Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
Back to Index of Criminal Profiles
Dylan Klebold: Personality Profile
Dylan Klebold’s personality, as inferred from his writing and his mother’s written statements in his file at Jefferson County’s Juvenile Diversion Program, appears to be primarily avoidant, with secondary negativistic features. Theodore Millon describes this personality composite as the conflicted avoidant.
Primary Pattern: Avoidant
The Reticent pattern, as do all personality patterns, occurs on a continuum ranging from normal to maladaptive. At the well-adjusted pole are watchful, private, socially reserved personalities. Exaggerated Reticent features occur in guarded, insecure, self-conscious personalities. In its most deeply ingrained, inflexible form, the Reticent pattern displays itself in overanxious, mistrustful, reclusive behavior patterns that may be consistent with a clinical diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder or social phobia.
Millon’s personality patterns have predictable, reliable, observable psychological indicators (expressive behavior, interpersonal conduct, cognitive style, mood/temperament, self-image, regulatory mechanisms, object-representations, and morphologic organization). The diagnostic features of the Reticent pattern are summarized below.
Expressive behavior. The core diagnostic feature of the expressive acts of Reticent individuals is their watchfulness; they are circumspect, mindful, quiet, inhibited, and hesitant. More exaggerated variants of the Reticent pattern are distinctly guarded; they are wary or fretful, insecure or uneasy, and tend to anticipate embarrassment or personal ridicule. The most extreme variants of this pattern are anxious; they avoid social contacts unless they are certain to be liked and overreact to innocuous events, fretfully interpreting such situations as signifying disapproval, criticism, ridicule, or threat. (Millon, 1996, p. 261; Millon & Everly, 1985, pp. 33, 40)
Interpersonal conduct. The core diagnostic feature of the interpersonal conduct of Reticent individuals is their private manner; they are socially reserved and quiet. More exaggerated variants of the Reticent pattern are apprehensive; they seek acceptance, yet are self-conscious and maintain social distance, avoiding close personal relationships as a safeguard against social rejection or humiliation. The most extreme variants of this pattern are distinctly avoidant; they display social anxiety, may be reclusive, are fearful of humiliation or derogation, tend to distrust others’ motives in interpersonal relationships, and warily scan the environment for potential threats. (Millon, 1996, pp. 261–263; Millon & Everly, 1985, pp. 33, 40)
Cognitive style. The core diagnostic feature of the cognitive style of Reticent individuals is their preoccupation with their inner thoughts and ideas; they may be reflective or ruminative. More exaggerated variants of the Reticent pattern are cognitively distracted; they tend to be absent-minded or absorbed in their inner thoughts, sometimes disruptively so, which may interfere with rationally focusing on and attending to external stimuli. The most extreme variants of this pattern are cognitively bewildered; irrelevant, intrusive, digressive ideation upsets their thought continuity and interferes with social communication and accurate appraisals. They are perplexed and disconcerted and warily scan the environment for potential threats to their security. (Millon, 1996, p. 263; Millon & Everly, 1985, pp. 33, 40)
Mood/temperament. The core diagnostic feature of the characteristic mood and temperament of Reticent individuals is their uneasy disposition; they are uncomfortable, anxiety-prone, and easily embarrassed. More exaggerated variants of the Reticent pattern are anguished; they often seem distressed or agitated, and their emotional experiences are marked by confusing feelings of tension, sadness, and anger. The most extreme variants of this pattern are overwrought; they are emotionally tormented, vacillating among desire for affection, fear of rebuff, embarrassment, and numbness of feeling. (Millon, 1996, p. 265; Millon & Everly, 1985, pp. 33, 40)
Self‑image. The core diagnostic feature of the self-perception of Reticent individuals is their sense of loneliness; they recognize themselves as relatively friendless or isolated, yet desire social acceptance. More exaggerated variants of the Reticent pattern feel alienated from the world; they are socially isolated and detached and feel empty, neglected, and disaffected. The most extreme variants of this pattern have a pervasive sense rejection; they feel forsaken and perceive themselves as socially inept, inadequate, and inferior, justifying thereby their isolation and sense of social alienation. All variants of this pattern to an extent view themselves as being personally unappealing, tend to devalue self-achievements, and to a lesser or greater degree are prone to episodes of estrangement or depersonalization. (Millon, 1996, p. 263; Millon & Everly, 1985, pp. 33, 40)
