yes, therapy helps!
Antisocial behavior seen from Psychoanalysis

Antisocial behavior seen from Psychoanalysis

July 19, 2024

When it comes to talking about the profound and unconscious motivations of those who commit atrocious crimes, psychoanalysis is the cornerstone of the disciplines that devote themselves to the hard work of trying to uncover antisocial and violent behavior.

Violent behavior from Psychoanalysis

On this day we will review the psychoanalytic approach of some of the most significant figures of psychoanalysis with respect to antisocial behaviors, to try to bring a little light into this complex question.

Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud tried to study the delinquents by dividing it into two categories, mainly:


A) Offenders for guilt

In 1915, Freud published an article in which he declared that, paradoxical as it may seem, these criminals present a feeling of guilt prior to the crime , reason why it arrives at the conclusion that the consummation of its act represents, for the delinquent subject, a psychic relief linked with the need to mitigate the previous fault. In other words, when committing the offense the subject satisfies a need for self-punishment from an unconscious sense of guilt (and which, according to him, comes from the primal 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 would come from the tensions between the superego and the id that manifest themselves in a latent need to be punished. It also clarifies that only guilt does not emerge in the conscious field but is often repressed in the unconscious.


B) Offenders without feelings of guilt

They are subjects that they have not developed moral inhibitions or believe their behavior is justified for their struggle against society (psychopathic and psychopathological personalities) with a marked weakening of the super ego, or with a ego structure incapable of preserving the aggressive impulses and sadistic tendencies in the id through defense mechanisms.

It also adds two characteristics of the delinquent: egocentricity and a destructive tendency, but also says that in all men there is a natural disposition or aggressiveness due to narcissism.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was one of the first students and first dissident of Freud's theories, creator of the so-called individual psychology . Plasma all his work based on three main postulates: feelings of inferiority, impulses of might and the feelings of community. For him, feelings of community are those that attenuate the feelings of inferiority (which are also congenital and universal) and control the impulses of power.


Adler emphasizes that a strong sense of inferiority, the aspiration for personal superiority and a deficient feeling of community are always recognizable in the phase preceding the deviation of behavior. Further, the antisocial activity that is directed against the neighbor is acquired precociously for those children who fall into the mistaken opinion that all others can be considered as objects of their belonging. Their dangerous behavior will depend on the degree of feeling to the community. The delinquent, according to Adler, possesses a conviction of his own superiority, a subsequent and compensatory consequence to his inferiority from early childhood.

Theodor Reik

Theodor Reik devoted a lot of his theory and research to criminal behavior. Example of this is his book The psychoanalysis of criminal, where Reik emphasizes that there must be a joint effort between psychoanalysts and criminologists to clarify the criminal facts expressing that one of the most effective means to discover the anonymous criminal is to specify the motive of the crime.

He pointed out that the criminal act must be the expression of the mental tension of the individual, arising from his mental state to constitute the satisfaction promised to his psychological needs. According to psychoanalytic concepts, there are mechanisms of projection in crimes: the criminal flees from his own conscience how he would do it before an external enemy, projecting outwards this internal enemy. Under such pressure, the criminal ego struggles in vain and the criminal becomes careless and betrays himself in a kind of mental compulsion, making mistakes that have actually been determined by the unconscious.

An example of this would be the inability of a subject not to leave his traces but on the contrary, leaving clues at the crime scene. Another example that makes clear the unknown longing of the self to surrender to justice, would be the return of criminals to the scene of the crime.

Alexander and Staub

For these authors every man is innately a criminal and his adaptation to society begins after the victory over the Oedipus complex . So while a normal individual gets in the period of latency to repress the genuine criminal tendencies of his impulses and sublimating them towards a pro-social sense, the criminal fails in this adaptation.

He states that the neurotic and the criminal have failed in their ability to solve the problem of their relationships with the family in a social sense. While the neurotic externalizes symbolically and through hysterical symptoms, the delinquent manifests through his criminal behavior. A feature of all neurotics and most of the criminals is the incomplete incorporation of the superego.

