Child serial murder-psychodynamics: closely watched shadows

J Am Acad Psychoanal. 2001 Summer;29(2):331-8. doi: 10.1521/jaap.29.2.331.17256.


There is a malignant transformation in object relations resulting in an identification with an omnipotent and cruel object resulting in an identity transformation. If the tension, desperation, and dissociation increase, serial murder becomes spree murder. The presence of pathological narcissism and psychopathic tendencies are of diagnostic significance in understanding the murderer's personality functioning and motivation to kill. Meloy (1988) considered the degree of sadism and aggression combined with narcissistic qualities to reflect the "malignancy" of the psychopathic disturbance where gratification (of aggression) occurs in the service of narcissistic functioning--that is, cruelty toward others in the form of a triumphant victory over a rejecting object. Meloy also believes that dissociation is ubiquitious in the psychopath. The initial murder of the serial murderer may reflect a "new identity." The pathological object-relations of narcissism and the malignant narcissism are important diagnostic indicators in the personality functioning of serial killers and the occurrence of these phenomena is a significant factor in the formation of the personalities of serial killers, their inner motivations, and their pattern of commission.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Homicide / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Narcissism*
  • Psychoanalytic Interpretation
  • Severity of Illness Index