This paper is about Jeffrey Dahmer and how his life was altered in a way that caused severe psychological issues. With little to no support from his family or peers at school, Jeffrey was isolated and confused. He ruminated all his stress from past traumas and developed strange urges to inflict pain and suffering among others. Sadism, necrophilia, paraphilia, and cannibalism are some characteristics pertinent in this specific case.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s Psychological Development
From the beginning of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life, there were many separate occasions where he was mistreated. And not only that, but he lacked support from any other person surrounding him. The most prominent features of his persona, sadism, loneliness, and anger, stem from the psychological trauma placed on him throughout his child hood. Preventable or not, these suffering’s tweaked Jeffrey’s mind in a way that caused the torture and death of seventeen young boys, as well as others that got away from his horrific crimes. The series of events leading to his first murder clearly explain why and how he ended up a serial killer.
What is Sadism
Jeffrey developed sadistic behavior as a young child and he began having fantasies of hurting himself and his peers. They continually got worse and more serious as got older. “Sadism is sexual or nonsexual pleasure derived through inflicting pain and suffering on others” (Martens, 2011, p. 493) and it is obvious that Jeffrey grew to partake in both forms at a very serious level. The main goal of sadism according to Martens (2011), “… is to cause the object to suffer mentally, physically, crudely, or subtly” (p. 493). Sadism is not the same as aggression because it is an act of defense or “survival” while sadistic behavior is purely a desired satisfaction. Experiencing mental and/or physical pain as a young child, as well as trauma in later development can be a cause of sadism. Another thing that contributes to this characteristic is your surrounding environment and the types of behaviors you are exposed to. Living in a hostile environment with constant fighting creates misconceptions between right and wrong, along with extreme frustration and depression. The behaviors Jeffrey witnessed as a child were carried with him into adulthood and his emotions were unable to be controlled. Martens (2011) suggests that
… the sadist is concerned not only with causing suffering to others, but also with (a) exploring his or her and eventually the victim’s internal world in terms of showing expression of deep frustration (and see what the response of the victim might be), and (b) regaining the locus of control in combination with a deep desire for specific basic instinctive-emotional communication (Martens, 2011, p. 494).
With basically no human interaction, especially in childhood, it is easy to understand why Jeffrey developed this characteristic. He was curious about the actions and reactions of his peers. A combination of curiosity, loneliness, shame, guilt, anger, jealousy and more emotions that were neglected at a crucial time in his development led to this behavior. He didn’t know how to properly relieve himself of all the ruminated thoughts and beliefs and developed these desires as a way to get rid of them. He was also looking to gain some sort of control because he had never had any in all other aspects of his life.
Jeffrey’s Home Life
Jeffrey’s parents not only neglected him of attention, but his mother’s problems carried a huge weight on his shoulders due to the fact that he felt like he was the source. “His mother Joyce suffered from hysteria, depression, suicidal ideation, and psychosomatic illnesses” (Martens, 2011, p.497). All the attention his parents had to give went to his little brother. Jeffrey constantly felt alone and out of place. He felt responsible for his mother’s problems and blamed himself for them. These events caused his emotions to build up and take the wrong path and he didn’t have anyone to guide him back in the right direction.
Jeffrey spent time practicing with a chemical set his father, Lionel, had given him and it became his hobby to collect bones from dead animals he found outside. He used acid to remove the skin from the bones and collected their skeletons. He was fascinated with his masterpieces and his collection got out of hand. He saved all different parts of the animals and spent most of his free time with them. Lionel was consumed in work as an analytical chemist and was either tied up in work or with Joyce. As a result, Jeffrey’s strange hobby was not being monitored like it should have been and these skills became far too familiar. Jeffrey grew up without a masculine figure and fell deeper and deeper into desolation.
Joyce’s issues caused dispute between Lionel and her, making Jeffrey’s relationship toward them even more distant. They were going through a divorce which became the beginning of his last spiral down before he snapped. He was constantly surrounded by negative energy and couldn’t handle the stress.
