Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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Psychological Profile of Unidentified Midwest Pipe Bomber

Inferred from Note Left at Bombing Sites

 Aubrey Immelman

 May 4, 2002

The note [] left by the Midwest mailbox pipe bomber [suspect at this point not yet identified or apprehended] leaves a substantial psychological “footprint”; in my opinion, the following extracts from the note suggest an avoidant personality disorder:

·         “If you are under the impression that death exists, and you fear it, you do anything to avoid it. (This is the same way pain operates. Naturally we strive to avoid negative emotion/pain.)”

·         “In avoiding death you are forced to conform, if you fail to conform, you suffer mentally and physically. (Are world powers utilizing the natural survival instinct in a way that allows them to capitalize on the people?)”

·         “To ‘live’ (avoid death) in this society you are forced to conform/slave away.”

·         “There is less risk of being detained, associated with dismissing certain people.”

The avoidant personality pattern is the prototype of Millon’s pain-avoidant personality type. In my opinion, the bomber is unlikely to be schizoid, antisocial, or even paranoid, as all of these personalities are low on pain avoidance. (Narcissistic personality another possibility is average on this dimension, suggesting that it can tentatively be excluded from consideration.)

Following is a brief description of the avoidant (reticent) pattern, along with the diagnostic criteria from my Millon-based diagnostic instrument for remote personality assessment (MIDC).

Scale 7: The Reticent Pattern

Normal, adaptive variants of the Reticent pattern (i.e., circumspect and inhibited types) correspond to Oldham and Morris’s (1995) Sensitive style, Millon’s (1994) Hesitating pattern, and Strack’s (1997) inhibited style. Millon’s Hesitating pattern has a strong positive correlation with the five-factor model’s Neuroticism factor, is negatively correlated with its Extraversion factor, has a small negative correlation with its Conscientiousness factor, and is uncorrelated with the remaining two factors (Millon, 1994, p. 82). According to Millon (1994), the Hesitating (i.e., Reticent) pattern is characterized by

social inhibition and withdrawal. . . . [and] has some common ground with the self-effacing segment of Leary’s [1957] self-effacing–masochistic pattern, notable for its tendency to downplay personal abilities, to be shy and sensitive, and to experience feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. . . . [It is] akin to Factor IV of the Big-Five, usually termed Neuroticism (as opposed to Emotional Stability). Those scoring high on the Hesitating [Reticent] scale have a tendency to be sensitive to social indifference or rejection, to feel unsure of themselves, and to be wary in new situations, especially those of a social or interpersonal character. Somewhat ill at ease and self-conscious, these individuals anticipate running into difficulties in interrelating and fear being embarrassed. They may feel tense when they have to deal with persons they do not know, expecting that others will not think well of them. Most prefer to work alone or in small groups where they know that people accept them. Once they feel accepted, they can open up, be friendly, be cooperative, and participate with others productively. (p. 32)

Oldham and Morris (1995) add the following perspective:

Sensitive people come into possession of their powers when their world is small and they know the people in it. For this commonly occurring personality style, familiarity breeds comfort, contentment, and inspiration. These men and women—though they avoid a wide social network and shun celebrity—can achieve great recognition for their creativity. (p. 180)

Stephen Strack (1997) provides the following portrait of the normal prototype of the Reticent pattern, based on Millon’s theory, empirical findings from studies associating his Personality Adjective Check List (PACL; 1991) scales with other measures, and clinical experience with the test:

As with the introversive style [Retiring pattern], the inhibited [Reticent] personality is marked by a tendency toward social withdrawal. However, for inhibited individuals this pattern is motivated not by indifference, but by a fear of negative consequences. Inhibited persons tend to be sensitive to their own feelings and to those of others. They often anticipate that others will be critical or rejecting of them, and because of this they frequently seem shy or skittish in unfamiliar surroundings.  In this regard, family members and acquaintances may see them as being unnecessarily nervous, wary, and fearful. Although inhibited persons tend to get along reasonably well with others, they are often difficult to get to know on a personal level. These individuals usually wish that they could be at ease with others and tend to desire closeness, but they often are just too uncertain of the consequences of closeness and intimacy to let their guard down. As a result, they may experience feelings of loneliness, but be unable or unwilling to do anything about them. Because of their sensitivity to others, inhibited [Reticent] persons are often described as kind, considerate, and empathic by close acquaintances. Inhibited [Reticent] persons often prefer to work alone or in a small group with people they can come to know well. They do best in a stable work environment where stimulation and commotion are kept at low to moderate levels. Persons working with inhibited [Reticent] types need to appreciate their sensitivity to both positive and negative feedback, as well as their need to build trust over a long period of time. (From Strack, 1997, p. 488, with minor modifications)

 Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria:

Reticent Pattern (Circumspect–Inhibited–Withdrawn/Avoidant)

Following are the diagnostic criteria employed the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC; Immelman & Steinberg, 1999) to identify the presence of a Reticent personality pattern, organized in terms of Millon’s (1996) eight attribute domains (expressive behavior, interpersonal conduct, cognitive style, mood/temperament, self-image, regulatory mechanisms, object representations, and morphologic organization). Consistent with Millon’s principle of syndromal continuity, which holds that personality disorders are simply “exaggerated and pathologically distorted deviations emanating from a normal and healthy distribution of traits” (Millon & Everly, 1985, p. 34), diagnostic criteria for each attribute domain are ordered from normal (level a; circumspect) to exaggerated (level b; inhibited) to dysfunctional (level c; withdrawn) levels of personality organization. Criteria labeled AVD are provided as markers; they represent the diagnostic criteria within each attribute domain that Millon employs to diagnose the presence of avoidant personality disorder.

