The terrorist mind is marked by three characteristic features:
- The absence of empathy
- The absence of shared social morality
- The desire to cause great suffering
Each of these features reveals important components of pathological hatred and the terrorist mind.
How does empathy develop and how does it become so severely damaged?
How does social morality develop, and how does it become evacuated?
How does gratification in causing suffering develop?
This last question is the psychological origins of sadism, the psychology of evil.
Research has identified the origins of evil as the Dark Triad personality of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellian manipulation (Book & Viser, & Volk, 2015). But evil is more than that. Evil is the gratification created by causing the suffering of others, evil takes pleasure in creating immense suffering.
Professional psychology acknowledges the pathology of sadism, but there is limited research into its origins and it remains poorly understood. Sadistic personality disorder was referenced in the DSM-3R, but was removed from later versions of the DSM diagnostic system. As far as I can tell, Theodore Millon is the only major theorist who addresses the dark cruelty of the sadistic personality.
The time has come for professional psychology to capture the dark cruelty of sadism.
Unlocking the terrorist mind requires unlocking the pathology of sadism. The Manchester and Boston marathon bombers who packed their explosives with nails and screws to increase the carnage find sadistic gratification in causing immense suffering. The Las Vegas shooter who creates a killing platform on the 32nd floor of Las Vegas hotel room to kill random people attending a concert is motivated from a sadistic pleasure in causing immense suffering in others.
The Texas church shooter who walked through the church aisle killing innocents, including children, took a sadistic gratification in causing immense suffering. Mindless, senseless cruelty.
How does a mind become sadistic, how does a mind take pleasure in the suffering of others? Answering this question unlocks the terrorist mind of pathological hatred and pathological violence.
Many of the current terrorist “experts” assert that the terrorist is not created by psychological pathology because these “experts” cannot identify any known form of psychopathology. They are wrong.
The sadistic gratification of causing immense suffering in others is pathological. Walking down the aisle of a church shooting people, shooting women, killing children is pathological. Loading nails and screws into a bomb to cause greater mutilation and carnage to the victims is pathological. Of course the terrorist mind is caused by psychopathology.
It is completely insane for terrorism “experts” to assert that the terrorist mind is not pathological. They simply don’t know where to look.
Look to how empathy is formed, and how empathy becomes damaged.
Look to how social morality develops, and becomes evacuated.
Look to the origins of sadism. Taking pleasure the suffering of others.
Unlocking the origins of sadism, however, is a dark journey into an extremely disorienting pathology. The normal mind cannot comprehend the mind that takes pleasure in the immense suffering in others. How can suffering in others be pleasurable? We will be traveling that road and unlocking the mind of evil.
The first thing to understand about evil, is that it never sees itself as evil. The Nazis believed it was the Jews who were evil, who where the threat. Evil never sees itself as evil, it sees the victims as evil and “deserving” to suffer.
Lloyd deMause (deMause: The History of Child Abuse) has a wonderful phrase for this, the victim becomes the “poison container” who holds the projected dark malevolence of the perpetrator. The perpetrator’s self-perception is of being a noble, good, and righteous person, it is the victim who is evil. The self-perception of the Islamic terrorist is of being a holy warrior of Allah. The self-perception of the White supremacist is of being the noble defender of Aryan purity. The self-perception of the Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Texas church shooters is of being an avenging angel of justice.
From Kernberg: “The normal tension between actual self on the one hand, and ideal self and ideal object on the other, is eliminated by the building up of an inflated self concept within which the actual self and the ideal self and ideal object are confused. At the same time, the remnants of the unacceptable self images are repressed and projected onto external objects which are devalued.” (Kernberg, 1977, p. 217)
The terrorist mind sees itself as noble and good, its dark and malevolent poison is projected into the victim. Through the suffering of the victim, their own projected dark malevolence is being psychologically purged from the perpetrator.
This explains part of the motivation, but it does not explain how pleasure is achieved from creating suffering in others. The normal mind recoils in horror and disgust at the suffering of others. The terrorist mind takes pleasure in it. Why?
In the mind of the perpetrator, the victim becomes the “poison container” for the projected dark malevolence of the terrorist’s mind, the victim “deserves” to suffer. In creating the victim’s suffering, the terrorist mind sees itself as noble and righteous. But there’s more. There is the satisfaction and pleasure taken in the suffering of the victim.
The key to unlocking the origins of sadistic pleasure in creating suffering of others is in the confluence of power and domination, deep shame and the dark cruelty of vengeance. To understand the terrorist mind, we must take the journey down this dark path into sadistic pleasure in the suffering of others.
Words will not be able to fully convey the dark cruelty of the sadistic mind, a mind that takes pleasure in creating suffering. We must enter the mind of horror to discover and unlock the damage at the core.
The terrorist mind is created by a set of damaged information structures in the attachment system – in the love-and-bonding system of the brain. These damaged information structures were created in childhood, through the childhood transmission of complex trauma. But not just any trauma, a specific type of trauma. The trauma that creates sadistic cruelty – that creates pleasure from causing suffering in others.
This trauma has certain themes present in its creation; power and domination, the degradation of shame, that creates in the love-and-bonding system of the brain a vengeful anger that is born in a cold absence of empathy. This is the path to the terrorist mind.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857
Book, A., Visser, B.A., and Volk, A.A. (2015). Unpacking ‘‘evil’’: Claiming the core of the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences 73 (2015) 29–38.