Run amok - causes and definition

Run amok - causes and definition

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In Nice a man raced into a crowd with a truck and killed more than 80, in Munich David S. shot nine people and injured others. He adored the Norwegian Spree killer Anders Breivik and was in psychiatric treatment. The media and politicians speak of rampages. But is this term correct? And do amoactants suffer from a mental disorder that can be treated?

The WHO defines amok as “an arbitrary, apparently unprovoked episode of murderous or significantly (alien) destructive behavior. Then amnesia (lack of memory) and / or exhaustion. Often the change to self-destructive behavior, i.e. Wounding or mutilation until suicide (suicide). "

"Classic" killing spree usually take place without warning, however, the perpetrators have often already been noticed by extreme fears and hostile reactions. Amok conditions are also particularly widespread in an environment in which self-destructive aggression is socially respected - for example among the historic Vikings, in Papua New Guinea or in regions of South Africa.

Amok in history

Amuk means “frenzied” in Malay and means spontaneous acts of violence against bystanders. However, some historians suspect the term Amuco, which in India refers to warriors who attack their enemies regardless of their own lives.

Warriors in Malaysia and Java shouted "amok" when they went to battle. They were elite soldiers who also attacked opponents who were far superior in numbers and weapons. Malaysian legends glorify these "gunmen". In the narratives, they often avenge the one disgrace they suffered with a mass murder in which they themselves find their death.

In Scandinavia, the Berserkr, warrior dressed in bearskins, were notorious for their uninhibited violent noises. "To go berserk" still describes uninhibited aggression.

Psychological causes

Psychiatrists have long discussed whether killing spree is associated with mental disorders. For a long time, those affected were considered to be in a state of twilight. This means that their perception of the environment is impaired, they are hardly accessible, their thinking is unclear. They perceive situations in a distorted way, often they have sensual hallucinations. They look like intoxicated. They have no memory of what happens during their twilight state.

Such twilight conditions suffer from traumatized people, epileptics, people with borderline syndrome, dissociative disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychotics, people under the influence of alcohol, medication and drugs.

In the classic definition of deed as excessive violence against others, which is beyond the control of the perpetrator, the process is most likely associated with psychosis. A psychosis is a mental disorder in which the relationship to the reality of those affected is so disturbed that they can no longer cope with everyday life. They suffer from delusions, perceive their environment delusionally and show abnormal behavior: pathological hyperactivity, extreme excitement and mental-physical blockages.

Psychoses can be both exogenous, i.e. physically justifiable, for example due to a brain injury or endogenous, i.e. an expression of a mental illness. More recent studies indicate that one in three of the amoctatists examined suffered from psychosis.

However, these results have the catch that only surviving perpetrators were investigated. Those who run amok in an acute psychosis are more likely to survive than someone who does not, for example someone with a permanent personality disorder, i.e. rooted misconduct in conflicts.

Personality disorders include: the compulsive, the avoiding, the dependent, the eccentric, the baseless, the immature, the passive-aggressive, the paranoid, the schizoid and the dissocial.

Aggressive outbreaks are characterized above all by the schizoid, the paranoid, the emotionally unstable (borderline), the narcissistic and the dissocial disorder.

Paranoids are extremely sensitive to rejection, they feel hurt extremely quickly and develop fantasies of revenge. They are generally suspicious and distort their neutral reactions in hostility. They are pathologically jealous, chronically related to themselves, see themselves as victims of conspiracies and insist on being right, all the more when others tell them about their misperceptions.

Dissocial people have little empathy. Their behavior contradicts social norms. They are irresponsible and unscrupulous and cannot build long-term relationships. Dissocial people are not tolerant of frustration and tackle conflicts with violence. They blame others and rationalize their own wrongdoing. That is why they often start a criminal career early on.

Emotionally unstable live out their impulses in an uncontrolled manner, their moods change constantly. They are difficult to plan and do not rethink the consequences of their behavior. They don't have their outbursts of emotion under control and react explosively. When others criticize them or demand their own claims, emotionally unstable people often react with violence.

The role of psychchiatric symptoms in the massacres is mostly overrated. So psychoses hardly play a role in school shootings. The situation is different for adult perpetrators. A study of American amoctats in 1999 found that up to 67% of the perpetrators suffered from psychotic symptoms, especially paranoid delusions. Narcissistic disorders were also common. Mental illness is only the main cause of a killing spree in a few cases.

If mass murderers were in psychiatric treatment as in Munich before, this does not necessarily mean that the mental illness led directly to the crime. Mentally ill people are generally no more violent than mentally "healthy" people.

People suffering from depression are even less likely to commit crimes than people without these problems.