Sandor Ferenczi

Sandor Ferenczi observed through the psychoanalysis of various anarchist criminals that the Oedipus complex was still in full evolution, it goes without saying that it had not yet been resolved and that his acts symbolically represented a displaced revenge against primitive tyranny or oppressive of his father. He finds that the criminal can never really explain what he has committed, because he is and will always be incomprehensible to him. The reasons he gives for his misdeeds are always complex rationalizations.

For Sandor, the personality is composed of three elements: I instinctive, I real Y I social (similar to the second Freudian topic: it, I and superego) when the instinctive self predominates in the subject, Ferenczi says that he is a genuine criminal; If the real self is weak, the crime takes on a neurotic character and when the weakness expresses is centered on the hypertrophy of the social self, there are the crimes as a result of a feeling of guilt.

Karl Abraham

Disciple of Freud, Karl Abraham argues that individuals with delinquent characteristics are fixed in the first oral sadistic stage : individuals with aggressive features governed by the pleasure principle (as we shared in a previous article, antisocial personalities have to project features of oral aggressiveness in the test of the human figure of Machover).

He also pointed out similarities between war and totemic festivals based on the works of his teacher, as the whole community comes together to do things that are absolutely forbidden to the individual. Finally, it should be noted that Abraham conducted numerous investigations to try to understand criminal perversions.

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein found that children with social and antisocial tendencies were the ones who feared the possible retaliation of their parents as punishment. He concluded that, it is not the weakness of the superego, but the overwhelming severity of this one responsible for the characteristic behavior of asocial and criminal people , this as a result of the unreal projection of his persecutory fears and fantasies in the early sadistic phase against his parents.

When the child manages to unlink the unreal and destructive imago that the child projects to his parents and the process of social adaptation is initiated by the introjection of values ​​and desires to repay the projected aggressive fantasies, the more the tendency to correct his guilt for the false image he had of the parents and grow their creative capacity will more appease the superego; but in cases where strong superego structure prevails as a result of strong sadism and destructive tendencies, there will be a strong and overwhelming anguish for what the individual may feel compelled to destroy or kill. We see here that the same psychological roots of personality can develop into paranoia or criminality.

Jacques Lacan

Without a doubt, Jacques Lacan is the most prominent figure in current psychoanalysis . What most interested Lacan in terms of criminological issues, were the crimes committed by psychotic paranoids, where delusions and hallucinations are the cause of their behavior. For Lacan, the aggressive drive that resolves in the crime thus arises, as the condition that serves as the basis for psychosis, can be said to be unconscious which means that the intentional content that translates it into consciousness can not be manifested without a commitment to the social demands integrated by the subject, that is, without a camouflage of the constituent motives of the crime.

The objective characters of the crime, the choice of the victim, the criminal effectiveness, its unleashing and execution vary continuously according to the significance of the fundamental position. The criminal drive that he conceives as the basis of paranoia, would simply be an unsatisfying abstraction if it were not controlled by a series of correlative anomalies of the socialized instincts. The murder of the other represents only the attempt to murder ourselves, precisely because the other would represent our own ideal. It will be the analyst's job to find the forcific contents that cause the psychotic delusions that lead to homicide.

Erich Fromm

Humanist psychoanalyst, he proposes that destructiveness differs from sadism in the sense that the former proposes and seeks the elimination of the object, but is similar insofar as it is a consequence of isolation and impotence. For Erich Fromm, the sadistic behaviors are deeply rooted in a fixation in the anal sadistic stage . The analysis carried out by him considers that destructiveness is a consequence of existential anguish.

In addition to Fromm, the explanation of destructiveness can not be found in terms of animal or instinctive heritage (as proposed by Lorenz, for example) but must be understood in terms of the factors that distinguish man from other animals.

Bibliographic references:

  • Marchiori, H. (2004). Criminal psychology. 9th edition. Editorial Porrúa.
  • Fromm, E. (1975). Anatomy of human destructiveness. 11th edition. Editorial XXI century.

We Need To Talk About Kevin-Antisocial Personality Disorder (July 2024).


Similar Articles