sick obsession

Child sexual abuse is so often a contributing factor in parricides, we must understand it in order to put these horrific incidents into perspective and develop wise and appropriate responses to the murder of a parent or adult “caregiver.”

I am therefore thankful to have received permission from Dr. Sam Vaknin to reprint his excellent article as today’s guest post.

                      ~ Dan


The Roots of Pedophilia

by Sam Vaknin

Pedophiles are attracted to prepubescent children and act on their sexual fantasies. It is a startling fact that the etiology of this paraphilia is unknown. Pedophiles come from all walks of life and have no common socio-economic background. Contrary to media-propagated myths, most of them had not been sexually abused in childhood and the vast majority of pedophiles are also drawn to adults of the opposite sex (are heterosexuals).

Only a few belong to the Exclusive Type – the ones who are tempted solely by kids. Nine tenths of all pedophiles are male. They are fascinated by preteen females, teenage males, or (more rarely) both.

Moreover, at least one fifth (and probably more) of the population have pedophiliac fantasies. The prevalence of child pornography and child prostitution prove it. Pedophiles start out as “normal” people and are profoundly shocked and distressed to discover their illicit sexual preference for the prepubertal. The process and mechanisms of transition from socially acceptable sexuality to much-condemned (and criminal) pedophilia are still largely mysterious.

Pedophiles seem to have narcissistic and antisocial (psychopathic) traits. They lack empathy for their victims and express no remorse for their actions. They are in denial and, being pathological confabulators, they rationalize their transgressions, claiming that the children were merely being educated for their own good and, anyhow, derived great pleasure from it.

The pedophile’s ego-syntony rests on his alloplastic defenses. He generally tends to blame others (or the world or the “system”) for his misfortunes, failures, and deficiencies. Pedophiles frequently accuse their victims of acting promiscuously, of “coming on to them”, of actively tempting, provoking, and luring (or even trapping) them.

The pedophile – similar to the autistic patient – misinterprets the child’s body language and inter-personal cues. His social communication skills are impaired and he fails to adjust information gained to the surrounding circumstances (for instance, to the kid’s age and maturity).

Coupled with his lack of empathy, this recurrent inability to truly comprehend others cause the pedophile to objectify the targets of his lasciviousness. Pedophilia is, in essence, auto-erotic. The pedophile uses children’s bodies to masturbate with. Hence the success of the Internet among pedophiles: it offers disembodied, anonymous, masturbatory sex. Children in cyberspace are mere representations – often nothing more than erotic photos and screen names.

It is crucial to realize that pedophiles are not enticed by the children themselves, by their bodies, or by their budding and nubile sexuality (remember Nabokov’s Lolita?). Rather, pedophiles are drawn to what children symbolize, to what preadolescents stand for and represent.

To the pedophile…

1. Sex with children is “free” and “daring”

Sex with subteens implies freedom of action with impunity. It enhances the pedophile’s magical sense of omnipotence and immunity. By defying the authority of the state and the edicts of his culture and society, the pedophile experiences an adrenaline rush to which he gradually becomes addicted. Illicit sex becomes the outlet for his urgent need to live dangerously and recklessly.

The pedophile is on a quest to reassert control over his life. Studies have consistently shown that pedophilia is associated with anomic states (war, famine, epidemics) and with major life crises (failure, relocation, infidelity of spouse, separation, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, death of the offender’s nearest and dearest).

It is likely – though hitherto unsubstantiated by research – that the typical pedophile is depressive and with a borderline personality (low organization and fuzzy personal boundaries). Pedophiles are reckless and emotionally labile. The pedophile’s sense of self-worth is volatile and dysregulated. He is likely to suffer from abandonment anxiety and be a codependent or counterdependent.

Paradoxically, it is by seemingly losing control in one aspect of his life (sex) that the pedophile re-acquires a sense of mastery. The same mechanism is at work in the development of eating disorders. An inhibitory deficit is somehow magically perceived as omnipotence.