Jeffrey’s Social Life
At school Jeffrey was always the outcast and never got the privilege to bond with anyone. Everyone thought he was weird and all the guys in his school were better than him at sports which made him envious. He was too shy to talk to girls because he didn’t know how and wasn’t interested. Making weird contortions and strange sounds in the middle of the classroom was a way that Jeffrey channeled those feelings because when he did such a thing he was able to get some form of attention from his peers even though it wasn’t positive. He was very aggressive toward his teachers likely because they had power over him which made him feel out of control, similarly to his parents. He was constantly made fun of and isolated through school.
An Explanation of the Murders
Jeffrey began using alcohol around age fourteen to numb his emotions. It only made matters worse and quickly became a bad habit, as did the fantasies. He became more aggressive and rebellious as he got older. It was only a matter of time before he made his fantasies into reality. “Hostility is the most common emotion behind any violent criminal act. He began drinking at fourteen to cope with his despair over his lack of interaction with his fellows and to expel compulsive violent, sexual thoughts (he feared his own aggression)” (Jentzen, Palermo, Johnson, Ho, Stormo, & Teggatz, 1994, p. 284).
The jealously he grew toward the boys at school as a younger child taught him about his homosexual tendencies earlier on in his life. Not only did he have urges to hurt someone and desires to be in control, but he naturally had sexual urges as well. He never felt comfortable being homosexual and kept it a secret, so that added to his stress. He thought it was bad that he was interested in men and that there was something wrong with him. He never really experienced a sexual encounter with anyone besides himself which contributed to his first murder. It was the night after he graduated high school when he decided to kill to a young man he picked up hitchhiking, seventeen-year-old Steven Hicks. “Jeff said it was an experiment to see if he could really kill someone” (Martin, Lorenz, 2010, p.15). After taking the young man back to a hotel room, he tortured him, murdered, and then raped him. He was extremely drunk at the time, as he was during most of his murders.
This combination of events makes sense because I think he was wanting to sexually encounter someone and didn’t know any other behavior than violence and aggression. He had no social skills and didn’t know how to communicate his wants and needs. Also, the fantasies he had his whole life were put into play. After taking the corpse back to his grandmother’s basement, he proceeded to have intercourse with the body and then began to destroy the evidence. He disposed of the body by using chemicals to break the skin down and he chopped the bones down and buried the body. Devastated, he didn’t commit his second murder for quite some time after that. Schinto (2009) says,
“The psychiatric community is pretty much of one voice in saying that he didn’t kill again for nearly a decade because he was so traumatized by that first event. And here you have, I suggest, prima facie evidence of a young man trying hard to understand some urges within him that were a bit of an affront to nature” (Schinto, 2009, p.1).
Jeffrey’s fantasies became more and more violent and after his second murder, it wasn’t nearly as hard for him to continue. He became aroused at the thought of not only sexually abusing these people, dead or alive, but also at the thought of having their bodies in his possession. He used his chemicals to experiment with on the people in hopes of creating a “zombie-like sex slave” (Martin, Lorenz, 2010, p. 18). “Dahmer also engaged in cannibalism as a way of remembering both the killing and the victim. By Consuming his victims, they would become part of him and make him more powerful…Dahmer would drink heavily and watch pornographic videos as he ate the flesh of his victims” (Purcell, Arrigo, 2006, p.81).
Although Jeffrey Dahmer’s life was a horrific mess, it is easy to understand how it all came to be. An environment based off of severe isolation and hostility will obviously create psychological issues in a developing child. Every aspect of his life from birth into adulthood played into the final result of the case.
- Jentzen, J., Palermo, G., Johnson, L. T., Ho, K. C., Stormo, K. A., & Teggatz, J. (1994). Destructive Hostility: The Jeffrey Dahmer case: A psychiatric and forensic study of a serial killer. The american journal of forensic medicine and pathology, 15(4), 283-294
- Martens, W. H. J. (2011). Sadism linked to loneliness: Psychodynamic dimensions of the sadistic serial killer jeffrey dahmer. psychoanalytic review, 98(4), 493-514.
- Martin, H., & Lorenz, P. (2010). Serial killer’s soul: Jeffrey dahmer’s cell block confidante reveals all. Green Bay, WI: Title Town Publishing.
- Purcell, C. E., & Arrigo, B. A. (2006). The psychology of lust murder: paraphilia, sexual killing, and serial homicide. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Inc.
- Schinto, J. (2009). Rare. Gastronomica, 9(1), 134.