide, that is related to death can, within a self psychological frame, be seen as a rescue from humiliations and defeats (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 147). This way it could have been a solution for D.B. to avoid the discomfort of possessing a fragmented self and at the same time letting him practice his death interest. But, if the grandiose self is as prominent as has been suggested, it can make it impossible for D.B. to kill him self, like he dreamed of when he was young. This is as a distinctive characteristic with the grandiose self is that it, in the shadow of feeling spectacular and un-replaceable, denies its mortality (Karterud, 2000, p. 25). As a result of this, one might say that the only way to serve his interest in death and killings is to commit them on people who are not as perfect as he is. Additionally it might be an element in his “unscrupulous” behaviour, that his grandiose self’s denial of its mortality, causes him to be unable to realize the comprehensive consequences of also other peoples’ mortality.

Anxiety, fragmentation anxiety and the avoidance of disintegration of self

D.B. states the following about one of the girls he killed: “A pretty girl, a threat to me, to my masculinity”. (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 178). “I regard the females as dangerous. If enticed by the female, it may be dangerous. All women are deceitful because I myself was fooled.” (p. 193). This can indicate anxiety in D.B. This anxiety can be seen as related to the substantial impact females and their rejections and unavailability have had on him. As his greatest need seems to have been to be loved by them, the experience that they rejects him, is probably what is scaring D.B. A solution to avoid this can be to attack them and that way get in control of them. He has exclaimed:

“To do it, to kill, had filled me up to such explosive proportions, it caused me such turmoil inside, that when it released itself it was like a volcano erupting itself and the pressure was over, for a while anyhow.” (p. 204). “The tension, the desire to kill a woman had built up in me to such explosive proportions that when I finally pulled the trigger, all the pressures, all the tensions, hatred, had just vanished, dissipated, but only for a short time.” (p. 204).

The killing episode can be seen as having caused D.B. to avoid the disintegration of his self. This is because the possessor of a significantly fragmented self will desperately try to repair the self. The killings can this way have served as a temporarily act that gave nurture to D.B.’s grandiose self, and, helped him keep the fragmented self gathered.

2.5.5. Self psychological understanding is not the only one

As has also been indicated earlier, there will probably be as many psychological understandings of D.B. as there are psychological theoretical perspectives. Self psychology is thus not the only way to understand a serial killer. To investigate and illuminate the case of D.B. even further, the following discussion will be considering another point of view in the interpretation and understanding of D.B. This is to indicate how understandings can differ and how an alternative perspective considers different aspects as relevant. The psychoanalytic perspective of Abrahamsen seems to be the only published interpretation that has been made of D.B. The aim will such be to highlight the differences between self psychology and the theory that it originally derived from.

According to our self psychological analysis, Son of Sam can be seen to have felt ribbed for attention and recognition over a period of time during childhood. The only alternative to nurture his grandiose self and get attention was for him to accomplish something outstanding- MURDER.

Kohut states that he did not intend to invent a new form for analysis, but that he rather intended to improve the classical psychoanalytic theory. Freud’s classical psychoanalytic theory and Kohut’s self psychological are such similar in many ways, but there are also several aspects in which they differ. The implications these differences have in the understanding of D.B., will be discussed in the following section.


2.6.1. From a theory about conflicts to a theory about deficits and narcissism

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Freud emphasized, within the traditional psychoanalytic orientation, the instinctual drives sexual desire (eros) and the death instinct (Freud, 1964). These drives were seen as significant in the development of pathology. Conflicts between the id, where the instinctual drives come from and the superego where a person’s moral conscience belong, would cause a pathological personality development (Freud, 1933). Kohut (1990, p. 59) did not reject the existence of the psychological apparatus, but he designates the conflict-understanding as unsatisfactory. He does not see pathology as a consequence of unsatisfied solutions to conflicts between id and superego. Instead, he saw it as a consequence of a defect in the essential structure in the personality, the self (p. 16). This way each of them would probably have named D.B.’s problems as a consequence of respectively a conflict (Freud) and a defect (Kohut).

