Psychological Analysis Of Personality Aileen Wuornos

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Introduction

Aileen Wuornos, originally known as Aileen Pittman, was a sexually abused child who went on to become an ill-reputed American serial killer. Aileen was responsible for the murder of seven men. On 9th October 2002, she was sentenced to death and put to sleep with the lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Throughout her childhood she was exposed to abandonment by her mother and father, there was neglect, abuse, and lack of love from her grandparents, her primary caregivers. Through this lack of care and affection plus the violence and aggression projected via her grandfather, Aileen was taught that violence was ‘normal’ and so this set her path of criminal behavior. She repeated the anger and aggression that she was once surrounded with. This case study will explore the history of Wuornos and how it set her up to behave disorderly in her adulthood. I will cover the social learning theory to show how her behavior reflected a ‘learning by observation’ attitude.

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Early life and Adulthood

Aileen was born on the 29th of February 1956, in Rochester Michigan. As a child, she suffered the loss of her father who committed suicide in prison while serving his sentence for child molestation. Aileen’s mother abandoned her and her sibling (Older Brother Keith). The children were left to their grandparents to be brought up. Although this seems not so bad, Wuornos’ grandmother suffered alcoholism and her grandfather beat her up and raped her. Wuornos also admitted to having a sexual relationship with her brother Keith.

Aileen’s problematic behavior began very young, her anger issues caused her to burst into tantrums without being provoked. This unstable beginning in life only led her to be a problem child in her school life as well. Wournos was known for exchanging sex in return for cigarettes and drugs. Aileen had quickly learned the ability to “disassociate herself from her body; to blank off emotions”. Children that knew her were frightened of her and so as well as being isolated in her home she wasn’t the popular one in school amongst peers either. By 13, Aileen was stealing, drinking, taking drugs, and consuming alcohol. She fell pregnant at 14 years old but upon giving birth at a Women’s home for the unwed she placed her newborn son for adoption. Not long after this Wournos dropped out of school. She never really had a focus in her life and so school wasn’t ever a priority.

She remained in the same cycle of being abused in her home. And then her grandmother passed from a liver failure. Although the relationship between Aileen and her grandparents wasn’t that of a normal one. This loss only worsened her circumstances further to where her grandfather forced her to leave the house. After being thrown out Aileen turned to prostitution in order to support herself living in the wood across from her former home. Prostitution was Aileen’s main form of income and these encounters involved Aileen being beaten and raped.

Aileen reported being numerously raped in her adolescence. She had even admitted to attempting suicide 6 times. As well as this being due to her circumstances in general, she tried to take her life also because of arguments with her boyfriend. Wuornos had numerous heterosexual relationships, including a forceful and abusive marriage to a man of 50 years. Aileen met Tyria Moore in 1986. Tyria was the one whom Aileen stayed with for 4 years in a relationship. She called Tyria her ‘wife’. But was during this relationship that Aileen committed more of her serious crimes. There is reports of Tyria exposing Wuornos to have had an obsession with the idea of fame. Tyria told that Wuornos had a strong desire to have a book named after her. She gave this matter importance and fantasized about the ways she could make it happen.

Criminal behavior and Aileen’s Offence

Wuornos was charged and convicted of the wilful murder of 6 men. But this was the major offense that labeled her as a serial killer in the USA and to the World. On other occasions Wuornos’ was arrested for multiple offenses like theft, being disruptive and drunk in public, antisocial behavior where she threatened people, and fraud. Her first offense that she was convicted of was the robbery for which she served 3 years. After being released one would think Aileen would have reformed and at least begin to make the different but right choices in life. However, this couldn’t be falser, leaving prison was only the beginning of her increase in criminal activity. It was around this time that Aileen committed one of her first murders. The first of 7. This wasn’t known at this point by the law enforcers as Aileen admitted to them later on. She was only convicted of 6 as one of the bodies were never found. In every murder, Aileen’s victims were shot with a 22-caliber gun. Aileen even deposited everybody in deserted locations.

Suggested Theory and Analytical Approaches for Diagnosis

Diagnosis:

  • Antisocial personality Disorder and Attachment Disorder

Aileen illustrated “a disregard for and violation of rights of others” countless times from a very early age. These traits included irresponsibility, irrational actions, manipulation, aggressiveness, a lack of remorse for others, and an exaggerated sense of one’s importance. She behaved selfishly in this manner due to not being given any importance by any figure throughout her whole life. She lacked a standard mother-daughter bond, she never had the grandparents that children adore and she never had an emotionally satisfying relationship ever.

  • Cluster B Personality Disorder

Aileen showed many times her failure to form effective interpersonal functioning. These attributes showcased Aileen’s impulse to avoid being abandoned. She was always deprived of ‘normal’ relationships. This begins with her mother and then continues with her brother, grandfather, grandmother, peers in school, and even her relationships. Aileen always knew that she was never actually wanted emotionally or as a lover to any of these people. She always lacked that natural emotional attraction to people. This caused her to fail in almost every relationship.

Theory of Attachment

Attachment theory claims the emotional connection formed between children and caregivers is crucial to the development of an internal working model for the individual – the expectations and knowledge of self and others, and their personality. To implement the healthy development of a child, the child is highly dependent on a secure relationship with their main caregivers. In Aileen’s life, she dealt with the abandonment of her mother and so learned straight away that her mother left her. Her grandparents only showed her abuse. She always lacked the normal healthy relationship between family members and the lack of important figures like a mother and father who protect and shelter their child. She never formed the ability to trust the adults around her as she was always let down in one way or another. She was taught how to be unloved more than loved. Her environment was always unsafe and somehow, she always seemed to be just making it.

