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Sigmund Freud: Criminals From a Sense of Guilt

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1655 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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Sigmund Freud: Criminals From a Sense of Guilt


The article I have chosen for my critical analysis is ‘Criminals from A Sense of Guilty’ by Sigmund Freud (1914-1916). This critical review will look at the theory of Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas of the relationship between the individual behaviours and the social world in connection with a crime. This reading is about the notion of unconscious and sense of guilty. Freud introduces a distinctive, an important feature in the social theory which is ‘Psychoanalysis’. Psychoanalysis is a psychological perspective which investigates the interaction of the conscious and unconscious elements in mind. Freud offered explanations of how unconscious thoughts internalised as well as he talked about the rationality and irrationality in the human actions what is going on in their minds. This topic is quite distinctive from the rest of the previous topic we learnt so far which were theories of social life, society and sociological perspective as well as ideology. This topic focuses on irrationality and the guilty consciousness/ unconscious. Freud explains this subject as that the existence of feeling ‘guilt’ conscious in the mind of the individual is present all the time. Freud tried to understand in his proficiency on the continuity of human mind in distinctive ways. It also looks at the different behaviours of individuals and how individual are prone to criminals due to their ‘sense of guilt’.

Main body

In the first passage, Freud states that his patients, those committed crimes were struggling from an oppressive feeling of guilt. Freud initiated on his article to talk about his regular observation of his patients in his care, and how often they provide their transgression of prohibited misdeeds they committed while in his care and afterwards.

The short coming of this text is the author depends on his experience of his clients, instead of providing an empirical data. For stance, in the first paragraph, he indicated that early as before and after puberty, those in his care were committing misdeeds, but did not give exact age groups neither categories. He did not provide the number of people he treated and observed. Therefore, he did not offer a date to support the validity of piece. It is also not clear if he was given consent from his patients to share this information due to confidentiality reasons. This is because he does not discuss confidentiality and anonymity in his article.

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According to him, these crimes were committed by his patients while they were quite young in some cases. Offences committed at the time were theft, fraud and arson. He stressed that crime is committed due to its nature of prohibition, which he believes it gives mental relief to the individuals. Freud also believes some of this individual are suffering the burden of ‘guilt’ and the oppressed feeling inside them from childhood, therefore, perfuming such misdeed is assigned to something deep (p. 332).

This lacks clarification of the sense of ‘feeling Guilt’ and what caused them to feel this guilt was limited in his explanation. I do not agree with Freud’s claims that individuals feel a sense of guilt before they commit a crime. Whereas, I believe an individual can have sense of guilt after committing a crime because the individual know the consequences that comes with committing a crime. From the humiliation and isolation that comes along with the punishment.

However, I do agree with Freud’s claims that guilt is an internal feeling. Nonetheless, it is only after an incident takes place which could be subjected to fine or imprisonment. This is because these punishments make individuals worry about their actions which could then lead to a sense of guilt. In my opinion, I can feel guilty when I failed to follow the absolute law or commit crime/ sin, or any disobedience which is punishable. Therefore, I believe that the idea of guilt should relate to a violation of rights.

Freud’s theory talks about the development of criminal personality can be due to the way of a child had been brought up from an early age. The experience of early childhood could be one of the reasons that many children lead to developing a criminal personality when they become older. Therefore, Freud emphasised his patients had a past emotions manifested deep in their minds. I may agree to some extent. However, many children grew and develop their mental capacity and get over their past experiences, and some may affect them badly. Furthermore, in his period people may did have the sources and service that is available for many people today.

The second elements of the reading on the fourth passages, “obscure of a sense of guilt drived from Oedipus complex” (p. 332). He claims the consequence of investigative work of human sense of guilt in general as a result is derived from the “Oedipus complex and was a reaction to the two great criminal intentions of killing the father and having sexual relations with the mother” (p. 332-333). This indicates how the child perceives the father as punishment figure inside him. The child’s anxiety develops and his anger toward the father. It’s way of showing a sense of strain within the household and the power of the father. Therefore, the pressure is already present in the house before thinking the social constraint in general. As a result of the ‘sense of guilt’ is derived from here and this is the fundamental morality of humankind.

Likewise, Freud had no evidence to back up his study. His claim is vague to me on how a child can have that capacity of a hate or love. Furthermore, children cannot develop sense of sexuality at this early stage particularly towards their parental mother.

Freud was educating us about the psychological perspectives and its factors which drives individuals to commit crimes. However, in his observation it showed significant elements of psychological factors link with early delinquencies experiences. However, there is not enough evidence to back his claims of the factors which drive individuals to commit crimes. This is because he does not talk about the therapy treatment in which his patients had undergone. He also did not pinpoint nor highlight the prevention strategies in his article which could prevent them to commit such crimes.

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In conscious phantasy, because they already feel they are attacked and got hurt in their mind, and they use their mechanism defence, and what aver action is taking by these people to hurt others make them feel relieved. Therefore, this burden of guilt inside them, got them relieved by acting out this phantasy. According to Freud, the real punishment which is already inside them is agonising them before acting out.

The third significant claim in the text is ‘Pale criminality’. Freud sat out the psychoanalysis interpretation of ‘pale criminal’ (p.333), it is the principle of unconscious ‘phantasy’, the mental thinking and activity which is unique for those who have sense of guilt and drives to commit crime and desire for a punishment. However, they got relieved by acting out.

Furthermore, he concluded his piece saying; ‘Let us leave it to leave it to future research to decide…’ (p.333), this undermines the value of his work and shows he had a sense that his study needed improvement and correction of his misrepresentation. Nonetheless, the author seems he did not fully achieve his intended goal as he left it for future. The samples and categories are not clear and the method used to arrive such conclusions. This shows his study is not broad. It is only in his clients which even lacks the number of people he treated. Furthermore, it is what his patients informed him its not shown if he conducted a academic research.

In the absence of adequate detail, Freud lacks the depth in its explanation of this article. It is extremely difficult to assess the reliability of his studies and outcome. There is some ambiguity regarding the validity of his research, and some of the cases he observed as well as the conclusions he reached. Not only had he talked about childhood experiences and how past emotion drove people. Freud also explained human mind is so simple which lacks concrete.


To conclude that Freud’s theory is known the unconscious mind, and his intention was to represent the criminal from sense of guilt. Some of the cases Freud investigates didn’t specify how he carried out his research. Some of them informed about their misdeed and their sense of which driven to commit a crime, which didn’t have conscious. Even though young people grew and leave some infantile sentiment behind, and some grew with the emotionals. As people grew older they develop mental capacity and throughout they learn from wrong and right. However, some people may commit crime for different reasons; due to being a hedonistic or mental disorder. Therefore, the people he treated was not clear what type of people and what condition they were suffering, was it some sort of mental disorder which either be treatable or section for public protection.

My suggestion on this piece is it needs more research to be done based on the ‘sense of guilt’ cause of the crime. Even though, Freud’s experiments based on only some cases, however, psychoanalysis created useful elements which are useful in the criminal justice system to some extent which is prominent even though is helpful but yet not reliable hundred percent.


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