Top Ten Criminal Thinking Errors

Criminal thinking errors are prevalent in our society and these made the top ten list thanks to the ground-breaking work of Stanton Samenow and Yochelson in their three volumes of work titled, “The Criminal Personality”. Although these errors are considered “criminal thinking” they really are present in each of us to varying degrees. Offenders take these errors to the extreme which then develops into patterns of thinking and behavior that continually victimize and harm others.

Key Question: Which of these errors to you see in yourself and how can you change them?

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Why Do Some People Hurt People?

Criminal thinking errors are pervasive in our society. Everyone has them to some degree, but the extreme criminal thinker relies on this way of thinking to justify their actions which support a criminal life style.

This infographic creatively describes the errors in thinking that encompass the thought process of an extreme criminal thinker. Criminal thinking therapy, which is based on the Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model of change, is one of the most effective ways to bring about change in an offenders thinking and life.

infographic criminal thinking errors


CT Group Tip: Thinking Error Deterrents

thinking error deterrentsDeterrents to negative thinking errors are the primary and practical way a changing criminal thinker can alter their thoughts to affect their behavior. This group facilitation tip focuses on examining the five thinking deterrents in real life situations for group participants.

1. Pick a thinking error to review.

2. Read the corresponding article for the error in the CT Module.

  • Have group members read one paragraph each
  • Ask the reader to define any potentially confusing words or concepts and the facilitator should help clarify understanding as needed.

3. Ask each reader to give an example of how they have used the thinking error recently.

4. Review the five thinking deterrents with the group.

5. Ask the first reader which deterrent they used or could have used to change their thinking in the example they described. Repeat this step with each reader.

OPTIONAL: Assign the related thinking error worksheet as a home work or in-class assignment.


CT Group Tip: Dealing with Resistance

dealing-with-resistanceResistance to change is a typical component of all criminal thinking (CT) groups. Learning to deal with and even embrace resistance is key to a successful and therapeutic group process. One common form of resistance that regularly shows up in CT groups is denial. When asked for examples of how thinking errors have caused harmed, some group participants will deny that they caused harm to others or they may even deny having thinking errors. Instead of arguing with the participant or trying to convince them of the opposite, engage them in dialog.

When a group participant denies having thinking errors, consider a response similar to this: “It makes total sense to me that you don’t recognize having any thinking errors. In fact, it actually helps me see why you are in this group/program/situation. That statement itself, about not having thinking errors, is actually an example of a very common thinking error. Do you know which one?” If they say “yes,” ask them to describe which error it is and how failing to recognize errors in thinking is an example of that thinking error. If they say “no,” tell them how this is a great opportunity for them to begin the process of identifying thinking errors in themselves which they didn’t even realize existed! Then, instead of telling them which thinking error they are displaying, ask them to read over the CT error definitions, perhaps as a homework assignment, and identify which error or errors are examples of failing to identify their own errors in thinking.

What are some other ways you deal with resistance in group situations?

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CT Group Tip: Memorization for Change

memorization and thinking changeCreating a culture of positive change should be the focus of every Criminal Thinking group. Shaping a culture that supports change can be done intentionally with rituals that frame the group process. Many groups begin with a short reflection or recitation of group rules or code of conduct. Including a group memorization process can help cognitively embed positive principles of change, as well as victim recognition, in the minds of group participants.

The Following group reading helps support the accountability and victim awareness that most offenders lack at the beginning of the thinking change process. It also ends with a commitment to positive change for themselves and their victims.

A group participant reads the each line of the reflection and the group repeats each line in return.

“Crime”
“Crime Hurts People”
“I Will Not Hurt Others Or Myself Again”

The Five Deterrents are also a good source for group memorization. When participants commit these deterrents to memory they can be more easily accessed and remembered when negative thoughts and situations present themselves. A good memorization technique is to have the group recite the first word in each deterrent to help remember the content of each deterrent, i.e Stop, Stop, Plan, Exam, Do.

  1. Stop and think of who gets hurt
  2. Stop and think of the immediate consequences
  3. Plan ahead, think ahead, make another choice
  4. Exam-ination of conscience
  5. Do not dwell on it

Want more CT Group Tips? View our other tips here…


CT Group Tip: Pick a Picture and Present

criminalthinkinggroup_pickapictureIn some treatment modalities such as long-term support groups, open ended relapse prevention sessions, long-term treatment and prison-based programs there is often a need for new group session ideas based on criminal thinking and thinking error deterrents. Here is a creative idea for using the free Criminal Thinking Pinterest images available on the criminalthinking.net website

  • As a facilitator, print out the same number of inspirational graphics as there are group members. If possible, print on card stock paper so that the image doesn’t show through the other side.
  • Ask group members to to pick a card without looking at the image.
  • Begin with one person and ask them to show their card and read it out loud to the group.
  • Ask the person to explain which ‘criminal thinking error‘ they believe the card represents best and have them give an example of the error in their life.

