The theory of the link between fantasy and sadistic behavior is clearly detailed in the following statement from a convicted killer:
These serious offenders grow up believing that they live in an unjust world and are entitled to whatever they want. Fantasies emerge as a way to escape from the unfair society and form a place in which they are able to express emotion and control, towards other human beings. The preference for and the importance of this fantasy life [for the men], makes it the seed from which this person grows into a monster and a potential threat to society.
When a person slips from this state of consciousness, they begin to daydream: "any cognitive activity representing a shift of attention away from a task" (Ressler, et al, 1988). At this point, you may be wondering, "What does all of this conscious mumbo-jumbo have to do with serial killers?" Well, as you recall, most serial killers experience surreal fantasies throughout their life, that eventually lead to unimaginable acts of violence. According to Ressler (1988), a fantasy is an elaborate thought with great preoccupation, anchored in emotion and having origins in daydreams. Fantasies are usually experienced as thoughts, although the individual may be conscious of images, feelings, and actual internal dialogue. Everyone to some extent fantasizes, however, the level of fantasy development may differ among people and is based on each individual's ability to identify certain thoughts as daydreams, and to rationalize and recall its content.
Studies have shown that 96% of adults report that they daydream several times a day, noting that fantasy may either substitute or prepare for action. For example, if you anticipate a confrontation with a specific individual, and the idea of this is anxiety provoking, you may go through several ways in which to handle the situation. You visualize where it would take place, and the details of your surroundings. Then, in your mind you may go through a series of role plays, hypothesizing what you would say in possible situations and the reactions and outcomes of your dialogue. This process helps you feel more at ease with the forthcoming encounter, so that when it actually does happen, you will feel more relaxed and prepared for any situation. However, for certain people, fantasies may be sadistic. It is not known how many people activate their sadistic fantasies and in what context this may occur, but once a fantasy builds to a point where inner stress is unbearable, a person's fantasy may turn to reality.
Psychological motives for violent behavior are usually said to begin by trauma, insult, and/or overstimulation in early childhood.
This page is dedicated to the theory that these men are motivated to murder by way of their thinking. Over time, their thinking patterns develop based on early life experiences. For example, a child abused by an adult caretaker begins to think about being hit every time an adult is around; the child then constantly walks on eggshells waiting for the next beating. The child may then imagine, or fantasize about someone coming to help him by beating up the adult (this may not seem to be the right solution to the problem, but for a young child it may be the only way they have been taught to deal with unwanted situations). The child is then relieved because in his fantasy he has been protected by someone else. Another way in which the child can take control of the abusive situation is by psychologically removing himself from the pain. It gives the child a sense of control when they are able to see through the pain; for example, when the child doesn't flinch or blink while being beaten. This control releases tension from within the child enabling them to survive the abuse. Development of this type of thinking pattern does not necessarily mean a child will grow up to be an abuser, it simply illustrates the power of the imagination and the unique role of fantasy during development. One would think that no matter how insane a person is, they still should grasp that killing others is not the best way to express their feelings. However, the sadistic thoughts and fantasies are too ingrained in the killer's psyche, to stop the killing behavior even if they wanted to.
Fantasy Development over Time
The following illustrations show how an early fantasy of a serial killer continues to develop up to and beyond several murders. The first fantasy is during childhood when the killer's bedroom was moved to a windowless basement:
I was eight years old, having nightmares, that's when I went off into the morbid fantasy and that's when the death trip started. The devil was sharing my bedroom with me, he was living in the furnace. The furnace was there battling away in the corner with an eerie glow in the middle of the night.
Later in the interview, the killer describes his motive to kill through an adolescent fantasy:
I knew long before I started killing that I was going to be killing, that it was going to end up like that. The fantasies were too strong. They were going on for too long and were too elaborate.
Following his first murder, his fantasy became a reality. He recognized a need to change the structure of his fantasy in order to repeat the crime. This is the development of his fantasy:
It was almost like a black comedy of errors, the first killings, two people, it was terrible because I made three fatal errors in the first tweny-four hours. I should have been busted... I saw how loose I was and I tightened it up, and when it happened again and again I got tighter and tighter and there weren't any more slips.
Current research is being done at the University of Arizona by Dr. B.R. Johnson and Dr. J.V. Becker, to better understand how deeply fantasy warps the mind of a serial killer. They are studying nine cases of 14-18 year olds who have, "clinically significant fantasies of becoming a serial killer." They will try to find a way to interrupt the link between fantasy and the actual acting out of the fantasy.
The above statement from a murderer is an example of the fact that some murderers do take a step back into the real world, and realized that once the murder has been committed, he must cope with the reality of his actions.
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