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 lifestyle.

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


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 describing 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 themselves 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 themselves 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.


Misguided Sentiments

sentimentalityA criminal will, from time to time, express themselves emotionally offering tears of sadness for a friend or joyful praise for a responsible accomplishment. This expression, however, is an inconsistent feature of their personality; it is often contradicted by victimizing behavior. A criminal may, for example, help an old lady across the street in the afternoon, only to rob a convenience store in the evening.

In a fleeting sense, a criminal also expresses sentimentality toward family members, the helpless, plants, pets, religion, and so on. These expressions are isolated from the rest of their personality, though, and are often a means of maintaining a self-image as a good person. They can also be used as a balance, set up as an excuse for self-destructive behavior. One manifestation of criminal sentimentality can be found in criminal art.

In order to confront the thinking error of sentimentality, the criminal must recognize it as a consistent pattern in their personality. Acting immediately on one’s feelings, among other selfish behaviors, leads to irresponsibility. These irresponsible actions defeat sustained caring and real concern for others. Good deeds are discontinued in favor of excitement.

Another way to address a criminal’s sentimentality is in having them think or even write about the injury they have caused others. At the same time, the criminal must realize that a good deed does not make up for wrongdoing. Additionally, the creation of daily and long-term goals and priorities can be used in overcoming self-defeating sentimental behavior. For example, the criminal could make a detailed morning list of what they need to complete on that day. This could help them avoid becoming irresponsible on the spur of a moment.

A criminal must acknowledge that some of their sentimentality is expressed in the giving away of money and material things. They must realize that in order to develop a responsible sense of value, they cannot afford to give away money or possessions.

Finally, the criminal must recognize their spiritual self. When a criminal becomes involved with religion, their new religious beliefs must support responsible habits, values and concern for others. This approach would keep the criminal from abusing religion in an effort to avoid accountability for their misdeeds.


Effort Vs. Energy

Effort vs EnergyUnderstanding lack of effort as a criminal thinking error involves first defining it in relation to activity and energy. The criminal thinker has unlimited ‘energy’ for the activities they are interested in pursuing. However, they lack effort for activities that they consider boring, unexciting or uninteresting. An effort is the use of energy to complete distasteful tasks. It can often be heard in treatment settings that if the client would spend half as much time working on their goals as they did on complaining about things, they would be well on their way to success.

The criminal thinker expends an enormous amount of energy in self-destructive ways. They will fantasize for hours about how to make their next big score or how to ‘get over’ on someone. They will run around looking for a ‘quick fix’ without regard to time, inconvenience or consequence. But, when they begin the process of changing new activities like going back to school or working a regular job is as psychologically painful as a trip to the dentist! Rationalizations, excuses and mental diversions run rampant in the mind which seeks the enjoyment of another adventure in insanity. The “I can’t” attitude is prevalent in this thinking error and repeatedly surfaces when there is an unwillingness to endure adversity.

A natural deterrent to this destructive error in thinking is to first identify the excuses as they appear and then cognitively challenge them one by one.  Group therapeutic work is valuable when peers can point out the errors in each other and at the same time relate it to themselves. During the early stages of the change process, the changing thinker will often complain of fatigue. Mental fatigue is the result of angry, power-oriented thinking and self-pity. As angry and controlling thoughts are reduced, fatigue is diminished.

Progress for the changing criminal involves assessing the consequences of their lack of effort as well. When working low-paying job results in thoughts of quitting, the videotape of life must be played through to see the eventual consequences of that action. The serenity prayer can help keep effort in proper perspective.

Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

The changing criminal thinker needs to remember that the continued use of effort will build a responsible life. Thinking change is a building process. The more one pushes to do the difficult, the easier it will become to endure and succeed.

Access our free “Lack of Effort” worksheet on CriminalThinking.net.


Injuries Unseen

Injuries UnseenCriminal thinking is a consistent pattern of distorted thinking errors that result in irresponsible and arrestable behavior. One of the most common errors in thinking is the failure to consider the injury to others.

As a general rule, criminal thinkers do not consider the effect of their actions on others. Brief moments of guilt or remorse are quickly replaced with feelings of being a victim themselves or self-righteousness for the harm they have caused. When offenders express what appears to be sincere regret, careful examination will show that these overtures are typically used to tell others what they want to hear.  They are sorrier they were caught than remorseful for the harm they have caused by their actions.

Congruent with failing to consider the injury to others, criminal thinkers also don’t consider themselves bad people. The drug dealer will argue he isn’t forcing anyone to buy drugs. The drug addict will claim she isn’t hurting anyone but herself. The domestic abuser will say he didn’t mean to hurt anyone and the thief will say she has to make a living and insurance will cover it anyway.  When criminal thinkers heed the advice of A.A.’s fourth step and take a searching and fearless moral inventory and honestly think about the injury they have caused, they begin to change their distorted sense of positive self-worth. They can then more accurately conclude that they are a victimizer more than a victim and have deeply harmed others.

Replacing the thinking error of failing to consider the injury to others involves becoming aware of the full impact of abusive and criminal behavior.  It is important that one not only look at legally defined criminal behavior, but also examine irresponsible actions such as lying, deceit, conning, game playing, vindictiveness, and other tactics. For lasting change to occur it is essential that criminal thinkers go beyond immediate injury and consider the “ripple effect.”  For example, in the case of property theft, consideration should be made regarding the crime’s affect on the business owner’s attitude, feelings, friends, and family. The affect on the offender’s attitude, friends and family should also be explored along with the ripple affect of the crime in relation to property values, feelings of safety, insurance rates, and a host of other consequences. The purpose of this activity is to aid the criminal thinker in developing, expanding and sustaining a moral conscience. Guilt is only of value if it is used to change undesirable behavior and develop a sensitive, well-formed conscience. Criminal thinkers do have a conscience but render it inoperative through repeated patterns of corrosion and cutoff. Feelings of guilt and remorse are corroded and thoughts about the impact of their behavior is cut off. Regularly and thoughtfully contemplating injury to others helps redevelop the criminal conscience and strengthens it for deterring insensitive and criminal acts in the future.

Offenders, addicts, and even the taxpaying public can benefit from understanding and deterring the thinking errors we all possess at different moments in time throughout our lives. True freedom begins in the mind.


The Power of Control

Power ThrustThe criminal thinker does not achieve satisfaction from using power responsibly. The responsible use of power is not exciting enough! In treatment programs, when an offender’s thinking or behavior is challenged, the automatic response is to attempt to exert control over the situation. This attempt to gain control and divert attention away from oneself is called a ‘power thrust.’  A power thrust is by definition an irresponsible and harmful thinking choice. Criminal thinkers will regularly fall back on this thinking tactic whether or not there is something to be gained from the situation. Manipulating others and putting oneself in a position of authority comes naturally to the criminal thinker and extends to every aspect of their lives including social, emotional, work, play, sex, crime, financial and even in their views of religion. Religious leaders are typically viewed as con men or fools by criminal thinkers and participation in religious activities is performed as a means to a financial or socially manipulative end.

Conquest predominates the criminal thinkers relationships and sexual thought. Sex is not seen as a form of intimacy but rather as another form of power, conquest, and control. Grandiose thoughts of being the boss, a king or the top dog pervade this error in thinking.  To the criminal thinker ‘leading others’ means controlling or dominating others which is why they often have difficulty in a legal work situation. A compelled need to be in control of every situation is a succinct definition of power and control thinking.

In order to begin the arduous task of replacing power and control oriented thinking with the responsible use of power, the offender must first realize the extent of his or her search for power and control. The numerous avenues that control are exerted over others, and its negative ripple effects must be painstakingly reviewed. The criminal thinker must begin to see that they do not have the right or ability to responsibly control people. In addition, leadership must begin to be seen as a form of servanthood and responsibility. Legitimate power brings with it new problems and burdens. Situations that used to be seen as opportunities to exert control should be viewed as avenues for service to others. Developing the habit of putting oneself in another’s shoes will also help to deter power and control oriented thinking which is critical to the thinking change process.

Access our free “Power Thrust” worksheet on CriminalThinking.net.


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