Antisocial behavior as seen from Psychoanalysis
Freud, Adler and Fromm theorize about antisocial behavior.
When it comes to talking about the deep and unconscious motivations of those who commit heinous crimes, psychoanalysis is the cornerstone of the disciplines dedicated to the arduous task of trying to unveil antisocial and violent behavior.
Violent behavior from the perspective of Psychoanalysis
Today we will review the psychoanalytic we will review the psychoanalytic approach of some of the most significant figures of psychoanalysis with respect to antisocial and violent behavior. with respect to antisocial behavior, in order to try to shed some light on this complex issue.
The father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud tried to study delinquents by dividing them into two main categories:
A) Guilt-ridden offenders.
In 1915, Freud published an article in which he stated that, as paradoxical as it may seem, these criminals present a feeling of guilt prior to the crimeTherefore, he concludes that the consummation of his act represents, for the delinquent subject, a psychic relief linked to the need to mitigate the previous guilt. In other words, by committing the crime the subject satisfies a need for self-punishment stemming from an unconscious sense of guilt (and which, according to him, stems from the primordial guilt in the Oedipus complex: killing the father to keep the mother).
For Freud, guilt is the ambivalent manifestation of the life and death instincts, since guilt would come from the tensions between the superego and the ego that manifest themselves in a latent need to be punished. He also clarifies that only guilt does not surface in the conscious field but is often repressed in the unconscious.
B) Offenders without guilt feelings
These are subjects who have not developed moral inhibitions or believe their behavior to be justified by their fight against society (psychopathic and psychopathological personalities). by their struggle against society (psychopathic and psychopathological personalities) with a marked weakening of the super ego, or with an ego structure incapable of preserving aggressive impulses and sadistic tendencies in the ego by means of defense mechanisms.
He also adds as characteristics of the delinquent two essential traits: egocentrism and a destructive tendency, but he also says that in all men there is a natural disposition or aggressiveness 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. His entire work is based on three main postulates: feelings of inferiority, the impulses of power and the feelings of community. For him, it is the feelings of community that attenuate the feelings of inferiority (which are also congenital and universal) and control the impulses of power.
Adler emphasizes that a strong feeling of inferiority, the aspiration for personal superiority and a deficient feeling of community are always recognizable in the phase preceding behavioral deviance. Furthermore, antisocial activity directed against others is acquired at an early age by those children who fall into the by those children who fall into the erroneous opinion that all others can be considered as objects of their belonging. Their dangerous behavior will depend on the degree of their feeling for the community. The delinquent, according to Adler, possesses a conviction of his own superiority, a later and compensatory consequence of his early childhood inferiority.
Theodor Reik devoted much of his theory and research to criminal behavior. An example of this is his book The psychoanalysis of crime**lwhere Reik emphasizes that there must be a joint work between psychoanalysts and criminologists to clarify the criminal acts, expressing that one of the most effective means to discover the anonymous criminal is to determine the motive of the crime.
He pointed out that the criminal act must be the expression of the individual's mental tension, 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 from his own conscience as he would do before an external enemy, projecting this internal enemy outwards. Under such pressure, the criminal self struggles vainly and the criminal becomes careless and betrays himself in a kind of mental compulsion, committing mistakes that in reality have been determined by the unconscious.
An example of this would be the inability of a subject not to leave traces of himself but on the contrary, leaving traces at the scene of the crime. 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. Thus, while a normal individual succeeds in the latency period in repressing 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 capacity to solve the problem of their relations with the family in a social sense. While the neurotic externalizes symbolically and through hysterical symptoms, the criminal manifests himself through his criminal behavior. A characteristic of all neurotics and of most criminals is that the incorporation of the superego remains incomplete.
Sandor Ferenczi observed through the psychoanalysis of various anarchist criminals that the Oedipus complex was still in full evolution, that is to say, that it had not yet been resolved and that symbolically represented a displaced revenge against the primitive or oppressive tyranny of his progeny. oppressive tyranny of his progenitor. He finds that the criminal can never really explain what he has committed, for it is and always will be incomprehensible to him. The reasons he gives for his misdeeds are always complex rationalizations.
For Sandor, personality is composed of three elements: instinctive self, real self y social self (similar to the second Freudian topic: it, ego and superego) when the instinctive ego predominates in the subject, Ferenczi says that he is a genuine criminal; if the real ego is weak, delinquency takes on a neurotic character and when the expressed weakness is centered in the hypertrophy of the social ego, there are crimes as a result of a feeling of guilt.
A disciple of Freud, Karl Abraham argues that individuals with delinquent characteristics are fixed in the first oral sadistic stage(as we shared in a previous article, antisocial personalities tend to project traits of oral aggressiveness in Machover's human figure test).
He also pointed out similarities between war and totemic festivals based on the works of his master, as the whole community joins together to do things that are absolutely forbidden to the individual. Finally, it should be noted that Abraham did a great deal of research to try to understand criminal perversions.
Melanie Klein found that children with social and antisocial tendencies were the most fearful of possible retaliation by their parents as punishment. She concluded that it is not the weakness of the superego, but the overwhelming severity of the superego. the overwhelming severity of the superego which is responsible for the behavior characteristic of asocial and criminal personsThis is the result of the unreal projection of their fears and persecutory fantasies in the early sadistic phase against their parents.
When the child manages to dissociate the unreal and destructive imago that the child projects to his parents and the process of social adaptation begins by the introjection of values and desires to retribute the projected aggressive fantasies, the more the tendency to remedy his guilt for the false image he had of the parents increases and his creative capacity grows, the more the superego will be appeased; but in cases where as a result of strong sadism and destructive tendencies the strong superegoic structure prevails, 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 the personality can develop into paranoia or criminality.
Undoubtedly, Jacques Lacan is the most prominent figure in psychoanalysis today.. What most interested Lacan in terms of criminological issues, were the crimes committed by paranoid psychotics, where delusional ideas and hallucinations are the cause of their behaviors. For Lacan, the aggressive drive that is resolved in the crime thus arises, as the affection that serves as a basis for psychosis, can be said to be unconscious, which means that the intentional content that translates it into consciousness, cannot manifest itself 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 efficacy, its triggering and execution vary continuously according to the significance of the fundamental position. The criminal drive which he conceives as the basis of paranoia, would be simply an unsatisfactory abstraction if it were not controlled by a series of correlative anomalies of socialized instincts. The murder of the other represents nothing but the attempted murder of ourselves, precisely because the other would represent our own ideal. It will be the analyst's task to find the forcluded contents causing the psychotic delusions that lead to homicide.
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 impotence. For Erich Fromm, sadistic behaviors are deeply rooted in a fixation on the sadistic-anal stage.. His analysis considers that destructiveness is a consequence of existential anguish.
Moreover, for Fromm, the explanation of 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 that distinguish man from the rest of the animals.
- Marchiori, H. (2004). Criminal Psychology. 9th edition. Editorial Porrúa.
- Fromm, E. (1975). Anatomy of human destructiveness. 11th edition. Editorial siglo XXI.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)