Regulatory mechanisms. The core diagnostic features of the unconscious regulatory (i.e., ego-defense) mechanisms of highly Reticent individuals is fantasy; they withdraw into reverie as a means of safely discharging frustrated affiliative needs or angry impulses and may depend excessively on imagination to achieve need gratification or conflict resolution. (Millon, 1996, p. 264)
Object representations. The core diagnostic feature of the internalized object representations of highly Reticent individuals is their vexatious nature; the inner imprint of significant early experiences that serves as a substrate of dispositions (i.e., templates) for perceiving and reacting to current life events, are composed of readily reactivated, intense, and conflict-ridden memories of problematic early relations. Consequently, Reticent individuals possess limited avenues for experiencing or recalling gratification, and few mechanisms to channel needs, bind impulses, resolve conflicts, or deflect external stressors. (Millon, 1996, pp. 263–264)
Morphologic organization. The core diagnostic feature of the morphological organization of highly Reticent individuals is its fragility; the overall architecture of their psychic interior constitutes a precarious complex of tortuous emotions that depend almost exclusively on a single modality for its resolution and discharge (i.e., avoidance, escape, and fantasy). Consequently, when Reticent individuals are confronted with new opportunities, personal risks, or unanticipated stressors, few functional morphologic structures are readily assembled and scant recourse to backup positions, short of regressive compensation, is available to the personality system for deployment. (Millon, 1996, pp. 264–265)
Secondary Pattern: Negativistic
The Contentious pattern, as do all personality patterns, occurs on a continuum ranging from normal to maladaptive. At the well-adjusted pole are cynical, headstrong, resolute personalities. Exaggerated Contentious features occur in complaining, irksome, oppositional personalities. In its most deeply ingrained, inflexible form, the Contentious pattern displays itself in caustic, contrary, negativistic behavior patterns that may be consistent with a clinical diagnosis of negativistic or passive-aggressive personality disorder.
Millon’s personality patterns have predictable, reliable, observable psychological indicators (expressive behavior, interpersonal conduct, cognitive style, mood/temperament, self-image, regulatory mechanisms, object-representations, and morphologic organization). The diagnostic features of the Contentious pattern are summarized below.
Expressive behavior. The core diagnostic feature of the expressive acts of Contentious individuals is nonconformity; they are individualistic and independent, tend to be outspoken or unconventional, and are frequently unhappy with the status quo. Thus, they are quick to challenge rules or authority deemed arbitrary and unjust. More exaggerated variants of the Contentious pattern are resistant; they are stubborn and oppositional, may act in a procrastinating, irksome, or intentionally inefficient manner, and frequently complain of being misunderstood or unappreciated. Individuals who display the most pronounced variant of this pattern are resentful; they are obstinate and negativistic, often revealing gratification in demoralizing and undermining the pleasures and aspirations of others. (Millon, 1996, pp. 549–550; Strack, 1997, pp. 490–491)
Interpersonal conduct. The core diagnostic feature of the interpersonal conduct of Contentious individuals is their unyielding manner; they are superficially acquiescent but fundamentally determined and resolute, even willful, in their independence strivings. More exaggerated variants of the Contentious pattern are characteristically obdurate; they are oppositional, recalcitrant, mulish, quarrelsome, or disputatious, often vacillating between contrite acquiescence and assertive, hostile independence, which may be revealed in a pattern of inconsistent or unpredictable attitudes and behaviors. Individuals with the most extreme manifestation of this pattern are truculent; they are contrary, obstructive, or insolent, chronically complaining and overtly resisting performance demands. At times they may be defiant, sabotaging performance expectations and displaying envy and pique towards those more fortunate. Their acts are concurrently or sequentially obstructive and intolerant of others, and they express predominantly negative, often incompatible, views and attitudes. (Millon, 1996, pp. 550–551)
