"Loneliness and Associated Violent Antisocial Behavior Analysis of the Case Reports of Jeffrey Dahmer"
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology http://ijo.sagepub.com Loneliness and Associated Violent Antisocial Behavior: Analysis of the Case Reports of Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen Willem H. J. Martens and George B. Palermo Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 2005; 49; 298 DOI: 10.1177/0306624X05274898 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ijo.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/49/3/298 Published by: http://www.sagepublications.com Additional services and information for International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology can be found at: Email Alerts: http://ijo.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://ijo.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Citations http://ijo.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/49/3/298 Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 Loneliness and Associated Violent Antisocial Behavior: Analysis of the Case Reports of Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen Willem H. J. Martens George B. Palermo Abstract: It can be theorized that loneliness plays a significant role in the development and continuation of violent, antisocial attitudes and behavior. Analysis of case reports of two serial killers, Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer, indicate that there is evidence for such a link. In this article, a list of significant correlates of loneliness and antisocial behavior is presented. This may be useful for the assessment of possible dangerousness and in the development of preven- tion and intervention programs. Suggestions are made for the adequate treatment of loneliness and correlated violent, antisocial behavior. A need is recognized for more research into the psychosocial, emotional, neurobiological, cultural, and ethnic determinants of loneliness and their correlation to specific antisocial and/or criminal behavior. Keywords: loneliness; antisocial personality disorder; intervention; prevention; case reports INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITION OF LONELINESS Loneliness, which can involve excruciating physical as well as mental suffer- ing, is an ancient nemesis. In fact, the first thing that the biblical God named as not good was loneliness. Loneliness is implicated in numerous somatic, psychoso- matic, and psychiatric diseases (McGraw, 2000). It is a mundane yet arcane human affliction that is often hazardous to health and hostile to happiness. There are distinctive types of loneliness, such as emotional (eros loneliness), social (friendship loneliness), cultural, ethical, ontological, existential, communicative, epistemological, and metaphysical (McGraw, 1995). There are also five core vir- tues of solitude: freedom, attunement to self, attunement to nature, reflective per- spective, and creativity (Koch, 1990). These core virtues, however, are unlikely to flourish in the case of severe, traumatic loneliness. Loneliness appears as a feeling and a state of separation from others. Insofar as some preconscious awareness of the immediacy and accessibility of others, as well as a memory of past togetherness, are prerequisite for loneliness, loneliness NOTE: One of the authors of this article (Palermo) was the court-appointed forensic psychiatrist in the Jeffrey Dahmer trial. Much of what is reported here was part of his court testimony. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(3), 2005 298-307 DOI: 10.1177/0306624X05274898 2005 Sage Publications 298 Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 Loneliness and Violent Behavior 299 infrequently involves some kind of choice and willful separation (Gotz, 1974). The experience of loneliness suggests a meeting of the metaphysical and the con- tingent strands of our existence. This meeting takes place in our narrations to our- selves of how we have uncovered our loneliness. These narrations arise as we encounter and bespeak the possibilities of our existence (Labranche, 1973). The authentic person discovers and becomes himself in and throughout the life pro- cess of nothingness. A positive reaction to the essential experience of nothing- ness, as felt in loneliness, can be one (Kraft, 1974). Jaspers considered loneliness as a means to self-realization and as a presupposition of communication (Salamun, 1988). But, unfortunately, not every lonely human being is able to make the step from loneliness to communication. Loneliness is the defining fea- ture of human awareness and the fundamental question of human existence (Art, 1992). But long-lasting loneliness may lead rather to the painful awareness in the person in question of his or her inability to take part in human existence, to a severe distortion of reality as a result of social isolation, and to an associated lack of possibility to use constructive psychosocial, emotional, and moral feedback of others. No study of loneliness in serial sexual murderers was found during PSYCHINFO and MEDLINE database searches. However, a few investigations indicated a link between loneliness and sexual offending. Compared with non- sexual offenders in one study, child sexual offenders (n = 29) reported signifi- cantly more emotional loneliness (Marsa et al., 2004). The sex offenders (n = 47) were both more lonely and more deficient in intimacy than other offenders and community controls. Intimacy seemed to be the most important deficit among the sex offenders in a study by Seidman, Marshall, Hudson, and Robertson (1994). In a retrospective study of a Dutch population of violent, forensic psychiatric patients (n = 634), Martens (1997, 2002a) found that the systematic distortion of reality, as