Shockingly, being evil isn’t easy. The human brain is wired for compassion, guilt, and a type of empathic pain that causes the person perpetrating violence to feel the agony that is in many ways as profound as the victims. The perpetrators have to overcome a lot of powerful neural wiring to execute the crimes they do.
If you delve into the background of any violent person, you will most certainly find intense episodes of horror and pain. It is said that Not every trauma creates a killer, but most killers are created from trauma.
Dr. James Garbarino, a psychologist who works with violent inmates, says, “One thing that makes them so scary is their unconsciousness about that wounded child and the anger of that child and the fear of that child. And now, in a big body, they’re doing things on behalf of that child without even an awareness of it.”
Role of trauma in the making of a killer: We see murderers as people who are damaged, evil persons and who do not deserve to live with us. However, the majority of killers are untreated traumatised children who are controlling the acts of the frightening adults they have become.
Physical, sexual, and psychological trauma in childhood can result in psychological problems later in life, whether in infancy, adolescence, or maturity. The child’s resentment, shame, and despair might be focused inside, resulting in symptoms such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or it can be directed outward, manifesting as aggressiveness, impulsiveness, delinquency, hyperactivity, and drug addiction. Most studies say that maternal neglect and parental maltreatment might be significant predictors of later violence.
The experiences we have as we grow up mould our brains. A young mind is very susceptible since it encounters things for the first time. Maltreatment is like a chisel, shaping the brain to resist abuse at the expense of serious, long-lasting damage.
Killers also develop a trait- hypersensitivity to a threat. The belief of ‘get them before they get you’. This is developed due to traumatic experiences in the killer’s life where they are required to be watchful of the danger. Because you are morally and psychologically bound to defend yourself, you become hypervigilant, giving you the “war-zone mindset” (the type of mentality we can see in people living in an urban war zone)
Are murderers born or made? Many say that genes play a huge role in the making of a killer. If your brain is wired into some sort, you are bound to act in a particular way. The brains of several killers were studied, and nearly all of them revealed identical brain abnormalities. There was decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that controls emotional impulses, and increased activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain that produces emotions.
It appears that if you don’t have the MAOA gene or have the low-activity variation, you’re more likely to be violent. The warrior gene was named after this variant. About 30% of males have this so-called warrior gene, but whether or not the gene is activated is highly dependent on what experiences you have as a child.
We can understand that if you have the high-risk variant of the gene and were mistreated as a child, your chances of becoming a criminal are significantly higher but If you have the high-risk gene but have never been abused, there isn’t much risk. Hence, a gene by itself can’t really be the cause; genes are dependent upon environmental conditions. We can also say that a killer is both, born as well as made.
The first thing that springs to mind when you think about psychology is probably not killers/murderers. Nonetheless, psychologists play an important role in understanding how murderers are formed and why they kill. Here, we look at some killers and try to understand their reasons for becoming one:
1 Ted Bundy
Bundy was bullied for having a speech impediment and never felt like he fit in, but that was the least of his concerns. Bundy was raised believing that his original parents were his grandparents and that his mother was his elder sister.
Bundy only found out later in life that his “sister” was actually his mother and that his biological father was unknown. Moreover, some experts believe his grandfather, who had abused Bundy, may have been his biological father.
Bundy claimed he had no strong thoughts about the discovery, but his prison psychologist, Dr. Al Carlisle, believed it had a significant influence on him and that he was capable of violence.
His method of operation involved kidnapping, raping and dismembering his female victims. He frequently preserved their heads as mementoes.
2 Albert Fish
Fish, like many of his family members, struggled with mental illness as a youngster. Not only was his brother in an asylum, but his uncle had been diagnosed with mania, and his mother had visual hallucinations on a regular basis. Fish’s father passed away when he was just five years old. His widowed mother kept Fish in an orphanage.
The orphanage’s caregivers often beat the kids and even encouraged them to injure one another on occasion. Although the other kids dreaded cruel punishments, Fish enjoyed them. He grew to like and connect pain with pleasure, which eventually led to sexual gratification. His sadomasochistic impulses eventually developed into a fixation with sexual self-mutilation.
In the early 1900s, Fish was prosecuted and convicted of raping, murdering, and cannibalising three children. He claimed, however, that he had murdered more than 100 children and boasted that he “had children in every state.”
3 Jeffrey Dahmer
According to most accounts, Dahmer had a normal upbringing; nevertheless, as he grew older, he became distant and uncommunicative. As he approached puberty, he began to exhibit little to no interest in hobbies or socialising, instead turning to inspect animal carcasses and excessive drinking for enjoyment. His drinking continued throughout high school, and at the age of 18, he committed his first murder.
Dahmer murdered 17 people, most of them young black men. He was imprisoned twice, once for molestation and once for murder, and then was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1994.
4 Harold Shipman
Shipman was a brilliant boy who grew interested in medicine after witnessing his mother receive morphine injections to relieve her agony while she died of lung cancer.
He was thrown out of his practice and into drug rehabilitation in 1975 after it was revealed that he had written numerous false prescriptions for the opiate pethidine, to which he had become addicted. It is believed that he has killed 250 of his patients.
5 Richard Ramirez
When Ramirez’s mother was pregnant, she worked in a boot factory and was exposed to toxic fumes. All of his siblings were born with genetic anomalies ranging from respiratory problems to bone deformities. A dresser toppled on Richard’s head when he was two years old, inflicting a big laceration on his forehead. At the age of five, he was struck unconscious by a swing and began having epileptic seizures.
Ramirez alleges his father was physically abusive to him and his family as a whole. Ramirez subsequently developed a drug problem and dropped out of high school. Ramirez’s life was marred by childhood trauma, abuse, and addiction, and he also suffered from medical conditions that exacerbated his situation. This is an instance where both genetics and his horrific environmental surroundings play a role.
His actions included breaking into homes, brutally murdering his victims, and at times raping them first. He shared Polaroid pictures of his victims, including the Vietnamese women he raped. Mike posed with the severed head in several of the images. Ramirez, who claimed to be a Satanist, never apologised or showed any remorse for his atrocities.
Almost all psychopaths/killers/murderers have no fear of punishment and lack emotional sensitivity and reaction. What is the source of the numerous killers’ continual lack of empathy? Surprisingly, research has found that murderers/killers have very normal cognitive functioning- they recognise, understand, and completely realize the anguish their victims are experiencing. The only difference is that they do not feel the same themselves.
The vast bulk of neuroscientific studies on psychopathy has found that psychopaths/killers have much lower amygdala functioning. This seems reasonable, given that the amygdala is well recognised for its role in fear conditioning. If psychopaths are significantly less sensitive to fear than regular people, it is not an uncommon view that they will be exceedingly indifferent to others’ fear.