Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Theme Pack 13: Criminals and Cure

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The Individual Criminal and His Cure, and Neurosis and Crime1

By Alfred Adler [1936]

Chapter XIX in The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler: Volume 6, and Chapter XIII in Volume 5

Some points are not necessary to emphasize to a society for prison reform, but one point I must really stress. Coming within the province of my own science, it concerns the means of understanding an individual and knowing why he has developed in the way he has and not in some other way. To understand all his actions and expressions we must find the great motive which streams through his whole being, dominating all his symptoms and expressions. We are not infallible, nor blessed with absolute truth. The normal mind and normal individual do not exist. We all vary and only if we are fortunate and do not suffer from great mistakes, do we feel normal and behave rightly.

Even if we are not pleased by this view, we must still see life in this way. This is the only standpoint from which we can make the right approach to any person. Otherwise, he would resent our actions. He would not speak with us; he would not open his soul.

Now, from this point of view, we can understand that all the failures in life are really failures in building up a style of life. If we look, for instance, at a problem child, a neurotic or insane person, a criminal, a suicide, a sexual pervert or a drunkard, you will find in one point they are all equal. We can choose different names for it, but the greatest common denominator in all these failures is a lack of social interest.

This lack of social interest means much more than not being interested in other people. It means also that his scheme of apperception differs from what we expect in regard to our fellowmen. He looks differently, listens differently, concludes differently; he has different methods of receiving and answering. Therefore, we call him abnormal.

This, then, is the task of psychology. Psychology is really concerned with finding out why so many persons have peculiar attitudes which do not correspond with what we expect--cooperation, social interest.

We know when an individual fails and takes another way from the one we want for him. We know also that he develops this bent very early in his childhood. Perhaps the first four or five years is sufficient time for establishing a way of living. In this period, the child trains himself. He trains himself every day, every hour, until he is a fixed unit, until he acts as an entity, has his own

1 Originally published as an address to the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor. Re-printed in the Indiv. Psychol. Pamphl., Vol 5., pages 46-59, 1932. Edited for readablity by Laurie J. Stein, 2004.

eyes, his owns ears, his own heart, and what I especially emphasize, his own degree of ability to cooperate. In this way, he continues in the world; and when he meets problems, if he is wrongly trained, his answers will be wrong.

This is another point which must be underlined: all the problems of life demand cooperation, demand social adjustment. This need begins very early, in the first days of life. A child must learn to cooperate with his mother. This is the first social problem. We can gauge his development in cooperation by observing how he behaves when a younger child comes into the family, how he behaves in regard to change of his environment--when he enters school and confronts the problems of friendship; when he must train for an occupation in life, in school or after school; and when he meets the problems of love and marriage. All these occasions call for an interest in others. If he has not learned this interest, if he has not trained himself in it, if he represents the variant, “unable to develop interest in others,” then what shall we see? We shall see that he does not behave rightly. We know why he does not behave rightly--he is not trained rightly. He has not found the right method. From this point of view we can understand and recognize the great movement for prison reform. We will not regard criminals merely as guilty sinners; we can find the reasons why they have not developed in a better way.

Different men in different schools talk about crime. Certain schools emphasize heredity. I believe that, if we want to accomplish anything, this point of view should disappear entirely from the world. If inherited tendencies were the real reason for crimes, nothing could be done. If something can be done, then heredity is not the reason. In that case, we must find a method to overcome the difficulties of inheritance. In regard to mental ability, nobody knows what is really inherited because on the first day the child appears in the world, exertions are always influenced by his mother. Whatever his abilities, strength, or characteristics, his mother’s influence has been so great that we have no means of determining what might be inherited. Heredity can never be considered an explanation.

Other schools emphasize endocrine glands or organic defects. I was among the first who described the great importance of defects in the endocrine glands and other organic defects. However, stressing these factors as causative is a mistake. The difficulty and the burden for such children comes only if we do not afford the right treatment and training for them. If we find the right method in medicine or education, they can play a normal role in life.

What is important is that such children be trained in social interest. They must learn the ability to cooperate and a true estimate of life, of the way in which an individual must face the world. Among failures and criminals we often find persons who have been suffering from birth and persons who have some signs of degeneration, but we also find the same among outstanding and worthwhile individuals. The constant factor that we find among failures is a lack of training in cooperation.

Such a person, confronted by social problems, is not prepared for them. He feels inferior. No human being can stand the feeling of inferiority for a long time. He is always striving in his mind, looking for a goal of completion, of security and he is doing it for the purpose of overcoming difficulties and obtaining a feeling of superiority.

Children should be trained from birth in one way and this is “towards the useful side of life.” Life demands and expects social interest and cooperation. If they have to overcome the feeling of inferiority, they may escape towards the useless side. On the useless side, we meet all the failures and criminals. To strengthen the tendency toward the useful side, training in social interest is necessary. Only an education in social interest and cooperation can overcome defects in the individual.

We find two types very often among criminals: pampered children and neglected children. Pampered children have a mistaken estimate of life--they desire to receive, never to give. They find very soon that life does not pay. “What is life for?” they ask. Now with such an attitude, they cannot develop interest in mankind. Their tendency to help, to strive for the welfare of others is not trained or developed. It is very easy, therefore, for them to act as persons act who are not interested in others. When crimes are committed, we see very clearly that those who commit them are not interested in other people. Only a person who is interested in others can overcome difficulties and resist committing crimes.

Not only pampered children, but also neglected children are untrained in social interest. Neglected children do not know that such things exist. It is a great reflection on our culture that among these neglected children we find so many orphans, so many illegitimate children, so many unwanted children or children who have not been as popular and loved as others. Often, among these we find ugly children, and can understand why among criminals we so often meet the ugly individual. An ugly child may experience lack of appreciation, may feel unwelcome. As a result, he does not see the world as a nice place; he works against it. The method is not found to reconcile him and he becomes a criminal.

We also find handsome criminals. These are the pampered children. We can really distinguish very quickly--sometimes in a single moment--the great part their physical appearance has had in building up their character. We would get very far if we could understand such a criminal, because then we could go further and do what is most necessary in prison reform—rehabilitate that criminal.

All daily activities can be useful, provided that we have an understanding of the individual criminal. We know that they must be educated. We know that we must teach them social interest. This is a definite art and can best be accomplished by persons who are themselves socially interested and cooperative. You will recall particular criminals whose very looks show a lack of social interest, who listen in a different way, who speak a different language, whose expressions are not in accordance with what we expect.

Let us picture briefly the psychic structure of a criminal, and discuss why he is a criminal and does not commit suicide, or become a sexual pervert--though these may often go together. As far as my experience goes--and it is probably true--a person who is socially not adjusted becomes a criminal when he confronts some problem which he cannot solve, although he has failed in that special activity, but is striving very hard to be superior. We always find some such situation when his criminal career begins to be apparent. We know the roots of the criminal attitude are very deep, going back to the first four or five years. We can find the situation which was dangerous for him, which made him sick, which made him a criminal. And we can understand the reason we find in every similar case that he could not solve this situation, because the situation demanded social interest and he had none.

