Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Sexual and Nonsexual Necrophilia

Fromm first makes a distinction between the natural instinct of benign aggression, which is developed with the automatic need to protect oneself and to survive, and malignant aggression, which is not physiological in nature. Rather, it is a failure of character rooted in human passion. It is about existential need, or the desire to make a distinct mark on one's world. If one's urge is to leave one's mark destructively, the extremes of that drive are sadism—the passion for unrestricted power over another person—and necrophilia—an attraction to all that is dead.

He also distinguishes between sexual and nonsexual necrophilia. The former is the desire to have sex with a corpse and the latter is the need to be near, handle or dismember a corpse. Necrophilia itself, says Fromm, is both real and symbolic. The overall drive of this person is a yearning for life to finish itself. Such people often have dreams about dismembered parts or about rooms full of skeletal or rotting remains. These people desire a world where there is no life and their drive for control makes them increasingly more dangerous. They may seek to control via death.

The traits of the necrophilous character include:

  • an inability to relate to living people
  • language that includes numerous death-related or scatological words
  • a tendency toward boredom and lifeless conversation
  • a tendency to wear light-absorbing dark colors and to dislike bright colors
  • the belief that resolving conflict involves force or violence
  • an appreciation for machines over people
  • dreams involving death, destruction or dead parts
  • an interest in sickness
  • a view that the past is more real than the present
  • a fascination with bad odors
  • an incapacity to laugh and tendency to smirk
  • a lack of spontaneity
  • lifeless, dry skin
  • the worship of techniques or devices of destruction
  • the compartmentalization of emotion and will
  • insensitivity to tragedy involving loss of life

Fromm believed that Adolf Hitler was the perfect example of a necrophilous character, and to illustrate this he analyzed Hitler's life at length, from childhood to his death by suicide.

Hitler gained a position of power that allowed him to exercise to the extreme his fascination with death and destruction, and his desire for a lifeless world. He related best to his dog (when the dog obeyed him), and he exercised total control over the men who worked for him and the women who fell in love with him.  A number of these women committed or attempted to commit suicide over his inability to relate to them as people. He was oblivious. He lived with an insatiable hate and the only emotion he showed was excitement over putting his plans into effect (killing the Jews and "defectives") or murderous anger that someone did not carry out his orders. Many people around him questioned whether he ever wanted or believed in victory for the German people, or whether he merely reveled in the constant destruction involved in his rise to power. He was without compassion for anyone and desired only that others afford him the worship and respect he believed he deserved.

In Hitler's case, the necrophilic response to the world is both symbolic and real. He wanted living people to be dead—millions of them—and he wanted a lifeless world where people were more robotic then human. He craved absolute control, which is only achieved when people are inherently not human. There's little question that his orientation was toward death.

Thus, we can see that one need not crave the closeness of a corpse to be considered necrophilous. One need only prefer the images of death to those of life.

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