The relationship between his parents.
The relationship between Lionel and Joyce Dahmer is a key element explaining Jeffrey’s actions. Indeed, even before Jeffrey was born, the pregnancy was heavy on Joyce, who had trouble managing her depressive and ever changing moods. Once born, they tried their best. They did not have any financial problems, both having a decent job, but they did not show a lot of affection.
In addition, their relationship was tumultuous. They spent a lot of time arguing, what had quite a big influence on Jeffrey. He would even end up giving up on marriage to avoid ending like them: « they were constantly at each other’s throat » Jeffrey Dahmer. When they would argue, he would find refuge in the woods, where he would express his latent anger and violence by hitting trees with sticks.
Lionel worked long hours in his lab, and spent many years of Jeffrey’s childhood studying. They also moved often what would leave Jeffrey without friends. Finally, when they settled in their own house surrounded by woods, Jeffrey would create his own little world. Adding to that the birth of his brother David, who, even if Jeffrey did not seem to suffer from it, would become the center of attention and would leave little time for Lionel and Joyce to give attention to Jeffrey.
Having no friends, and feeling neglected by his parents, Jeffrey would progressively isolate himself in his own world and develop his fantasy.
The climax of Lionel and Joyce’s relationship is reached just after Jeffrey’s graduation, just before his 18th birthday, as they decide to divorce. Then would start a war for David’s custody, won by Joyce. Lionel moves out of the house to into a motel a few kilometers away. Soon after, Joyce decides to move too to Wisconsin with David, without telling Lionel. Jeffrey ends up alone at home, abandoned by both his parents. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to him. It is then that he would kill for the first time.
Jeffrey Dahmer the victim.
Robert Ressler, during his interview with Jeffrey Dahmer, noticed that Jeffrey liked to position himself as a victim. He felt as a victim several times in his life. Even towards his own victims, he tends to puts his actions into perspective, as if everything was just circumstantial.
His first victimization took place during his childhood, when he was diagnosed with a double hernia. He was terrorized by the surgery, by the fact of being opened to strangers. Nobody explained him, and this episode imprinted his unconscious.
He would also talk about the day he got attacked by his school mates, who hit him. This also left a mark, and it is really possible that this was the day where Jeffrey started to associate impulses of vengeance with violence and sex: as he was thinking about vengeance, he felt aroused.
The stress factor.
If one thing is sure, is that Jeffrey Dahmer did not wake up one day thinking: « Oh, and what if I would start killing men… ». The fantasy developed progressively. But as stated by Jack Levin, Criminologist, every sex and violence fantasy does not necessarily translate into violent acts. For fantasies to become action there need to be stressors or stress factors, that is to say moments where the level of stress experienced by the killer does not give him any choice, where the impulses get so strong that he cannot resist them anymore.
As far as Jeffrey Dahmer is concerned, we can single out three main stressors:
- His parents’ divorce: just after feeling abandoned and rejected by his parents, he acts for the first time by killing Stephen Hicks, because he didn’t want Stephen to leave him. At that point, impulses were stronger than reason and that is why he panics and then regrets his action, for a short time, until he realizes how much pleasure he got from dominating his victim.
- The episode at the library when a young man will solicit him to have a sexual encounter. Even though he will decline the offer, this event will reawaken his impulses, to a point that will lead him to kill his second victim, Steven Tuomi, and not remember it. The psychiatrists confirm to the possibility that he does not remember anything. The stage of dissociation, associated with a big stressor at a time of great tension can cause the loss of consciousness.
- The loss of his job: from that moment on, he dedicated his time looking for new victims and spent his money on perfecting the way to get rid of the bodies. The frequency of the murders also increased to one victim a week.
And there is what we call synchronicity. A synchronicity is when a person experiences two or more events that are apparently casually unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful matter. In Jeffrey Dahmer’s life, many events happened that many people would call coincidental or fate or just life. But for someone living outside reality and in his fantasy, these same events could be pointers, could just tell them that they are on the “right path”, that the fantasy they have created is just right. For the majority of the people, it might just have been coincidence that when his fantasy of meeting a hitchhiker and knocking him unconscious grew more and more powerful, that Jeffrey Dahmer was alone at home and happened to meet Stephen Hicks. In some people’s lives, these two events might never have occurred at the same time. But for Jeffrey Dahmer, that could have been a sign, his fantasy calling him and asking him to act it out.
The influence of movies.
Pornography did not seem to play a big role in Jeffrey Dahmer’s fantasy. He usually used pornography as palliative to murder, to quiet the sexual tension growing in him. But he was not inspired by it. Moreover, he discovered pornography after he developed his fantasy of sex and violence.
On the other hand, two non pornographic movies had a real influence on his actions: “The Return of the Jedi” and “The Exorcist III”, and more specifically the principal characters representing evil in these movies. They represented everything Jeffrey Dahmer was looking for in his fantasy: they were powerful and knew how to control others. He felt so inspired that he was even wearing contact lenses that reminded him of his heroes (like people would wear a mask to portray a different personality), and he wanted to build a temple to gain more power. He later told that while he was watching “The Exorcist III”, he would rock his body back and forth mumbling spells and incantations, as if he would try to extract energy and power from his hero.
Jeffrey discovered he was gay at age 13. An experience with a boy from his neighborhood would make him discover his sexuality. Even though this experience was not very positive in terms of pleasure, and even though they only kissed and caressed each other, Jeffrey knew from then on that he was more attracted to men than women.
He did not like it, as it made him different from others, but different in a negative sense of the term. In the 1970, homosexuality was not recognized and known, and was judged badly. He himself judged it in a very negative way. Life was not easy for gays, and they had to keep this part of themselves hidden to avoid problems. Not knowing any other gay person, there was this whole secretive part of him that he could not share with anyone.
Nevertheless, during the few years he lived with his grandmother, Jeffrey would pray and pray to try to get rid of his homosexuality. He would later say that he tried to “straighten his life”. But after the episode at the library, his impulses got the best of him, and Jeffrey decided not to fight them anymore.
Gay relationships are different from straight relationships, in the way that they are much more based on physical criteria whether in the search of a partner or in the type of relationship. Indeed, it is much easier for gays to find a punctual relation (just sex or one night stands) without promises or engagement, just based on the exchange of mutual pleasure, than to find a real committed relationship, sharing more than just sex. Jeffrey seemed to suffer from it, and until the end stated he did not like sodomy. In reality, the act of sodomy represents in a gay relationship an act of abandon to the other, the ultimate intimacy. Intimacy that Jeffrey was not ready to share with the men he met.
He suffered from the difficulty of finding a partner who would stay, who would not leave after sex. But at the same time, the victims he would choose, the MO he used… Jeffrey would not have been able to handle a long term relationship. Even though he tried and even had a longer relationship with one man that mattered, he ended it. The only type of relationship he could have kept in the long term he would have found it in a specific scene: the S&M scene, where he could have found the ideal man, both physically and mentally (a slave with a nice body, ready to answer to all of Jeffrey’s expectations and without expecting anything in return).