Destroyed physicality

The cultural scientist Klaus Theweleit became famous for the “male fantasies”, in which he analyzed the psychological foundations of fascism as destroyed physicality in authoritarian male societies.

The Taz asked him about the acts of violence in Munich and Anders Breivik. According to Theweleit, neither the murderer in Munich nor Anders Breivik was a gunman. Because they had planned their act for a long time, which would contradict the nature of a killing spree.

Rather, it is a basic mental disorder, the cause of which is the destroyed physicality of the perpetrators. These came from different conflict situations to a point where they wanted to wipe out the lives of others around them.

Killing is a deliberate act here, even if the killing is carried out in a state of trance. Only when they have decided to murder do they begin to prepare the crime.

This urge to murder was neither politically nor religiously motivated. The perpetrators would "write together" their reasons just before the crime, but they did not care about them, the important thing was that they had reached the point where they had to kill - and with the greatest possible publicity.

A basic disorder means that the path from the early childhood symbiosis to the mother was not successful. Through psychological rejection or experience of violence, they did not develop an ego whose lust was directed towards the outside world, but were plagued by overwhelming fears.

You could not develop a loving relationship with others and yourself. The concept of narcissism does not apply to such people. They are driven by fear and despair. According to Margaret Miller, they moved between undifferentiation and deprivation. Undifferentiation would mean that they perceive everything outside as a threat, as a world in which nobody helps them. Loss of life means removing this outside and thus the people who caused it from the world.

The perpetrators would laugh compulsively if they shot into a crowd and the place emptied. Then everything threatening was blown away inside the destroyed body. Shots from close range or knife attacks would control the killer in the feared undifferentiated organ inside his own body.

In a blackout, he would lose consciousness in close combat and wake up as a "hero". The counterpart to this is the paradise of the suicide bombers.

The ideology only plays a role in that it releases the perpetrators from any personal responsibility. On the other hand, the desire to kill is fundamental. His own deformation had reached a level in which physical pleasure could only be experienced through violence against other living people.

The killers are often young men in puberty crises who break the ground under their feet. They are insecure about their own sexuality, their position in the workplace and have no reliable friendships. The Munich assassin, for example, would have isolated himself from the environment.

The forms of killing men with this basic disorder are very similar worldwide. They wanted to be killers, of whom the world took notice.


Psychiatrists discuss the narcissistic disorder as a trigger for amo-offenders. Narcissists build a false self that depends on the admiration of others. But internally they feel that their grandiose self-image is wrong and therefore have to prove it again and again.

They feel hurt all the time when others do not constantly confirm that they are the greatest, best or most beautiful. It's not about self-love. In reality, narcissists have a very negative image of themselves. They feel powerless, helpless and threatened and split this experience off in the form of fantasies of grandeur.

The sides of themselves viewed as negative project them onto others and fight in these “enemies” their own characteristics from which they run away. They try to destroy their negative aspects by destroying others. Therefore, they are unable to really resolve real conflicts and, in the event of an emergency, only stop when the “opponent” is completely destroyed.

Adam Lankford recognized similarities between suicide bombers and other suicides. Fear, failure, guilt, shame and anger characterize both. Suicide bombers suffered from mental disorders, out of 130 66 had experienced the deaths of people who were close to them. Problems in family, school and work are typical for suicide bombers as well as for other suicides.

How does a killing spree develop?

The deeds are roughly divided into five phases. In the early stages, difficulties accumulate in the social environment, social orientation patterns collapse or do not exist, and those affected perceive their personal image as at risk. According to Theweleit, if there is already a basic malfunction, such loads act as fire accelerators.

Acute loads lead to tension in the second phase, which those affected can no longer compensate. In the third phase, those affected withdraw from society. They are depressed and hostile at the same time, pondering alone and their thoughts are shaped by fears and revenge fantasies. Those affected become more and more irritable. Threats, lawsuits, reproaches to the outside world and constantly repeated "mantras" can be perceived as warning signals.

Those affected see themselves surrounded by enemies. Their moods fluctuate between anger and fear.

In the fourth stage, the "confused senses", an overreaction breaks out, haphazard actions of attack and flight go hand in hand with extreme excitement. The victims scream, race and attack their victims indiscriminately. In the end, they often turn against themselves.

In previous descriptions, survivors of rampage followed deep sleep and depression.

Death as an experience

For David S. in Munich, these "classic" features only apply to a limited extent. He also withdrew more and more. But for him the violence did not break out of "confused senses" and aimlessly, but he planned his murders over a long period of time.

"Apolitical" gunmen suffer from a destroyed physicality, could not process insults, find no recognition in life and "complete" their lives in an act in which they wipe out others and themselves. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • L. Adler .: Amok. A study. Munich 2000

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