Psychological portrait of a modern criminal

Psychological portrait of a modern criminal
Composite portrait of a maniac Photo:

No one would argue that there is a whole bunch of socio-psychological differences between a criminal and law-abiding person determined by various factors: from the family situation in early childhood to life style, habits and interests. The CrimeRussia correspondent spoke with experts to draw a psychological portrait of a modern criminal.

Of course, if two different people with same personalities both suffered from parents and classmates, it does not necessarily mean that they both will become involved into illegal activities. However, experience shows that all law breakers have common psychological features that vary depending on the crimes committed.

"I wish I had never dealt with this"

Psychiatrist Alexander Sheptunov frequently works together with Astrakhan Police and consults detectives.

"Psychology of criminals is my speciality, but after some cases I wish I had never dealt with this. I mean severe pathologies of maniacs and pedophiles," - the psychiatrist says.


He notes that all offenders have the following character traits: high impulsivity; aggression, aloofness from society, hostility against people and state, suspicion, inability to forecast further events, absence of caution. Criminals often oppose themselves to all others. The extent of features listed above differs for various criminal types. For example, murderers are much more impulsive than thieves, while robbers are more aggressive than embezzlers of state property.

Alexander Sheptunov defines five main types of criminals:

  • greedy (thieves, bribe takers, corrupt officials, fraudsters, car thieves);

  • violent (murderers, sadists, mutilators, malicious hooligans);

  • greedy-violent (robbers, bandits, hijackers);

  • asocial (parasites, homeless and alcoholics committing small crimes);    

  • pathologic (maniacs, pedophiles and other persons with serious psychiatric deviations)

Types of criminal personalities by depth, persistence and intensity of antisocial vector

Types of criminal personalities





Very Malicious

First-time offenders who committed a crime that contradicts their previous positive social vector

First time offenders who committed a crime due to unfavorable concourse of circumstances, both personal and non-personal

First time offenders who used to commit violations and amoral acts in the past

Offenders who commit repetition of crimes

Offenders who commit virulent or very virulent repetition of crimes

Certain personal features, the psychiatrist believes, are prerequisites for criminal behavior. For example, murderers are negligent to feelings and emotions of others, while fraudsters are greedy and arrogant. Embezzlers of state property put well-being of their family above public interests, thus, opposing themselves to the society. People who steal due to alcoholism are weak-willed. 

In addition, self-affirmation is the reason behind many crimes. Profit seekers demonstrate their status with expensive items obtained through illegal machinations; robbers show their "bravery" to other gang members. Hooligans compensate their inferiority complexes by attacking those who seems more successful than them. For example, a young man walking with a nice girl makes them jealous. And offenders who seize his watch do this to assert themselves rather than for profit.

The psychiatrist notes that criminals are often fatalists and consider imprisonment a result of poor fate rather than consequence of their own actions. Many of them don’t have long-term plans, don’t see self-fulfillment perspectives within the bounds of the law.

28 knife stabs

Alexander Sheptunov believes that, contrary to popular opinion, lack of father’s care does not necessarily lead to serious problems if the mother is loving and caring. Violent crimes are most often committed by people whose mother was authoritative and dominative, while the father was fully subordinate to her. Woman’s despotism and cruelty form emotional estrangement from other people in the child. For example, Andrey M. grew up in a family that seemed trouble-free, but the mother always suppressed him and was very harsh. She indicated to her son that he does not meet her expectations: other children behave and study better. The boy has grown up in a psychologically-harmful environment, feeling himself not as good as other children.

Andrey M. served in the military, graduated from a technical school, worked as a plumber. He lived with his wife Larisa K. for six years and then killed her. During all these years, the women cheated on him on the regular basis.

"I knew that she dates other men and, because of this, was drinking frequently to retaliate her affairs," - Andrey M. told the psychiatrist.

The criminal murdered his victim after she told him that she has met someone better than him. The man lost self-control because it was a repetition of an unfortunate situation from his childhood: he was inferior in comparison to other children. The husband stabbed Larisa K. 28 times in different body parts, thus, avenging harshness of his mother in whose eyes he was always inferior to others.

The criminal case against Andrey M. treats this incident as a murder of jealousy.

“I wore somebody else’s sandals”

Alexander Sheptunov says that bribe takers and embezzlers of state property often try to compensate lack of attention during their childhood with material values.

The story of Leonid S., convicted for a large-scale larceny, is an example. He grew up in an orphan home; his mother died in a car crash, while the father married another woman and abandoned the son. His grandmother also refused to take care of him. Since early childhood, the boy developed grievance against the whole world, people and relatives. He understood that he is alone versus all.

Leonid S. became a lawyer and made a successful career. He knew that he can rely upon himself only. After getting family and children, he decided to provide the best possible life for them.

"I never had my own toys, I wore somebody else’s sandals," – the owner of 2 cottages, 3 apartments and 4 luxury foreign-made cars laments to the psychiatrist.

