Freudian Excuse: Real Life

  • The Freudian Excuse has been used by defendants in real-life court cases, although nowhere near as often (or as successfully) as fiction makes it out to be. This is mainly used in penalty phase of capital murder trials, and even then, this is only used to avoid a death sentence. It's not really a legal defense, except as a set-up for some form of insanity plea. No matter how much you explain your actions ("I'm only a murderer because daddy beat me" as analogue to "I'm only a thief because I have no money"), explanations don't form a legal excuse.
  • There is a common belief that people who are abused as children are extremely likely to go on to perpetuate the abuse. This is not actually true. There is an increased risk, but the majority of abuse victims do not become abusers. However, the pervasiveness of this trope can lead victims to suffer for fear of themselves, or to be shunned as possible dangers.
  • While it's certainly no excuse for his actions, Adolf Hitler had an abusive father note  and wasn't let into an art school.
    • While trying to get in art school in Vienna, where anti-semitism was all the rage, he ran into non-assimilated orthodox Jews for the first time. In Mein Kampf, Hitler even confesses that up to that point he had considered Judaism nothing but a religion and believed that someone could perfectly be Jewish and German.
    • Hitler also grew up at a time when nationalism and nation states was all the rage - but in Austria-Hungary, a multiethnic semi-absolute monarchy relic from the century before, poorly run and awfully decadent. Years later, you have this guy who prides himself the most in being German, hates Slavs (who had been demanding equal rights or indepedence from AH through Hitler's youth), hates multiculturalism, hates aristocrats and really hates the Habsburg monarchy. Where could he get such ideas?
    • And then there is World War One. Hitler happily convinced himself that the Germans would have won, if it wasn't for those meddling backstabbers back at home, because the war had ended with the Germans still occupying Belgium and northern France, having all but destroyed Russia, and without a single foreign boot on German soil. He could not, however, have seen the home front crumbling, or the German lines rapidly retracting under the pressure of fresh Allied armies and their newly invented tanks because he had been blinded in a gas attack and spent the last month of the war recovering in a military hospital where he was told one day of the capitulation. The result can be seen in his actions in World War II: He thought that once France was defeated (and with Italy by his side) he could just wipe out Russia in a single campaign, and he wouldn't even have to bother with securing peace with the British Empire first. Epic Fail ensued.
      • What about that he only had the ability to join the Germans anyway because of the year he was born
      • That and the trauma from all the battles, including one incident where a British soldier could have killed him but let him go (upon realizing who he had saved, said British soldier tried to return in the army with the hope of correcting the mistake).
  • Fellow mass murderer and enemy, Joseph Stalin, also had an abusive father. Once he was beaten so badly, he peed blood. Then he had a son of his own whom he wasn't very fond of, he didn't even care that he was captured by Germans, or that he failed an attempted suicide.
  • Many dictators were once abused or bullied by their parents, other children or other people. As a result many have a similar vengeful or cold approach towards other people being tortured or killed. They also create entire personality cults around themselves to compensate for their own feelings of self doubt and depression.
  • Sexual abuse may be one of the factors that can lead to men and women becoming pedophiles, though current evidence suggests that this is a very, very small minority.
  • Sad Clown: Many comedians suffer from depression. This may seem as a contradiction, seeing that they are all jokesters who make other people's life better by making them laugh. But many of them had it tough growing up. Either they were people who were shy, full of self doubt or social outcasts or the victim of some traumatic incident in their youth. For many, the only way to be accepted by other people or to cope with the severe dramas in their life is by using Self-Deprecation comedy.
    • Charlie Chaplin grew up poor, a son of of an alcoholic and a mother who was eventually sent to an insane asylum. As a young child he ended up in an orphan, where he discovered his talent. This allowed him to eventually become a rich and succesful vaudeville and later movie star. It's no coincidence that he played a tramp his entire life and that his films have tragicomedic scenes based on his personal experiences. Yet despite being a superstar he was always in self doubt and very afraid of being upstaged by other comedians. For instance, while he and Stan Laurel both performed in the same vaudeville group he didn't like that Laurel was able to imitate his act perfectly. After Chaplin became a movie star he never helped Laurel to become one himself and it took Stan another decade before finally hitting it big on his own.
