Post Redux: Reflections on Josef Fritzl and Incest (5/23/08)

Fritzl, of course, is the Austrian accused of imprisoning his daughter in a cellar and fathering a family with her (three of the children also imprisoned, three raised in the aboveground household), BBC. All incest fathers are vampire fathers, they truly are draining the child’s lifeforce, but this is absolutely the most extreme case in my memory.

The question here is whether Fritzl is a sociopath.  Roughly what I do is check facts and behavior against an informal checklist and then attempt to flesh out the individual and understand his motivations.  For those interested there are well-thought out formal checklists for sociopathy.   The linked Mask of Sanity lays out a checklist in Section III, Clinical Profile, pgs 337 – 366, or see the Table of Contents.  Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience, has a formal diagnostic one, which can be used informally by anybody, in my opinion — not to diagnose, but in an attempt to understand behavior.  This seems to be a reasonable overview: PCL Overview. His own site is

Fritzl certainly appears to be a sociopath.  There is no internal prohibition against incest for sociopathic fathers at all. Non-sociopathic incest fathers need to overcome their conscience and a very severe prohibition against such acts.  For sociopathic incest fathers it is merely childhood sexplay, as is all their sex.  They are absolutely, totally unaware of any “soul effect” on the daughter (or often, the son).  The sociopathic sense of entitlement is absolute — check.  Urge to dominate — check.  Lying ability — check.  Telling his wife the imprisoned daughter had run away and joined a cult.  Explaining three foundlings to the authorities and his wife (the three infants he brought up from the cellar).  This ability to lie while appearing totally sincere, with complete eye contact with the target to be duped is one of the key sociopathic abilities.  Self confidence — check.  Arrogance — check.  Optimism — check.  No remorse or guilt — check.

I understand he’s been complaining that his wife hasn’t visited him.  Sociopaths don’t understand the “beyond the pale” aspect of their extreme behavior.  For them it’s not beyond the pale, it’s not extreme.  Presumably they believe all of us are capable of the same behavior or would behave the same if we thought we could get away with it.  So now he’s hurt and perplexed that his wife doesn’t visit.

It’s reported that the possibility that he also molested his 19 year old daughter/grand-daughter, Kerstin, is also being investigated.  (It was the hospitalization of Kerstin that exposed the whole situation.)  It would be shocking if he hadn’t.

One thought on “Post Redux: Reflections on Josef Fritzl and Incest (5/23/08)

  1. Quite often, the spouses of people like this are enablers. For whatever reason, they are unable to take any action. Perhaps the situation seems “normal” to them because they’ve suffered some kind of abuse? I’m not sure. In our family, there was some horrific abuse. After it became well-known among all family members, the parent continued to live in the home, still sharing a room and a bed with the other, non-offending, parent. There were no apparent consequences after the discovery of this sexual abuse. The non-offending parent mentioned that she had told her own father about this, and was told that it must be a mid-life crisis and it would probably pass (or something to that effect). What I’m trying to say is that there’s something that allows the spouse to turn a blind eye to this abuse. There’s no way you could live in a house with someone for that long and not have a sense that something was wrong. I’ve been there. Even as a child who was unable to fathom the meaning of what was going on in our home, I knew something was wrong and tried to tell the other parent.


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