Concept of the Month -- March 2012

The Criminal's Sentimentality Does not Translate into Empathy

"I can change from tears to ice and back again," said a man who had committed many types of crimes, including rape. This was in fact an accurate observation. This individual had a soft spot for animals. He would nurse an injured dog to health. He would become teary eyed during movies that were sentimental. And he attended church frequently. When it came to his intended victims, there was no empathy or sentiment.

I recall the murderer who refused to step on an insect because he "didn't want to kill anything living." Yet, he would snuff out a person's life without a second thought.

In the early years of our work, Dr. Yochelson and I thought that an offender's sentimentality could be capitalized on in the process of change. We thought that it could be harnassed to teach empathy. Then we discovered that this was not the case at all. A man could be earnestly praying in church at 10 a.m., then later in the day commit a brutal crime. Even religious sentiment was could not be counted on as a deterrent much less as a source of empathy.

The criminal shuts off sentiment just like someone flips off a light switch. Sentiment and savage brutality reside side by side in the same individual. One has no bearing on the other.

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage