‘Killing them off’: The patriarchal context of the Anders Breivik report

Peter Aylward reveals his conclusion on the Anders Breivik Psychiatric Report 2011-11-29. The psychoanalytic psychotherapist, author of Understanding Dunblane and other Massacres: Forensic Studies of Homicide, Paedophilia, and Anorexia, provides interesting new perspectives on the motivations of the perpetrator of last year’s massacre in Norway, finding striking similarities with the Dunblane massacre in 1996.

According to Peter Aylward, the Breivik case hinges upon an ‘either/or’ dynamic and struggles with ‘and’, as if only one of the two hemispheres of the brain can be represented. Either psychotic or sane, prison or hospital, nationalism or multi culturalism and - after surveying the Anders Breivik Psychiatric Report 2011-11-29 (ABPR) and Breivik’s ‘2083 manifesto’– either masculine or feminine, mum or dad. “I do not approve of the super-liberal matriarchal upbringing, as it completely lacked discipline and has contributed to feminize me” (2083. A European Declaration of Independence.p1387).


This splitting (either/or) lies at the heart of the whole process, and has profound parallels with the conclusions to Aylward’s research (undertaken prior to the atrocity in Norway) on the perpetrator of the Dunblane Massacre, Thomas Watt Hamilton. Aylward suggests that through mass killing both Breivik and Hamilton enacted an all powerful, albeit malign, potency (in gross compensation for feelings of impotence and marginalization) in identification with a father who had metaphorically ‘killed them off ’ through abandonment/rejection in early infancy, exposing them to the sole ‘infl uences’ of their mothers. Many children thrive in single parent families, however Breivik felt his was contaminating: “my mother managed to infect me” (APBR5.6), “she is my Achilles heel” (APBR 5.13).

Moreover, both men committed their crimes at ages that identically matched critical ages in their mother’s own lives, indicating a perverse and enmeshed attachment. To consider and challenge Breivik’s views and crimes, merely at face value, misses taking account of their deeper and more contextual significance.

In Aylward’s view, Breivik’s communications and actions are a total projection of his conflicted inner world: a fundamental psychological process and dynamic missing in the current debate.

Norway mirrored his inner experience of feeling invaded by a foreign and malign influence (the feminizing matriarchy he refers to) and was perceived to be accommodating this invasion, provoking the terrors associated with the loss of its/his identity.

Breivik’s perception that Norway lacked a nationalist authoritarian (paternal) presence to mediate the invasion of an all accommodating liberal/multicultural (matriarchal) one, provoked in him a murderous rage given that it resonated too closely with his own history. He therefore needed to defend Norway (himself) against such an incursion.

Breivik sought to become a father to himself and to Norway (as Commander of the Knights Templar) totally unaware that he was merely repeating (by projecting) onto his community the very experience he had had at the hands of his own father, by killing off those associated with a matriarchal state. In essence (not unlike Dunblane) this represented a revenge attack upon the Norwegian community by giving back the very experience that had hitherto been his own (they were as one).

Breivik was motivated by powerfully repressed unconscious factors relating to his past, which became unleashed when he perceived that circumstances in his external life/country matched his own internal configuration, all at a critical time. He therefore feels totally justified in his attack in that it relates to his own internal world which had become completely symmetrised with the world externally.


He lives with terror and gave his community a very brief albeit horrifying snapshot of his internal experience. It remains to be seen whether such unconscious factors can be included in thinking about his diagnosis and subsequent placement. If not, then the needs of his victims and by extension all of us will suffer in our pursuit of understanding such atrocities.

Peter Aylward
Author of Understanding Dunblane and Other Massacres: Forensic Studies of Homicide, Paedophilia and Anorexia (London: Karnac Books, 2012).