Abrahamsen (1985, p. 203) states that D.B. has a narcissistic character. The psychoanalytic view of narcissism is that it stems from pathologic fixations in the auto-erotism stage. This way, Freud sees narcissism as due to the fact that egoistic instincts and libidinal wishes have not yet been separated (Freud, 2001, p. 103). This means that there is a presence of libidinal id-energy in the ego-structure. Otto Kernberg, who is emphasizing object relations in his theory, also has the traditional perspective concerning narcissism. In relation to the psychoanalytic understanding of this concept, Kohut has stated: “Kernberg sees narcissism as something essential pathologic, while I understand narcissism as something essentially healthy.” (1980, In Karterud, 2000, p. 207). In relation to D.B., this means that Freud and Abrahamsen are likely to see the narcissism as having developed because of a pathological conflict in his psychological apparatus. Kohut would, on the other hand, have seen narcissism as having been developed as a totally natural consequence of not having got enough attention and that this need for gratifications therefore continues to exist.

In Freud’s theory of libidinal development, self-love, which he terms narcissism, is seen as the opposite of loving others (Kohut, 2001, pp. 103-104). Kohut disagrees to this. Instead of seeing these as excluding one another, he sees them as merged into each other (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 156). This is as if one is loved and acknowledged by other selfobjects, good feelings about oneself is developing and, if one is able to appreciate oneself in a healthy manner, one is likely to also be able to love others in a healthy way.

2.6.2. Development stages

Freud and Abrahamsen are engaged with strict childhood age-related psychosexual stages when analysing personality and pathology. Their point is such that a child’s needs and interests are changing in the light of the different stage they are in. Difficulties in the different stages are also seen as causing a fixation, meaning that the individual will potentially later return to that stage (regression). Such Abrahamsen has made the interpretation that D.B. has both an anal and an oral character as he saw him as having had fixations in these stages in his life (oral stage is the first 12 to 18 months of life and the anal stage is at from 1 to 1.5 years of life):

“His oral traits, sadistic in nature, were his avaricious appetite (as shown also in his being overweight), overeating leading to biting, foul language, his desire for the limelight and his indulgence in oral sex. His anal traits were his suspiciousness, hospitality, manipulation, ambivalence, impatience, cautiousness, control, and cruelty. All these were instrumental in establishing his emotional readiness for the brutal killing of innocent women. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed.” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 56).

Also, regarding what seems to be a wish in D.B. to appear as perfect and in centre of attention, Abrahamsen has a different understanding than self psychology. Whereas the self psychological interpretation is that it has to do with an immature development of the grandiose self. Abrahamsen implies, on the other hand, that D.B. has a fixation in the oral stage in his development, in which have made him dependent, helpless, and in need to be the centre of attraction. Abrahamsen sees the explanation for being manipulative, cruel and perfectionistic as fixations in the anal phase, in which extreme forms of these traits can be formed and create; “…a personality which is destructive to others and themselves.” (p. 56).

Kohut places minimal attention to the fixations, as he states that other things are much more relevant than them, and he is also doubtful regarding what can be known from these early days of living (Kohut, 1990, p. 64). This way, it can be difficult to conclude with the anal and oral character of D.B., without having anything to base the presence of the fixations on. Kohut also considered different areas of ages, and agreed to Freud’s psychosexual stages, but he was not as pedantic as Freud was about them and he saw different problems related to the stages. Kohut sees failures from selfobjects as having most impact if they occur before the Oedipal phase, which is between 2 and 5 years, but he also emphasizes the lifelong need for being recognized, mirrored and affirmed from selfobjects. However, Kohut does also, like Freud, talk about regressions. If the self has not developed into a coherent state during the first year of life, the non-existing coherent self with injuries is likely to cause difficulties later when selfobjects are lost or inaccessible. This is mainly due to the archaic selfobject representations that this might lead to later (Kohut, 2000, pp. 41-43, 90; Messer & Warren, 1990).

2.6.3. Unconscious desire to harm himself or a need for attention

unconscious-mindAt age 14, D.B. started enjoying extreme sport like rock climbing and mountain biking. D.B. states: “It was fantastic- that close walk with death-challenging God or fate.” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 50). Abrahamsen interprets this literally and states that D.B.’s interest in this was based on his unconscious desire to harm himself and eventually die from the damages (p. 51). Kohut does not by any means neglect the unconsciousness, but he does not pay attention to unconscious drives, and such he would probably not have interpreted this as presence of a “death drive”. From a Kohutian perspective, what is making D.B. fancy these extreme interests is probably the attention it gives him. This can be seen in this statement from D.B.: “My dad never objected to my going rock climbing even though it was dangerous and could possibly cause my death should I have fallen”. (p. 50). D.B. probably had a wish for getting his father’s attention by doing this. He also describes his friends’ views regarding his interests; “all my friends thought I was a fanatic and a nut”. (p. 51). This was also some kind of attention, and in self psychological terms, this was giving nurture to his grandiose self.