2. Sex with children is corrupt and decadent

The pedophile makes frequent (though unconscious) use of projection and projective identification in his relationships with children. He makes his victims treat him the way he views himself – or attributes to them traits and behaviors that are truly his.

The pedophile is aware of society’s view of his actions as vile, corrupt, forbidden, evil, and decadent (especially if the pedophiliac act involves incest). He derives pleasure from the sleazy nature of his pursuits because it tends to sustain his view of himself as “bad”, “a failure”, “deserving of punishment”, and “guilty”.

In extreme (mercifully uncommon) cases, the pedophile projects these torturous feelings and self-perceptions onto his victims. The children defiled and abused by his sexual attentions thus become “rotten”, “bad objects”, guilty and punishable. This leads to sexual sadism, lust rape, and snuff murders.

3. Sex with children is a reenactment of a painful past

Many pedophile truly bond with their prey. To them, children are the reification of innocence, genuineness, trust, and faithfulness – qualities that the pedophile wishes to nostalgically recapture.

The relationship with the child provides the pedophile with a “safe passage” to his own, repressed and fearful, inner child. Through his victim, the pedophile gains access to his suppressed and thwarted emotions. It is a fantasy-like second chance to reenact his childhood, this time benignly. The pedophile’s dream to make peace with his past comes true transforming the interaction with the child to an exercise in wish fulfillment.

4.  Sex with children is a shared psychosis

The pedophile treats “his” chosen child as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs. He finds the child’s submissiveness and gullibility gratifying. He frowns on any sign of personal autonomy and regards it as a threat. By intimidating, cajoling, charming, and making false promises, the abuser isolates his prey from his family, school, peers, and from the rest of society and, thus, makes the child’s dependence on him total.

To the pedophile, the child is a “transitional object” – a training ground on which to exercise his adult relationship skills. The pedophile erroneously feels that the child will never betray and abandon him, therefore guaranteeing “object constancy”.

The pedophile – stealthily but unfailingly – exploits the vulnerabilities in the psychological makeup of his victim. The child may have low self-esteem, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defence mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, a history of failure, bad relations with parents, siblings, teachers, or peers, or a tendency to blame herself, or to feel inadequate (autoplastic neurosis). The kid may come from an abusive family or environment – which conditioned her or him to expect abuse as inevitable and “normal”. In extreme and rare cases – the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain.

The pedophile is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his “partner”. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his child-mate. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline.

The child finds himself in a twilight zone. The pedophile imposes on him a shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, “enemies”, mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted. The child is rendered the joint guardian of a horrible secret.

The pedophile’s control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines rights and obligations and alters them at will.

The typical pedophile is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.

The pedophile does not respect the boundaries and privacy of the (often reluctant and terrified) child. He ignores his or her wishes and treats children as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.

The pedophile acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the looks, talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the child. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations – which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.

Narcissistic pedophiles claim to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. They often lie and confabulate to support these unfounded claims and to justify their actions. Most pedophiles suffer from cognitive deficits and reinterpret reality to fit their fantasies.

In extreme cases, the pedophile feels above the law – any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.

5. The pedophile regards sex with children as an ego-booster

Subteen children are, by definition, “inferior”. They are physically weaker, dependent on others for the fulfillment of many of their needs, cognitively and emotionally immature, and easily manipulated. Their fund of knowledge is limited and their skills restricted. His relationships with children buttress the pedophile’s twin grandiose delusions of omnipotence and omniscience. Compared to his victims, the pedophile is always the stronger, the wiser, the most skillful and well-informed.

6. Sex with children guarantees companionship

Inevitably, the pedophile considers his child-victims to be his best friends and companions. Pedophiles are lonely, erotomanic, people.

The pedophile believes that he is in love with (or simply loves) the child. Sex is merely one way to communicate his affection and caring. But there are other venues.

