Psychological theories also came up with the term psychopath. A psychopath is a person who lacks empathy and sympathy for others. Since the discovery of this term, it has been classified further to primary and secondary psychopaths. A primary psychopath has neurological differences from most people, and a secondary psychopath was born completely normal, but something in their life caused them to change. Psychological theories found a lot of information regarding the mind and how it can cause people to commit crime.
The attachment theory is completely different from the early psychological theories. While the psychological theories focus on personality, the attachment theory focuses on the relationship with a mother. This theory states that maladjusted behavior occurs in children who lacked a solid relationship with a mother figure. The three forms of attachment are secure, anxious-avoidant, and anxious-resistant. Secure is shown by children who feel protected by their caregivers and know that they will always return to them. Anxious-avoidant is described as a person who feels slightly uncomfortable with the idea of a close relationship, so they separate themselves from people. Anxious-resistant people do not trust strangers and cling to their own caregiver for protection.
Both of these theories are shown throughout Jeffrey Dahmer’s life. Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the parents Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. His family life was anything but ideal. Dahmer’s mother suffered from anxiety and even had a history of drug abuse. Dahmer’s father constantly argued with his mom, and everybody seemed to ignore her mental issues. His father and mother split up when he was 18 years old, and on the day of his graduation, his mom abandoned him in his childhood home.
Throughout his teenage years Dahmer seemed to detach from people, keeping to himself and rarely hanging out with other classmates. He spent a large amount of time collecting road kill and putting the corpses in acid, so he could watch them decompose. Bones and the decomposition of bodies always fascinated Dahmer. Biography.com states that Dahmer started fantasizing about necrophilia and murder around the age of 14 (Childhood par. 6). Dahmer always pushed those thoughts and feelings away, until he finally gave into his desires.
Over the course of his lifetime, Dahmer murdered 17 innocent people. He had a close call with the police after his first victim. Dahmer had the body chopped up and in a trash bag. He got pulled over for speeding and when asked what was in the trash bag, Dahmer stated it was trash he was taking to the dump. Later in his life, many of his victims were homosexual, African American men. Brian Kates writes, “Police, wearing oxygen masks and protective suits, found the remains of 11 bodies in the slaughterhouse at 213 Twenty-fifth St.: three human heads, five skulls, five full skeletons, boxes of bones and severed hands…” (Kates). Dahmer dismembered his victims, stored them in acid, and in his later career, would eat them. Dahmer was motivated by the fantasy of complete dominance and control, viewing humans as just another object he could use. He was also known for injecting acid into his victim’s brains to try and make living zombies. He was finally caught in July 1991 and when asked why he killed the young men he stated, “‘Not because I hated them,’ he said, ‘but because I wanted to keep them with me'” (Kates). He was sentenced to 16 terms of life in prison and was murdered in his cell by other inmates.
Dahmer is a poster child for the early psychological theories. His behavior since his early teenage years fits with the abnormal, psychopathic tendencies these theories describe. As mentioned above, Dahmer was a complete loner and spent most of his free time with roadkill. This is not normal behavior for somebody who is 14 or 15 years old. A person his age should have been involved with high school activities and hanging out with friends on the weekends, not decomposing bodies. Dahmer also fits the classification of a psychopath. He was very detached and had little regard for human life, making him lack empathy and sympathy. Dahmer could be described as a secondary psychopath because he never truly showed these characteristics until his home life took a turn for the worse. He could also be described as a charming psychopath. Dahmer, multiple times, was able to trick the police to avoid being caught by acting like a genuine, normal human being. Overall, Dahmer was psychologically different from normal kids his age and his behavior reflects this.
The attachment theory can also very well describe Dahmer’s behavior. Throughout his life, Dahmer was not close to his mother because of her psychological and drug issues. Dahmer also developed issues with his mother when she left him abandoned at 18 years old. As I did further research into this, I found she left him without food and without a working refrigerator. This led Dahmer to exhibit the personality of an anxious-avoidant child. His detachment from his victims and his peers at school can be explained by this theory. When Dahmer stated he killed because he wanted to keep his victims with him, he could have been searching for that closeness that no relationship has ever given him. While murder is not the right way to try and keep people with you, it is rather sad he felt this was the measure he had to take to feel close with someone.
Was Dahmer a psychopath or simply a man trying to connect to another person? While the world will never find out the actual answer to this question, both the psychological and attachment theories help us to understand his behavior. Dahmer was a violent and vicious killer, but under the right circumstances he could be a rather charming person. The mind of Jeffrey Dahmer will never be fully understood, so for now, all we have are theories to try and understand the mind of a serial killer.
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