Abrahamsen states that D.B.’s death wish was a determinant for the murders. This as he saw his death wish as a part of his own self-hate, and that he by killing others, indirectly punished himself with imprisonment (p. 201). Self psychology on the other hand, would not put importance to this element in the killing.

2.6.4. The role of drives versus recognitions

freud_womanD.B. has stated: “If I were to have a good, mature sexual relationship with a woman, I wouldn’t have killed.” (p. 180). In relation to this, Abrahamsen states that D.B.’s unsatisfied sexual drive is the motive for the murders. He also claims that without the existence of a sexual drive, there would hardly be either murder or violence in the world (p. 162). Further, Abrahamsen claims that both D.B.’s fires and murders were primarily motivated by sexual drives, and states in which he states that sexual force;” is the force that initiates, stimulates, mobilizes, and maintains murderous impulses”. (p. 162). Abrahamsen claims that sexually immature people find pleasure in destroying (p. 180). D.B. does pose a sentence that can be seen as prove of Abrahamsen’s conviction, as he, in relation to the killings of one of the couples, said that: “I too was sexually aroused. I had an erection”. (p. 86). After he had been in the army, D.B. says that something begun to happen to him. He also explains that he felt that “a certain power of force” was working against him (p. 86). Does this mean that Abrahamsen’s Freudian view of the sexual drives was forcing D.B. to make the murdering actions?

It does seem likely that D.B. was somehow occupied with the intimacy between the couples that he usually was going for. This is as most of the victims were couples that were sitting in parked cars in a typical romantic manner, and where D.B. had often observed them being intimate with each other. The question is how, as Kohut does not pay attention to sexual drives, he would explain why D.B. chose exactly this setting to kill in. Kohut would probably not have seen the sex in itself as a motivator, but he would rather see it as an issue about having been rejected gratification, recognition and about not ever having felt special with a woman and hence a general lack of ever being loved. What D.B. really wanted, was maybe to participate in the love and care that was present in the car, but as he did not dare, the only way he could be involved with this in, was to shoot the couples, or at least the women. However, even though D.B. himself denies any relation between his sexual impulses and the murders, Abrahamsen persists that the sexual drive is the fundament for D.B.’s killings.

Abrahamsen also suggests that D.B.’s frequent masturbation is a sign of drives and an immature sexuality (p. 167). Kohut sees frequent self-stimulating masturbating, as a way of experiencing joy. Doing this can give temporary comfort and assurance of being alive (Kohut, 1998, p. 97). This way, rather than describing drives as essential, a self psychological approach will see the repetitive masturbation tendencies in D.B., as motivated by getting away from his depressed life.

Abrahamsen interprets, based on D.B.’s statement that he prefers oral sex, that this is due, to his immaturity and oral fixation (pp. 166- 167). This way, Abrahamsen sees the preference for oral sex as stemming from the wish to pet and fondle, hence indicating that D.B. has the sexual behaviour of a five or six-year old (p. 167). The preference of oral sex, can, however, be due to the fact that he might be really scared of women. “I regard the females as dangerous. If enticed by the female, it may be dangerous. All women are deceitful because I myself was fooled” (p. 193). According to this statement of D.B., it seems like he is scared of being left. This can explain why it also is difficult for him to see them in their eyes (intercourse). His fantasy of having oral sex with the girls is possible not scaring him as much, as he does not need to have facial contact with them.

Based on a statement of D.B. about his mother having kissed him once without affection, Abrahamsen made an interpretation. He infers that she might have given D.B. the impression that kissing was wrong (p. 169). This episode, will in accordance to Kohut, be seen as having more to do with D.B.’s insatiable grandiose self, than it had with the idea that kissing was wrong.

The classical psychoanalytical belief is that the consequence of the Oedipal conflict is the boy’s fear of losing his manhood (castration anxiety) (Freud, 1992, p. 54). Abrahamsen is convinced that a failure in a solution of the Oedipal conflict has resulted in D.B. fearing that his father would cut off his penis and making himidisposed to feel inferior in later relationships (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 171). Kohut would state, that what has happened to D.B. is more serious than a treat of penis dominance and that it instead has to do with the threat of a destruction of the core self (Kohut, 1990, p. 90-91). In self psychological terms, castration anxiety is not emphasized. Instead the feeling of inferiority is due to the intense need of feedback and recognitions from selfobjects (Schluter & Karterud, 2002, p. 139).