Attribute A: Expressive Behavior

The individual’s characteristic behavior; how the individual typically appears to others; what the individual knowingly or unknowingly reveals about him- or herself; what the individual wishes others to think or to know about him or her.

7a        Watchful: circumspect; mindful; quiet and inhibited; hesitant or reticent.

7b        Guarded: insecure; wary or fretful; timorous or uneasy; anticipates personal ridicule.

7c        Anxious: avoids social contacts unless certain to be liked; overreacts to innocuous events and fretfully interprets them as signifying disapproval, criticism, ridicule, or threat.

AVD   Fretful: conveys personal unease and disquiet, a constant timorous, hesitant, and restive state; overreacts to innocuous events and anxiously judges them to signify ridicule, criticism, and disapproval.

Attribute B: Interpersonal Conduct

How the individual typically interacts with others; the attitudes that underlie, prompt, and give shape to these actions; the methods by which the individual engages others to meet his or her needs; how the individual’s actions impact on others; how the individual copes with social tensions and conflicts.

7a        Private: socially reserved, quiet.

7b        Apprehensive: self-conscious; seeks acceptance yet maintains social distance and avoids close personal relationships to avoid social rejection or humiliation.

7c        Avoidant: reclusive; displays social anxiety and fear of humiliation or derogation; mistrustful of others’ motives in interpersonal relationships and warily scans environment for potential threats.

AVD   Aversive: distances from activities that involve intimate personal relationships and reports extensive history of social pananxiety and distrust; seeks acceptance but is unwilling to get involved unless certain to be liked, maintaining distance and privacy to avoid being shamed or humiliated.

Attribute C: Cognitive Style

How the individual focuses and allocates attention, encodes and processes information, organizes thoughts, makes attributions, and communicates reactions and ideas to others.

7a        Preoccupied: ruminative; immersed in inner thoughts and ideas.

7b        Distracted: absent-minded or absorbed; disruptively preoccupied by inner thoughts.

7c        Bewildered: perplexed; irrelevant, intrusive, digressive ideation upsets thought continuity and interferes with social communication and accurate appraisals.

AVD   Distracted: warily scans environment for potential threats and is preoccupied by intrusive and disruptive random thoughts and observations; an upwelling from within of irrelevant ideation upsets thought continuity and interferes with social communications and accurate appraisals.

Attribute D: Mood/Temperament

How the individual typically displays emotion; the predominant character of an individual’s affect and the intensity and frequency with which he or she expresses it.

7a        Uneasy: anxious; uncomfortable, easily embarrassed.

7b        Anguished: distressed and agitated; emotional experiences marked by confusing feelings of tension, sadness, and anger.

7c        Overwrought: tormented; vacillates between desire for affection, fear of rebuff, and numbness of feeling.

AVD   Anguished: describes constant and confusing undercurrent of tension, sadness, and anger; vacillates between desire for affection, fear of rebuff, embarrassment, and numbness of feeling.

Attribute E: Self-Image

The individual’s perception of self-as-object or the manner in which the individual overtly describes him- or herself.

7a        Lonely: recognizes self as friendless or isolated, yet desires social acceptance.

7b        Alienated: feels socially isolated and detached; empty and disaffected.

7c        Rejected: sees self as socially inept, inadequate, and inferior, justifying thereby his or her isolation and rejection by others; feels personally unappealing, devalues self-achievements, and reports persistent sense of aloneness and emptiness; feels forsaken and neglected; may report depersonalization.

AVD   Alienated: sees self as socially inept, inadequate, and inferior, justifying thereby his or her isolation and rejection by others; feels personally unappealing, devalues self-achievements, and reports persistent sense of aloneness and emptiness.

Attribute F: Regulatory Mechanisms

The individual’s characteristic mechanisms of self-protection, need gratification, and conflict resolution.

7c        Fantasy: withdraws into reverie and depends on imagination to achieve need gratification or conflict resolution.

AVD   Fantasy: depends excessively on imagination to achieve need gratification, confidence building, and conflict resolution; withdraws into reverie as a means of safely discharging frustrated affectionate, as well as angry impulses.

Attribute G: Object Representations

The inner imprint left by the individual’s significant early experiences with others; the structural residue of significant past experiences, composed of memories, attitudes, and affects that underlie the individual’s perceptions of and reactions to ongoing events and serves as a substrate of dispositions for perceiving and reacting to life’s ongoing events.

AVD   Vexatious: internalized representations are composed of readily reactivated, intense, and conflict-ridden memories of problematic early relations; limited avenues for experiencing or recalling gratification, and few mechanisms to channel needs, bind impulses, resolve conflicts, or deflect external stressors.

Attribute H: Morphologic Organization

The overall architecture that serves as a framework for the individual’s psychic interior; the structural strength, interior congruity, and functional efficacy of the personality system (i.e., ego strength).

AVD   Fragile: 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); hence, when faced with personal risks, new opportunities, or unanticipated stress, few morphologic structures are available to deploy and few backup positions can be reverted to, short of regressive compensation.


Immelman, A., & Steinberg, B. S. (Compilers) (1999). Millon inventory of diagnostic criteria (2nd ed.). Unpublished research scale, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN.

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., & Everly, G. S., Jr. (1985). Personality and its disorders: A biosocial learning approach. New York: Wiley.

Oldham, J. M., & Morris, L. B. (1995). The new personality self-portrait (Rev. ed.). New York: Bantam Books.

Strack, S. (1991). Personality Adjective Check List manual (rev.). South Pasadena, CA: 21st Century Assessment.

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.

Updated Report

Revised Psychological Profile of Pipe Bomber Lucas Helder (May 9, 2002)

Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman

Last updated November 24, 2007