Concept of the Month -- January 2004

The Criminal and "Low Self-Esteem"

Observers will say about an offender that the core problem is his low self-esteem. After all, the person may have had numerous failures in life - in school, at work, and in his family. Even in crime, failure occurs when the individual has been caught. Some mental health professionals erroneously believe that crime is a caused in part by the individual's sense of inadequacy. That is, the offender pursues power and control to compensate and feel better about himself. This is an inversion of cause and effect. In most instances, the criminal has rejected his family, teachers, and the world of work long before they reject him. By refusing to exert effort in responsible endeavors, he has accomplished little that is substantive. If a person throws away opportunities and resorts to exploiting others is it not realistic for him to have, by standards of the responsible world, low self-esteem? A nineteen year old who dropped out in tenth grade, who has no job skills, and who has alienated his family would have little basis to think well of himself. It is by his series of choices that he tries to "feel good" (translates into seeking excitement and having a sense of uniqueness) by engaging in criminal behavior - tearing others down while building himself up.

Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D.

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