For instance, he was unemployed, or he was incited by a bad companion, or he met a girl who wanted presents and a “good time.” These are situations which he could not face rightly. He could not say, “I want to solve this problem in a useful way.”

The psychic structure of a criminal involves more than this, but these points are most immediately connected with his lack of cooperation. He is not interested in others. He does not make friends easily. The criminal makes friends mostly among his own kind because he looks for others like himself. This means that he decreases his sphere of activity and excludes other types. He wants to have it easier. He can be a good comrade to his equals, but never towards others.

We also find--this is a very important point and should be known all over the world--that the criminal is always a coward. Some people believe a criminal can be a hero. Children especially are often lured to believe this; some films or works of fiction picture the criminal as a hero. Everyone who has to do with criminals knows that they are cowards. They are sometimes afraid of ghosts, nearly always superstitious; they tremble in the dark and so on. We cannot be deceived, because we have seen them escaping from the problems of life; we have seen that they are deserters. We can never believe that the person who is not able, does not feel able to solve as criminals say, the “terrible conditions of life,” could be a hero, a really courageous person. We can understand also theoretically why he cannot be courageous because courage is one part of social interest. Only socially interested persons can be courageous, because they feel a part of the whole; they know, they belong to this world; they know that not only the advantages but also the disadvantages of life belong to them, are their own. They feel at home. Therefore, they are courageous. This means courageous in usefully meeting the normal problems of life.

A more difficult point to explain is that the criminal has a peculiar method of apperception. He perceives all events in his own way. What does it pay? What shall I receive? Am I ahead? And so on. These are the most important points in the mind of a criminal. His highest goal is to conquer. Whom does he conquer? Always weaker persons. If he is a pickpocket, the person he robs is not attentive. If he is a burglar, he uses the dark, and isolation. If he is a murderer, he draws a weapon at a time when the other person cannot defend himself. We will see in all his actions the same cowardice which I have mentioned. And I am sure that if children knew--but they generally do not know--that the criminal is always a coward and merely a poor imitation of a hero, then they would not like the thought of crime so much. I am also sure that the criminals, themselves, would not like it so much.

Among children, or in the beginning of the assimilation of culture in the old philosophies, things are generally distinguished in contradiction to or as the antithesis of other things. The same is true of criminals. “My boy is useless,” a woman will say. This is the last stage. “Because my boy is sick and a loafer, I have to kill him.” There is a certain primitive intelligence to this. She means he is not useful to her. He is in a bad way. What she does not see is that she is erecting an antithesis--healthy, industrious and living; as against loafing and needing to be poisoned. Or a murderer says, “This man has nice trousers and I have no trousers; therefore, I must kill him.” Really, after he has excluded all the useful aspects of the case, he acts intelligently. Nothing more is left for him. An intoxicating process goes on in the mind of every criminal. He excites himself by thinking of the goal in which he is a conqueror; in which, because he is weak, he must conquer and where he enjoys money, girls, whatever he desires in an easy way. Through this process, he excludes all objections and all other ways of action.

When we study the individual criminal, we find how he plans, constructs his crime, and resists the objections of social interest. Because he pursues me, because he has been a friend of a man who killed my brother-in-law, therefore, I must kill him, and so on. Because of interference in my business, as we hear very often in America. These are the reasons. Always in pursuit of their highest goal, which is a conquest, they are intoxicated.

One very important point is the continual battle against the police and the laws. Every criminal feels superior; every criminal believes he is able to overcome the police because he has really experienced this fact. We rarely find a criminal who has not committed undiscovered crimes.

Now, imagine what it means in the mind of a criminal when he is discovered and jailed. There is always the impression: “I have not been clever enough. If I had been more clever, I would not have been discovered.” Even if we electrocute him, he has this idea: “I was not clever enough.” He does not think of other considerations. He thinks only, “A little bit more clever and I would have conquered.” It is not very different from Napoleon when he was sitting at Helena. He always said, “If I had been cleverer, if I had gone first to Spain and later to Russia, I would have conquered the whole world.” Now this “if”, you see, is always in the way, so that the criminal cannot understand.

I must also mention that we Individual Psychologists have learned and have trained ourselves never to challenge a problem child, never to fight him. It is useless. For the most part they are stronger, and are the conquerors. They like very much to be challenged in order to show their strength. If we look around, we find that criminals are always challenged. “You cannot escape me, in five days I will have you. I will clean you up.” This is what happens both inside and outside the prison. When they are prisoners, they are challenged too much. Sometimes the discipline of prisons is such a challenge to them that they go out full of revenge. Then they are not able to change. They feel the whole world is against them, so there is no use in cooperating, contributing, creating, and being socially interested. They are in a trap, and experience the same conditions. When they leave prison, are on probation, or have a job, their experience is the same. We understand that it is not possible for persons who are not psychologists or philosophers to understand the terrible incoherence of their point of view. Therefore, they are increasingly fixed in their style of life, their mistakes, and their lack of social interest. No one attempts to train them in the only way to save them. Therefore, we have so many repeated crimes.

Most criminals have always been standing in the shadow. From their earliest childhood, they have generally experienced the austerity of life. Even when they have been pampered, they live in what seems to him enemy country. They want only one person and therefore, feel that the world is full of hostility. When these pampered children come to school, they are not prepared; they are reproached, criticized and punished through their whole life. This is not the right situation. They come from families where there is often little social interest. They come from broken marriages. They come from families where the father, for instance, has not been interested, or where another child has been preferred and thrown into more prominence as the favorite of the family. Such things we will usually find; we will find reasons why they could not develop social interest. We cannot demand more from them. We see that they have been defeated, and have failed, in the most important part of their life.

Fortunately, at the same time we see that social interest must and can be trained. In this way, we can diminish the great wave of crime which has invaded our whole civilization. I have spoken about the cure. But how can we prevent it? The first thought would be, “Perhaps we could teach all the parents.” This is not possible. There is another way, however, to prevent crime. The teachers can be trained as instruments for treatment and for the development of social interest; they could be trained not only to teach geography, or drawing and so forth, but also to teach and train in social interest.

The teachers must be told how to do this. I believe it would be a very important step toward preventing not only crimes, but also all other failures of life, if we could make the schools instruments for training in social interest and progress.


In order to determine the most successful method of dealing with the criminal and in order that each of the schools should have an equal chance to show what they can accomplish, Individual Psychology proposes the establishment of several clinics in which the methods of the psychoanalysts, the gland specialists, the brain-pathologists, the behaviorists, and so forth should be tried and compared.


Dr. William J. Ellis,
Commissioner of New Jersey Department of
Institutions and Agencies.

The Prison Survey Commission, of which Dwight W. Morrow, Ambassador to Mexico, was Chairman in 1917, after thoroughly surveying the penal and correctional institutions of New Jersey, with the assistance of Dean Kirchwey and Professor Harry E. Barnes, proposed the establishment and development of a scientific examination and classification of all offenders.

