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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Psychotic Characters: Where to Start?

Psychosis truly does have its roots in childhood. I spent a goodly portion of the week watching documentaries on YouTube about serial killers, and this fact is glaringly in common with all of them.

Further research led to me the concept of the Macdonald Triad, which is also known as the Triad of Psychopathy (which is pronounced sigh-KOP-athy for those who like to say it the other way!). It's named for J.M. Macdonald, a forensic psychiatrist who wrote "The Threat to Kill" in 1963, a paper which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In this paper, he detailed a set of three behavioral characteristics that he claimed, if were found present together in a person, to be associated with later violent tendencies. It should be noted that Macdonald focused on hospitalized patients who had threatened to kill, not patients who had actually killed. The patients who had threatened the most violence often did have these three traits in their background. Other studies have found statistical significance to the Triad, and some studies have not.

The traits, in no particular order, are:

1) Bedwetting

If a child bedwets past the age of 5, Macdonald found this to be significant. Two psychiatrists (Hellman and Blackman), claimed that enuresis - the act of voiding urine while asleep - was a form of sadism or hostility, because the act of voiding "in fantasy was equated with damaging and destroying."

Research had subsequently discounted associating bedwetting with violent tendencies, but does make the point that bedwetting past the age of five can be humiliating for the child, depending on how the child is treated by parental figures for the act. If belittled or treated cruelly, the child might then be more inclined to engage in the other aspects of the triad as an outlet for their frustration.

2) Animal Cruelty

Torturing animals can be seen as a precursor or rehearsal for killing humans. Torturing any animal is bad, but messing with dogs and cats is particularly so, because they are seen as more humanlike due to being pets. Toads, turtles, worms and the like are less like pets and doesn't violate that connection between humans and pets as much.

Some psychopaths engage in animal cruelty as a way to vent frustrations, since in childhood, the child could not retaliate toward those who humiliated them. So they selected vulnerable animals, seeing them as's future victim selection at a young age. Studies have been done that prove those killers who engaged in animal cruelty often used the same method on their victims.

3) Firesetting

Firesetting is seen as a less severe or "first shot" at releasing aggression. Since extensive humiliation is found in the backgrounds of many serial killers, it's been theorized that setting fire and venting frustration and anger by doing so helps return the child to a normal state of self-worth.

It doesn't have to be huge fires to be an outlet for aggression. Trash cans, small flame throwers, homemade "bombs"--they all serve their purpose, just as setting fire to a building or car does.

Hopefully I haven't freaked you out, but serial killers really fascinate me, and I was happy to stumble upon this concept and relay it to those of you, who, like me, get into this stuff.

Let's Analyze: What might some other childhood predictors of later violence be? Do you think this idea holds water? Do you ever want me to post on something this disturbing again? :)