Being a senior in high school, I thought it would be fun to take an advanced placement psychology course to be more insightful about myself and those around me.
What started off as a lighthearted way to learn more about the world we live in turned into a deep dive into the intricate puzzle that formulates the human mind, more specifically, murder.
In psychology various theories of motivation strive to explain why people behave in the ways they do. One of the most famous concepts to explain violence was proposed by Sigmund Freud, a theory which later became known to be known as “Thanatos,” or the death instinct, which includes a person’s fascination with suffering. It is in contrast to “Eros,” or the life instinct.
Freud believed that people typically channel this death drive outward or in some cases try to suppress it, which then manifests itself as aggression towards themselves or others. It is this same obsession that roots itself deep in the minds of some people and may be revealed only in the most unexpected and unfortunate ways.
A perfect subject that exemplified this theory throughout his tendencies was Ted Bundy.
Theodore Robert Bundy was one of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century. Growing up, he had a difficult childhood; he was raised by his grandparents and had a strained relationship with his stepfather, and his shyness often made him a target for bullying.
However, his sharp social skills that he later developed and his intelligence led him through a successful college career, where he earned a degree in psychology and developed a series of seemingly normal emotional relationships with women.
Despite his apparent stability and “normalness,” he eventually confessed to about 28 murders, and some analysts suggest that he is accountable for the deaths of many more women. In a well-publicized trial in 1979, he was sentenced for the murder of two college students. Only after he was tried again for the murder of a teen was he executed in Florida’s electric chair in 1989.
Despite the nature of his crimes, many described Bundy to be “charismatic, charming and compelling”; but these qualities disguised the thanatic evil within him and made him one of the most dangerous people in America.
Knowing that he seemed like a “normal” man who was loved by many gave him the ability and the confidence to lead a double life. Bundy was not unique in being a serial killer; his emotional stability and his control over his manipulations made him very difficult to catch, since there was no personal connection between him and his victims.
Bundy was a man who had a successful college life, was said to be emotionally stable and seemed somewhat pleasant to be around, and yet he ended up being one of the most malicious monsters in American history.
Throughout the trial, Bundy insisted that he was innocent and was simply being framed. Having even spoken for himself at many times during his trial in the absence of his counsel, Ted Bundy was “so charming” that even the judge who gave him a death sentence complimented him.
The judge said, “It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity, I think, as I’ve experienced in this courtroom, you’re a bright young man. You would have made a good lawyer, and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner.”
Many psychologists also theorize that when a child faces trauma, their personalities may split into two – which may have been what happened to Bundy.
Though Thanatos and the psychological theories of motivation are very interesting to explore in order to understand what goes on in the minds of certain criminals, they all only lead me to one question: Can you really trust anyone?