well as too much contact with the harsh dimensions of reality (when these negative experiences concerning reality differ fundamentally from reality experiences of other people), may result in pathological loneliness, social isola- tion, and devastating feelings of being cast out and thrown away. Severe social isolation and correlated loneliness may also be the consequence of a lack of social support (Lotter, 1999), neglect and/or emotional/physical abuse (Loos & Alexan- der, 1997), mental disorders and associated cognitive impairments (American Psychiatric Association, 2000); social-emotional incapacities (Giovacchini, 1996; Martens, 1997, 2002a, 2002b) and moral inadequacies (Martens, 2002a, 2002b). THE CASE REPORTS OF JEFFREY DAHMER AND DENNIS NILSEN In this study, the link between loneliness and violent, antisocial behaviour and the correlates of devastating loneliness is investigated employing the case studies of two serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen. Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 300 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology CASE 1: JEFFREY DAHMER Jeffery Dahmer grew up in a small Ohio town in the United States. His father was a chemical engineer with a Ph.D. in chemistry; his mother suffered from vari- ous mental disorders. Reportedly, they had a troubled marriage. When Jeffrey was 5 years of age, his brother David was born and for the first time, Jeffrey felt neglected. His mother, who suffered from occasional depression and suicidal ideation, was very self-involved, his father was involved in his doctorate activi- ties, and Jeffrey had to share the sparse attention of his parents with his brother. As a child, Jeffrey was shy but displayed impulsive and angry behavior (tantrums) (Masters, 1993; Palermo, 2004). Between the ages of 6 and 8, Jeffrey’s family moved three times. He was socially isolated and was regarded by other children as odd and bizarre, and at age 10 he reportedly felt guilty about his mother’s emo- tional disorder (Egger, 1998). It appears that Jeffrey remained unattached during his childhood and never really bonded with anyone except a few high school friends with whom he had only superficial relations. Although he was rarely inter- ested in anything, he did show an interest in biology and was eager to perform small animal dissections. Nevertheless, he was frequently apathetic and demon- strated no normal emotions, and he felt that he was an outcast, belonging to nei- ther family nor any other social network (Masters, 1993; Palermo, 2004). There is no evidence that Dahmer ever developed an intimate relationship, and he was fre- quently distrustful of others (Egger, 1998). He occasionally had destructive sexual fantasies about young people with whom he wanted to get close. At about age 12, Jeffrey began to wander through his neighborhood and in par- ticular wasteland and forest to look for dead animals, which he then dissected. He placed the skulls of the animals on sticks in his neighborhood, and many people worried about this weird behavior (Masters, 1993). He became increasingly aloof, and at age 14 he began to drink alcohol to cope with his despair over his lack of contact with his peers and to quell his compulsive, violent, sexual thoughts. (He feared his own aggression.) He gave up the idea of contact with others. In grade school, the other children had noticed that Jeffrey showed no sympa- thy for others; in high school, he was considered to be strange and no one wanted to associate with him. He was very shy toward girls but aggressive toward author- ity figures. He longed for attention and seemed to be seeking it everywhere. He would reportedly fake epileptic fits in the classroom and at the nearby mall. He would frequently draw outlines of nonexistent bodies on the floors at school (Egger, 1998). But no one became aware that he suffered from deep feelings of loneliness. At the age of 15, Jeffrey stole a shop-window dummy and lay with it in bed when his parents were not at home. It was at the time of this episode that he developed his first necrophilic fantasies and became aware of his homosexual desires (Masters, 1993). At age 17, he entertained violent necrophilic, sexual fan- tasies characterized by total, lustful control of another person, brought about by social and emotional frustrations and loneliness. His parents divorced when he Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 Loneliness and Violent Behavior 301 was 18, and he began to drink more frequently, at the same time becoming more depressed. His social isolation increased, and he felt emotionally empty. At age 18, while driving his parents’ car, Jeffrey gave a ride to a young man who was walking along the road stripped to the waist. Jeffrey was impressed by his looks, and he invited him to his home for a drink with the hope of having sex with him. When the boy refused his advances and wanted to leave, Jeffrey stran- gled him and sexually abused him. He later stated that he could not stand the idea of being abandoned and he experienced an irresistible desire to keep the boy with him. He later went on to kill 16 more victims, all adolescents and young men. As his obsession grew, he began saving body parts. He wanted to remember the appearance of his victims, and he took pictures of the corpses. They belonged to him. He exercised total control over his victims to the point that he attempted to make zombies out of some of them: He gave them alcohol in which sleep-inducing drugs were dissolved, and when they were half-asleep, he drilled holes in their skulls and injected muriatic acid into them to liquefy the brain matter, but when his experiment failed, he murdered them. The skulls of the six victims on whom he had perpetrated the horrendous act were found in his