Note: The more recent the life example the better. Criminal thinkers like to view themselves as good people and will want to explain that the error is something in the past.

  • Then, ask the person to provide an example of a deterrent they could have used to change the thought.
  • Finally, ask them to describe how the card and corresponding error is a pattern in their life that continually leads them to harmful results.
  • When the person finishes their presentation move to the next person.
  • When the group is done, ask them how this type of exercise can help change criminal thinking patterns.

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What do you think of this group idea? What ideas have you used for thinking-change type groups?

Find more CT Group Tips on our blog…


Sexual Thinking Undone

sexualityIt is typical, when examining the early sexual life of the criminal, to discover fantasies of superior sexual development and prowess as compared to their peer group. This irrational thinking is founded in the criminal’s desire to be perceived as especially adult, or more mature than others around them.

The adult criminal’s sexual behavior takes on a particularly unhealthy shape, frequently becoming defined by exploitation and conquest. The thrill of this conquest is what dominates their sexual behavior and the fantasies they form. The criminal, as a sexual partner, expects to be catered to in their every whim; the feelings and needs of the other partner are not acknowledged. Armed with the sense that they can possess and own others as sex objects, the criminal does not recognize their sexual partners as whole people.

The criminal understands sex as an act of power and control rather than of intimacy. They are more than willing to abuse others in order to build up their own self-image. In reality, however, their sexual behavior is more likely to be characterized by poor performance; the criminal’s fantasies and bragging about their sexual prowess are generally more than a little exaggerated. It is not unusual, in fact, for the criminal thinker to be fairly ignorant about sexual matters, especially in relation to the satisfaction of their partner. As such, their sexuality is in fact a lasting area of irresponsibility.

These sexual attitudes and behaviors need to be seen within the framework of other thinking errors and their corrections. Exploration of openness, sensitivity to the injuries of others, moderation of power and control impulses, elimination of ownership attitudes, and the development of interdependence with others can play their parts in finding solution to the sexual complexes exhibited by the criminal.

Also of value will be the process of challenging the double standards that define the criminal’s relationships with others; in particular, more often than not, the relationships they maintain with members of the opposite sex. The criminal thinker needs to learn that their sexual fantasies, especially those revolving around exploitation and conquest, are a form of irresponsible excitement. Learning how to interact meaningfully, on a sexual level, requires an exodus of no small proportions from the self-deception that ensnares the criminal’s perception of sex.

Visit the CriminalThinking.net website for free worksheets to help deter and correct the thinking error of sexuality and many others errors in thinking. Browse these other common thinking error articles as well:


Concrete Thinking

Concrete ThinkingHuman mental processes typically evolve from the concrete to the conceptual, whereas the criminal is often described as failing to learn from experience. This individual does not generalize the outcome of one situation to similar circumstances, a problem which is related to the fragmented thinking associated with the criminal personality.

The criminal is extremely situational in their interpretation of the world around them. Instead of defining right and wrong as the issue in their behavior, the criminal is interested in what they can do without being caught, or what they can get away with.

Failing to internalize pro-social values, the criminal’s main controls lie outside themself; for example. they will not commit a crime if the risk is too great. The criminal thinker tends to view the world around them in extremes: black and white, either/or, and with little flexibility.

In order to enact change, the criminal must learn to relate current events to similar experiences and lessons. Some of these will be related in form, though not in substance, to the situation at hand. Repetitive tardiness, for instance, could be related to a lack of consideration for others, or to a poor concept of family and a lack of concern for the role of a child, sibling, spouse or parent.

Visit the CriminalThinking.net website for free worksheets to help deter and correct the thinking error of concrete thinking and many others errors in thinking. Browse these other common thinking error articles as well:


Criminal Pride

criminal prideFalse pride consists essentially in an extremely high and unchanging evaluation of oneself. The criminal thinker uses the word respect to describe the behavior they require from others to affirm and support their false pride.