To show his keen interest, the common pedophile keeps calling the child, dropping by, writing e-mails, giving gifts, providing services, doing unsolicited errands “on the kid’s behalf”, getting into relationships with the preteen’s parents, friends, teachers, and peers, and, in general, making himself available (stalking) at all times. The pedophile feels free to make legal, financial, and emotional decisions for the child.

The pedophile intrudes on the victim’s privacy, disrespects the child’s express wishes and personal boundaries and ignores his or her emotions, needs, and preferences. To the pedophile, “love” means enmeshment and clinging coupled with an overpowering separation anxiety (fear of being abandoned).

Moreover, no amount of denials, chastising, threats, and even outright hostile actions convince the erotomaniac that the child not in love with him. He knows better and will make the world see the light as well. The child and his guardians are simply unaware of what is good for the kid. The pedophile determinedly sees it as his or her task to bring life and happiness into the child’s dreary and unhappy existence.

Thus, regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the pedophile is convinced that his feelings are reciprocated – in other words, that the child is equally infatuated with him or her. He interprets everything the child does (or refrains from doing) as coded messages confessing to and conveying the child’s interest in and eternal devotion to the pedophile and to the “relationship”.

Some (by no means all) pedophiles are socially-inapt, awkward, schizoid, and suffer from a host of mood and anxiety disorders. They may also be legitimately involved with the child (e.g., stepfather, former spouse, teacher, gym instructor, sibling) – or with his parents (for instance, a former boyfriend, a one night stand, colleagues or co-workers). They are driven by their all-consuming loneliness and all-pervasive fantasies.

Consequently, pedophiles react badly to any perceived rejection by their victims. They turn on a dime and become dangerously vindictive, out to destroy the source of their mounting frustration. When the “relationship” looks hopeless, some pedophiles violently embark on a spree of self-destruction.

Pedophilia is to some extent a culture-bound syndrome, defined as it is by the chronological age of the child involved. Ephebophilia, for instance – the exclusive sexual infatuation with teenagers – is not considered to be a form of pedophilia (or even paraphilia).

In some cultures, societies and countries (Afghanistan, for instance) the age of consent is as low as 12. The marriageable age in Britain until the end of the nineteenth century was 10. Pedophilia is a common and socially-condoned practice in certain tribal societies and isolated communities (the Island of Pitcairn).

It would, therefore, be wise to redefine pedophilia as an attraction to or sexual acts with prepubescent children or with people of the equivalent mental age (e.g., retarded) in contravention of social, legal, and cultural accepted practices.


Sam Vaknin Ph.D. ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, and international affairs.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site at http://www.narcissistic-abuse.com



Groove of the Day 

Listen to Jariko performing “Sick Obsession”


15 Responses to “sick obsession”

  1. 2 Frank Manning
    September 10, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Dan, I must disagree with Dr. Vaknin’s assertion that “[c]ontrary to media-propagated myths, most [pedophiles] had not been sexually abused in childhood…”

    I have volunteered with my share of 12 to 15 year old boys who have been locked up for raping younger boys. And I have skeptically discussed the phenomenon with the counselors who treat them at the juvenile facility where I volunteer. The Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) has a sex offender treatment program that is nationally recognized as humane, progressive, and effective. My discussions, at times heatedarguments, with the JRA counselors led me to do my own research as well. Believe me, I am not at all influenced by any of the nonsense the mass media has to spout about this troubling issue.

    Initially I was shocked to find out how many juvenile offenders have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of pedophiles. I was blown away to learn that EVERY SINGLE GIRL locked up in the facility had been sexually abused in some way. I have also learned that every boy who was being treated there as a sex offender was also a victim of sexual abuse. A key part of the JRA’s sex offender program is called “break the chain.” It is based on the premise that boys who sexually abuse other boys have themselves been sexually abused, and so we seek to help these boys deal with their anger, shame, and trauma, which lead them to abuse others in the same way they were so terribly hurt. Breaking the chain is a direct contradiction of Dr. Vaknin’s assertion.