For the past twelve years, New Jersey has been utilizing the scientific diagnostic facilities of the expert medical staff of its several correctional institutions and their mental specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists to make complete individual examinations, determinations and schedules of treatment and training for all offenders committed to these institutions.

Such a plan of procedure is fundamental to the intelligent development of correctional treatment and training, and indicates the special physical and mental abnormalities which are so characteristic of offenders. Such clinics also make it possible to secure the fundamental information required in order to develop a program of medical care, to transfer to special psychopathic units any defectives or defective delinquents, and create other devices for segregating the abnormal offenders from those who are adapted to the correctional environment.

One of the major results of the New Jersey classification plan has been the separation into relatively homogeneous groups of the various types of offenders. Dr. Edgar A. Doll of the Vineland Training School, formerly Director of Classification in the Department of Institutions and Agencies, has pointed out in an address published by the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor, the principal groups that are recognized as a result of intensive, scientific, individual psychological and psychiatric medical study, as follows:

The prisoners are not all alike even though they may look alike to the uninitiated. People differ inside prison just as they do outside. Scientific studies of men in the New Jersey State Prison, tempered by the judgment of good common sense, have made clear that at least four important groups of prisoners exist. These are:

  1. THE BETTER CLASS--Prisoners who are likely to benefit by training; those who have made mistakes in life but have no grudge against society, are intelligent to a greater or lesser degree, have a good personality, and are amenable to discipline, willing and industrious.

    1. THE ANTISOCIAL OR CRIMINAL GROUP--Prisoners who are determined to “get even with society.” Those with long criminal records,

    2. who have bad associates, vicious habits, are lazy, drug addicts, or chronic alcoholics. This group may include a large percentage of prisoners of a high level of intelligence.
  2. DEFECTIVE DELINQUENT--Prisoners with various forms of mental abnormality, such as defective personality, constitutional defects, epilepsy, borderline insanity, etc. This group is sensitive, jealous, discontented, unstable, restless and temperamentally maladjusted, but the intelligence level of such a group may be relatively high when compared with other groups of prisoners.

  3. SUBNORMAL PRISONERS--The simple feeble-minded, and those of borderline intelligence whose offenses are rather the result of their low intelligence and suggestibility than of unfavorable attitudes toward society, and whose low mentality makes it probable that they can never adjust themselves to the conditions of normal society, or may do so only after long periods of training.

Each of these groups of offenders requires a distinctly different kind of treatment. It costs the State a great deal of money to punish criminals and to keep them from committing further crimes by putting them in prison. The only productive return on this expenditure comes from the reformation of criminals, and this reformation cannot be accomplished as long as the reformable and the unreformable get the same treatment. The habitual offender, the defective delinquent, and the feebleminded criminals are poor risks in society. and should not be returned to the community to prey upon it still further. On the other hand the reformable prisoner of the better class, who is usually self-respecting, who has made a mistake or slipped, or committed a crime without premeditation, cannot be reclaimed by the community as long as he is treated like the other three classes. The better type of prisoner may easily become an habitual offender or perhaps even a delinquent, unless during imprisonment real effort is made to restore him to the community in good health, with a good attitude, and with a decent chance to redeem his error.

Dr. Adler's proposal that clinics be established in connection with penal and correctional institutions is one which merits support, and in fact has already proved advantageous in the several states where such proposals have been undertaken. The classification program of the New York State Department of Corrections at Sing Sing, Bedford and other New York Institutions, the work so well developed under Commissioner Bates as Commissioner of Corrections in Massachusetts and now projected into the federal institutions of which he is the Superintendent, the work in the New Jersey penal and correctional institutions as a result of the program suggested by Ambassador Morrow and Dean Kirchwey, and similar results that are being obtained in a number of other states, argue for the effectiveness of the individual study analysis and treatment of offenders.

However, this is not enough. If society is to reap the benefits of scientific study and treatment of offenders, we need a wider understanding and a more general popular support of adequately staffed medical, psychiatric and psychological clinics in the courts, and particularly in the public school systems throughout the land.

Our country cannot content itself with spending millions of dollars on the apprehension of criminals, and more millions for custodial treatment or specialized training or treatment in special public institutions. It would be a good investment of public and private funds as well, to increase vastly the number of specialists available to the public schools through public school clinics, and to the juvenile courts through court clinics, such as that of Dr. William A. Healey, of the Judge Baker Foundation, of Boston; Dr. James Plant, of the Essex County Juvenile Court of Newark, New Jersey, and many others. This is a sane, rational, and economic approach to the problem of understanding the offender and preventing crime.

Dr. Frederic J. Farnell,
Chairman, State Public Welfare Commission--Rhode Island.

We cannot help agreeing with Dr. Adler in his major premise that the only true reformation of the criminal is by his treatment as an individual. Any system of penology which treats the criminal merely as a name or a number, without consideration for the individual's emotional and mental characteristics, is doomed to failure.

I cannot help wondering if any State has ever given this theory a real trial. In fact, I think the majority of people today still regard prisons solely as a place of punishment and revenge; but if we take this view of the matter, then our prisons of a hundred years ago were far superior. At least their rules were more rigid and it was more of a punishment to live in them than it is today in our modern prisons. True, where punishment is indiscriminate, we turn out individuals chastened perhaps, sullen, revengeful, broken-spirited or despairing or in any of the variety of moods that different individuals will adopt according to their make-up.

On the other hand, if restoration to useful citizenship is the primary purpose of our prisons, and revenge, atonement or expiation for sins against society are secondary, then the steps society has already taken to adapt penal methods to that theory have been wavering, uncertain, and not leading in a straight path to the goal.

Society seems half afraid to let go of the old, machine-like methods which break as many men as they make, while at the same time recognizing a semblance of truth in the theory that each prisoner should be treated as an individual with his own bundle of habits, virtues and vices. We have attempted to straddle the issue; here and there we have made half-hearted gestures toward reformation. Occasionally, psychiatric service has been called upon; but in no case that I know of has an earnest, scientific attempt been made to classify the criminal and then treat him accordingly.

Dr. Adler has said some things that I cannot agree with. He says many personal defects are found among criminals; many criminals are ugly, crippled, or deformed. That may be true, but to deduce from this fact, this generality that ugliness and deformity are a cause of crime seems to me to be pretty farfetched. I would be interested to know if the number of such types is greater in prisons than it is in any group of individuals living in the community. This idea smacks too much of the Lombroso theory of a “criminal type.” We find many good-looking, vigorous young men in prison, in fact, quite a good deal more than we do deformed or crippled. I will grant you this; where the deformity assumes such a form that it is difficult for the individual to compete on equal terms with his fellow men, then, it might be the indirect cause of an anti-social life, or rather, an unsocial life, resulting in the alms house type rather than the real criminal.

