Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Crime and Criminals

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"A criminal is not interested in others. He can cooperate only to a certain degree. When this degree is exhausted, he turns to crime. The exhaustion occurs when a problem is too difficult for him. It is interesting to consider the problems of life which we have to face, the problems which a criminal cannot succeed in solving. It will appear, in the end, that we have no problems in our lives but social problems; and these problems can only be solved if we are interested in others."

"All criminals are cowards. They are evading problems they do not feel strong enough to solve. We can see their cowardice apart from their crimes, in the way in which they face life. We can see their cowardice, also, in the crimes they commit. Criminals think they are being courageous; but we should not be fooled in the same way. Crime is a coward's imitation of heroism. They are striving for a fictitious goal of personal superiority, and they like to believe that they are heroes but this is again a mistaken scheme of apperception, a failure of common sense. When they are found out, they think: 'This time I wasn't quite clever enough, but next time I shall outwit them.' And if they do get away with it, they feel they have obtained their goal: they feel superior, admired and appreciated by their comrades."

(From "Individual Psychology and Crime," in "The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology," published by Routledge & Kegan, London, 1925.)

"The question why the death sentence has no deterrent force can be understood through the psychology of the criminal. Of great significance in the nature of the criminal is his belief in predestination. Actually, he is always convinced that he will not be caught and counts on his superior shrewdness. If caught, he will always endeavor to blame his misfortune on bad luck and on some small unlucky mishap which otherwise would have left him undiscovered. Should he hear of others caught by the police, he is firmly convinced that this would not have happened to him. Under those conditions it is understandable that in the criminal's style of life, the almost game-like struggle with the police and the criminal justice system plays a significant role. The greater the risk, the greater the triumph, if he is successful in his crime. It is, therefore, comprehensible that, on the one hand, the criminal does not fear nor take the death sentence seriously because of his superstition in predestination. On the other hand, he feels his anti-social heroism more strongly as long as the death sentence is possible and he is stimulated by it." (From a new translation of "Newsletters for Individual Psychological Events," #4 Mid-April '32, "Death Sentence or Social Interest?," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"It is clear that man must constantly struggle for his existence. The essential capability for him to do so is innate, but it can be developed only in the community. Beyond his clear dependence on a communal life for his existence, man by nature would 'harm his soul' were he to live alone. It would seem from all that man has learned in this that he would have a positive attitude toward his fellow man. However, what is the actual case? Aside from small groups, such as families or tribes, genuine communal living is rare. It is a fortunate circumstance when people in different epochs of man's history and in different parts of the world have lived temporarily in a 'golden age,' trusting one another, well-meaning, and feeling secure and safe. In general, it seems as if the deeply rooted feeling of insecurity leads to strife rather than to a communal existence. Power is then no longer applied to protect one's rights, but as a means to deprive others of theirs. The danger with the will to power is that man does not apply it for justice; he has the tendency to misuse it, that is, to be unjust. Power without justice is force, unlawfulness, crime." (From a translation of an unpublished manuscript, "Principles of Individual Psychology," in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher:

"The unsocial individual will look for an a-social solution to regain self-respect. None feels more powerful than the one who considers himself master over life and death of another individual. The power drive of tyrants and criminals, who have in common the fundamental conviction that the world owes them respect and prestige, creates the formula under which crimes can be committed with good conscience. ..... Under these circumstances murder almost appears as a means of self-preservation in the struggle for survival."

"Criminals are completely discouraged people who for one reason or another do not believe that they could accomplish something that would involve work, the overcoming of difficulties. Therefore, they look for an easier way. As Adler said, 'Anyone who feels himself cheated by life will rob.' That is to say he gets back at the society which he thinks did not give him what he expected of it. We find that criminals know that what they are doing is wrong; they know exactly that this is not the way that life should be played. Therefore, they will always find the formula to make wrong right for them. 'The earth is not big enough for him and me. One of us has to go, naturally it is he, so I shoot him.' Or the famous Dostoevski formula, 'If one can kill one is holy and if one cannot, one is a louse,' the Raskolnikov problem."

(From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson, published by QED Press, second printing, 1992.)

Anthony Bruck:

"The greatest mistake in life is when people do not trust each other, when they try to arrange things by fighting and forcing and using authoritative ways - that is why in the world reigns a fight of all against all - everybody tries to be smarter than the other people around him, and so it sometimes goes so far as to become serious enough to be called a crime. Community feeling is strongly lacking and criminals start their career because they feel that otherwise they cannot get ahead in life, everybody seems to want to out-do them and to discourage them. So they try to find some other way...usually on the negative side then, of course." (From a translation of "Schwer Erziehbare Kinder," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP archives.)

Ferdinand Birnbaum:

"As early as 1924 Adler characterized the criminal strategy of life by the fact that it was aimed at compensating for a nagging feeling of inferiority by defeating others, which presupposes a long-trained violation of the inherent community feeling. Although crimes seemingly have an occasional appearance of courage, this is a false impression: the criminal, after all, proceeds along the line that he himself values to be the one of less resistance, even if this is not actually so. The criminal differs from the neurotic in that he possesses a higher degree of activity which he uses to commit his acts, whereas the neurotic is likely only to fantasize about them, and further by a greater natural preparedness to act in a group and stick with it in the face of a hostile world. This criminal strategy can never develop from sheer ‘opportunities,’ no matter how tempting, unless an apparently invincible inferiority feeling is present that makes use of these temptations for its compensation." (From a new translation of "Threats to a Child’s Psyche: An Individual-Psychological Guide to Prevent Ineducability," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP archives.)

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