Criminals think of themselves as “good people”

Recently we discussed how criminals don’t think the way ordinary people do. According to Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D., criminals think in stark, black and white terms that leave no room for reason, negotiation, empathy for victims.

To follow up on this idea, here’s another somewhat startling observation: many criminals actually view themselves as good people despite their bad actions.

Here’s another excerpt from

Perhaps the most surprising discovery in my early years of trying to understand the criminal mind was that, without exception, offenders regard themselves as good human beings. No matter how long their trail of carnage, no matter what suffering they caused others, every one of them retained the view that he is a good person.

How does a one man walking crime wave retain the view that he is good at heart? There are many components to this perception. Some point to their daily activities of going to school or working as evidence. Others cite their religious practices: reading the Bible, attending church, wearing a religious symbol. Because of their talents, they are “good people.” Some are artistic, play musical instruments, fashion quality products in a wood shop, and so forth. When others commend them for their creativity, their sense of being a good person is enhanced.

Another component in the offender’s view of his own decency is that, no matter how tough he is, there exists within him a deep well of sentiment. I recalled a murderer who would not step on a bug because he could not bring himself to kill a living thing.

Nearly all affirm that there are others who do terrible things they would never do. Those people are the criminals. “Anyone who knocks a little old lady down on the street and steals her purse should be hung,” declared one teenager. Yet this same youth invaded a home while the owner was present, terrorized her, and cleared out some of her most valuable belongings. But that was acceptable because, as he pointed out, he did not physically hurt her. “Anyone who messes with little kids should be put to death,” remarked another offender who had committed a brutal rape.

The capacity to experience remorse supports this view of inner goodness. I recall a man who broke into a woman’s home and made off with jewelry and priceless heirlooms. When he learned the victim was suffering from a terminal illness, he returned everything he stole. The remorse he felt in this one situation bolstered his view of how compassionate a person he was. It did not deter him from other breakins.

Does this surprise you?

It’s difficult to understand how differently some people’s minds work. We all tend to assume that the way we think is the way other people think.

If you or I broke into someone’s home, stole their property, and hurt or terrorized people, we would know we’d done something wrong. But a criminal won’t necessarily think that way. They may see nothing abnormal about their actions.

Not everyone who commits criminal acts thinks differently. But some do, generally those who are hardened criminals with a long history of wrongdoing and an unfortunate upbringing.

However, it’s important to understand how truly different some people are so you can be prepared to react appropriately and legally to life-threatening situations. Being caught off-guard by what you view as “irrational” actions can cause panic and lead to poor decision-making on your part.

In other words, as trite as it might sound, when faced with a criminal, expect the unexpected.