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


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.


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.


Objects to Possess

Under New OwnershipIn school, children learn the difference between a noun and a verb. Most of us will easily recall the grade school mantra of a noun as a ‘person, place or thing.’ For the criminal thinker, the definition attributed to the noun takes on a new and more distorted meaning.  Criminal thinkers perceive people, places and things as objects to possess. They have little to no regard for the ownership rights of others and minimize or ignore the negative ripple effect of their behavior.

Counselors regularly hear examples of this ‘ownership attitude’ in therapy groups when offenders describe their crimes of theft. They believe they have the right to take things that don’t belong to them because they “have to make a living somehow.” They fantasize about the big score and plan out in detail how they will “get their money.” Once they take an object or steal money they consider it theirs. Some will even go as far as to make a report to the police if the stolen money is stolen from them! This type of double standard is unwittingly played out in many areas of a criminal life. A criminal thinker will steal for a living but complain when something is stolen from them. They will belittle and decry the crimes of a sex offender, but minimize or ignore the hundreds of victims they have created themselves. They point out the inconsistencies and unfairness of probation and parole rules while breaking their own promises and the rules of a civilized society.

The attitude of ownership extends far beyond money and goods. Criminal thinkers also view other people, and especially sexual partners, as property. This type of thinking is codified into well-known rules of engagement for many outlaw biker gangs. Biker gangs are well known for their abuse of women. In some gangs, women are actually bought, sold and traded which is the epitome of an ownership attitude.

Changing an ownership oriented pattern of thinking involves discovering the consequences of ownership-oriented behavior. Crimes of theft need to be examined for the negative ripple effects they cause in the lives of victims and the also the victimizer. The criminal thinker must begin to look through the eyes of their victims and contemplate the injury they have caused others in their lives. Victim awareness must become a new habit in the life of the changing thinker. Ownership thinking creates endless examples of the double standards prevalent in a criminal’s life. Changing this way of thinking will result in a single standard of respect and acknowledgment of the human rights we all possess.

Access our free “Ownership Attitude” worksheet on CriminalThinking.net.


“I can’t” means “I won’t”

I can't = I won'tThe criminal thinker is unwilling to do anything that is boring or disagreeable! This statement is considered an axiom among corrections professionals. The criminal thinker has boundless energy and interest in activities that are exciting, interesting or fun. But when it comes to basic responsibilities and actions that don’t result in an immediate payoff they lose interest or give up. The words “I can’t” become the mantra for the criminal thinker.

  • “I can’t get a job because I have a record.”
  • “I can’t stop using drugs because I already tried a hundred times before”
  • “I can’t go back to school because I’m too old”
  • “I can’t do these assignments because they are too hard”

In reality, “I can’t” means “I won’t.” In correctional treatment programs we often hear from offenders that they tried to stay sober, or they tried to get a job or they tried to finish a task on time, but something or someone prevented them from accomplishing the task. Our common response to criminal thinkers who “try” to do something is to stop trying and start doing.  Stop trying to get a job and do whatever it takes to get a job. Stop trying to stay sober and do whatever it takes to stay sober. Do whatever it takes to complete the responsible task at hand. And, by the way, you don’t know what it takes to live responsibly so ask for help and follow advice!

Pushing oneself to do the difficult is the key to criminal freedom. In fact, the best advice for someone early in the criminal thinking change process is to focus on the actions that they like the least.  If getting up early and doing house chores is the most disagreeable task at hand, that should be the first thing on the list to complete!  Criminal thinking change is an exercise in opposites.  A criminal thinker must begin to turn their thinking around 180 degrees. Instead of blaming others for their plight, they need to blame themselves. When doing something responsible seems boring, that is the time to perform the task.  Instead of saying “I can’t” say “I must.”  We don’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it. Responsibility, maturity, and growth are about taking consistent action especially during those times when we don’t feel like doing them. A babies behavior is based entirely on its feelings, mature men and women’s behavior is directed by responsible thinking and rational beliefs.  “Tell me you don’t feel like doing something right now and I’ll tell you that now is the time to do it then!”

Once a habit is formed by doing the disagreeable it becomes easier to do. If we make a consistent effort towards a responsible goal, its achievement begins to become a reality. The serenity prayer is a good source of inspiration for this thinking error of Lack of Effort.

“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.”

Visit the CriminalThinking.net website for a free worksheet on correcting the thinking error “The “I Can’t Attitude.”


Victimstance

Next to ‘closed-channel thinking,’ victimstance is the most pervasive thinking error in irresponsible and criminal thinkers. Criminal thinkers continually blame others for situations they have caused themselves.

Victimstance thinking moves to the extreme in persons actively engaged in victimizing behavior. If a criminal thinker gets arrested they will claim they are victims of overzealous police actions. They will lie and deny doing anything wrong even when confronted with the obvious facts of their offenses. They will often blame the violence they have perpetrated on an addiction or drug and alcohol use.  When a criminal thinker enters treatment or therapy they will use their new found diagnosis to rationalize and excuse their behavior instead of using that knowledge to take the necessary steps to make meaningful change.

The common victim rationales used by the offender fall into four destructive categories including, psychological, sociological, an ex-con and genetic.  Examples of thinking distortions in each of these areas are as follows:

Psychological:

  • If drugs were legal like in Denmark this wouldn’t even be an issue.
  • Everybody steals and lies, I just happen to have gotten caught which is not fair
  • I couldn’t help it that my friend decided to rob that store. I’m a victim of circumstance.
  • If you would have left me alone this wouldn’t have happened.
  • It’s not my fault, I warned her that I get violent when she keeps nagging me.

Sociological:

  • I was raised in the projects. This is the only way I learned how to make money
  • I live in a neighborhood that is controlled by gangs. If I wouldn’t have joined a gang I would have been killed.
  • I am constantly being discriminated against because of my race so committing crimes is how I learned to cope.
  • If I was white I wouldn’t have even been arrested for this crime.

Ex-con:

  • I can’t get a decent job now that I have a record so I have to sell drugs to survive.
  • There are no good options for someone with a criminal record.
  • Society has branded me a criminal so I might as well just accept it.

Genetic:

  • My parents were both incarcerated so I was bound to be a thug.
  • Drug addiction runs in the family, I don’t have a choice.
  • I just have bad blood.

The changing criminal must begin to accept the role they play in every negative consequence that they encounter. They need to identify the thinking errors that prevent them from taking personal responsibility.  By asking what they could have done differently to change the outcome of the situation they will begin to learn corrections to their distorted thoughts.  They must learn and document how they have been a victimizer more than a victim.  Even when they are truly victimized, their criminal lifestyle is usually what has caused them to become victims themselves. Police understand this concept well when they arrive at a crime scene and discover that the victims could easily be yesterdays victimizers.


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