apartment at the time of his apprehension (Egger, 1998; Masters, 1993; Palermo, 2004). As in the case of Dennis Nilsen, Britain’s notorious and gruesome serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer wanted company. Whether his urge to kill was driven by a longing for simple companionship or sex, Dahmer killed for it. He stated that he had wanted to be with his victims, to keep them with him, and he described his fear of being abandoned by them. He shared with many other serial killers not only a deep, violent, destructive hostility but also boredom, loneliness, fear of rejection, and an ambivalent craving for human closeness (Palermo, 2004). After his arrest on July 1991, he explained that he did not hate his victims at the time of the murder but that his acts were the result of feelings of lust in combination with an intense need for total control of the victim (Masters, 1993; Palermo, 2004). CASE 2: DENNIS NILSEN Dennis Nilsen was born of a Scottish mother and a Norwegian father in Fraserburg, Scotland. Dennis’s father was a soldier in the Norwegian armed forces, fighting against the German army that was invading their homeland. Although his parents were married, Dennis’s father was often absent and he rarely saw him. Dennis felt himself to be a misfit, and he developed a withdrawn and inaccessible character. He had developed a strong emotional bond only with his grandfather, who looked after him and played with him. His grandfather was his only companion and his great hero and protector. When Dennis was about 6 years old, his grandfather died, and he was very disappointed that his grandfather had left him, just as his father had done. No one was there to take grandfather’s place, and no one gave him an explanation for his grandfather’s death. His mother told him that he went to sleep and then he disappeared forever. Because of this, Dennis felt abandoned and betrayed by his family. Moreover, in the same period, he Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 302 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology became painfully aware that his birth was not the result of a happy and harmoni- ous relationship between his parents. After his grandfather’s death, he became more and more irritable and melancholic. He had no close friends, and he used to take long strolls by himself along the sea. Dennis’s mother divorced his father when Dennis was 7 years old, and a year later she was married again, to a quiet but reliable man. Dennis hated his stepfa- ther because he felt that he took his mother’s attention away from him. Four chil- dren were born from the marriage, and Dennis felt himself to be superfluous and rejected. His mother neglected him because her attention was mostly targeted toward her new children and husband, and his feeling of loneliness, present for years, became more severe. His mother was not physically demonstrative with Dennis and he missed that. During this period, he engaged in episodes of criminal behavior, including theft and robbery. After age 13, while under the influence of an uncle, he developed a very cynical and critical attitude. At about age 17, he joined the army, where he remained until age 23. During that same period, he became aware of his homosexual feelings, which he repressed both out of guilt and shame. He hid them from the other soldiers, who did not tolerate homosexu- als. Because of his distinctive sexual nature, he felt lonely, depressed, and alien- ated from the outside world. Nevertheless, although he was introverted, he did have some social contacts with other soldiers, and at age 21 he had one sexual contact with a boy. By then, Dennis was a heavy drinker and he committed his first violent crime. Although he was not sure, he claimed that he had probably killed a taxi driver who had hit him without reason. When he left the army at age 23, his social life was meager, and in his new work setting (police and civil service), he had few real con- tacts. His colleagues avoided contact with him because he showed very little social awareness and social-emotional interaction abilities. He talked incessantly, even when the listener obviously showed no interest in his stories. His sexual life consisted of one-night stands, and he found it to be very depressing. He hated his life, and at 28 years of age, after an endless search for companionship with col- leagues or with strangers, he feared that he would be alone forever. His self- esteem was so low that he believed that he deserved no better. In these lonely years, he developed violent, sexual, and necrophilic fantasies. Unexpectedly, at age 30 he met an unemployed young man, and they decided to engage in a perma- nent relationship. But after a year, their problematic and shallow relationship worsened and they separated. Dennis became despondent and loneliness over- whelmed him, and his feelings of despair reached a peak at Christmas that year. Some days later, deciding to go out and seek company in a bar, he met a young Irish man who was also alone and took him home with him. They drank a lot and they went to bed naked. When Dennis woke up in the morning and looked at the boy, he became afraid that he would leave him once awake and, trembling with fear, he strangled him. In the following years, he strangled another 14 young homosexual men, most of whom were homeless and jobless. He claimed that he carried on conversations with some of the dead bodies and watched TV together Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 Loneliness and Violent Behavior 303 with them and that he wrote poems for some of his victims. He killed only for company, he said after his arrest (Masters, 1985; Ministry of Justice of Great Britain, 1983). ANALYSIS OF CASE REPORTS The impact of loneliness on the deviant development of Dahmer and