If you love reading or watching true crime stories, you are not alone! And the good news is most experts agree that there is nothing wrong with your obsession!
Whether it is the latest documentary on Netflix or a column by yours truly, Americans seem to be obsessed with true crime.
The true crime genre as we know it today really got its start with the release in 1966 of Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood and the brilliant film adaptation of the same name the next year in 1967 by Richard Brooks. Today, crime stories seem more popular than ever. Bookshop shelves and TV schedules are heaving with murder mysteries and whodunnits.
But why? What drives so many of us to revel in sordid tales of rape, torture, murder, or worse!
First of all, there is nothing wrong with you if you love true crime stories. While there is a small percentage of viewers who satisfy actual demonic urges by living vicariously through true crime content, for most of us, it is simply the way that we are wired.
Anthropologists and “evolutionary” psychologists say that the vast majority of us are drawn to these kinds of stories because murder, rape, and other violent crimes have played a significant part in human society since our hunter-gatherer days. It’s in our nature to be highly attuned to criminal activities, and we instinctively want to discover the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “how” so we can find out what makes criminals tick and thereby better protect ourselves and our families from nefarious intent.
Another reason that we are so fascinated by these morbid tales is the idea of “there but for the grace of God go I.” It is what the father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud referred to as “schadenfreude,” which is the idea of taking pleasure from other peoples’ suffering. But not in a malicious or sadistic way; it is simply our mind’s relief in knowing that the horror is happening to someone else and not us. Extending that to loving to escape after hard day’s work into a “48 hours” whodunit or other true crime drama, is it gives a sense of my life is tough, but it could be worse, “at least no one has broken into my house bashed my wife over the head, raped her and dismembered her body with a chainsaw….”
While it may seem that immersing oneself into such graphically negative images of death, destruction, and insanely brutal acts should be problematic and not so good for our mental health, professionals say there are actually a few upsides to consuming true crime content.
Psychotherapist F. Diane Barth wrote about the topic for NBC News and suggested it could be our “pervasive sense of helplessness” that is satiated by watching others speak about the pain they endured. Part of many true crime stories are interviews with people involved in the cases, including law enforcement officers, family members of the victim or victims being profiled, and even surviving victims themselves. They discuss the turmoil they endured and recollect incidents in harrowing detail.
Psychotherapist Kathleen Check agrees with the evolutionary assessment about the preservation of the self and the tribe. She posits that watching true crime shows, particularly those about killers, provides viewers with a sense of being able to see inside the mind of a killer, “thus creating a psychological protective barrier.” In other words, understanding how evil people think and operate provides a better chance of knowing how to protect yourself and your family from mayhem.
Does this mean watching a true crime show can be therapeutic? For some people, it might be. There’s solace in accessing emotions and fears that might otherwise have been repressed. For those who have suffered their own trauma, hearing the stories of others who have gone through trauma as well, no matter the nature of it, can oddly function like a type of passive support group in knowing that you are not alone.
Of course, there are also other simpler reasons for why we’re drawn to true crime. There’s a problem-solving element to many of the cases; there is the “thrill of the hunt,” and sometimes there’s just the satisfaction of getting lost in a really good edge-of-your-seat story.
But whatever your reason for being into true crime, don’t feel you need to hide your love of true crime from others. There is nothing wrong with your obsession, and there are many more out there who share it than you might think!
So, keep watching (and, of course, reading this column) and enjoy every thrilling and gory detail!
How To Survive A Home Invasion
How To Survive A Kidnapping
Americans Falling Victim To Serious Crime