Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Neil Entwistle

Anger & Desperation

Mark Hacking
Mark Hacking

Forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy, author of Violent Attachments, says that sudden violent crimes may occur as the result of "catathymia," a build-up of anger and frustration that threatens to undermine a person's fragile sense of self. Sufferers desperately fear a loss of control into psychosis, so they construct layers of stabilizing deceptions. When the first ones work, they continue with more and more. But when reality intrudes, the pressure of losing their mask threatens to overwhelm them. When a deadline arrives or a bill must be paid and the sudden flow of desperation dissolves their meager defenses, they act out. Sometimes they murder. Once it's done, they often feel better.

The concept of catathymia, a Greek word that refers to the emotions, was first applied to delusions, but it appeared to psychiatrist Frederic Wertham to be relevant to sudden acts of explosive violence, especially from people who had no past record of aggression. It seems that underlying conflicts that have a strong emotional charge give otherwise normal ideas exaggerated proportions. The emotional material turns the idea into a fixation with momentum, defeating any attempts by reason to waylay it. Whatever the plan becomes during this time of build-up, it seems the only possible way out. As inner tension increases, the need for violence becomes demanding and the urge to act is nearly overwhelming. Once the act is achieved, the aggressor experiences a sense of peace and appears to be calm. Psychologically, this process may be a safeguard within the self against the formation of a disabling psychosis.

J. Reid Meloy
J. Reid Meloy

Entwistle clearly will undergo an extensive psychiatric evaluation and no one can yet say what led up to his alleged act on January 20. Yet it does appear that while he'd searched the Internet for methods of killing, including euthanasia, murder and suicide, he had also looked up sites for numerous escort services in the general area — an odd behavior two days prior to committing a double homicide. Supposedly, he had expressed some dissatisfaction with his sex life, but could he be so cold as to devise a plan of elimination simultaneous with his search for personal pleasure? Oftentimes the fantasy that involves murder for the purpose of freedom also projects a family-free future. A person who lies easily, which Entwistle apparently could do, can usually compartmentalize so well that diverse impulses can co-exist at the same time.

Even so, the lies may yet prove to have been a defensive strategy in a world that felt too difficult. It's no excuse for murder, but knowing this might be useful for recognizing trouble in those we love and helping them to develop stress management skills. The red flags of evasive behavior and persistent pretense are often apparent to those who are close to such a person, so learning what they mean can deflect explosive aggression.


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