Nilsen is considered below. Dahmer’s loneliness, beginning about age 5, was the result of his parents’ neglect, their troubled marriage, the mental disorder of his mother, and frequent moves from one town to another. He showed impulsive and aggressive behavior; between ages 6 and 8 he developed apathetic, odd, and bizarre behavior and suf- fered from severe social isolation. As a consequence, he missed the opportunity to develop social-emotional interaction skills. From the age of 10, he began to view himself as an outcast, he developed self-destructive fantasies, and he began to drink alcohol frequently. At age 14, fearing his own aggressive feelings, he sys- tematically abused alcohol to control the compulsive, violent, sexual thoughts that were linked to his social-emotional frustrations and his lack of ability to form contacts and the concomitant loneliness. At that point, he hesitated to try to fur- ther establish emotional contacts with others. At age 15, he had his first necrophilic fantasies, and he became aware of his homosexuality. After age 17, his violent sexual and necrophilic fantasies were characterized by lust and a need for total control over another person, possibly as a defense against unbearable reality. From age 18 on, his feelings of loneliness were so overwhelming and his need for companionship was so strong that the destructive fantasies that were linked to these unbearable experiences of social isolation became reality. Following the death of his grandfather when Nilsen was age 6, Nilsen experi- enced strong feelings of abandonment and betrayal by his mother and the rest of his family, in part because they had not told him the truth about his grandfather’s death. After his mother remarried when he was 8 years old, followed by the birth of four step-siblings, he felt neglected and experienced severe loneliness, and he developed serious conduct problems, engaging in criminal behavior. At age 14, he became aware of his homosexual nature but was unable to manifest it openly or explore it. As a result, despite having some social contacts, he felt lonely and depressed. At age 21, he was a heavy drinker and committed his first violent (probably homicidal) crime. When he left the army at age 23, he began to suffer increasingly from feelings of loneliness and despair. In contrast to his army period, he was unable to make social contacts. In the lonely years between ages 28 and 31, he further developed violent sexual and necrophilic fantasies. These fan- tasies compensated for the lack of intimacy with living persons who, he felt, con- tinuously rejected him, and they eased his emotional pain. Later, as his loneliness became unbearable and he needed human company at all costs, his violent fantasies became reality. Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 304 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology In the etiology of the antisocial homicidal behavior of Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen, loneliness obviously played a crucial role (see antisocial personal- ity disorder (ASPD); American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Both Dahmer and Nilsen felt rejected by their parents and others in their neighborhood. Further- more, they were unable to interact adequately with other individuals, and as a con- sequence, they experienced long-lasting and unbearable feelings of social isola- tion and an impossibility to develop effective social skills. They lived too much in their own limited world, without close bonds or a safe nest and without receiving the useful psychosocial, emotional, or moral feedback, or positive stimuli from others that are necessary for reflection and behavioral correction. Healthy bonds and relationships are the breeding ground for understanding, empathy, loyalty, and feelings of responsibility toward others. Because of this lack of emotional bonding and relationships, they had little chance to develop emotionally, socially, and morally in a normal and healthy way. Furthermore, this severe lack of social relationships, bonds, and psychosocial feedback from others may have generated their inability to adequately test reality and led to their behavioral disturbances. But Nilsen and Dahmer also experienced a lack of other normal social stimuli. A person forced to live without company seriously misses the dimensions of distrac- tion, entertainment, and relaxation that are a part of friendship and company. Con- tinuously focused on their own disturbed and deviant internal world and associ- ated emotional, mental, and social conflicts, they were prone to boredom, stress, and strain. This became more and more unbearable for them. Only the compan- ionship of other people could have released them from the imprisonment of their limited self. Because of their long-lasting social isolation, Dahmer and Nilsen were further inhibited in the expression of their desires for love, sexuality, and the warmth proper of a normal relationship. The deviant manifestations of their desires correlated with abnormal social-emotional and sexual development con- sequent to their social isolation. Their loneliness was mixed with sentiments of failure, shame, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection, and of not being good enough for others, which they deduced from the fact that few people showed any interest in them. They developed deviant fantasies, partly fed by frustrations and anger, because they basically felt unwanted and incapable of relating to others. Their deviant fantasies may be seen as a reaction formation, a defense against a painful affect. Their loneliness caused severe and unbearable emotional pain, and to avoid or overcome these feelings, they gradually came to desire complete con- trol over the lives of others. This need for absolute control was paired with intense lust. In their view, the only way to realize absolute control and to satisfy their lust was to make zombies of their victims or to kill them so that they could use their dead bodies for their own purposes. An analysis of these and other case reports of “psychopaths” who experienced serious degrees of loneliness found that loneliness was, in most cases, clearly a significant trigger for their severe antisocial behavior (Martens, 1997, 1999). Most of these persons claimed that real friends and bonds probably would have prevented their deviant, violent development. Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 Loneliness and Violent Behavior 305 CORRELATES OF LONELINESS AND ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR There are important correlates of loneliness and associated ASPD, which should draw our attention. The case reports of Nilsen and Dahmer and other patients with ASPD illustrate the importance of preventing loneliness in young persons who are at risk of developing antisocial behavior. Extreme loneliness may lead to internal rigidity, social-emotional and moral numbing, indifference, hostility, and anger. Certain etiological determinants and predictors of loneliness and associated antisocial behavior may be important indicators for prompt therapeutic interven- tion. A combination of risk factors for loneliness that may be a forerunner of anti- social behavior includes depression, social withdrawal, lack of social and coping skills, neglect or abuse, and aversive family factors (parental divorce or antisocial behavior, chaotic family life). These are dangerous warning signs calling for remedial action. Parents, teachers, school physicians, pediatricians, adolescent mental health workers, social workers, and sports trainers should be aware of the significance of these signs, and they must know what to do and to which profes- sionals the troubled persons should be directed. Children and adolescents at risk and their families could be helped by a multisystemic treatment consisting of a combination of family treatment, support, and training; social and coping training for persons at risk; and educational and individual therapeutic programs, espe- cially in an improved version as suggested by Martens (2004a, 2004b). In this way, the dangerous influences that correlate with loneliness and antisocial devel- opment, such as aversive family factors, neglect or abuse, and lack of intellectual capacities and/or skills could be tackled. Treatment should also target comorbid disorders such as substance abuse, depression, and neurobiological correlates of antisocial behavior and associated loneliness in antisocial juveniles or adults at risk. In particular, a combination of neurofeedback, psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological treatment, and psychosocial guidance could be effective in antisocial personalities who suffer from loneliness (Martens, 2002a). Psycho- analysis may be suitable for treating loneliness that is related to fear of one’s own aggression and the need for intimacy (Richards & Spira, 2003). Because loneli- ness is often the result of severe social-emotional deficiencies, intervention and prevention programs should be directed toward the growth of social-emotional interaction skills and the enhancement of social and emotional awareness and capacities. Furthermore, treatment programs for this category of lonely patients should also include intimacy training. Marshall, Bryce, Hudson, Ward, and Moth (1996) revealed that intimacy training (i.e., enhancing intimacy skills) was very effective in treating 32 male child molesters. The participants in their study were provided with information about the origins and development of intimacy skills, what constitutes a happy and healthy relationship, differences in sexual satisfac- tion, how and why jealousy occurs, the development of relationship skills, and dealing with loneliness. These offenders demonstrated significant improvements Downloaded from http://ijo.sagepub.com at KANSAS STATE UNIV LIBRARIES on November 11, 2008 306 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology in both loneliness and intimacy after training. Effective psychosocial guidance during treatment and follow-up psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, and neurological care may be necessary in some cases to prevent relapse. CONCLUSION Loneliness may be especially harmful for persons at risk for antisocial behav- iors when combined with other risk factors, such as substance abuse; depression; social-emotional incapacities; lack of social support and guidance; a violent, criminal, or indifferent environment; and a lack of self-esteem. Therefore, profes- sionals who are involved in the education and treatment of juveniles should be aware of these risk factors. Nevertheless, although the risk indicators presented are useful for the assessment of harmful conditions in vulnerable juveniles, more research is needed into other neurobiological, psychosocial, and cultural/ethnic correlates of loneliness. Impulsivity, hostility, and even aggression itself may be linked to loneliness because such destructive attitudes may easily disturb existing bonds and relationships, preventing new contacts or relationships. Cultural and ethnic factors, which can be observed in refugees, can lead to estrangement in a new country, to loneliness, and to associated mental disorders. Many psychiatrists have observed that loneliness seems to be an important issue in psychiatry, psy- chology, and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, it is not always clear how different categories of patients/offenders with distinctive forms of loneliness should be most effectively treated. 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