I wonder, too, if there is an inborn social feeling in most of us, as Dr. Adler says, or if the reverse is true. I have heard it said that there are only three crimes which the average man would not commit under certain circumstances and without the objective anxiety of discovery, arrest and disgrace. These are: Cannibalism, patricide and incest. The rest of the criminal code is easily within the scope of almost every man’s mind, given the time, the temptation and the certainty of escape from discovery. In other words, there is but little difference between men in prison and men outside. Intoxication does not stifle the so-called inborn social feelings of a man, but it does release the artificial restraints and mental inhibitions which hold the average man within bounds; with these removed, the anxiety of discovery and disgrace does not bother him. More interesting than the mere fact of intoxication being a cause of crime is the cause of the intoxication. From what is the individual trying to escape, what is the mental conflict, the unhappiness, the uncertainty that he is trying to run away from? Find this, and you have the root of the trouble.

Neither am I as optimistic as Dr. Adler when he says “show the criminal that his way of living is mistaken, that his courage is not courage.” Wonderful, if we could only do that. But what of the defectives, what of the neurotics who do not know themselves the reason of the mental conflict that brings them into difficulties, what of the prisoner of normal mental and emotional faculties who has lived his whole life in an atmosphere of false values, who has so deeply ingrained into his being these vicious habits, that not a whole lifetime of talking and explaining will ever blast them out? What of the accidental criminal, who breaks under environmental pressure and receives his punishment before he enters the prison?

The defectives cannot be made normal, the habitual criminal is in most cases unapproachable, and the accidental criminal is really no criminal at all, in the sense that he constitutes no potential menace. This leaves but one class, the neurotic, and it is here that the psychiatrist can do much good, by discovering the cause of the neurosis and removing it.

It is this very fact, this slim chance of successful treatment in some cases and the good chance in others, which makes it imperative that the prisoner be considered as an individual and classified as such. But the work should not stop with classification; it should continue with treatment where treatment is indicated. Mere classification means nothing; naming flowers does not grow them, and to pin a label “neurotic” on a criminal does not help him to get better. I doubt if there is any State prepared to give treatment by psychiatrists to all who need it; the only other answer is trained psychiatric workers under the direction of the prison psychiatrist.

Dr. Adler spoke truly when he said that a great step in prevention would be to educate parents and teachers for a better understanding of human beings. I hope to see the day when the school without the services of a psychiatrist will be as rare as the school without a dental clinic is today. It is too late to reform the parents of the children of today; we must start with the parents of tomorrow who are the children in our schools today.

However, we must be careful not to exaggerate the possibilities of psychiatry. Not all criminals are abnormal, and psychiatry should limit its treatment to the patients frenzied by their instincts, swayed and controlled by a mental conflict that gets them into trouble. For the so-called normal criminal, I can see no other solution than their restraint by anxiety over painful consequences which are the result of criminal justice. The number of these individuals would be comparatively small after deducting the defective, the neurotic and the accidental.

One thing is certain: Our present common treatment of a heterogeneous group is wrong. It is lazy, unscientific and slipshod; almost anything else would be an improvement.

I do think we are making a serious mistake, however, if we expect Individual Psychology to be a panacea. It can reclaim and restore many criminals to usefulness, but it cannot work miracles; it can prevent the making of criminals in our prisons, for it is a fact that criminals are made there as well as in the community. I can prevent this by eliminating the ruthless, arbitrary infliction of the same type of treatment on the sheep and the goat.

I read that in New Jersey, Dr. Doll has distinguished the various types as follows:

  1. The better class, including the accidental criminal.

  2. The anti-social, vicious type of professional criminal.

  3. Defective delinquents, those with a mental abnormality.

  4. The subnormal or feeble-minded.

To these four were added two more: the insane and the indigent, neither of which, in my mind, are criminals at all. The first is sick; the second merely unfit to compete.

However, the classification is a good one. I have also made a classification:

1. The accidental criminal, the otherwise upright citizen who suddenly goes amuck because of environmental circumstances. (He may evade responsibility through a plea of insanity.) We seem to forget that if the individual is guilty, no matter what his mental condition may be, society will be obliged to take some action to control him and protect itself. If we concede this to be true, it would seem infinitely better that we cease requiring our judges to prophesy when the individual is going to be fit for release by fixing an absolute maximum and to so amend the law that if the court has determined the individual to be guilty, he be committed rather than sentenced. The date of his release should then be determined not by the passage of time, not by the rolling around of the date of the calendar, but because significant changes in the man's attitude toward society have been manifested and definite arrangements have been made for his return to freedom under competent supervision and in a capacity in which he may be expected to successfully function. If such a procedure could be legalized, it would afford an opportunity to try out the methods of the specialists as suggested by Dr. Adler. It seems to me that this should be done because in the formulation of a system for the treatment of the criminal, we cannot afford to overlook any avenue of approach and treatment.

Incorporated under the Laws of the State of New York
Endorsed by the National Information Bureau

Discussion by
DR. WILLIAM J. ELLIS, Commissioner,
Department of Institutions and Agencies,
State of New Jersey


Public Welfare Commission,
State of Rhode Island

Superintendent of Prisons,
State of Maryland


Chapter XIII

Neurosis and Crime1 2


Within the concept and the nature of man lies fellowship. "Love your neighbor" came first from the heart and then from the lips. Every harmful act against another goes against the logic of human communal living and awakens consternation that manifests itself in sinister and mostly misunderstood ways. Let us consider a child who is brought up without love, butted about brutally by the world around him, and who is not won over to be cooperative and humane. He grows up seeking revenge on society, and as soon as he grows up, commits crime after crime. There is no logic in this behavior, and no causality, but an always ready, seldom recognized erroneous course. Hardship and the problems of life escalate hate toward others; understandable failures in friendships and love rob of all hope and support those who see themselves as outcasts, bringing them close to the abyss from which they seek escape by cunning and deceit. Grown up in the small world of hatred and hostility, they bring a criminal perspective and hatred into the great community of fellow men whose desire is love and mutual help, which these outcasts could not attain themselves. People from that kind of background are unable to develop positive qualities on their own. Even when they try to improve themselves, it is only a fragmented effort: We are still awaiting the artist, the leader, the genius, the innovator, who can find a better solution for these problems, and prevent or at least point the way to win back these renegades for the human community.

At times there is only a stark impression that the child now grown into adulthood was brought up cruelly. It is not facts as such that have an effect on us. It is from the way we see them and from our primary attitude toward life that all psychological consequences follow. The causality that evolves from the psyche is not couched in a relationship of cause and effect, but we make something into a cause and then allow the consequences to follow. All psychological events are initially directed toward the goal of elevating the personality. Even the oppressiveness of a loveless upbringing is felt as painful only to the extent that it is in conflict with the person's real feeling about himself. The steadfast rule for the human psyche: every psychological situation with all its impressions and perceptions receives its status, value, and meaning within a frame of reference

1 Originally published as "Neurose und Verbrechen" in the Internationale Zeitschrift für
Individualpsychologie, Vol. III, p. 1-11, 1924.
2 New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003. Editing assistance by Kurt A. Adler,
M.D., Ph.D.

created under the mandate of the striving for significance. (The fundamental statement of Individual Psychology).

