What Makes a Serial Killer? 11 Common Serial Killer Traits
by Daniel Lukacs
June 28, 2017
It’s tempting to write serial killers off as monstrous aberrations. They’re just crazy, right? The truth is, most serials share many of the same personality traits. Not every serial killer has every single one of these traits, and possessing one of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean that your weird neighbor is a serial killer, but below are 11 common serial killer traits so you know what to keep an eye out for when it comes to what makes someone a serial killer.
1. Need to Control Others
Serial killers in their private lives frequently demonstrate a need to control others. They make for controlling spouses and parents and may try to obtain positions of power so that they can control the members of their community. Some of this need for control can stem from previous childhood abuse, but not always. Ultimately, killing people represents to them the pinnacle of control: controlling whether their victims live or die.
2. Inability to Feel Remorse
This may go without saying, but serial killers are unable to feel any guilt or remorse for how they have hurt others. If they felt guilt, then they wouldn’t be able to keep on targeting the innocent. They may try to mask this particular trait in public in order to pass themselves off as normal decent people, but it is very difficult to fake a conscience and sometimes the mask slips.
3. Poor Impulse Control
Another common personality trait among serial killers is poor impulse control. This means that they don’t take the time to think rationally about their ideas. Instead, they jump right in. This could be why they act out on their desire to kill. They don’t think rationally about the likelihood of getting caught or about the pain and suffering their actions will cause, because they only care about satisfying their desires in the moment.
4. Serial Killers Can Be Charming
Serial killers also present themselves as extremely charming. This serves a dual purpose: it helps divert suspicion away from themselves because the community views them as caring and sensitive, and it also helps attract potential victims as he is able to win their trust and get their guard down. This same charm can also win them supporters who will make their lives more comfortable even after they are caught.
That very same charm can also be used as a manipulation tactic. Once they have gained the victim’s trust, serial killers can manipulate them into vulnerable positions that they might not have allowed themselves to be drawn into in normal circumstances. They can also manipulate others into being accomplices to their crimes or even taking the fall for their actions so that they can continue their crimes without suspicion.
6. Sensation Seeking
Serial killers are addicts to extreme sensations and to them, only killing can evoke that feeling. The need to get their fix is so strong that other’s thoughts and feelings don’t matter.
7. Another Serial Killer Trait: Narcissism
Many serial killers are arrogant narcissists at heart—they follow a pattern so that they are immediately recognizable to the press, and many aren’t afraid to brag publicly about their crimes. They may do so anonymously via phone calls and mocking letters to the police, but once caught they want to make sure that their names are attached to the atrocities that they have committed and some that they haven’t. What’s important to them is that their name is remembered in the annals of history.
Serial killers don’t tend to limit their crimes to killing. They frequently also demonstrate sexual deviancy, such as spying on people without their knowledge or consent. It all boils down to their need to control others—not only do they feel that they can control their victim’s lives, but they also feel a need to control whether or not he or she knows she is being watched in the privacy of his or her own home.
Serial killers can’t risk letting anyone get close enough to them to discover what they are doing in their free time, so they frequently live solitary lives. They may have a number of surface level “friends” and acquaintances in order to throw off suspicion, but no one that could be considered a close friend. Now, some people are naturally introverted, but if they are actively keeping everyone at a safe distance, you might start wondering why that’s the case.
10. Abusive to Animals
A good indicator for how someone will treat the people in their life is how they treat animals. The same principal applies to serial killers. Most serial killers starting as young as childhood act out their heinous fantasies on animals, which frequently gets written off as “boys being boys.” But such behavior is a huge red flag since potential serial killers like to practice on animals before they graduate to acting out those same fantasies on people as adults.
11. Just a Normal Guy
You would expect someone who is manipulative, impulsive, narcissistic, and abusive towards animals to stand out in a crowd, but the truth is that most serial killers fly under the radar. The most prolific serial killers are able to go so long without getting caught because to the rest of the world, they look like a perfectly normal guy. They might even be important members of the community. They pass themselves off as normal and morally upright so as not to arouse suspicion from their community.
As you can see, a serial killer can be just about anybody, but many share certain serial killer traits in common. Some may never be discovered, but the worst of the worst go down in history.