Concept of the Month -- April 2005

From Maudlin Sentiment to Savage Brutality

Even the most hardened criminals experience moments of great sentimentality. I recall the murderer who refused to kill a bug because he didn't want to take the life of a living thing. Then there was the man who broke into an a lady's home, raped her, then had a 45 minute discussion about religion. Or the churchgoer who exited Mass and headed with loaded pistol to hold up a convenience store.

Savage brutality and maudlin sentiment exist side by side in the same individual. As one offender put it snapping his fingers, "I can change from tears to ice and back again." The sentiment can be felt toward a pet, a baby, a sad scene in a movie, the death of a favorite relative, and so forth. I recall a man in anguish because his grandmother had been the victim of a break and entry, but that did not deter him from doing the same thing to another innocent person.

The fact that an offender experiences sentimenality is by no means an indicator that he is changing in the direction of becoming a responsible person. That he experiences intense sentimentality under certain circumstances actually enhances his perception of himself as a good human being, perhaps making him even more resistant to change.

Stanton E. Samenow

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