Cognitive style. The core diagnostic feature of the cognitive style of Contentious individuals is its freethinking nature; they are inherently critical, skeptical, cynical, and doubting, with a seemingly ingrained tendency to question authority. Their preference for indirect expression of aggressive intent may be reflected in a propensity for sarcasm or barbed humor. More exaggerated variants of the Contentious pattern are habitually griping; they display a questioning, querulous, grumbling mindset. Consequently, they tend to approach positive events with disbelief and future possibilities with pessimism, anger, or trepidation. Individuals who display the most pronounced variant of this pattern are overtly negativistic; they are disdainful, caustic, and acerbic, displaying a misanthropic view of life and voicing demoralizing or caustic commentary toward those experiencing good fortune. (Millon, 1996, pp. 551–552)
Mood/temperament. The core diagnostic feature of the characteristic mood and temperament of Contentious individuals is moodiness; they are typically sensitive or discontented. Owing to their hypersensitivity, their emotional equilibrium is easily upset, resulting in frequent displays of pessimistic, distraught, or despondent mood. More exaggerated variants of the Contentious pattern are more overtly touchy and irritable; they are testy or petulant, and frequently impatient, nettled, or fretful. They are especially prone to displays of sullen, obstinate, resentful moodiness. The most extreme variants of this pattern are chronically disgruntled; they are irate, temperamental, agitated, or peevish, followed in turn by sullen and moody withdrawal. They tend to be petulant and impatient, unreasonably scorn those in authority, and report being easily annoyed, frustrated, or disappointed by others. (Millon, 1996, pp. 551–552; Millon & Everly, 1985, p. 33)
Self‑image. The core diagnostic feature of the self-perception of Contentious individuals is dissatisfaction; they recognize themselves as being generally discontented or cynical about life. More exaggerated variants of the Contentious pattern feel disillusioned; they view themselves as being misunderstood, luckless, unappreciated, jinxed, or demeaned by others. They may have a pervasive sense of having been wronged or cheated, that little has worked out well for them. The most extreme variants of this pattern experience a deep sense of discontent; they recognize themselves as being embittered, disgruntled, and disillusioned with life. (Millon, 1994, p. 33; Millon, 1996, p. 552)
Regulatory mechanisms. The core diagnostic feature of the unconscious regulatory (i.e., ego-defense) mechanisms of highly Contentious individuals is displacement; they discharge anger and other troublesome emotions either precipitously or by employing unconscious maneuvers to shift them from their instigator to settings or persons of lesser significance. As a consequence, they vent disapproval or resentment by substitute or passive means, such as acting inept or perplexed or behaving in a forgetful or indolent manner. (Millon, 1996, pp. 552–553)
Object representations. The core diagnostic feature of the internalized object representations of highly Contentious individuals is vacillation; the inner imprint of significant early experiences that serves as a substrate of dispositions (i.e., templates) for perceiving and reacting to current life events, comprise a complex of countervailing relationships, setting in motion contradictory feelings, conflicting inclinations, and incompatible memories that are driven by the desire to degrade the achievements and pleasures of others, without necessarily appearing so. (Millon, 1996, p. 552)
Morphologic organization. The core diagnostic feature of the morphological organization of highly Contentious individuals is its divergence; there is a clear division in the pattern of morphologic structures such that coping and defensive maneuvers are often directed toward incompatible goals, leaving major conflicts unresolved and full psychic cohesion often impossible because fulfillment of one drive or need inevitably nullifies or reverses another. (Millon, 1996, pp. 553)
Additional Traits: Schizotypal (Decompensated Avoidant)
The Eccentric Pattern: Schizotypal Personality Disorder
There are indications that Dylan Klebold had some schizotypal traits, possibly attributable to a progressive deterioration in his basic avoidant pattern. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–IV) of the American Psychiatric Association (1994) describes schizotypal personality disorder as “a pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with, and reduced capacity for, close relationships as well as by cognitive or perceptual distortions and eccentricities of behavior” (p. 641). Following is an annotated summary of Millon’s (1996) comprehensive account of the clinical features of schizotypal personality disorder.
Expressive behavior: Eccentric. “What is most distinctive about schizotypal personalities is their socially gauche [including unrefined and boorish behavior] and peculiar mannerisms, and their tendency to evince unusual actions and appearances. Many dress in strange and unusual ways, often appearing to prefer a ‘personal uniform’ from day to day. . . . The tendency to keep to peculiar clothing styles sets them apart from their peers. As a consequence of their strange behaviors and appearances, schizotypals are readily perceived by others as aberrant, unobtrusively odd, curious, or bizarre.” (Millon, 1996, p. 634)
Interpersonal conduct: Secretive. “[Schizotypals] prefer privacy and isolation. Unable to achieve a reasonable level of interpersonal comfort and satisfaction, they may have learned to withdraw from social relationships, to draw increasingly into themselves, with just a few tentative attachments and personal obligations. . . . [They tend, over time, to drift] into increasingly peripheral vocational roles, finding a degree of satisfaction in unusual and clandestine social activities.” (pp. 624–625)
“[T]he social achievements of the typical schizotypal usually indicate an erratic course, with a failure to make normal progress. Academic and work histories show marked deficits and irregularities, given their intellectual capacities as a base. Not only are they frequent drop outs, but they tend to drift from one job to another. . . . Their deficits in achievement competence derive from and, in part, contribute to their social anxieties and feelings of unworthiness.” (p. 625)
“If they do sustain a conversation, they may press it beyond the appropriate or suitable, digressing into highly personal, odd, or metaphoric topics. More commonly, they lack the spark to initiate action or to participate socially, seemingly enclosed and trapped by some force that blocks them from responding to or empathizing with others. This inability . . . to become a member of a real society, and to invest their energies and interests in a world of others, lies at the heart of their pathology” [emphasis added]. (p. 625)
Cognitive style: Disorganized. “Crucial to the pathology of schizotypals is their inability to organize their thoughts, particular in the realm of interpersonal understanding and empathy. . . . They attribute unusual and special significance to peripheral and incidental events, construing what transpires between persons in a manner that signifies a fundamental lack of social comprehension and logic. . . . As a consequence of their misrenderings of the meaning of human interactions, they construct idiosyncratic conceptions regarding the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. . . . They interpose personal irrelevancies, circumstantial speech, ideas of reference, and metaphorical asides in ordinary social communications. . . . Owing to their problematic information gathering and disorganized processing, their ideas may result in the formation of magical thinking, bodily illusions, odd beliefs, peculiar suspicions, and cognitive blurring that interpenetrates reality with fantasy” (p. 625).
Individuals with schizotypal personality disorder “develop superstitions, referential ideas, and illusions, and engage at times in frenetic activity. . . . [because they] have enough awareness . . . of life to realize that other people do experience joy, sorrow, and excitement, whereas they, by contrast, are empty and barren. They desire some relatedness, some sensation, and some feeling that they are part of the world about them. . . . Their recurrent illusions, their magical and telepathic thinking, and their ideas of reference may be viewed as a coping effort to fill the spaces of their emptiness, the feeling that they are ‘going under’ and are bereft of all life and meaning.” (p. 625)
“Alienated from others and themselves, they too may sense the terror of impending nothingness and of a barren, depersonalized, and nonexistent self. Such feelings prompt them also to engage in bizarre behaviors, beliefs, and perceptions that enable them to reaffirm reality. It is for this reason among others that we observe the ideas of reference, the clairvoyance, the illusions, and the strange ideation that typify the schizotypal.” (p. 626)
Mood/Temperament: Distraught. The prevailing mood of the “actively detached” (i.e., avoidant) schizotypal subtype is agitated and anxiously watchful; they are “excessively apprehensive and ill at ease, particularly in social encounters.” Millon notes that many of these reticent, apprehensive schizotypals “exhibit a distrust of other persons and are suspicious of their motives, a disposition that rarely recedes despite growing familiarity.” (p. 627)
Self-image: Estranged. “Owing to their unsatisfactory social and cognitive dysfunctions, most schizotypals evidence recurrent social perplexities as well as self-illusions, depersonalization, and dissociation. Many see themselves as alienated from the world around them, as forlorn and estranged beings, with repetitive ruminations about life’s emptiness and meaninglessness. The deficient cognitions and disharmonious affects [emotions] of schizotypals deprive them of the capacity to experience events as something other than lifeless and unfathomable phenomena. They suffer a sense of vapidness in a world of puzzling and washed-out objects. . . . [M]any schizotypals see themselves to be more dead than alive, insubstantial, foreign, and disembodied.” (p. 626)
