What was Dahmer’s personality type?

Quick Summary

Jeffrey Dahmer was an American serial killer and sex offender who murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. He was known for killing his victims, engaging in necrophilia and cannibalism with their remains. Based on his crimes and behavior, experts have suggested that Dahmer likely had a personality disorder such as antisocial personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder. He exhibited lack of empathy, impulsivity, manipulation, and other traits consistent with these disorders. However, a formal diagnosis cannot be made since he was never assessed by mental health professionals when alive.

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most notorious serial killers in modern American history. Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer murdered 17 males, most of whom were young men and teenage boys. His crimes involved rape, dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannibalism. Given the extreme nature of his actions, there has been a lot of speculation about what type of personality disorder or other mental illness Dahmer may have had. While it’s impossible to definitively diagnose someone who is deceased and was never formally evaluated, experts have proposed some possibilities based on his life history and crimes. Looking at the diagnostic criteria for various disorders can shed some light on what clinical diagnosis best fits the pattern of behavior and symptoms that Dahmer exhibited.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

One possibility that has frequently been suggested is that Dahmer had antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard and violation of the rights of others. Some of the criteria for antisocial personality disorder that could potentially align with Dahmer’s behavior include:

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as evidenced by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  • Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for pleasure or personal profit.
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of oneself or others.
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Dahmer’s repeated instances of impulsive murder, sexual assault, dismemberment of victims, and complete lack of remorse or empathy for his victims would support a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. He lied repeatedly and was skilled at manipulating and charming victims to return to his apartment. He had numerous brushes with the law throughout his life, failing to conform his behavior despite arrests and other consequences. He seemed largely indifferent to the risk or impact his actions had on his victims.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Another possibility proposed by some researchers is schizotypal personality disorder, which is marked by eccentric behavior and anomalies of thinking. Some applicable diagnostic criteria could potentially include:

  • Ideas of reference (excluding delusions of reference). This refers to mistakenly thinking that casual incidents or external events have a particular and unusual meaning specifically for the person.
  • Odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behavior and is inconsistent with subcultural norms. For instance, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or “sixth sense.”
  • Unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions.
  • Odd thinking and speech, evident from loose, vague, or incoherent speech.
  • Suspiciousness or paranoid ideation.
  • Inappropriate or constricted affect (lack of emotional expression).
  • Behavior or appearance that is odd or eccentric.
  • Lack of close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives.
  • Excessive social anxiety that does not diminish with familiarity.

Some of these traits also align with aspects of Dahmer’s behavior and the accounts of those familiar with him. For instance, he is said to have held strange ideas about making “zombies” by drilling holes in his victims’ heads and injecting acid into their brains. Dahmer reportedly had limited social connections and preferred to be alone. His affect and emotional expression also seemed very flat and limited based on court footage. His mannerisms and speech patterns were also described as odd or off-putting by some acquaintances.


Some experts have also proposed that Dahmer may have exhibited many traits of psychopathy, which refers to a cluster of personality traits related to remorselessness, callousness, antisocial behavior, and lack of empathy. He displayed several indicators potentially consistent with psychopathy:

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Early behavioral problems
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility

However, psychopathy is not an official clinical diagnosis. The closest corresponding one would be antisocial personality disorder, which captures many of the same traits.

Analysis of Dahmer’s Background

To better understand what personality disorder or other clinical diagnosis might fit Dahmer’s pattern of behavior, it can help to look closer at his background and life history for any clues. Some key details include:

– Troubled family life and parents’ divorce at age 4

– Difficulty making friends and loner tendencies beginning in elementary school

– Excessive alcohol consumption beginning around age 14

– Increasing sexual fantasies of dominance and control throughout adolescence

– Dead or dismembered animals found in woods behind family home

– Arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct at age 18

– Dropped out of Ohio State University after one semester

– Discharged from Army after two years due to alcoholism

– Arrests for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure in early 20s

– Isolation and living alone in Milwaukee during serial murders

– Interest in lobotomies and experimentation on humans

– Medicated himself with prescription drugs and alcohol

– Claimed ‘compulsion’ to kill and later consume victims

This history points to longstanding antisocial, odd, and criminal tendencies dating back to Dahmer’s youth. His fantasies around dominance and control as well as interest in lobotomies suggest odd or delusional thought patterns. His lack of empathy, impulsivity when drinking, and inability to control his homicidal compulsions also stand out. No clear trigger or crisis point emerges – instead it appears his behavioral aberrations developed gradually over many years.