The criminal resents simplicity or mundane qualities in life, as such qualities compel them to admit that they are just average people. Some behaviors typical of false pride in the criminal are boasting, bragging, refusing to avoid conflict, refusing to admit ignorance and the display of strong nonverbal cues in movement and posture.

Irrational decisions on the part of the criminal are more easily understood in light of pretension and efforts to control others, both part of the thinking error of false pride. False pride is used by the criminal in three capacities:

  • Maintaining a false sense of power;
  • Avoiding accountability;
  • Avoiding zero state, or depression.

In order to address false pride, the criminal must adopt a self-critical attitude as a route toward realistic expectations of themself and the world. Self-criticism will also help in developing and attaining goals, and in creating a basic humility with reference to their position in the larger scheme of things. Self-examination must also involve the review of nonverbal behavior. Gestures such as rolling one’s eyes, pushing out the chest and folding one’s arms, for example, are condescending and falsely superior.

The very concept of manhood, or womanhood, must be redefined. This essential identification should be seen as the pursuit and growth of a responsible lifestyle which includes elements such as reliability, honesty, integrity, humility, purposefulness and value to others, among other things. It is particularly of note that the male criminal’s relationships with women should be examined for the existence of dominant behavior, which is related to false pride.

Ultimately, the correction for false pride is the development and continued use of responsible initiatives. Through this process, a self-concept based on the accomplishments of responsible living can take root. The changing criminal’s first responsible initiative is behavioral changes often seen in therapy.

Visit the CriminalThinking.net website for free worksheets to help deter and correct the thinking error of criminal pride and many others errors in thinking.


Anger Unmanaged

Anger = DangerAnger is a basic component of the criminal personality. Angry thinking and behavior is a fundamental element of the criminal’s thinking process; whether expressed outright or seen beneath the surface, the criminal is angry.

Fear, especially the fear of being put down, is the most common source of anger in the criminal. They perceive their own mistakes, or those of others, as an attack on their own identity. This type of thinking breaks down the criminal’s expectation that everything should go smoothly for them. A criminal’s reaction to such a putdown is aggression – a response intended to re-establish control. They use anger to gain control of others, whether these others are in a position of authority or submissive to the criminal. Aggressive anger often takes the form of intimidation, a method employed to gain the upper hand in a disagreement.

Anger brings out a vulnerability in the criminal to what is called the zero state, or depression. In this state, they develop inflamed irrational thinking about the unfairness of a situation, person or life in general. Part of this thinking involves getting even. A violation, or some form of irresponsible behavior, are the basic strategies by which the criminal re-asserts themself as a powerful person. This is the key, in the criminal’s thought process, to escaping the zero state.

A criminal may become angry during periods of self-restraint, as in therapy or treatment programs. Restraint by others, such as in imprisonment, can also escalate angry thinking. This anger is a result of the boredom these situations tend to produce. The criminal does not necessarily seek out confrontation with others, but this is often the result of their anger. This anger can arise from the interference of others in the criminal’s operation.

Often, the criminal attempts to define themself as a rebel, justifying their angry behavior in this manner. Their behavior is not in fact rebellious, however, because there is a lack of concern with principles, they are a rebel without a cause. The criminal thinker is primarily concerned with getting what they want, and opposed to interference. Angry thinking can produce irresponsible decisions and violations. All this being said, anger is a serious threat to the criminal’s rehabilitation.

A criminal can alter this mode of thinking, in spite of everything. They must learn to deter angry thinking and angry behavior. This is important, because when a criminal expresses their anger, they experience an increase in the angry response itself – not a reduction in it.

The changing criminal must be aware of the irrational thinking of poor decision making processes which arise out of angry thinking. The result of angry thinking on responsible performance and positive goals must also be examined. As a criminal changes their behavioral patterns, they must be aware of self-defeating judgment toward themself and others. Eventually, they will learn to accept the imperfections that are intrinsic in their own self, other people and their environment.

A list of potential replacements for angry thinking includes:
1.    Tell yourself you cannot afford to be angry.
2.    Remind yourself of how it has gotten you into trouble in the past.
3.    Ask yourself: Am I expecting too much?
4.    Ask yourself: What did I contribute to this situation?
5.    Prepare yourself for disappointments. Remember if anything can go worng it will
6.    Ask yourself: how else can I handle the situation?
7.    Do something else. for example listen to the radio

Check out our other criminal thinking error related articles.


"An approach to the treatment of offenders which emphasizes the role of altering thinking patterns in bringing about change in an offender's life."