Also when D.B. says that he felt like he was filled with tension and that he felt it like an explosion when he killed, Abrahamsen relates this to drives and urges that needed to be released and he states that: “He was driven to murder” (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 93). Abrahamsen also states that the commands that D.B. originally exclaimed was coming from demons, were in fact commands from his own sexual impulses (p. 209). It can seem like D.B. himself is talking about certain urges when he explains his emotions (explosion). Within a self psychological perspective, what made D.B. feel so free and released after the murders were not due to urges, but instead to the staggering of the seriously fragmented and vulnerable self.

As was mentioned in the introduction, a majority of serial homicides is involving the DSM-IV diagnosis; sexual sadism (Meloy, 2000). D.B., however, is different from most other serial killers, in that they oftentimes involve rape or other sexual behavior (Meloy, 2000). He did however claim to have had sadistic, violent and heterosexual fantasies. Abrahamsen states that this was expressed by killing women (1985, p. 176). The presence of sadism in the killings can also, according to a Kohutian perspective, be relevant. But Abrahamsen and Kohut view the nature of sadism different. Freud sees, just like aggression, sadism as a component of the sexual drive (Mitchell & Black, 1995, p. 18). Kohut however, would probably understand the sadistic fantasies that D.B. had about women and the killing of women, as being motivated by his need to provoke reactions from the others and this way causing the self to achieve responses and attention (Kohut, 1999, p. 141).

2.6.5. D.B.’s aggression, ambivalence and anxiety


The mainstream psychoanalytic perspective views aggression as stemming from the psychobiological foundation, where regression to undisguised drives, gives rise to aggressive actions (Freud, 1964). Kohut names this understanding as a simplistic contribution to the understanding of aggression (Kohut, 1978, p. 634). Instead of looking on aggression as a primary drive, Kohut sees it as a secondary pattern of reaction. Unlike Freud, Kohut does not see aggression or destruction as something that is anchored in human beings. Instead it is something that develops as a result of selfobjects failures and which might result in narcissistic rage that has earlier been described. Aggression does therefore not contain a biological desire to kill, but an understanding of a situation as threatening to the cohesion and understanding of self (Schluter & Karterud, p. 134). Kohut states that destructive anger is always motivated with damages in the self (Kohut, 1990, p. 90). This way, Abrahamsen and Kohut differ in their way of relating D.B.’s behavior to aggression.


Abrahamsen does, just like have been found in the self psychological analysis claim that D.B. is a contradicted individual with a divided behavior. Abrahamsen sees him as helpful on one side whilst he on the other side, is destructive (1985, p. 185).

Abrahamsen makes interpretation regarding the ambivalences that D.B. shows. He sees it as a consequence of the two sets of parents D.B. had in his life when he grew up, and hence he implies that an underlying reason for the murders, was that D.B. had been adopted (p. 203). He states that D.B. had an adoptive pair of parents that was the real parents, and another pair that was an imaginary one, which created a divided personality. The ambivalence, according to Abrahamsen, sharpened when D.B. met with his biological family (p. 198). Abrahamsen also relates D.B.’s ambivalence to the fact that he had been adopted and the time of life he found out about it. Abrahamsen states that D.B. found out about the adoption at a time when he was unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality and hence he grew up with one family that was fantasized and one family that was real, where he lived in the two worlds at the same time. This conflict was the fundament for his ambivalences where also Abrahamsen sees the manipulative tendencies to stem from (pp. 69-70). Abrahamsen also describes the problems in D.B. like this: “Berkowitz fought a tough battle between his unconscious drives and desires, and his conscious restraints- a conflict familiar, in some degree, to all of us” (p. xii). Hence Abrahamsen primarily sees the ambivalence as an inner conflict, like suggested by Freud (1933), with the libidinal drives on the one hand and the superego with its moral perspectives on the other side. Abrahamsen also sees the ambivalence as stemming from the oral fixation (1985, p. 56). Kohut, on the other side, sees ambivalences in a different way. He sees them as a result of a vertical split (illustrated in part 2.5.3.), in the individual, and not only as a horizontal split where the unconsciousness and the consciousness are the struggling parts. From this point of view, the grandiose and exhibitionistic self has been detached from the rest of the self. This causes polarization of the different poles of the self and the result is a giant instability of the emotional life. Abrahamsen states that D.B. was able to talk himself into criminal behavior (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 192), and that he used his charm and seductiveness to mask his insensitivity and cruelty. He also sees D.B.’s good behavior as based on strive to make up for his actions and to manipulate others to think that he is good (p. 70, 187). But, it is likely that the vertical split is not as controllable as Abrahamsen seems to suggest. If one is being hurt or neglected, it is probably not an issue of choice to let the grandiose self step in as a defense against the painful feelings. What can this way, be conceived by others as lying, might be a manifestation of a grandiose self that is in charge. And, what the grandiose pole is expressing might be “the truth” for this pole, but not for other people. Lying can this way not be seen as a matter of choice.