    I wish I could cite research to back up my disagreement with Vaknin, but I’m not in the mood to do some doctoral research on the subject. Suffice it to say that the most progressive and humane treatment program in the nation for young sexual offenders is based on the premise that these boys have themselves been victims of sexual abuse.

    • September 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      Frank, I would prefer that Dr. Vaknin or someone more knowledgeable than I respond to your comment, but my takeaway from all this is that the possibility of sexual abuse is much greater than would be the case if only the abused were abusing others.

      Very troubling to me is the influence of soft- and hard-core-porn which proliferates throughout the culture including popular entertainments. Human beings–even normal human beings–can do anything they can visualize, and to some degree or another we have all been conditioned to stray from the moral path.

      Your view and Dr. Vaknin’s may not be mutually exclusive. The situation may be more alarming than anyone cares to admit.

      • 4 Frank Manning
        September 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm

        Yes, agreed on all points. I just wanted to point out the one assertion that my own experiences and observations don’t substantiate.

        I don’t want to distract from your main point–that so many parricides are a final desperate attempt to put an end to a horrific abusive situation, often involving years of unbearable suffering. The law, blind and impersonal as it is, often turns the real victim into the criminal and the real criminal into the victim. In parricide cases the law mechanistically overlooks the awful truth of why some children feel they have no way out except to kill the monster who has been hurting and tormenting them. If I were a juror in a parricide case I would want to know about why, and I would vote in acquit in cases of systematic sexual abuse of the child–the true victim in the case.

  2. 5 Jeanne
    September 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I found the journal very interesting. I feel as Mr. Manning does but I do not have the research to back why I feel this way. Either way, I am open to learning and it was enlightening. I have always been astounded by the fact that abusers are often portrayed the victims in criminal cases. I have a hard time understanding the justice in a conviction that has clear evidence of abuse, whether sexual or physical.

    Though I understand the court has to address the “intentional” aspect of a homicide, I do not understand why there is not a “two-fold” (?) option in these cases. For example, a person that commits a homicide due to a mental disorder can be found guilty of murder but also found to be insane at the time. This type of conviction can permit that person to obtain help in a mental institution, rather than in prison. Sadly, these are type of convictions are not issued as much as they should be. I blame this on the defense attorneys lack of education into mental illness itself.

    It seems fair to say that a person found innocent by reason of insanity, is a person that lacks the mental capacity to perceive what is right and what is wrong. In comparison a person who suffered abuse for many years often loses their ability to “think for themselves”. This is why so many people stay in abusive relationships. To assume it would be easy to leave an abusive relationship is such an unfair thing to ask.

    I never could understand why defense attorneys are so afraid to call a monster, a dead monster. Why is it not possible to use the option I mentioned above. Guilty of murder, but innocent by reason of “self-defense”.

    • September 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm

      Jeanne, one reason I feel so “comfortable” serving kids involved in parricides is that I do not consider them to be “criminals” but “survivors.” In most cases these are kids who have been forced into a corner because of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. In many cases, they try to survive by running away from home and what does the System do? The cops return them to their abusers! No, these kids are not culpable of the crimes for which they are prosecuted and punished. It just isn’t right. The kids’ abusers truly are monsters, and the world is a better place without them. It is immoral to punish kids for their abusers’ crimes. Such young people need rehabilitation and redemption, not retribution.

  3. 7 Kelly
    September 11, 2012 at 3:06 am

    Well, I hope Stephen reads this.

  4. 8 Gloria
    September 11, 2012 at 3:25 am

    A comparison of the childhood experiences of convicted male child molesters and men who were sexually abused in childhood and claimed to be nonoffenders


    quoted:Eighty-four incarcerated child molesters and 95 nonoffender comparison subjects were interviewed. All of the nonoffenders and 93% of the child molesters had been sexually abused in childhood. The prisoners were more socially disadvantaged as children and had received more verbal and physical abuse. The prisoners were more accepting of their abuse in the sense of not understanding or accepting that it was aberrant behavior but rather thinking that it was a commonplace, inevitable, and consequently a normal part of childhood.