However, since everyone confusedly seeks, and is forced to seek, a way to strive upward, it is possible, given various frames of reference and the many paths in this labyrinth, that the same "causes" will result in different "consequences." Another child, also not shown kindness, has enough courage and confidence to seek in life the love that was denied him, albeit in most cases too tempestuously and full of mistrust. A third child in a similar situation tries with cunning to become master of every situation and betrays in doing so his weakened self-confidence. Again, another child fashions a weapon out of his weakness and lack of power. With that weapon this person abandons responsibility and self-confidence, demonstrates incompetence, and finds ways to justify doing nothing, forcing society, thereby, to assume the responsibility for his care. He becomes neurotic in the broadest sense.

When we examine the radius of a neurotic's activities, starting with his childhood and continuing to the end of his days, then we notice in particular a suppressed aggressiveness. There are neither "good" nor "bad" achievements that can be listed. A last residue of activity rages conspicuously and obstreperously in one or both directions. At times it can impart to the neurotic person who affiliates himself with a sound idea the appearance of greatness, loftiness, or humility without any sustained fruitful or valuable results. The few eminent mad geniuses always were obsessed, carried aloft by an unstoppable idea thrusting forward to where traditional inhibitions meant a handicap. Or these were people who flaunted their neurosis as a pretense before others. They carried it as a keepsake, a scar from battles and difficulties in their childhood which, contrary to others, they had endured successfully by raising their self-confidence and their courage.

There are people who fear following a normal path in life and struggle against it powerlessly, or simply give up and let themselves go, while others with greater or lesser activity throw themselves into another, usually an oppositional way of life. Hardly any of those afflicted people establish balance and harmony in their actions; thus nearly always the child deprived of affection lacks balance and harmony in his psychological development. Out of this large pool of people come the weaklings, eccentrics, neurotics, loners, offenders, and artists of all kinds. In all of these people there gnaws restless discontent, and only the artist and philosopher manage to attain reconciliation with social life, the necessary prerequisite for fruitful work and for every worthwhile transformation of human communal existence.

The course of the psychological development of pampered children is very similar, even if along different paths. Spurned and denied love, some are driven into isolation and discontent, and forced to suspend the normal way of living which deters them from solving their life problems. Pampered children in their various forms generally missed preparation for an independent life. Brought up depending on others, as a rule they lean on the mother whose support eventually decreases as she makes greater demands on her children and has increasingly greater expectations. Their inadequate preparation for the discipline in school, for making friends, for society, for work and love promotes constant disappointments that stand in the way of developing a modicum of courage to face life, and adversely affects them and wears them down. The destiny of this type of person depends on his situation while growing up, his role models, the amelioration or deterioration of his predictable path through life, and the chances for greater or lesser mistakes depending on society's goodwill or lack of it. That destiny while understandable also is not comprehended, since "cause" and "effect" are too far apart for man's comprehension. Similarly, the way people make something the cause and another thing the effect is too far beyond man's understanding. This is how people ascribe the blows they receive more to their own weakness, or inferiority, and even more so to the bad intentions of others or to circumstances, rather than perceiving and rectifying mistakes they were enticed into making because of faulty conditions in their childhood.

The enormous number of people who have gone astray and whose background is in these two categories points to the extensive propagation of the tendency toward neurosis and criminality. These two categories of people are similar (1) in the feelings of discontentment and being short-changed; (2) in their difficulty in establishing relationships, the underdeveloped social interest, the inconsiderateness toward others and society, the inadequate preparation for a social role; (3) in the egotistical perspective, the egotistical pattern trained for since childhood and reflected in the style of life; (4) in the unfettered compulsion to gain superiority over others not by courageous actions, but by deception, guile, or by overpowering them; (5) in strictly limiting the scope of their radius of action. All these characteristics, which can readily be seen as interrelated, are regularly seen in the structure of neurosis as well as in criminality.

How neurosis and criminality differ psychologically seems not very significant at first glance. The harm caused by neurosis to those who are close to the neurotic as well as to society in general, the psychological and material damage, the failure to carry out essential tasks for society, can destroy the joys and pleasures in life, even the very lives of those nearby. However, such results never seem as if consciously intended, and always appear in the context of the patient's situation as if spontaneous and self-generated. Also in cases of homicide and murder during psychosis, in sex crimes, theft, slander, and fraud, the inadequate preparation, the senselessness and purposefulness will immediately become apparent, and the sense and purpose in these acts can be perceived only from within the neurotic system, from the viewpoint of the neurotic person's goal and ultimate intent. Absent also in these destructive acts is a logical and socially understandable benefit, which at least in purely criminal cases becomes apparent. Thus, a sick person in his youthful madness kills his guardian because his maniacal system forces him to believe that he is being persecuted and needs to defend himself. A young man who in some mistaken belief lost faith in his abilities, but who tries at any cost to keep secret his feelings of inferiority, seeks relief in cocaine and alcohol. This neurosis and its consequences cause the parents to lose their fortunes, embitter their lives, and damage everyone around. All harm resulting from a sick person's mistaken philosophy of life and from his faulty style of life is predictable with nearly mathematical certainty. The courage to follow the norm was lost; the invalid flees from the life tasks, is concerned only with appearances, and tries to hide his weakness and imagined worthlessness. Whenever he contemplates his condition or speaks of it, as long as his cowardliness persists, he is a captive of his illness: he acts like a person who sees himself as nothing but rubbish. Only when this deep-seated error is resolved and removed will the courage to deal with the problems of life reappear. In an Individual Psychological examination of the neurotic person one will find that the training of the discouraged person was to protect and hide a belief in his assumed inferiority and his neurotic symptoms. Hurting those close by comes almost automatically, without making the sick responsible, most of the time without his being aware of it, and contrary to his feelings. The entire area of sexual perversions is a sanctuary for those who lost courage. Whatever then happens when the sexual drive becomes active always ends up harming others. The harm done is never considered. It is the same with criminal negligence where "no one thought about it." The same relative psychological forces come into play in all other neuroses and psychoses. The ultimate intention of the ill person always is: to escape the responsibilities of life, society, work, and sex, and to avoid their solutions. In cases of such automatic, stereotypical tendencies toward evasion that are logical in light of the individual and his character, neuroses on their own become symptoms, and the harm done to one's own person and to those nearby resolves into something unavoidable, mostly seen as unwillingly assumed costs imposed once that erroneous path is chosen.

