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The Psychopathic Sadist—Murderers and Everyday Evildoers

Reveling in the misfortune of others exposes psychopathic traits.

Key points

  • Devaluation is endemic to a psychopath’s sadism.
  • Devaluation, taunting, and mocking shown by murderous sadistic psychopaths have parallels in thrill-seeking schadenfreude.
  • Much of the research in this vein focuses on male psychopaths who are serial killers motivated by sexual sadism.

According to J. Reid Meloy, "Psychopathy and sadism are significantly and positively correlated.1 British psychoanalyst Betty Joseph has described the affective state of the psychopathic sadist as a “mocking, controlling attitude.”2 Meloy wrote, "Inherent in this feeling is a devaluing of the actual objects and an enhancement of the psychopath’s grandiosity and felt superiority.”3 Much of the research in this vein focuses on male psychopaths who are serial killers motivated by sexual sadism.

Source: FBI - Strangler Bureau/1967/Public Domain
Albert DeSalvo, a.k.a. The Boston Strangler
Source: FBI - Strangler Bureau/1967/Public Domain

Devaluation, Taunting, and Mocking

Devaluation is endemic to a psychopath’s sadism. David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam, in describing the murder of one of his five female victims, stated: “I wanted to destroy her because of what she represented...a pretty girl, a threat to me, to my masculinity, and she was a child of God, God’s creation.”4

Psychopaths desire to “taunt or mock,” according to Meloy.5 Albert DeSalvo, the so-called Boston Strangler, did this by decorating his female victims with a necktie and then positioning them with their genitals exposed. These and other physical signs of grotesque mocking were so extreme that investigators on the scene grew physically sick by what they witnessed.6


Research suggests that the devaluation, taunting, and mocking displayed by these murderous sadistic psychopaths have parallels in thrill-seeking schadenfreude—gloating, disdain, and getting pleasure from the misfortune of others. In a study of 88 women and 37 men, researchers at the University of British Columbia noted that “everyday sadism can be conceptualized as a nonclinical form of sadism…in that the individual does not harm others out of the need for cruelty but rather for the pleasure derived from the act.”7

Case Study of Nonclinical Sadism

Recently, I learned of a very troubling situation from the United Kingdom reflecting schadenfreude that involved a woman with significant psychopathic traits and her grown daughter and young granddaughter.8 The daughter had been raped, and her mother, after bizarrely learning the details by befriending the rapist, then repeated them back to the daughter, enjoying every moment as she described each salacious, embarrassing detail. She then sought to interfere with custody of her granddaughter, hoping to remove her from her daughter’s care. When questioned by the hearing officer about how she learned the details from the rapist, the mother said she could be friends with her daughter's rapist if she wanted. At the hearing, the mother visibly reveled in her daughter’s shame and humiliation as the rape details were repeated. The sadistic mother was disappointed… her daughter retained custody after the hearing.

Sadistic Expressions of Female Psychopathy

I have personally experienced how female psychopaths can be sadistic. Having lived with a mother and a sister who were both psychopathic, I witnessed their gloating, contemptuous delight and pleasure at moments when I endured misfortune, upset, or trauma. On those occasions, there were even times they could not restrain themselves and would delight in saying hurtful things.

When my first child was born, the birth weight was low, which troubled me greatly. One day, after the birth, my mother came to visit at my in-laws' request. Feeling concerned, I cried, worrying if the baby would be all right. Wiping away tears, I looked up and caught a thrill in my mother’s eyes that said: “Good, you’re upset; how dare you have joy.” The grin lasted until I could bear it no longer and looked away. I saw her expression of exhilaration and delight at my upset. She envied my joy for a baby. Instead, she wanted the joy to be spoiled by some harm to her newborn grandchild. Devaluation, taunting, mocking, inflicting pain…this little story exposes the psychopath’s sadistic traits. The traits mirror those of psychopathic sadistic murderers, inflicting emotional pain and anguish as opposed to extreme physical harm and death.


1. Meloy, J. Reid. (2001). The Mark of Cain: Psychoanalytic Insight and the Psychopath. Hillsdale: The Analytic Press. 177.

2. Joseph, Betty (1960). Some characteristics of the psychopathic personality. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 41: 528.

3. Meloy. The Mark of Cain. 101.

4. Abrahamsen, D. (1985). Confessions of Son of Sam. New York: Columbia University Press. 65.

5. Meloy, J. Reid. (2002). The Psychopathic Mind: Origins, Dynamics, and Treatment. Northvale: Jason Aronson Inc. 28.

6. Meloy, The Psychopathic Mind. 228.

7. Porter, S., Bhanwer, A., Woodworth, M., & Black, P. Soldiers of Misfortune: An examination of the Dark Triad and the experience of schadenfreude. Personality & Individual Differences, 67. 64-68.

8. Correspondence with Winifred Rule from UKA1. August 18, 2022.

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