Regulatory mechanism: Undoing. “[S]chizotypals are often overwhelmed by the dread of total disintegration, implosion, and nonexistence — feelings that may be countered by imposing or constructing new worlds of self-made reality, an idiosyncratic reality composed of superstitions, suspicions, illusions, and so on. The more severe attacks of depersonalization may precipitate psychotic episodes, irrational outbursts in which these patients frantically search to build a sense of reality to fill their vacant existence.” (p. 626)
Object-representations: Chaotic. “The inner world of the schizotypal. . . . is almost random, resulting in an ineffective and uncoordinated framework for regulating the patient’s tensions, needs, and goals. Perhaps for the greater part of their lives, . . . [this psychic framework has been] only fitfully competent for accommodating to their world, binding their impulses, and mediating their interpersonal difficulties.” (p. 626)
“When motivated or prompted to relate to others, schizotypals are frequently unable to orient their inner dispositions in a logical manner; . . . they become lost in personal irrelevancies and in tangential asides that seem vague, digressive, and with no pertinence to the topic at hand. They are out of touch with others and are unable to order their ideas in terms relevant to reciprocal social communication. The pervasive disjunctiveness of . . . the scattered, circumstantial, and autistic elements of their thinking . . . only further alienates these . . . [individuals] from others.” (p. 626)
Morphologic organization: Fragmented. “If one looks into the organization of the schizotypal’s mind, one is likely to find highly permeable boundaries among psychic components that [in well-adjusted personalities] are commonly well segregated. . . . As a consequence of these less than adequate and poorly constructed defensive operations, primitive thoughts and impulses are usually discharged in a helter-skelter way, more or less directly and in a sequence of desultory actions. The intrinsically defective nature of the schizotypal’s internal structures results in few reality-based sublimations and few successful achievements in life. These defects make the patient vulnerable to further decompensation — even under modest degrees of stress.” (p. 626)
“The inner structures of the schizotypal may be overwhelmed by excess stimulation. This is likely to occur when social demands and expectations press hard against their preferred uninvolved or withdrawn state. Unable to avoid such external impositions, some schizotypals may react either by ‘blanking out,’ drifting off into another world, or by paranoid or aggressive outbursts.” (pp. 626–627)
Regarding the latter, Millon writes: “[W]hen external pressures . . . are especially acute, they may react with a massive and psychotic outpouring of primitive impulses, delusional thoughts, hallucinations, and bizarre behaviors.” According to Millon, “[m]any schizotypals have stored up intense repressed anxieties and hostilities throughout their lives. Once released, these feelings burst out in a rampaging flood” [emphasis added]. “The backlog of suspicions, fears, and animosities has been ignited and now explodes in a frenzied cathartic discharge.” (p. 627)
Summary and Formulation: The Conflicted Avoidant
With his mixed avoidant–negativistic personality pattern, Dylan Klebold appears to be a close match for the personality composite that Millon (1996, pp. 268–269) has termed the conflicted avoidant.
Millon and Davis (2000) describe the conflicted avoidant as follows:
The conflicted avoidant includes features of the negativistic personality (formerly called the passive-aggressive personality). All avoidants are caught in a conflict between desiring and fearing the closeness of intimacy. Likewise, negativists are basically ambivalent about themselves and others, sometimes idealizing their close friends and companions, and sometimes, if their sense of autonomy is threatened, seeking to undermine or humiliate them. Conflicted avoidants combine the basic withdrawal of the avoidant pattern with the negativist’s tendency toward interpersonal guerilla warfare.
When not in social isolation, they are often experienced as petulant and sulking. They may sometimes attack others … for failing to recognize their needs for affection, but then accuse whoever offers nurturance as seeking to compromise their independence. Relating to such individuals is very much a lose–lose situation. Disposed to anticipate disappointments and fearful of facing others openly, they may strike out indirectly by obstructing their actions and perverting their wishes. They often report feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and demeaned, and they display their moods more erratically than does the basic avoidant pattern. During periods when stresses are minimal, they may deny past resentments and attempt to portray an image of general contentment. Under slight pressures, however, their pacific surface easily gives way to impulsive hostility. Unable to orient emotions and thoughts logically, they may at times become lost in personal irrelevancies and autistic asides, further alienating them from others. . . .