For example, what has always been apparent to those who examine patients is the naiveté and the little forethought given to the wrongs that occur under so called moral insanity by kleptomaniacs, sexual murderers, and pure sadists. As sadly as such excesses often end, one senses them as mimicry, as if someone who is ill prepared plays at being a criminal. The crime is poorly designed, it lacks conviction for criminality; it even lacks a prior history, and not enough effort is devoted to finding more favorable conditions. Frequently a strong emotional mixture can be found, unexplainable as to where the crime takes place. However, this is understandable with reference to neurosis, which aims at an evasion of life's tasks, and the creation of ameliorating circumstances for escape from and excuses for oneself and others. The criminal, as it were, is honestly acting from hate, jealousy, anger, or fear to give himself an advantage in the face of threatening conditions and, given such motives, make his deeds appear to himself and to others as less odious. The neurotic, on the other hand, appears almost unfazed with regard to any benefits or harm; he comes from a totally different direction than from seeking an advantage. He acts much more from a feeling of being justified than does the criminal.

With an imperishable feeling of responsibility to himself and society the criminal, in his feeling of distress, hatred, jealousy and revenge, will look for some semblance of cover. Such a feeling of responsibility is lacking in the neurotic when he intends to do harm. This is partly because his attention is required elsewhere--usually by his fear of life's tasks, and partly also his weaker than the criminal’s sense of belonging to society. Mainly, however, because the neurotic can by such means reach his ultimate goal: to avoid a normal life activity. Hidden behind the confusion and disadvantages that come from his actions, there lies a hope: to be relieved of life's tasks. Even social condemnation and criminal punishment is taken in stride since that would only remove him further from the normal life that he fears because of the constant humiliation he anticipates.

On one point the transgressions of criminals and neurotics are alike: They have a greater advantage over their victims. However, even on this point we must observe differences in that the victims of neurotics are at a greater disadvantage. We find among them relatives who are tied down by seriously assumed obligations, children, and credulous fools; attacks come so suddenly and surprisingly that there are no defenses that can be mounted in time; opportunities are taken advantage of when it seems that no one can intercede. All these sharply drawn manifestations confirm that the neurotic, even in his errant sphere, is constantly lacking in courage and activity. Only with great effort would it be possible to find a neurotic among professional burglars.3

The insight and experience of Individual Psychology allow us to bring the forms of expression into a common line, to record them like a melody, in order to identify the composer. This can most sensibly be done in the case of neurotics and criminals. The circumventions and security measures taken with regard to society's normal requirements are in those cases drawn sharply enough so that they appear to us as if in relief. The start of this common line originates from a heightened feeling of inferiority resulting from unnecessary pampering or severity beginning in earliest childhood, and--as we must also add--from badly experienced organ deficiencies and weaknesses that at times can also be traced to a deficient development of glands of internal secretion. However, not even these deficiencies and frequently temporary problems have an immediate and causal effect. Under certain circumstances, which entail primarily distancing the child from power or the sense of power in his environment, they can also give rise to an increased feeling of inferiority. The child then establishes a new, artificial, causality: he acts as if his inferiority were an undisputable fact and enters a state of severe pessimism, loses faith in his own strength, no longer trusts himself to achieve anything expected or demanded of him, and at the first sign of failure, or perceived failure, goes into flight. This flight distances the child from the norm and the expectation to which the child no longer feels himself equal, and opens the way to neurosis, or isolation, or delinquency, and to criminality. A determining factor in making the next decision is how much social interest and

3 Editor’s note: The burglar also lacks courage, but usually has a greater level of activity.

courage the child has at the moment of the deviation. Form and content of a neurosis in the clearest cases result where there is almost total hopelessness for a breakthrough. A cure will be possible when there is recognition of the community and its sanctification, which is the logic of human interrelationships, the acceptance of responsibility for the weak and the sick, and when the individual himself embraces a less severe standard for his achievements.

The courage to live has not been totally exhausted. In that respect, neurosis differs from psychosis, in particular from dementia praecox and suicide tendencies. However, the patient has deteriorated so far that in the flight from the tasks of life, the illness is grasped like a lifesaver, even when there are constant complaints about the cost of such an unsatisfactory life. The ultimate intent to stop before life's decisions becomes the most significant and only task. Next to that no other plans, desires, or insights have any more value than assurances given a hare not to fear dogs. Just as the hare sees, touches, and tests everything from the viewpoint of a hare, and as the pattern of its entire life, and all its movements betray the fact that it is a hare, so does the neurotic acquire his form, shape, and theme. Regardless of our logic, on the strength of the neurotic’s logic and philosophy of life not only does he go his own neurotic way, but also constantly prepares and trains for it. His training and the arrangements he makes all point to a turning away from life, and all harm he causes supports such a rejection of life or becomes a necessity.

The clearly discernible remainder of his social interest is manifested in his overblown fear of conflict with the community. Only when such a conflict becomes necessary to reinforce his rejection will it be sought. His whole behavior no longer is in the direction of overcoming the other person, but toward separating one's "I" from the "you." More clearly recognized than under normal conditions is the neurotic's style after a decisive failure in life, when being tested, when having to make decisions, and also when improving and with burgeoning expectations. The fear of new defeats brings all neurotic manifestations into sharper focus.

The seriousness and meaning of a neurosis can only be measured by the degree of discouragement, never by its form or content. All measures that even unsuspectingly raise courage, all miracle cures, suggestions, autosuggestions, and all medical interventions, are effective only to the extent that they can elevate the courage of the patient. Certain success is assured only by a treatment that gives the patient the feeling of equality by destroying the erroneous childhood belief of insufficiency.

At times one can find in the thoughts and fantasies of neurotics a flirtation with criminality or a fear of such a tendency. The context always indicates a mostly superfluous stimulation of social interest, which in this manner sends out a warning, often not without strengthening the efforts to untie bonds to the community, necessitated by the ultimate intent of the patient. Along this line, in the course of untying one can also find lesser or greater harm. The youth mentioned above, who is a schizophrenic patient in a mental health facility, practiced his rejection of people, all of whom he perceived to be his enemies, by killing his guard.

When we compare the direction taken by the neurotic and the criminal we can find the same starting point: the feeling of inferiority. Even the unavoidable as well as avoidable failures, understandable results of a poor preparation for school and life, are the same for both. However, the crucial discouragement and rejection of normal problems of life in the second case (i.e., criminal) appear as a psychological situation in which during the psychological preparation there remained sufficient courage for a desire to want to conquer others. To be sure, the conquering is not thought of or meant in the cultural sense nor does it arise from a feeling of power. It merely is to alleviate the tormenting feelings of weakness and to assume a guise of heroism. However, basically, it has all the earmarks of cowardliness. The criminal activity always follows the line of least resistance. This observation applies not only to the cunning person, but also to the active criminal. The criminal activity reflects the same lack of courage that already was apparent when the person rejected a normal life.

