Oedipal guilt, punishment and criminal behaviour

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Dolan, Brendan
Issue Date
Higher Diploma in Arts in Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The successful negotiation of the Oedipus complex is vital for our psychical development as it provides us with the means to form relationships and integrate into society. Resolution of the Oedipus complex requires the intervention of the father (Freud) or a symbolic representation of the function of the father (Lacan). Unresolved Oedipal issues lead to unconscious guilt which over time can become unbearable causing the individual to seek to externalise the guilt through the commission of crime in order to receive the punishment their guilt demands. Freud calls these individuals Criminals from a sense of guilt. This paper looks at the theory of Freud and Lacan around criminal behaviour and the Oedipus complex. It also shows that the desire of the individual for punishment to expiate unconscious guilt, the desire of society to punish in order to expiate inherited unconscious guilt and the presence of a severe Superego all collude to entice the individual to commit crime.The application of psychoanalytical theory to the legal and penal system shows that rather than acting as a deterrent they may in fact incite the commission of crime. There is a role in the legal and penal systems for psychoanalytical theory but what that role is remains unclear.