[The conflicted avoidant is prone to] seething with thoughts of revenge at those who fail to recognize . . . [their] need for affection [emphasis added]. (pp. 144–145)
Millon’s (1996) original, slightly more detailed, description reads as follows:
More than is typical of the “ordinary” avoidant, the behavior of these notably conflicted personalities is the struggle they face between desiring detachment from others and fearing to be independent. Conflicted avoidants would like to be close and show affection but anticipate experiencing intense pain and disillusionment. Complicating the concern about venturing into close relationships is a markedly deflated self-esteem. Thus, any effort to make a go at independence is constrained by the fear that it will fail and result in humiliation. Although they have no alternative but to depend on supporting persons and institutions, this behavior overlies deep resentments. Others have either turned against these avoidants or disapproved their efforts to achieve autonomy. They are often petulant and negativistic, and on occasion will attack others for failing to recognize their need for affection and nurturance. The dependency security they seek is seriously jeopardized under these circumstances. To bind their conflictful feelings and anger, and thereby protect against humiliation and loss, they become anxious and withdrawn, experiencing a persistent and pervasive dysphoric mood. As evident from the foregoing, we should expect to find that the unresolvable angst of these conflicted individuals often results in a blending of core avoidant features with those seen among negativistic personalities.
The discontent, outbursts, and moodiness of conflicted avoidants frequently evoke humiliating reactions from others, and these rebuffs only serve to reinforce self-protective withdrawal. Every avenue of gratification seems trapped in conflict. They cannot act alone because of marked self-doubts. On the other hand, they cannot depend on others because of a deep social mistrust. Disposed to anticipate disappointments, they often precipitate disillusionment through obstructive and negative behaviors. They report feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and demeaned by others; voice a sense of futility about life; have a deflated self-image; and frequently refer to self with contempt and deprecation. A depressive tone and anxious wariness are everpresent, evident in erratic and conflictful displays of moodiness.
Unable to muster the wherewithal to overcome deficits, and unable to achieve the support desired from others, conflicted avoidants remain embittered and conflicted, disposed to turn against the self, expressing feelings of unworthiness and uselessness. Expecting to be slighted or demeaned, they have learned to be watchful and on guard against the ridicule and contempt they anticipate from others. Looking inward offers them no solace because they see none of the attributes admired in others in themselves. This awareness intrudes on their thoughts and interferes with effective behavior, upsetting their cognitive processes and diminishing their capacity to cope effectively with ordinary life tasks. During periods when stresses are minimal, they may deny past resentments and attempt to portray an image of general well-being and contentment. These efforts, however, give way readily under the slightest of pressures.
Anticipating rejection and deprecation, they frequently jump the gun with impulsive hostility. What is seen is a cyclical variation of constraint followed by angry acting-out, followed in turn by remorse and regret. These erratic emotions not only are intrinsically distressing but upset their capacity to cope effectively with everyday tasks. Unable to orient emotions and thoughts logically, they may at times become lost in personal irrelevancies and autistic asides. This inability to order ideas and feelings in a consistent and relevant manner only further alienates conflicted avoidants from others. (pp. 268–269)
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Millon, T. (with Weiss, L. G., Millon, C. M., & Davis, R. D.). (1994). Millon Index of Personality Styles manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Millon, T. (with Davis, R. D.). (1996). Disorders of personality: DSM–IV and beyond (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.
Millon, T., & Davis, R. D. (2000). Personality disorders in modern life. New York: Wiley.
Millon, T., & Everly, G. S., Jr. (1985). Personality and its disorders: A biosocial learning approach. New York: Wiley.
Strack, S. (1997). The PACL: Gauging normal personality styles. In T. Millon (Ed.), The Millon inventories: Clinical and personality assessment (pp. 477–497). New York: Guilford.
Dylan Klebold: Developmental Considerations
Eric Harris: Personality Profile
Commentary on Dave Cullen’s “The Depressive and the Psychopath”
Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman
Last updated November 24, 2007