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Reasons In Which Women Are Attracted

Reasons in which women are attracted to men who are criminals or have criminal or violent intent will be examined. These women remain in relationships that often cause them physical and emotional harm. The term hybristophilia is a specific type of paraphilia that refers to sexual arousal towards one who has committed a crime. We expand this term further to women who are not only sexually attracted, but emotionally attracted to criminals. There is an unconventional appeal to the characteristics of a man who has committed a crime. We will examine these women’s motivations that make them want to connect with men in prison. These women share traits that put them at risk or predispose them in becoming attracted to these types of men. We will attempt to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon by examining a case report through a forensic and psychodynamic perspective.

Case report

Ms. G is a 50-year-old female who was seen in the outpatient clinic after a prolonged inpatient stay at a state hospital for persistent psychotic delusions that her father was Martin Sheen and she had to go and find him by walking on foot. Her symptoms began when she was 46-years-old and was thrown out of her home after her husband took her entire savings. She became increasingly paranoid, delusional, and disorganized. She wandered the streets for days at a time, saying she was looking for her father. She became homeless and went in and out of the emergency room and hospital until she was stabilized at the state hospital. Prior to that, she had worked as a secretary and had no formal psychiatric treatment or criminal history.

When she was 23 years old, she dated a man who was later convicted for raping another woman. Ms. G said that she could not believe he had committed the crime at the time and continued a correspondence and visitation with him for 5 years before they were married in prison. She says that over the course of their 18-year marriage, he was away from home working as a maintenance worker in another part of the state. When he did come home, he would often become drunk. He had hit her at least 15 times during the course of their marriage, many times giving her bruises to her eyes and once fracturing her wrist. She remained in this marriage until he deserted her.

Currently, Ms. G finds herself quickly getting into a relationship with another patient who remains inpatient who has been known to express his anger and frustration by punching walls and throwing trashcans across the room. She expresses concern but minimizes these actions by saying that these episodes rarely happen. She gets satisfaction and is quite pleased that her boyfriend exhibits fewer episodes of frustration and violence due to her presence and relationship with him. She believes her influence helps in the reduction of his violent episodes. Her demeanor in expressing these feelings shows an affect of awe as if she has an almost magical influence over him. She presents as demure, pleasant, and acquiescing to all suggestions and treatment plans.

We discuss her relationship with men beginning with her father who was the sole caretaker after her mother died of a stroke when Ms. G was 8-years-old. He worked as a university professor. She says that after her mother died, the family unraveled and was not much of a family. There was no more love and warmth and the children would go to school and come home to an empty home. Her father had 3 small children to care for after the loss of his wife. She remembers her father as always being angry as well as physically and verbally abusive. The abuse only increased more so after her mother’s death. She remembers her father hitting her on the back of her head and telling her she was worthless and didn’t amount to much. She acknowledges a lifetime of poor self-esteem. Ms. G began to seek for validation outside of the household and became involved in a teenage romance at the age of 13. This relationship ended after the patient got pregnant and decided on getting an abortion because she did not want to bring a child into an unsuitable and chaotic environment.


Hybristophilia is a type of paraphilia in which sexual arousal is responsive or contingent on being with a partner who is known to have committed a crime. The word is derived from the Greek word hubridzein or hubris which means to ‘to commit an outrage against someone’ and philo, meaning ‘having a strong affinity or preference for.’ (Vietello 2006, p. 198). Thus, sexual arousal is dependent upon a partner having committed an outrage or crime such as rape, murder, or armed robbery. The object of the sexual arousal is the person committing the crime. The nature of the paraphilia itself is non-sexual, socially deviant, and socially unacceptable. Familiar evidence of hybristophilia can be seen with groups of women writing letters to criminals notoriously broadcasted in the media. Other cases involve prison guards helping to release men who are incarcerated. These women have a fascination and attraction to certain types of men who commit crimes.

The hybristophiles love objects are oftentimes psychopathic and violent individuals who can be conceptualized by two main factors consisting of emotional detachment and social deviance. The emotional detachment is manifested as affective shallowness, absence of empathy, lack of remorse, lack of shame, superficial charm, a manipulative style, grandiosity and lying. The other factor of social deviance encompasses impulsivity, aggression, substance abuse, high sensation seeking, low socialization, proneness to boredom, irresponsibility, lack of concern or plans for the future, low motivation and early life behavioral problems and delinquency. (Hare 1991, 2003). These characteristics are not what one generally wants in a partner. But due to these characteristics they are able to deceive and prey upon a wide range of individuals.

Normal socialization is hypothesized to be impaired due to deficient emotional processing and decreased emotional awareness leading to individuals not being able to connect and empathize with others. (Blair 2003, 2005). These individuals have abnormal amygdala functioning leading to decreased empathy and poor emotional reactivity. They are not able to understand or view a situation from another person’s perspective. It makes sense to reason that these individuals for the most part are not able to attract emotionally stable individuals but attract quite easily those with a weak sense of self.

From a forensic perspective, we know from research that psychopathic and violent individuals who committed one act of violence are likely to commit violence in the future. However, despite much research and literature about psychopathy, there is little knowledge and much debate about how to intervene for psychopathic violence. (Cleckley 1941). And in turn, little knowledge about how to help their victims or partners in crime. (Reidy, 2003).

What about their victims?

