When it comes to talking about the deep and subconscious motivations of those who commit heinous crimes, psychoanalysis is the cornerstone of disciplines that engage in the arduous task of trying to unravel anti-social and violent behavior.
Violent behavior of psychoanalysis
Today we will review the psychoanalytic approach of some of the most significant figures of psychoanalysis with regard to anti-social behavior, to try to shed light on this complex issue.
The father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud attempts to study criminals by dividing them into two categories, mainly:
A) Guilty offenders
In 1915, Freud published an article in which he declared that, paradoxically it seems, these criminals they present a feeling of guilt before the crimeHe therefore concludes that the consumption of his act represents, for the delinquent subject, a psychological relief linked to the need to alleviate the previous guilt. In other words, by committing the crime, the subject satisfies a need for self-punishment arising from an unconscious feeling of guilt (and which, according to him, arises from the primary guilt in the Oedipus complex: killing the father to stay with the mother).
For Freud, guilt is the ambivalent manifestation of the instincts of life and death because the guilt comes from the tensions between the superego and what manifests itself in a latent need to be punished. He also specifies that only guilt does not emerge in the conscious field but is frequently repressed in the unconscious.
B) Offenders without a sense of guilt
These are subjects that they have not developed moral inhibitions or believe their conduct is justified for their struggle against society (psychopathic and psychopathological personalities) with a marked weakening of the superego, or with a yoic structure incapable of retaining aggressive impulses and sadistic tendencies to this by defense mechanisms.
He also adds as characteristics of the delinquent two essential traits: egocentrism and a destructive tendency, but also says that in all men there is a natural disposition or aggression due to narcissism.
Alfred Adler was one of the first students and first dissident of Freud’s theories, creator of the so-called individual psychology. He shapes all of his work based on three main postulates: feelings of inferiority, impulses of power and feelings of community. For him, feelings of community are those that alleviate feelings of inferiority (which are also congenital and universal) and control impulses of power.
Adler points out that a strong sense of inferiority, a yearning for personal superiority, and a deficient sense of community are always recognizable in the phase leading up to behavior deviation. Outraged, antisocial activity directed against one’s neighbor is acquired early by children who mistakenly believe that everyone else can be considered objects of their belonging. Their dangerous behavior will depend on the degree of sentiment in the community. The delinquent, according to Adler, is convinced of his own superiority, a posterior consequence and compensatory for his inferiority from early childhood.
Theodor Reik has devoted much of his theory and research to criminal conduct. An example of this is his book The Psychoanalysis of the Criminal, where Reik points out that there must be joint work between psychoanalysts and criminologists to clarify the criminal facts by expressing that one of the most effective ways of discovering the anonymous criminal is identify the motive for the crime.
He stressed that the criminal act must be the expression of the mental tension of the individual, arising from his mental state to constitute the promised satisfaction of his psychological needs. According to psychoanalytic concepts, there are projection mechanisms in crimes: the criminal flees his own conscience as he would face an external enemy, projecting this internal enemy outwards. Under such pressure, the offender struggles in vain and the criminal becomes reckless and betrays himself in a kind of mental compulsion, making mistakes which have in fact been determined by the subconscious.
An example of this would be the inability of a subject not to leave any traces but on the contrary to leave clues at the scene of the crime. Another example that highlights the self-unknown desire to come to justice would be the return of criminals to the scene of the crime.
Alexander and the dust
For these authors every man is by nature a criminal and his adaptation to society begins after the victory over the Oedipus complex. Thus, while a normal individual manages in the latency period to suppress the true criminal tendencies of his impulses and to sublimate them towards a prosocial sense, the criminal fails in this adaptation.
He states that both the neurotic and the criminal have failed in their ability to solve the problem of their relationship with family in the social sense of the term. While the neurotic exteriorizes himself symbolically and through hysterical symptoms, the delinquent manifests himself through his criminal conduct. A characteristic of all neurotics and of most criminals is the incomplete incorporation of the superego.