In contrast, the relationship between the "I" and "you" is much stronger among criminals.4 This better social relationship is seen in the formation of gangs with their allusion to knighthood. It also is apparent in their visits to bars, their relations with the opposite sex, the cultivation of friendships and camaraderie, all of which are much stronger than in the neurotic. All these manifestations are in the context of the will to conquer. Even the guarded treatment afforded the poor and the obviously weak point in that direction. Of course, cunning comes into play to an extraordinary degree in their contacts with everyone else. It is a sign of a psychological training that is encountered in less courageous and less self-assured people. The mutually contradicting tendencies, conquering and feeling inferior, resolve in the stream of life into a loose social connection that is strong enough to assert itself in contacts with others, but not strong enough to fulfill normal tasks. The fear of having to succumb to the latter allows these people to look for achievements that always reflect their cowardice, but that nevertheless lend them the semblance of victors. In murder, burglary, homicide, break-ins, and robbery the defeat of an opponent, at the very least, is a certain satisfied expectation.

As is well known among criminologists, a widely held belief in superstition is another sign of the neurotic’s cowardice. It sometimes appears as vain daring in a moment of danger when it takes on the guise of foolhardiness. Under all circumstances, it can be seen as an emergency anchor, as a support for a deep-seated cowardice in these people. Along that line, we see the vanity and boastfulness that covers their feeling of inferiority.

Occasionally, a professional criminal after age 30 will abandon his life as a criminal and take a wife and job. In that context, the following observation will

4 The language of the criminal also points to a preserved social interest. Such language by neurotics would be hard to imagine.

provide an explanation: Every criminal has the ambition, which stems from his drive to conquer, to distinguish himself in the eyes of his colleagues. For obvious reasons, this is easier for the younger criminal. The revolt of the youthful criminal relentlessly denies the older every form of prestige. Thus, with his security threatened, the older criminal seeks a way out of the field.

The analogy for the psychological actions of criminals and neurotics is in the heightened feeling of insecurity stemming from early childhood, in the low self-confidence to accomplish routine tasks, in an all too hasty cessation of efforts following disappointments and failures, and in an inadequately developed social interest.

The important difference we find is in a misunderstood evasion of social feeling in the neurotic and a correctly understood, although an underestimation of the significance of social feeling, and deliberate breach of that responsibility by the criminal. Avoidance as well as breaching requires training and proper preparation. The criminal seeks his cheap victory; the neurotic dreams of it and is kept by his suffering from carrying through. Both seek mitigating circumstances: the neurotic seeks some gains in life by being a neurotic; the criminal seeks success for his decision to act as well as for the act itself.

In the following we would like to demonstrate this point with the careers of well-studied criminals. A classic description of the psychological events that lead to a criminal act can be found in Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov. The writer, being a sharp observer and well acquainted with criminals, lets his hero prepare in bed for the murder. Only then comes the violating of the feeling of community. Raskolnikov finds an ameliorating need in the fact that his victim is an old usurer, good for nothing, and that he himself must not be cowardly, a louse, but a Napoleon. His falling off begins when he finds himself without any money, and sees his sister in danger of having to sell herself to a man whom she does not love. He is always ready to aid the weak and the poor.

Our exposition points out that in light of our Individual Psychological research, we have gained far greater certainty than heretofore in determining whether we are dealing with a neurotic or a criminal. Of course, we also require a far more specific investigation of the case history and the style of life of the person being examined. In the course of that examination, what we have learned and expressed above will be very significant. We are now in the difficult situation of having to make a diagnosis based only on the available case information and not from a personal examination. It is then surprising to find the mass of concurring facts that are revealed.

1. The infamous burglar Breitwieser began his criminal career when he thought himself defrauded of the fruits of one of his inventions. He was a social person, at times showed consideration for the poor, and was inconspicuous in his sexual affairs. He was always ready to fight and when attacked was killed in a fight with the police.

The following is from the extremely valuable "Aktenmässigen Darstellung merkwürdiger Verbrecher" (Documentary Reports of Notable Criminals) by Anselm v. Feuerbach:

  1. Josef Auermann, a man without a fault, a citizen, and the head of a family, owed his servant 400 Gulden. The servant demanded his money insistently. Every plea for help was left unanswered. The thought of getting rid of his tormenter became more pressing and seemed to him the only way to relieve himself of this burden. Auermann felt himself abandoned by everyone. He found relief in the idea that: "If that servant is still with me and pesters me for the money, for which he has no rights in my house, particularly since the time for payment has not yet passed, then I shall kill him. He is worth no more." He began to drink more heavily in various bars to deaden his social interest, his sense of responsibility. He thereby was able to violate the feeling of community. He killed the servant the next time they had an argument, admitted his guilt subsequently, and went to court. When he saw the servant's bride, he tried to hide.

  2. Konrad Kleinschrot killed his father with the help of a servant. The father had led a chaotic life, treated his family cruelly, and when they once fought back, took them to court. The judge said: "You have a bad, contentious father. There is no help for you!" The family looked for help to no avail. The father lived with a mistress and urged his sons to leave home. A day-laborer, who was obsessed with picking the eyes out of chickens, and who had served in the military for 20 years where he was trained to murder and kill, advised the sons to kill the father. This called for lengthy discussions. At first they tried to use magic potions. When this failed, Konrad and the day laborer killed the father.

  3. Margarete Zwanziger, the German Brinvillier(s), grew up as a foster child, was small and deformed and therefore vain, coquettish, and fawningly polite. After several failures, which brought her close to despair, she tried three times to gain possession of married men by poisoning their wives. She feigned pregnancy and threatened suicide. In her autobiography she wrote: "Whenever I did something bad afterwards, I thought that no one took pity on me and I, therefore, take no pity on others in their misfortunes." She worked toward criminality and sought ameliorating circumstances.

  4. Matthias Lenzbauer, badly brought up, was lame in one foot brought on by neglect. With his younger brother he took his father's place, but then drove his mother to begging with the admonition: "Get out, you slut, why did you cripple me!" For a long time he was unable to find work and caught a venereal disease; he had no money to become a trade union worker. After having looked in vain for work, he killed his brother on his way home to gain the brother’s small inheritance.

  5. Andreas Bichl, the murderer of girls, was renowned as a thief and a coward. He lured girls into a cellar with superstitious pretensions, killed them, and robbed them of their belongings. During this act, he became sexually aroused, which in his mind ameliorated and justified his action.

    1. Simon Stigler was poorly prepared for life. He cold not read, or write. His father was in jail for theft. He completed his training at home, where he

    2. threatened to kill his parents with a knife whenever they failed to do his bidding. Subsequently, he turned against strangers in the same way when they failed to do his bidding. He got into fights easily and killed several people. In court he lied. He cried out: " What do I care that my life is over!" He expected nothing from life and thereby found it easier to extinguish any social interest.
  6. Jacob Talreuter was born out of wedlock and early orphaned. He came to a foster home where the foster mother pampered him to no end. He learned little and wrote poorly but had a sense for business. He constantly strove to impress everyone. His foster mother, who later fell in love with him, supported him in his lies, his boastfulness, and swindling whereby he enticed people to give him money. Since his foster parents were vaguely linked to nobility, he bragged of a highly aristocratic background. He squandered all the money of his foster parents and eventually drove them out of their home. He was praised early as a genius, but kept from honest work by poor preparation and pampering. He saw as his life's work satisfying his desire to conquer by any means. This made everyone an adversary whom he tried to overtake by guile. Beginning with his training in childhood, nourished by the foster mother who placed him above everyone else including her husband, he broke down under increasing expectations. As a swindler with the aim to deceive everyone and to make that his purpose in life, his criminal activities became easier for him. His lack of self-esteem, his lack of courage and self-confidence were reflected in his lies, in his boastfulness, in his evading of normal life-tasks, and in the value he placed on deceit.