    • Buster Keaton performed together with his parents in vaudeville, as early as six years old. The little boy was pretty much used as a stage prop during slapstick beatings and throwings. While he never spoke a bad word about his parents his father did force him to keep a poker face during their act and not show his emotions at all, "otherwise it would ruin the gags". Keaton kept his poker face even as an adult comedian, disturbingly enough.
    • Drew Carey lost his dad at the age of eight, and was molested by his uncle a year later.
    • Bernie Mac was raised by a single mom, who died of cancer when he was sixteen.
    • Tim Allen lost his dad at the age of eleven.
  • School bullies vary on this. Some bully because they have been have problems at home or have grown socially maladjusted. Sometimes a child may have gotten away with poor behavior with inadequate, ineffective punishment or none, only for a parent to end up exploding into physical punishment. This leads to a child concluding that violence is acceptable and preferable. Many other bullies can simply be described as pricks picking on "acceptable" targets. Worth noting is that bullies generally have developed an unearned sense of high self-esteem. On top of that, insufficient consequences for bullying reinforces the notion in bullies' minds that they can get away with it.
  • "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft is about why husbands abuse their wives, the multiple ways they do so, the reasons why women sometimes end up thinking it's their fault and how the wives can get away. When asked why they abuse, relationship abusers said it was because their mother/father/etc. abused them. When the interviewer called BS, telling them they would remember the abuse and not want to inflict it on others, nearly 60% of the abusers fessed up and said that wasn't why they abused.
  • One theory of Anti-Social Personality Disorder is that usually those who have it did not merely have Abusive Parents; rather, they had Abusive Parents who periodically would make some half-assed and short-lived attempt at discipline or generosity, or pretend that everything was "normal", for example to fool outsiders. Its the chaotic and random hypocrisy of the situation that really set them off, teaching them that punishment is arbitrary, kindness is a mask, reality is a Social Darwinist Crapsack World and other such harmful conceptions that they end up internalising, along with a shortage or total lack of more positive role models.
  • Psychologist Philip Zimbardo spends most of his book, The Lucifer Effect, talking about what causes good people to turn evil, but punctuates it with reminders that understanding the evil doesn't make the people any less responsible.
  • Joseph Fritzl. Turns out he hid his daughter and three of her children in his basement in Austria for 24 years because his mother abused him. They were also HIS children. Go ahead and think about that.
  • In The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams recounts the horrific tale of how he had to wear shorts for the first four weeks of sixth form (having been forced by school regulations to wear them all through prep school, despite having already grown taller than most of the teachers). He says that if he ever "[came] across as a maladjusted, socially isolated, sad, hunched emotional cripple... then it's those four weeks that are to blame".
  • "It is my personal opinion that lyrics cannot harm anyone. There is no sound you can make with your mouth or word that will come out of your mouth that is so powerful that it will make you go to hell. It's also not going to turn anyone into a 'social liability.' 'Disturbed' people can be set on a 'disturbed' course of action by any kind of stimulus. If they are prone to being antisocial or schizophrenic or whatever, they can be set off by anything, including my tie or your hair or that chair over there." — Frank Zappa
  • Subverted with Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who went on record to say that he took full responsibility for his actions and that when he heard people trying to explain his crimes by blaming his parents it actually made him angry because they had nothing to do with it, and were as much in the dark as anyone.
  • Another famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, may have played this straight. His father was not only domineering and abusive, but frequently humiliated him in front of the neighborhood kids because of his more effeminate interests. It got worse when he tried to engage in more typical boyish behaviors and discovered that he had a debilitating heart condition that prevented him from doing so, making him feel like even more of an outcast. People have theorized that all this may have made him bitter and angry at the world and humanity to the point that he stopped trying to repress his then emerging paraphilic urges. That said, there's no way to tell for sure that he would have ended up differently even if he'd had a normal childhood.
  • In the memoir "Dirty Secret", Jessie Scholl describes her upbringing as the daughter of a hoarder, who neglected her children quite badly. Her mother's childhood was very unhappy, and her abusive father seems so unempathic that it is easy to imagine him having a similarly abusive childhood. When Jessie confronts her mother about her inability to care for her, her mother is very regretful, but is also (almost?) incapable of letting go of what she sees as a joke and what her daughter perceives as abuse (teasing with snakes that Jessie is terrified of).
