The other day, I was discussing with someone the recent story about George Zimmerman’s girlfriend accusing him of pointing a gun at her. We both agreed that the interesting part of the story wasn’t so much that Zimmerman was in trouble, but that Zimmerman – a man who has quite a lot of very recent baggage, not much seemingly going for him, and, having only been served with divorce papers days ago, is married – even has a girlfriend. We both wondered why a woman would want to be his girlfriend at the moment in the first place.
Apparently, Saturday Night Live did too, as they led off this weekend’s episode with a sketch in which this very question is asked.
Now, I am not claiming that George Zimmerman is a psychopath or has any other specific conscience-reducing disorder. I really have no ability to make a judgment on that. However, the conversation about his romantic situation did lead me to explain to my conversation partner that those that are psychopaths or do have certain related disorders are notorious for their ability to attract many romantic and sexual relationships. I mentioned some of the fascinating research, which I cover in my foundational page about psychopathy, about just how successful some of history’s most ruthless killers have been in spreading their genes.
Well, as so often happens after a deep discussion about an intriguing topic, it wasn’t more than a couple of days before a new, highly relevant story emerged in the news.
A 25-year-old woman named Star told Rolling Stone magazine that she plans to marry the now 79-year-old infamous mastermind of numerous murders, Charles Manson, who remains locked up in prison. Apparently, Star moved near the prison 6 years ago, when she was 19, so she could spend more time with Manson.
CNN also covered this story, interviewing the woman (who says her attraction to Manson was initially sparked by his environmentalism, not his crimes, which she only really became aware of later, but which did not dissuade her from her attraction.)
Now, Manson himself denies that they will be getting married. But the interesting thing is that, whether or not the marriage actually happens, a young woman would actually want people to believe it will.
What makes this story meaningful is that it is far from an isolated case. In his heyday, Manson was often surrounded by young women drawn to his charisma and aura. And he isn’t the only person associated with mass murder or serial killing to elicit such admiration. To offer just one more example among many, Ted Bundy was viewed as extremely charming and employed his skill for attracting young women in the course of carrying out his crimes.
This is an important topic. The ability of psychopaths and others with reduced conscience to attract mates has a number of implications and consequences:
- It reinforces a sense of glamor about such individuals and their value systems.
- It may increase their social standing.
- It practically assists them in the commission of some of their crimes.
- It leads to an increase in the proportion of their genes in the population’s overall gene pool.
- It causes havoc for the partners and especially the children that must live with the consequences of these relationships.
I realize that there are men who are drawn to ruthless women and that is also an important topic to consider. But the Manson and Bundy examples – and, perhaps, to a lesser extent, the Zimmerman example – raise the question of why women are attracted to men of this kind.
Well, another coincidence that occurred in the wake of my conversation about this topic relates to that question. A few days after the discussion, through a completely different avenue, I ended up on the Wikipedia page for the topic hybristophilia.
Hybristophilia is described as:
“a paraphilia of the predatory type in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.”
Apparently the term stems from the Greek word hybrizein, which means “to commit an outrage against someone” (and which, itself, stems from the word hubris) and philo meaning “having a strong affinity/preference for.”
The page even mentions the many female admirers that Bundy and Manson attracted as examples.
After reading that page, I was reminded of yet another relevant example.
As a result of running this website, I was recently sent a copy of the book Survived by One: The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer, which is written, along with Robert Hanlon, a clinical neuropsychologist specialized in working with violent criminals, by a man named Tom Odle, who remains in an Illinois prison (after initially being placed on death row, before Illinois commuted all death sentences) for killing his entire immediate family – his parents and three siblings – in 1985. Odle has been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder by one forensic psychiatrist and with Borderline Personality Disorder with Anti-social features by another.
At several points in the book, he describes how women have contacted him on death row and in prison, impressed and attracted by what he has done.
“People write me letters, especially girls and women wanting to be my friend and congratulating me on doing something that they had only thought about doing because they were mistreated and abused, also. There was also some kind of fan club for me…I liked the attention I was getting, and I even reconnected with an old friend I had a crush on for years. She wrote to me, so I wrote back, and we found each other in a new light.”
“I also responded to letters from girls who managed to find my address and wrote to tell me how cool they thought I was because I had murdered my parents. That was one thing I ate up at that time because it diminished my responsibility and guilt.”
Odle had women come visit him in person and begin relationships with him while he was on death row, as well. One of those relationships even led to a short-lived marriage.
So it was fascinating to learn that there is actually a term to describe this behavior – hybristophilia. And the Wikipedia page on that topic was also fascinating because it offers some theories about why such attractions occur.
Then, just this weekend, in the wake of the Manson girlfriend story, Yahoo featured a video by Discovery News about this very topic entitled “Why Psychopaths Turn Women On.” It even mentions the term hybristophilia and Bundy’s admirers, as well as those of other serial killers. It then speculates on some of the reasons behind this attraction or fetish.
Mate selection is a crucial driver of evolution. When a person selects another person as a mate, they are, in essence, voting for that person’s traits to become more prominent in humanity’s future. And they help make sure those traits do become more prominent in more than one way simultaneously.
Biologically, they help the person pass on their genes to their children. Developmentally, they ensure the existence of children shaped by parenting based in that person’s values – or by parental abuse or neglect as a consequence of those values. Socially, they may send a message that such traits are attractive, possibly influencing others to see an incentive in exhibiting them.
This is why, even though such relationships might seem like personal situations separate from our own lives, all of us should care when we see people with reduced empathy and conscience attracting mates. This phenomenon has, historically, had a surprisingly significant impact on the state of our world today. We must live in neighborhoods and communities with people deeply influenced by such relationships. And it may well be one of the mechanisms by which the health and sustainability of humanity continues to be threatened.
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Tags: abuse, antisocial personality disorder, attraction, biology, borderline personality disorder, charles manson, cnn, discovery news, evolution, genetics, george zimmerman, hybristophilia, love, neglect, parenting, psychopathy, robert hanlon, rolling stone, romance, saturday night live, sex, survived by one, sustainability, ted bundy, tom odle, yahoo
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