Insights from Jeffrey Dahmer Interviews

Dahmer participated in several interviews while incarcerated which also provide clues to his personality and mental state. Some key points that emerged include:

– Claimed he didn’t enjoy killings but felt driven by a compulsion to commit them

– Felt empty inside and tried to create “living zombies” to exert control over

– Viewed his victims as objects rather than human beings

– Expressed frustration at not being in control of urges to kill and dismember

– Did not show remorse but did express regret at getting caught

– Had suicide attempts and depressive symptoms while incarcerated

– Claimed he never sought psychological help as didn’t think anything was wrong

– His fantasies and killing compulsions emerged in his early to mid 20s

– Reported auditory hallucinations urging him to kill prior to several murders

– Acknowledged extensive use of alcohol before killings but did not blame alcohol

Dahmer’s insights lend further credence to antisocial and schizotypal tendencies – he feels compelled to kill due to internal urges and views people as objects. He experiences symptoms like auditory hallucinations but does not perceive himself as needing help. He highlights lack of control over impulses but minimal feelings of remorse or empathy for victims.

Psychological Evaluations Conducted on Dahmer

Two formal psychological evaluations were conducted on Dahmer by mental health professionals following his arrest:

Dr. Fred S. Berlin

– Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder

– Did not diagnose Dahmer with sexual sadism or psychopathy

– Believed there was “kernel of truth” in Dahmer’s claim of compulsion to kill

– Felt Dahmer was forthcoming and truthful in interviews

Dr. Samuel Friedman and Dr. Judith Becker

– Diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder

– Did not believe Dahmer met criteria for psychopathy or sexual sadism

– Saw evidence of psychosis and mood disturbance but not present state of major mental illness

– Believed Dahmer was genuine in self-reports to evaluators

The formal diagnoses differed, with schizotypal personality disorder aligning more closely with criteria described previously. Both reports found Dahmer cooperative, truthful, and motivated to understand himself. Neither evaluation supported diagnoses of psychopathy or sexual sadism as main factors, focusing instead on personality disorders or psychotic symptoms.

Tentative Conclusions on Dahmer’s Personality and Pathology

In summary, while a definitive diagnosis cannot be made conclusively, the preponderance of evidence based on Dahmer’s crimes, behaviors, self-reports, and formal evaluations suggest:

– Schizotypal personality disorder as most likely primary diagnosis

– Possibly co-occurring traits of antisocial personality disorder

– Psychotic symptoms such as auditory hallucinations urging him to kill

– Mood disturbances marked by chronic depression

– Alcohol use disorder exacerbating existing tendencies

Key features supporting a schizotypal diagnosis include odd thinking and speech, strange beliefs about mind control, peculiar perceptions about creating “zombies”, restricted social connections, and marked impairment in interpersonal relatedness. Antisocial traits are evident in his chronic unlawful behavior, deceitfulness, aggression, recklessness, and lack of remorse. While some traits of psychopathy were present, the formal evaluations did not diagnose this as the primary disorder. In summary, Dahmer’s personality and pathology appear most consistent with schizotypal personality disorder accompanied by antisocial traits and psychotic symptoms. Medication, therapy, and substance abuse treatment may have helped manage his disorder more effectively.

Comparison to Other Serial Killers

It can also be illuminating to briefly compare Dahmer’s personality and pathology to other notorious serial killers:

Ted Bundy

– Diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder

– Displayed many traits of psychopathy

– Intelligence and superficial charm to manipulate victims

– Lacked empathy, guilt, or remorse

John Wayne Gacy

– Diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder

– History of behavioral problems and difficulties with impulse control

– Charismatic businessman and party entertainer

– Evidence of psychosexual disorder

Gary Ridgway (Green River Killer)

– Diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder

– Admitted necrophilia and sexual sadism urges

– Lured prostitutes and runaways to remote locations

– Low intelligence but evaded capture for years

While these killers displayed some variations, antisocial personality disorder was a common diagnosis. Dahmer stands out for his more withdrawn and socially isolated tendencies combined with psychotic symptoms like hallucinations. He did share traits like lack of empathy, cunning, and compulsive pathology with other serial killers. But schizotypal personality disorder differentiates him based on the unusual thinking and perceptual distortions he experienced.


Jeffrey Dahmer’s gruesome crimes and severe pathology have sparked fascination and horror in equal measure. His unusually cruel motivations and ritualistic behaviors show a profoundly disturbed mind. Based on his life history, actions, self-reports, and formal assessments, the preponderance of evidence suggests Dahmer most likely suffered from schizotypal personality disorder accompanied by elements of antisocial personality disorder as well as periodic psychosis. While no diagnosis can definitively account for his extreme evil and cruelty, this personality profile helps explain his distorted perceptions, odd beliefs, lack of empathy, uncontrolled urges, and social disconnection that led to the seventeen murders he committed. Understanding the psychology underlying such a notorious serial killer hopefully helps prevent future tragedies and sheds light on the early treatment of those exhibiting these types of disordered traits and behaviors.

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