Sandor Ferenczi observed through the psychoanalysis of several anarchist criminals that the Oedipus complex was still evolving, that is, it was not yet resolved and that his actions symbolically represented an inappropriate revenge against the primitive tyranny or oppressor of his parent. He finds that the criminal can never really explain the task, because it is and always will be incomprehensible to him. The reasons he gives for his misdeeds are always complex rationalizations.
For Sandor, the personality is composed of three elements: the instinctive ego, the real ego and the social ego (similar to the second Freudian cliché: this, me and superego) when the instinctive ego predominates in the subject, Ferenczi says that it is a real criminal; if the real ego is weak, the crime takes on a neurotic character and when the express weakness focuses on the hypertrophy of the social ego, there are crimes resulting from a feeling of guilt.
Disciple of Freud, Karl Abraham supports this individuals with delinquent characteristics are set at the first oral sadistic stage: Individuals with aggressive traits governed by the pleasure principle (as we shared in a previous article, antisocial personalities must project traits of oral aggression in Machover’s human figure test).
He also pointed out the similarities between war and totemic festivals based on his master’s work, as the whole community comes together to do things that are absolutely prohibited for the individual. Finally, it should be noted that Abraham conducted numerous investigations to try to understand criminal perversions.
Melanie Klein found that children with social and antisocial tendencies feared the possible retaliation from their parents as punishment. He came to the conclusion that it is not the weakness of the superego, but the overwhelming severity of this is responsible for the characteristic behavior of antisocial and criminal people, This as a result of the unrealistic projection of his fears and fantasies of persecution at the start of the sadistic phase against his parents.
When the child manages to detach the unreal and destructive image that the child projects to his parents and the process of social adaptation begins with the introjection of values and desires to repay the aggressive fantasies projected, the more the tendency to amending his guilt increases. because the false image he had of his parents and the increase in his creative capacity further appeased the superstition; but in cases where, as a result of strong sadism and destructive tendencies, the strong superyoic structure prevails, there will be strong and overwhelming anguish so that the individual may feel compelled to destroy or kill. Here we see that the very psychological roots of the personality can develop to the point of paranoia or criminality.
Without a doubt, Jacques Lacan he is the most important figure in current psychoanalysis. What interested Lacan the most in terms of criminological problems are the crimes committed by paranoid psychotics, where delusions and hallucinations are the cause of his behavior. For Lacan, the aggressive drive which resolves itself in crime thus arises, as the condition which serves as the basis for psychosis, can be said to be unconscious, which means that the intentional content which translates it into consciousness cannot manifest itself – without commitment. . social demands integrated by the subject, that is to say without camouflage of the constitutive motives of the crime.
The objective characteristics of the crime, the choice of the victim, the criminal efficiency, its initiation and its execution vary continuously according to the importance of the fundamental position. The criminal drive he sees as the basis of paranoia would simply be an unsatisfying abstraction if it were not controlled by a series of correlative anomalies of socialized instincts. The murder of the other represents nothing other than the attempted murder of ourselves, precisely because the other would represent our own ideal. It will be the task of the analyst to find the contents seized at the origin of the psychotic delusions which lead to the murder.
The humanist psychoanalyst proposes that destructiveness differs from sadism in the sense that the former proposes and seeks the elimination of the object, but is similar in that it is a consequence of isolation and helplessness. By Erich Fromm, sadistic behaviors are deeply rooted in a fixation on the anal sadistic scene. The analysis carried out by him considers that destructiveness is a consequence of existential anxiety.
Moreover, for Fromm, the explanation for destructiveness cannot be found in terms of animal or instinctive inheritance (as proposed, for example by Lorenz) but must be understood on the basis of the factors which distinguish man from the rest. animals.
- Marchiori, H. (2004). Criminal psychology. 9th edition. Editorial Porrúa.
- Fromm, E. (1975). Anatomy of human destructiveness. 11th edition. 21st century publishing house.