Medical Science: Psychiatry:


Basic Nature of Personalities

Running Amok in Western Cultures


by Prof.em. Bernhard Mitterauer, MD

Volitronics-Institute for Basic Research,, Psychopathology and Brain Philosophy.

Gotthard Guenther Archives, Autobahnweg 7,

A-5071 Wals/Salzburg, Austria




In this short communication I will merely focus on amok running in the original (Indonesian) sense with some implications for Western cultures. According to the Indonesian culture, amok is rooted in a deep spiritual belief (Saint Martin, 1999) according to which an evil tiger spirit causes the violent act. At least in Western cultures we know that some forms of psychoses are based on “imperative voices” forcing the patient to obey their commands. One should also discuss the possible meaning of religion and the role of other mental disorders in amok (Knecht, 1999; Hampel et al., 2000).


Here, I will attempt to show that amok running originally did not represent a single private action. On the contrary, it was an action in war in which some soldiers attempted to win a combat by attacking the enemy without regard to danger and death (Carr and Ten, 1976). Since they are threatened by defeat they must try to escape. Therefore, the first characteristic of amok running is an affect of liberation. To an observer this may appear as a terribly aggressive behavior. The second characteristic of amok running is the rejection of all things (objects, subjects) that do not fit the alternatives of values presently available (Guenther, 1962). Under normal circumstances this means that all things which are not intended must be rejected by disregarding them. In contrast, in the case of amok running this rejection causes severe forms of violent behavior (Mitterauer; 2009b).


In this context only a general definition of amok running is necessary. Amok running is caused by a single, physically present offender who continues killing several persons for the duration of his offence (Scheithauer and Bondi, 2011). In addition, before the offence a typical behavior is described. For instance, no previous signs of anger or any indication of violence are observed. However, the original cause of amok running may be a severe psychic trauma such as a significant loss. This may include, but is not limited to, the death of a spouse or loved one, loss of a job, money, power, etc. Sometimes the intended liberation needs a rather long time span before the final decision for the violent act is taken. Importantly, in my opinion there are two basic misunderstandings of amok running. First, it represents no aggressive behavior. Second, the concept of a narcissistic personality is often misinterpreted.


For instance, psychiatrists in court are inclined to use the term narcissistic personality in a very inexact manner. It should express that the offender is highly self-centered and aggressive. However, in the case of aggression he remains capable of communication with others. Taken the myth of Narciss as described by Ovidius (1983) seriously, this beautiful young man is absolutely unable to communicate. He even rejects the attempts at communication by the nymph Echo (Mitterauer, 2009a). If we recognize that amok running is based on a radical rejection behavior, then the concept of narcissism is appropriate to the personality of amok runners.


However, most offenders die by committing suicide or they are killed by bystanders (police). After about four decades of suicide research (Mitterauer, 2003), I am able recognize parallels between the suicide commitment in general and the intended suicide in the final stage of amok running (Bründel, 2011). Note that every committed suicide is based on a radical rejection behavior including both the environment and the own physical body. Although a suicide can be committed spontaneously, it is mostly planned ahead during a longer decision process. In such existential situations a person may struggle with the decision as to why and when his/her intention to liberate is to be realized. In amok running this is comparable to the point where soldiers run against their enemies trying to liberate themselves from defeat.


In my view, a person who kills many others and dies himself during this act of violence, as known from the so-called terrorism,  also demonstrates a rejection behavior with the purpose to “liberate” Islam from Western religions and cultures.


Admittedly, there are also severe offenders who represent a mixture between rejection and aggression behavior (Hampel et al., 1999). Therefore, we also observe offenders killing persons both with and without a personal relationship to the offender. Here, school shootings are typical examples (Böckler, 2010).


After these short considerations I suggest to apply the concept of amok running in this narrower sense. In addition, a criminal profile of the offender can be elaborated explaining the violence as an affect of liberation, realized as rejection behavior. Finally, I am afraid that such severe offences as amok running may further occur in the future, since these individuals are not seeking help and may therefore not receive the attention of the community.





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