  7. Ludwig Christin v. Ohnhausen, the second-born child in his family, believed that he could get ahead by his own powers, which was a common characteristic for second born children and persons from a minor nobility. He saw himself stifled in his career by his older brother, who was indolent and tended to thievery, and who with his skepticism upset his meager self-confidence. "Either you, brother, must perish, or I, or both of us," he said to himself. Taking a pistol he killed his brother while out for a walk, when he once more expressed serious doubts and then rejected his younger brother's ideas. The younger had undergone long training against his older brother who compromised him with his lifestyle. The constant rejection of his ideas robbed the younger brother of his self-confidence. He found an ameliorating viewpoint in the formulation of: either you or me! He lacked the courage and strength to advance in spite of his brother. After the deed, his social interest was awakened: he thought he saw screaming ravens. He ran away. During the court hearing, he kept silent about his deed because the court declared that he appeared too virtuous to commit such a crime. The confession initially was laconic and incoherent. He admitted to everything before a commission of nobles.

    1. Lorenz Simmler saw his older brother in possession of their father's estate, while he was relegated to acting the servant. In losing his self-confidence, he was driven to gambling, drinking, and vagrancy. He joined the military. At one point, he knifed a fellow gambler in the back and pierced his lungs. His brother would not take care of him. Frequently, he said that he would burn down

    2. his brother's house. "You also must go begging!" When the older brother again got the better of the younger, the latter got drunk and burned down the house. Cowardice, training, and ameliorating circumstances that allowed for a break down of social interest became apparent.
  8. Kaspar Prison ran away from a foster mother who was a strict disciplinarian. He was physically deformed, "had a lame hip and fingers that were too short." He was very vain. He owed money to a Jew. He lured him into a forest and slew him. For days before this deed, he was excited. He heard voices that warned him. An owl howled. He called to it: "Why are you howling? You can howl all you want, I shall do it anyhow!" The slaying became easier on him by his persistent thought that it involved only a Jew.

  9. Franz the painter suffered from epilepsy. He was married and had one child. He lived with his wife who was as lazy as he. They were in debt and in need. They barely were able to sustain themselves by begging and thieving. For a long time he thought of a big theft or murder. Finally, he killed an old woman from whom he begged unsuccessfully. When he fell under suspicion, he went to court to enter a complaint, but then fell to his knees and confessed. The old woman's refusal to give him money made his long planned murder plot easier. His surprising confession was forced by the reappearing social interest.

Breaking through to the feeling of community is not a simple matter, as we have seen. When its borders are reached a severe shock is felt.

A physician told me the following: "I was known for my good nature during the war. The soldiers in my field hospital could always count on my forbearance. One day, a student was to be sent to the front. Because of his, albeit mild nervous complaints, I suggested lighter duty. He then asked me to consider that he must support his parents with his teaching, which he can only do when he is totally free. I was unable to extend my consideration that far. During the night I dreamed that I was a murderer and that I wandered the streets in the dark tortured by my conscience. I awoke bathed in sweat. I remembered Raskolnikov. However, then I guessed that it was my concern for the student that confronted me in my dream with the severest consequences."

How many people during the war struggled with themselves until they finally were able to complete training! Of course, they also had available to them the most ameliorating circumstances even if the support for breaking through the borders of social interest goes only as far as expressed in the words of the great expert on the soul, Balzac ("Le medecin de campagne"): "We great killers want our victims to defend themselves; then at least the fight justifies the killing."

13. Stefan Lukszits, who gruesomely had murdered two persons, wrote before he committed his crime: "Worn down by life and rejected by relatives, the object of loathing and contempt (he suffered from ozena), almost totally brought down by horrendous squalor, nothing held me back. I felt that I could not last long. I might have been able to endure my neglected state, but the stomach, the stomach cannot be commanded. I was foretold that I would die of starvation in a ditch, somewhere along a back road. It was then that the terrible thought hit me that it would all be the same, whether I die of hunger or if my life is ended at the gallows. I no longer cared about the consequences; I must die one way or another. I am nothing and no one wants to know of me. Those with whom I am in contact seek to avoid me (Oh, sweet Gretchen). It all comes down to the same; it will be my salvation or my downfall. Everything is planned for Thursday, the victim already has been selected, I must only wait for the right opportunity. When it arrives what will happen is what not every person can do ("the will to conquer"). Terrible, if one only thinks of it one must tremble."

After his crime he wrote the following: "Just as the shepherd drives his sheep, the stomach drives the individual to commit the worst crimes. It is possible that I will not live to see the morning, but I don't care about that. The worst is being tortured by hunger ("ameliorating excuse"). I am also embittered by my incurable illness. It also drives me away from society and for that reason alone I have had many unpleasant experiences. I will encounter the last unpleasantness when I am judged in court. A sinner must do penance for his sins. However, one must die one day, and it is all the same how one dies. This will probably be a better way to die than by starvation. When I die of starvation no one will see me; this way the public will be in attendance and perhaps one of the spectators will have compassion for me. The police will soon arrest me for murder because what I had planned already happened. I lived through an exciting night and never had anyone had greater fear than I had feared last night."

At the hearing, Lukszits explained, of course without being able to get to the core: "I have killed and I know that I have lost to the hangman. I don't care about that. I had to do it. The young man had beautiful clothes and I knew that I would never have any such as those. The idea that I must have them became a fixation. That is why I killed."

It will probably never be clear to him that he converted the beautiful clothes into a cause and allowed them to dictate the consequences.


During my research in abnormal psychology, I am confronted time and again by early childhood behavior and by the lack of preparation for life. In this regard we are more or less in agreement with all psychologists. However, as far as that most important factor, social interest, is concerned, the role of the mother appears to us increasingly more significant for its development and cultivation. This is because the mother transmits to her child an awareness of the absolute dependence of a human being. If the mother is not there, or fails to play her role, then it will be difficult in our times to find a competent substitute. In fact we find, as our observations above have shown, that our subjects obviously were lacking in this since they grew up without love, or were pampered. Both styles of life lead children away from the community: the former by failing in preparation, the latter by relating the social interest to only one person. In both cases children lack essential ingredients for life: security and self-esteem. They soon find themselves as in enemy territory; they underestimate their strength and their capabilities and express discouragement and feelings of inferiority. Physical inferiorities of all kinds further destroy their faith in their own strength and create styles of life that we find, in most criminals and neurotics. A criticism of the various treatments for neurosis and criminality must take this aspect into account.

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