Abrahamsen states that long before D.B. was told about it, he knew that he was adopted and that this prevented him from trusting his mother. This caused, according to Abrahamsen, failure in the separation process, with a following separation anxiety. This is an anxiety in D.B. that Abrahamsen emphasizes, and Abrahamsen states that this made D.B. vulnerable to emotional problems in life, manifested in anxiety, fear and insecurity (p. 69). The self psychological perspective emphasizes another form for anxiety. What is seen as having been one of the main causes for the murders, are the anxiety of dissolution of the self. In this view, the murdering episodes were necessary for D.B., so that he could avoid the extremely uncomfortable and anxiety provoking feeling of a totally fragmented or a disintegrated self.

Abrahamsen states that D.B. has many paranoid ideas. This is about people being against him and primarily girls. He relates these ideas to a fear of castration (pp. 171-173). However it does seem quit likely that D.B. is afraid of women and that it is a kind of realistic fear. He is afraid that they will reject him, in which he has experienced multiple times.

Abrahamsen has also made an interpretation to why D.B. tortured animals when he was younger. He states it was because he himself felt tortured and that he felt that he had been treated like a bug (p. 40). Kohut’s understanding of the torturing is probably not of the same art. Most likely, it would have been connected with the states of D.B.’s self. He needed to get attention and for one of the birds he killed, his adoptive mother’s, he obviously did it so that he would get more attention from her. Killing the other animals, might have made the grandiose self feel omnipotent and alive.

2.6.6. Summing up on the understandings in self-psychology and psychoanalysis

According to the self psychological analysis, D.B. can be seen to have felt ribbed for selfobjects over a long period of time. The only alternative to nurture his grandiose self and get attention to his self, can have been that he had to accomplish something outstanding- murder. Further, his narcissistic rage with the involvement of revenge, destructivity and non-empathic actions was probably essential in his actions. In self psychological terms, D.B.’s self-development has been deficient. This has caused an increased dependence upon others. This is because interactions with others are necessary to regulate ones own emotional reactions and because there is a need to confirm ones own “identity”. The person will then strive to control the close others, to make them fulfil the self object needs. All of these factors have probably been essential for D.B., in his effort to prevent total disintegration of his self. D.B’s killing behaviour is not bestial, in the correct sense of the word. Instead they were human. This is why it is substantial for psychologists and other professionals within the field, to dig into the rationale behind the behaviour of serial killers, and not claim them to be impossible to understand.

Essential in Abrahamsen’s psychoanalytic understanding of D.B., is, in accordance with Freud, the assumption that the destructivity is a consequence of a failure in controlling sexual, aggressive and destructive impulses. Fixation in the psychosexual stages and the resulting anal and oral characters are stressed and also the enduring castration anxiety. It is seen that the drama that is occurring in this phase, between the child and its parents, will be dependent upon whether the ego is finding a safe solution to it (Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 162; Freud, 1933; Freud; 1964). This way, it can be seen that the psychoanalytic theory is more concerned with the intrapersonal conflicts, than they are on the conflicts that are played out in interpersonal circumstances, like self psychology is focusing upon (Messer & Warren, 1990, p. 385). It can seem like the self psychological theory is contributing more substantially to an understanding, as it regards the context of interpersonal relationships in an understanding and not only to try to understand, without adding significant importance to the context of the environment, which seems to have played a crucial role in the case of D.B. The following figure is illustrating the main factors in respectively the psychoanalytic and self psychological understanding of D.B.’s serial killings:

self psychology or psychoanalysis for Psychopaths