The Violent True Believer as a “Lone Wolf” – Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Terrorism


  • J. Reid Meloy Ph.D.,

    Corresponding author
    1. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine; Faculty, San Diego Psychoanalytic Institute; Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences
    • Correspondence to: J. Reid Meloy, 334 Westbourne St, La Jolla, CA 92037, U.S.A. E-mail:

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  • Jessica Yakeley M.D.

    1. Consultant Psychiatrist in Forensic Psychotherapy, Portman Clinic; Director of Medical Education and Associate Medical Director, The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society
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The existing research on lone wolf terrorists and case experience are reviewed and interpreted through the lens of psychoanalytic theory. A number of characteristics of the lone wolf are enumerated: a personal grievance and moral outrage; the framing of an ideology; failure to affiliate with an extremist group; dependence on a virtual community found on the Internet; the thwarting of occupational goals; radicalization fueled by changes in thinking and emotion – including cognitive rigidity, clandestine excitement, contempt, and disgust – regardless of the particular ideology; the failure of sexual pair bonding and the sexualization of violence; the nexus of psychopathology and ideology; greater creativity and innovation than terrorist groups; and predatory violence sanctioned by moral (superego) authority. A concluding psychoanalytic formulation is offered. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.