    Does sexual abuse in childhood cause pedophilia: an exploratory study.


    quoted: The reliability of the notion that pedophilia is caused by sexual abuse in childhood was explored by examining retrospective self-reports of 344 males. Included in the study were 77 heterosexual pedophiles, 54 homosexual pedophiles, 51 nonpedophilic sex offenders against children, 36 sex offenders against physically mature females, 75 heterosexual paid volunteers who erotically preferred mature females, and 51 homosexual clients who preferred mature males

    Cycle of child sexual abuse: links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator†


  5. 10 roberta knights
    September 11, 2012 at 5:06 am

    England has ruling that any child over 9 or 10 yr who runs away from parents home does not have to return if they can prove they have accomadation ,schooling and are safe,fed etc and no child abusers at that address.My daughter left at 14 year old she wasnt allowed drinking etc anyhow she found a friend of hers to take her in ,she did this reguarler police were involved every weekend ,anyhow this time it was 2 weeks before we were told where she was .she was allowed to stay there and within few month she did same on them so police contacted social services she went into care .She s a mother to ten children and I think she realizes her mistakes .her kids are well behaved .social services also dont need to tell parents where child is .

  6. 11 matt
    September 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

    “I don’t want to distract from your main point–that so many parricides are a final desperate attempt to put an end to a horrific abusive situation, often involving years of unbearable suffering. The law, blind and impersonal as it is, often turns the real victim into the criminal and the real criminal into the victim. In parricide cases the law mechanistically overlooks the awful truth of why some children feel they have no way out except to kill the monster who has been hurting and tormenting them. If I were a juror in a parricide case I would want to know about why, and I would vote in acquit in cases of systematic sexual abuse of the child–the true victim in the case.”

    So true, Frank.

  7. 12 Jeanne
    September 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Yes, so true Frank. I too would vote to acquit, “in cases of systematic sexual abuse of the child-the true victim in these cases.”

    I must say again, in cases of systematic sexual abuse where a homicide occurred due to the “victims” duress, I blame the defense attorneys for not doing their homework. Each of us learn differently. Some of do better with visuals, others do well reading, some of us need repetition, as others just need common sense. If a defense attorney can, just for a day, be fearless for these children on their court date; explain the facts behind abuse, show visuals, verbally repeat the crime to the victim, and even put it up on a screen for the jury to read, they’ll get it.

    Too many children are incarcerated because their lawyers are fearful when they should be fearless.

  8. 13 vicky
    September 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    i need some advice. I’m a young mum to a 20 month old little girl. I have stopped her dad from seeing her as I’m convinced he’s a pedo due to, he has another kid who’s a wee boy just a few months younger than my daughter but he doesn’t want anything to do with him and he’s trying his hardest to get access for my daughter. he wants my daughter on his own. he’s refused to go to a contact centre to see her and he doesn’t want to see her at my house and he doesn’t want me to be there when he’s “spending quality time with her” I just don’t understand why he wants my daughter on his own so much but yet doesn’t want anything to do with his son. please help me

  9. 14 "particularly"
    September 28, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Good write-up. I absolutely appreciate this site.
    Continue the good work!

  10. March 3, 2016 at 1:37 am

    I’ve never murdered anyone or coveted my neighbor’s wife or
    ass. Now after the transition as a normal actress, has been given some minor
    roles and is seriously trying to become a good actress.
    I would not say that female porn stars enter this business only because they enjoy having sex, since anyways
    a woman in her life could choose to have a more or less intense sex life without the need to become a porn star in order to have
    sex more than normal, and in the same time be humiliated doing
    this job.

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