One cannot help but wonder her certain attraction to a specific type of man when there are many other choices for her partnership. Hybristophiles oftentimes are victims of physical or sexual abuse with low self-esteem and insecurity making them vulnerable to ‘deviant sexual preferences and criminality (Vitello, 2006, p. 198). There may be an excitement and thrill with being with someone who commits the crime. Others may wish to collaborate with a violent offender in order to express their own violent tendencies.

In more active forms of hybristophilia, victims who become involved in the violent crimes themselves, these individuals tend to have stimulation-seeking behavior. Individuals seek stimulation from within familiar interpersonal and physical environments (Mawson 1987, 200). They have a low threshold for approaching and developing relationships with familiar persons and react more intensely in persistent attachment behavior. The attachment behavior is described to be as ‘intense, jealous, dependent, and aggressive.’ (Mawson 1987; Smith & Hanson 1975). People with similar characteristics tend to seek each other out and form couples even in the case of having the trait of stimulation-seeking behavior. The couple expresses the stimulation seeking behavior in varying degrees. Those with a history of experiencing different types of abuse themselves have an unusual ability to attract, become involved with, and marry those who tend to accentuate rather than solve their problems (Steele & Pollock, 1974, p.106). (Gurian E (2013) Explanations of mixed-sex partnered homicide: a review of sociological and psychological theory. Aggression and Violent Behavior: 18, 520-526)

On psychodynamic forces

Freud expounded the term repetition compulsion to describe individuals who repeat a traumatic event or circumstance over and over again. Instead of remembering a memory, she expresses it through behaviors and actions. “[She] repeats it, without, of course, knowing that [she] is repeating it” (Freud). Earlier traumas may or may not have entered consciousness at anytime but had been retained in the unconscious and are repeated in the present day. In treatment, ‘the greater the resistance, the more extensively will acting out (repetition) replace remembering.’ (Freud). Instead of discussing the details of her relationships and traumas, the patient may instead show behaviors that are more intense during the treatment. She may want to be with her male partner more intensely.

This force may drive individuals to unconsciously reenact the past in order to master them. It is believed that perhaps in an unconscious reworking of the past, the individual may be able to correct past transgressions in the present time. However, the attraction of similar self-objects leads these individuals to repeat traumas of the past. In Freud’s article Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through, he says that in the minds quest for pleasure and the avoidance of displeasure, there remained circumstances where one would re-enact or recreate experiences of displeasure. The repetition of unpleasant experiences could be considered unpleasure for one system- the ego, and satisfaction for another, the id, of the intrapsychic apparatus. Thus, placating the pleasure principle, which positions that one avoids displeasure and is drawn to pleasure.

“Menaker (1953) in his paper Masochism: A defense reaction of the ego suggested that masochistic self-hatred, self-devaluation, and feelings of worthlessness are the outcome of traumatic deprivation and serve self-preservation insofar as they are “a means of perpetuating whatever bond there is to the mother.” Ms G’s sense of self is characterized by low self-esteem and feelings of a low self- worth. She lost her mother at a young age and this self-loathing perhaps functions as a means for her to remain attached to her mother. She does not forget her mother if this feeling of self-loathing remains and functions out of her awareness. Furthermore, masochism is often the response that arises out of the child’s experience of the emotional environment as indifferent in contrast to sadism, in which the child’s emotional environment is experienced as unpredictable, volatile, and violent (Anna Ornstein 1974, 1991). The masochism is used as a defense against this indifferent environment. In respect to the patient’s personality, the masochist often has a diffuse of dissolving self-representation and often exaggerates her experience in order to get a sense of being alive, real, and as a bound entity (Stolorow 1975 and Lachmann 1980) in order to feel that this person exists.

Brothers, 1995a discusses how self-trust is eroded and from the masochistic experience refers to being betrayed or being vulnerable to being betrayed by providers in early life. This experience could be limited to fantasy or reenacted in real life. Those with trauma histories will often confirm their subjective reality by seeking someone who resembles the original betrayer in the hope that this time things will be different. This new experience will justify the survivors’ original experience and help to restore trust in themselves.

One can hypothesize that the amount of anger and hate patient has towards the untimely death of her mother and her subsequent abandonment by her mother resulted in a release of her aggressive wishes. Conversely, perhaps there is guilt in the patient that the Oedipal wishes of being with the father and the annihilation of the mother’s competition had actually become manifest.

The magical thinking of childhood had become reality. The patient experienced some regression and disintegration of the ego due to the trauma of losing her mother. She was left to be raised by her father. However, the male model for which she was to have future relationships was patterned after invalidation and physical abuse.

On masochism,

The abuse MG suffered as a child did not seem to have a pattern and as such MG was not able to develop a way to build ego defenses herself as the abuse was unpredictable. SLUG experiment References

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Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works, 145-156

Hare, R.D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Multi-Health Systems

Hare, R.D. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). (2nd ed.) Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems

Mawson AR (1987). Transient criminality: a model of stress-induced crime. New York: Praeger.

Menaker, E. (1953), Masochism: A defense reaction of the ego. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 22:205-220.

Reidy, D.E., Kearns M.C., and DeGue S. (2013). Reducting psychopathic violence: a review of the treatment literature, Aggression and Violent Behavior:18, 527-538

Smith SM & Hanson R (1975). Interpersonal relationships and child rearing practices in 214 parents of battered children. British Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 513-525.

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Vitello, C. (2006). Hybristophilia: The love of criminals. In E.W. Hickey (Ed.), Sex crimes and paraphilia. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

*** Freud – Remembering, Repeating, and working through