Studies show that those individuals who have grown up around abuse and violence are more likely to develop attachment issues. They are physically, mentally, and emotionally unable to control aggressive impulses. Aileen’s erratic temper and her inability to remain in relationships to form a deeper connection illustrated her dismissive attachment to maintaining healthy relationships. But then again this was all she was taught.

Furthermore, this self-doubting attachment is associated with the development of antisocial and borderline personality disorders and abusive behavior. As illustrated in Aileen’s behavior and picks as an adult. Her trend of instability and the attempts she made to take her life were traits of one who has “Borderline personality disorder”. Aileen was unable to maintain a healthy long-term adult relationship. Aileen admitted in an interview that serving time in jail didn’t mean she would stop killing when she was released. She showed clear signs of no remorse for her victims. Her lack of empathy for others and including her victims was clear enough to see that Wuornos was behaving in a manner that she felt in control of.

Social Learning Theory and Operant Conditioning

Social learning theory is described as learning by observation. This idea explores the ability of one to learn solely by observing. The subject doesn’t have to be conditioned in order to learn something. They just ‘look’ and then learn to imitate. Aileen retained her violent childhood and fulfilled the capacity to reproduce that in her adulthood. Her grandfather had status. Social learning theory illustrates the learning of someone who has status or role model. In Aileen’s life, she only had he grandparents as primary caregivers and so she imitated the violence she had suffered and inflicted it on others in her adulthood. There are studies showing that children who have been physically chastised at an early age are more likely to use violence themselves in later life. Furthermore, children who are exposed to aggressive behavior reproduce this behavior in adulthood as well as imitate it to an extremer degree. In terms of evidence to show that Aileen fed of the ‘reward’ of her actions. She knew that after committing these murders she had ultimately scored the higher power and again she had regained the control that she never actually had from the beginning.

The theory of operant conditioning by Skinner, explains forming criminal behavior to due to the involved reward and consequences that follow. The theory simply states that “any behavior rewarded in a positive or negative manner reinforces the likelihood of that behavior recurring in the future”. In Aileen’s case, the idea of reward for her began quite young when she would commit theft and gain physical reward. Her abusive and violent upbringing didn’t teach her any value for the correct way to interact with humans, instead, she learned how to gain power by putting others down physically and emotionally. Because that is what was inflicted on her as a child. Her reward when she turned to prostitution involved Aileen turning off her emotions like a switch and selling her body in exchange for cigarettes and quick cash. She felt like she gained some self-esteem or status in the people who in fact used her. She took this attention again and again because in the real world she knew she would only be rejected and hated by peers. Aileen had grasped a view of humans to be unloving and unloving, and so murdering them was her returning the energy she was given with no mercy or remorse.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my case study of Aileen Wuornos illustrates how abuse, torment, and violence lead to unstable relationships and impact the choices they will make in the future. The lack of love from their primary caregiver sets the child up to treat people the way they were treated. And just like in the case of Aileen, her extreme circumstances led her to detach herself emotionally and become merciless towards anyone, allowing her to commit the serious crimes that she did with no remorse. Aileen is a prime example of social and operant learned behavior, and how neglect can affect one for the rest of their life. Her experiences led her to conform to such humans that used other humans to gain control. Aileen was conditioned into a being with the inability to trust others, love others or even accept love. In order to prevent such catastrophic behavior consideration should be provided to such people by offering early intervention, therapy or even counseling. This would be to help the individuals to stabilize their mental health. Although Aileen was a criminal, she was also a victim in her own right and she only behaved in a way of which her experiences taught her.

References:

  1. Arrigo, B., & Griffin, A. (2004). Serial murder and the case of Aileen Wuornos: attachment theory, psychopathy, and predatory aggression. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 22(3), 375-393. doi:10.1002/bsl.583
  2. Bartol, C., & Bartol, A. (2014). Criminal behavior (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education/Prentice Hall
  3. Jones, N., & Bowlby, J. (1970). Attachment and Loss. Vol. I. Attachment. Man, 5(3), 523. doi:10.2307/2798963
  4. Arrigo, B.A & Shipley, S. L. (2004). Aileen Wuornos: A case study. In F. Mortimer & S. Holle (Eds.), The female homicide offender: Serial murder and the case of Aileen Wuornos (pp. 95-108). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. 
  5. Glenn, A.L. & Raine, A. (2014). Psychopathy: An introduction to biological findings and their implications. New York: New York University Press.
  6. Wuornos, A. (2008). Encyclopedia of capital punishment in the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2008.
  7. Shipley, Stacey L.; Arrigo, Bruce A. (2004). The Female Homicide Offender: Serial Murder and the Case of Aileen Wuornos.
  8. Griffin, Ayanna M.; Arrigo, Dr. Bruce. ‘The Phenomenon of Serial Murders and Women’. McNair Dispatch: An Online Research Journal. Charlotte, North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Archived from the original on October 21, 2008. 
  9. Hilsman, Hoyt (November 16, 1992). ‘Review: ‘Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story”. Variety. 
29 April 2022

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