It goes without saying that there is something majorly wrong with someone who has the capacity to commit murder. In the case of serial killer Ted Bundy, who's recently recaptured nationwide attention 30 years after his execution, there were, well, many things wrong with him.
While there are no known reports of Ted Bundy seeing an actual therapist-that is, until the court required a psychiatric evaluation by Al Carlisle, PhD, to determine his aptitude for violence-psychology experts have studied the infamous rapist and murderer for decades.
What's fascinated them most? His ability to carry on a double life-i.e., having a long-term relationship, attending college, building a political career, all while secretly carrying out brutal and unthinkable crimes.
Here's exactly which mental health disorders experts have speculated that Bundy may have had over the years:
Antisocial Personality Disorder
A group of 73 psychologists got together with the University of Kentucky to study Ted Bundy's mental health in 2007, and almost all of them agreed he had antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). In fact, nearly 80 percent of the team believed Bundy was a prototype (a perfect example) of the disorder, checking off all of its criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a.k.a. DSM-5, a.k.a. the psychologist's bible).
According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of ASPD include:
Acting on personal gratification (as opposed to the law and societal norms)
Lacking empathy and remorse
Incapacity to maintain mutually intimate relationships (often using coercion and intimidation to control others)
Antagonism (manipulative, deceitful, callous, and hostile)
"Disinhibition" (irresponsible, compulsive, and risk-taking)
Nope, it's not the same thing as antisocial personality disorder, though psychopathy does fall under its umbrella. (That means all psychopaths also have ASPD, but not all people with ASPD are psychopaths.) Whereas ASPD covers a lot of the same behavioral traits-like a tendency to ignore the law-psychopathy better details the subject's personality.
Hervey Cleckley, a psychologist who more or less pioneered the concept of a psychopath, defined one with the "Psychopathy Checklist." That includes: superficial charm, untruthfulness and insincerity, lack of nervousness, inadequately motivated antisocial behavior, pathological egocentricity, lack of remorse and shame, an inability to follow a life plan, and more.
According to clinical and forensic psychologist Darrel Turner, PhD, Ted Bundy is basically the textbook definition of a "prototypical" psychopath.
"There are certain traits that we tend to see: a lack of empathy and being out for one’s own interest even though the interests of other people get trampled under foot," Turner recently told WH. "But with Bundy, we do see a lot of the other traits of psychopathy, like the pathological lying and the being very superficially charming."
It'd be hard, if not impossible, to argue that Bundy, who used his charm to lure women into his car and even capture fans in court, who brutally killed at least 30 women, who bounced from college to college and never finished law school (his murder spree inevitably got in the way), didn't show some psychopathic tendencies.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
About 95 percent of the psychologists in the University of Kentucky study believed that Ted Bundy also showed signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is defined by the following traits in DSM-5:
For someone to qualify as having NPD, they have to have at least five of those nine qualities. Clearly, the University of Kentucky team believed that he checked off that many (if not more).
Bipolar Personality Disorder
Dorothy O. Lewis, MD, a psychiatrist from the New York University Medical Center who specialized in evaluating violent offenders, tried to save Bundy (and other criminals) from death row. Her argument: Bundy suffered from bipolar personality disorder, a mental illness characterized mainly by extreme mood swings.
According to the Salt Lake City newspaper Deseret News, an investigator had told Lewis that in the middle of a normal conversation, Bundy suddenly "became weird on me . . . did a metamorphosis, a bit of a body and facial change, and . . . almost an odor emitted from him." Lewis reportedly noted that he could "switch from euphoria and compulsive talking to anger followed by long periods of sullen silence," and showed examples of a wide range of Bundy's doodles.
Whether he was actually bipolar or not didn't matter-Lewis's attempt failed, as Bundy's appeal was denied, ultimately resulting in his execution on January 24, 1989.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The majority of that same group of experts in the University of Kentucky study said that Bundy was "above the diagnostic threshold for borderline," a personality disorder that affects anywhere from 2 to 6 percent of the U.S. population (usually women, btw), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
A person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) typically has unstable personal relationships (swinging from one extreme to another), acts impulsively, behaves in self-harming ways, goes through periods of intense depression, becomes suddenly bored, and experiences changes in self-image (sometimes positive, sometimes negative), per NAMI. People with BPD tend to feel emotions intensely-which may be why not all of the psychologists felt Bundy fell into this category of mental-health illnesses.
Schizoid Personality Disorder
More than 50 percent of the psychologists in the University of Kentucky study also labeled Bundy as having schizoid personality disorder (SPD), which you can think of as antisocial personality disorder to the extreme. Someone with SPD "has a lifelong pattern of indifference to others and social isolation," according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Even though SPD sounds a lot like schizophrenia, they're quite different: A person with SPD is in touch with reality and makes sense when they speak-which Bundy, as educated as he was, certainly did-while schizophrenia involves delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech, per DSM-5.
It's possible that the psychologists who attributed schizoid to Bundy may have done so because of his inability to show express emotion and act appropriately to situations (for example: his acting overly confident in court), as well as his loner tendencies. But another key symptom of schizoid is a lack of interest in sexual relationships, which clearly, as a serial rapist, didn't apply to Bundy.
Okay, your call on this one. In 1989, the night before his execution, Bundy had an interview with psychologist James Dobson, Ph.D., during which he diagnosed himself as a porn addict.
While you won't find porn addiction in the DSM, a lot of psych experts talk about addictive disorder to describe someone who needs a specific substance or behavior to ease anxiety or depression and feels some sort of "high" when they do.
"The most damaging kinds of pornography, and again I'm talking from personal experience, hard real personal experience, are those that involve violence and sexual violence. Because the wedding of those two forces, as I know only too well, brings about behavior that is just too terrible to describe," Bundy said.
He continued: "Once you become addicted to it, and I look as this as a kind of addiction, like other kinds of addiction, you would, I would, keep looking for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something that is harder, harder. Which gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far. You reach that jumping off point, where you wonder if only actually doing it will give you that which is beyond just reading about it or looking at it."
During one super interesting Psychiatry & Psychiatry Podcast called "Ted Bundy: The Dark Triad," several experts noted that the serial killer showed signs of an extreme form of narcissism, called Machiavellianism.
The personality trait, named after a Renaissance Italian political philosopher named Niccolò Machiavelli, describes someone who will deceive and exploit others in order to achieve their personal goals.
"They see people as objects for use and manipulation," the podcasters said. "They will have normal amounts of empathy unless they have traits of psychopathy"-which, of course, you know by now that Bundy definitely had.
Netflix's movie starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy started streaming Friday, May 3. If you haven't watched it yet, get ready to see some of these disorders come to life on your TV screen.
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