  • Sam Vaknin gives his interesting point of view on the role of abuse in the molding of a malignantly narcissistic personality. This includes taking "a more comprehensive definition of "abuse". "Overweening, smothering, spoiling, overvaluing, and idolising the child – are also forms of parental abuse." Vaknin also quotes Karen Horney in that "the smothered and spoiled child is dehumanised and instrumentalised". Vaknin continues that when "The child is taught to give up on reality and adopt the parental fantasies", "The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality – empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and of others, personal boundaries, team work, social skills, perseverance and goal-orientation, not to mention the ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it – are all lacking or missing altogether". The person growing up this way "sees no reason to invest resources in his skills and education, convinced that his inherent genius should suffice", and "feels entitled for merely being, rather than for actually doing (rather as the nobility in days gone by felt entitled not by virtue of its merits but as the inevitable, foreordained outcome of its birth right)".
  • Aileen Wuornos was abandoned by her mother and father, sexually abused as a child, a mother herself by 15 who never got to see her child after the birth, and then suffered homophobia when she realised she was a lesbian. This explains a lot.
  • Polish psychologist Alice Miller has often linked the abusive childhood of several celebrities to their own tormented behaviour as adults. This includes both dictators and serial killers, as cultural icons like Friedrich Nietzsche, Buster Keaton and Franz Kafka. It is worth mentioning that Miller didn't actually argue that "people abuse others because they were abused;" her argument was more along the lines of "people abuse others if they were abused and were told it was good for them". In other words, the part that poisons them into abusing others isn't the infliction of pain, but them being asked to deny that pain in favor of the powerful adults they must please. Then, since the passage of time inescapably means they soon become the powerful adults, they use the same rationale their parents did to inflict pain on their kids for their own good; in reality, the real reason is that now that they're grown, they can act out the other end of the one-sided relationship they once were forced to accept.
    • Also, while it wasn't the primary focus of his work, the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell made a similar argument about parental abusers in "The Conquest of Happiness": there was no "great mystery" as to why parents abused their kids; it was because the parents enjoyed the benefits of having a one-sided power relationship (and by implication, the relief that came with no longer being on the other end). So Russell thought parents were becoming increasingly unhappy in his day because they were being robbed of the benefits of a one-way relationship (and by implication, the fact that since their own children would no longer be required to go through that crucible, their OWN acceptance of their one-sided childhoods was for nothing).
  • Within Psi, a theory that models human personality and behavior, psychologist Dietrich Dörner argues that the feeling of helplessness under repeated abuse in childhood can lead to a persistent, lifelong state of low "competence". This leads to a constant craving for power, influence or acknowledgement.
    • One possible way to satisfy this need is the accumulation and abuse of political power, as seen with Hitler or Stalin.
    • Another strategy can be violence towards weaker persons or animals, for example bullying.
    • Perfectionism in work and private life can also be a way to restore competence. According to Dörner, Vincent van Gogh is a prominent example.
  • Many crime shows about the Serial Killer Ted Bundy, point out that the woman he thought was his older sister was really his mother, who got pregnant with him when she was a teenager. He learned this just weeks after being dumped by his girlfriend who was part of the rich social class and told him she was above his level. They claim this was also the reason he targeted women with parts in the middle of their hair, because they reminded him of his ex-girlfriend.
  • In his book Character Disturbance, Dr George K. Simon states people, who fight social order and harm others readily to get what they want(among these fighter personalities are people with ASPD and psychopaths already mentioned), weren't abused nearly as much as they've been thought to. Some of them have had normal or even wonderful childhoods. They have learned their harmful ways of relating to their environment from reinforcement of aggressive behavior at the cost of others, inadequate association of misbehavior with punishment that ought to follow and overly permissive culture that feeds entitlement-thinking in general. One of the various techniques by which unscrupulous fighters dodge responsibility is by playing the victim and blaming anyone and anything else.
  • Michael Jackson's eccentric behaviour is infamous. Yet he himself always said that he wanted to "revisit the childhood he was never allowed to have" by turning his house into a theme park for little children to come and play. He also blamed his father for forcing him to perform on stage and beating him. In the biography by Randy Tarraborrelli rumors are suggested that Michael may have been a victim of sexual abuse. Jackson, despite his talent, was also plagued by worries about his looks, which eventually resulted in him going through countless facelifts that literally transformed him into an almost unrecognizable shell of his former self. He said that his brothers always picked upon him for having acne and "a big nose like his father".

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