What Causes Renfield's Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Melissa Barrett
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2016
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The cause of Renfield’s syndrome is largely uncertain. The rarity of the syndrome, combined with its lack of formal recognition as a clinical diagnosis, makes the condition difficult to thoroughly study. Richard Knoll, the first psychologist to truly study the syndrome, believed that the condition stemmed from childhood trauma. Today, many psychologists believe that it is either a complication of schizophrenia or a form of sexual deviancy.

There is some evidence that childhood trauma does play a significant role in the development of Renfield’s syndrome. Several case studies of those with clinical vampirism report the violent death of a loved one during early childhood. Only in very few of these cases did the child actually witness the death. Nonetheless, these individuals formed a fascination with many things related to death, specifically blood and corpses.

Conversely, those subjects affected by Renfield’s syndrome who progressed beyond an obsession with blood to actual violence show clear indicators of schizophrenia. Delusions are common in clinical vampirism. Depersonalization of victims often occurs as well as generally disorganized thought. Individuals with this syndrome also have trouble thinking symbolically and may let blood in an attempt to prove that they or their victims actually exist.


As there is clearly a sexual aspect to Renfield’s syndrome, classification of the condition as a form of sexual deviancy may be appropriate. Those with this syndrome universally experience sexual arousal at the sight or taste of blood. Sexual sadism is extremely common in these individuals as are rape fantasies. Necrophilia and self-injurious masturbation rituals are also frequently observed in those with Renfield’s.

While it would be easy to believe that Renfield’s syndrome is the result of popular vampire fiction, examples of clinical vampirism predate the genre. It is believed that Bram Stoker’s Dracula, largely considered to be the pioneer novel of the genre, was actually influenced by a psychological text featuring a brief description of the syndrome. The psychological and fictional link came full circle when Richard Knoll paid homage to Stoker by naming the syndrome after a character in his novel.

There are clear distinctions between those suffering from Renfield’s syndrome and individuals that have developed a clinical obsession with vampires. While both conditions may present with the delusions, the obsession with actual blood is a Renfield’s trait. Those with obsessions influenced by popular culture tend to focus more on common fictional stereotypes of a vampire's physical abilities and lifestyle.


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Post 4

I've seen a corpse (the day of death), experienced childhood trauma, and am drawn to blood. Does that mean I have Renfield's Syndrome?

Post 3

@umbra21 - If you want to talk about hardwired reactions to blood, most mammals react to it by licking the bleeding wound. Social animals, like dogs, will even lick each other's wounds and will tolerate being licked, which is more surprising I guess.

This makes evolutionary sense, as saliva has compounds in it that can help heal wounds (as well as bacteria, so letting a dog lick your wound isn't actually a good idea).

So maybe we have a part of our brain that wants to do this as well and it gets screwed up sometimes and we develop this kind of syndrome.

I mean, I can also accept that theory that people get obsessed with darkness and blood and vampires because it seems like a way to feel powerful, when in fact they aren't. If it does develop in people who lost someone violently as a kid, I can see why they would feel powerless.

Post 2

Honestly I can kind of understand where this sort of obsession can come from. People have all sorts of reactions to blood and I think that's understandably hardwired into us.

If you are a tribal man, thousands and thousands of years ago and you see human blood, it means either you or your fellow tribe member is injured (most of the time). That would have been serious business with no hospitals.

Even today, there are plenty of people who feel sick, or faint at the sight of blood. And there are always those who develop strange wiring when they are young and end up enjoying what others might consider shocking (a less scary example might be spanking).

My theory is

that there is probably a percentage of people with an attraction to blood and a very small percentage of those develop schizophrenia and have more trouble controlling or understanding their desires, and those are the ones who have Renfield's Syndrome.

I'm not an expert, of course, but that seems likely to me.

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