Cyprus Mail

Deadly relationships: a psychological autopsy of partner killers

Interview with Michael Pyrgas, clinical psychologist

What is uxoricide-suicide?

Uxoricide is an extreme form of domestic violence in which a man murders his current or former romantic partner and then often commits suicide. Typically, the male offender develops suspicion regarding his partner’s infidelity or becomes enraged when she wants to terminate the relationship and abandon him.
The male offender, after he kills his romantic partner, usually kills his consanguineous relatives, such as his young children (filicide) and himself.

What are the causes?

Probably a complex combination of perpetrator vulnerability characteristics (such as psychopathology, history of violence and suicide attempts, substance abuse, sexual jealousy, and male proprietary beliefs), relationship dynamics that make the offender act violently, recent or imminent separation, and failure of support systems (such as family, community, and governmental institutions) to prevent these actions.

How far do childhood experiences affect the way adults relate to their intimate partners?

Early attachment relationships form a durable psychological template, or lens, through which the individual views, interprets, and anticipates relationships with other individuals.
Securely attached adults are comfortable with intimacy and autonomy in relationships.
Unsatisfied emotional needs are carried in adulthood, accompanied by a sense of intense anger. As a result, the individual becomes desperate and demanding from romantic partners as an attempt to satisfy the emotional emptiness.
Insecurely attached individuals tend to form symbiotic relationships in which they merge, or fuse, with their partner to soothe their unconscious attachment trauma.

How is a symbiotic relationship formed?

Initially, the two partners are “madly in love”. They tend to over-emphasise their similarities and minimise their differences. The insecurely attached individual is ravenously hungry for acceptance and bonding. Ultimately, their partner might experience “oneness” as suffocating, draining, or engulfing and want to seek space to breathe.
The insecurely attached individual experiences threatened or actual attempts for autonomy as rejection and abandonment. Their childhood traumas, disrupted bonding, and parental rejection are activated and their coping mechanisms and emotional stability are fragile.
They are flooded with anxiety at the perceived loss of their partner and they engage in “counter‐measures” to regain access to the attachment figure, such as clinging and controlling behaviour.

What are the core motivations of the perpetrator?

Loss and pathological possessiveness. If the symbiotic partner remains unresponsive or unavailable and separation is imminent, the insecurely attached individual can experience breakdown. They cannot perceive life without their partner nor tolerate the thought that the partner can move on without them. They believe they have sexual proprietary rights over their partner and fail to accept the separation.
They exhibit intense anger and explosive aggressive reactions. They experience intense rejection anxiety and jealousy that is transformed into rage. They cannot implement effective emotional control.
As a result, they consider that a destructive, annihilistic action, such as killing their partner and themselves, is the only “way out”.

What is the psychological profile of an individual who commits uxoricide?

They are almost exclusively males between the ages of 18 to 60 years old. They are usually suspicious of infidelity, intensely jealous, possessive, have low impulse control, a high need for control and low self‐esteem, even though they might project the opposite image.
Most had a traumatic experience in childhood. Many feel alienated and disconnected from social networks. They tend to have frustrated personal relationships characterised by morbid jealousy, ambivalence, anxiety, helplessness and guilt.

They tend to suffer from psychopathology, typically from dependent personality disorder, passive-aggressive personality disorder, post‐traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and clinical depression. Some of them have a history of suicide attempts or violence.
They might feel like failures, humiliation and shame from loss of status.
Consequently, the humiliated fury prompts them to use violence to revenge and replace shame with pride.

Why does the perpetrator often commit suicide following the murder?

Currently, it is unclear if suicide is premeditated or if it is carried out spontaneously due to the remorse the perpetrator feels after committing the killings.

This is the third uxoricide‐suicide incidence in the last year. Is there a connection between them?

Psychologists have long documented that some behaviours are copied. One such behavior is suicide. Recently, we had a wave of suicides in prisons. The publicity may lead to acts of imitative behaviour. It is as if people think “this is how problems are solved.”

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