The amount of Leonid S.’ larceny is huge; however, despite the conviction, the official does not regret what he has done. He is proud that his sons had the best childhood possible. And now they have grown up and can take care of themselves.

Leonid S. does not care that other orphans, like himself years ago, received less toys due to his crimes. This man is unable to put himself in other people’s shoes, can not feel emotional compassion for others. Since early childhood, his attitude towards the society was always negative.

Why using the difficult childhood as an excuse?

Psychologist Maksim Vishegorodsky studies criminals’ life style, their views and vision of life.

"As any other society, the criminal world has its rules, hierarchy and marks of distinction; it implies certain style of behavior," – the psychologist says.

The very fact that members of this society are forbidden to work inevitably leads to new crimes because it’s the only way to get money. Even so-called "criminal lords", although distinguished from the majority of offenders with their intellect and willpower, still have low social adaptiveness. They are unable to adapt to social life and often subconsciously wish to return to penitentiary institutions where they are respected figures.

Maksim Vishegorodsky believes that there are no such issues in our life that can be solved only through a crime. And if somebody opts to steal money instead of borrowing, he is a thief. And no need to look for excuses in his difficult childhood or severe circumstances. Most crimes are preceded by an asocial life style.

The psychologist’s studies show that almost all law breakers are people whose chances for successful social adaptation are low. They frequently move from one place to another, change jobs, can’t create strong family relations, have difficulties with making friends.

Motives of people who commit thefts and robberies are not necessarily related to material needs. They often wish to confirm their status in the criminal group, thus, compensating inability to adapt to social life with gaining authority among other criminals.

For example, Oleg T. grew up in a family of doctors, graduated from a military school, served in Astrakhan. The young officer’s career was pretty successful: he married, received housing from the state. But the military service, with its need to obey regulations, perform same actions day-by-day, was boring for the young man.

Oleg T. quit the military service and became a civilian. However, he could not find a suitable job, started drinking. Wife faulted him for the lack of money, and the ex-officer joined a criminal group specializing in car thefts. Soon he was arrested and served a prison term. After release from prison, Oleg T. did not return to his wife, who was not waiting for him, too. He was dating random women, drinking, stealing. Served several terms.

The habitual criminal told Maksim Vishegorodsky that he simply can’t maintain law-abiding life style.

Criticism, reproach and negligence

Marina Khokhlova is an inspector for juvenile cases in the Trusovsky District of Astrakhan.

"Of course, not only parents are responsible for unlawful behavior of minors, but most of my fosterlings live either in single-parent or problem families," – the police officer says.

The inspector recalls that a girl arrested by police for vagrancy was scared most of all that she could be sent back to her alcoholic mother. 14-year old Kristina Sh. was willing to go anywhere to avoid seeing again a drunk woman and her companions selling last belongings from home.

Marina Khokhlova says that many troubled youth have negative attitude towards parents and don’t consider them role models. To avoid criticism, reproach, negligence, and other issues, many of them leave homes regularly to vagabond.

Boys growing without father’s care are often aggressive and rebellious. Without seeing a man working hard to keep the family, the boys choose to play a "tough guy", a popular image in this social group. And if the mother is focused on material aspects of life and does not provide enough attention to the son, he often can’t evade negative influence from older boys, who may also have criminals among them. 

"I told them countless times that once you step on this path, it’s impossible to leave it, but unfortunately not all of them listen," – the inspector for juvenile cases says.

Marina Khokhlova can’t remember examples of criminal parents involving their children into illegal activities, except poach fishermen whose families do this for generations. Sergey P., who served two terms for robberies, once came to the police officer and asked her to speak to his teenage son. The man was not involved into nurturing the child, and after release from penal colony noticed that his son joined a bad company. The habitual offender did not want his son to repeat his own life and asked Marina Khokhlova to speak with the minor.

"Why don’t you tell the boy yourself that he must study well and earn an honest livelihood?" – the police officer asked the criminal.

"He does not trust me because I showed him a bad example with all my life," – the man replied.

Luckily, the offender’s son had a head on shoulders and soon went to a railroad technical school; currently he has a job and lives a normal life.

Mother used to beat father

Inspector for juvenile cases Marina Khokhlova told us a story of Arthur P. This minor has four older sisters and a younger brother. A large family. Mother is a harsh and demanding woman, while the father is a gentle and weak-willed man who obeys his wife and whose opinion means nothing.

Arthur P. says that he saw his mother beating father. Neither did this woman show any tenderness to her children. 

The boy tried not to spend time at home and preferred a company of older guys who became role models for him. These semi-criminals often boasted their ‘toughness’ and claimed that they rob people on the streets. They said that the people are cowards and surrender money and valuables at once. Easy way to make some money. Arthur P. liked this idea. He began stopping women and robbing them of purses and wallets using threats. The boy did not use the stolen wealth. He made a hidden stash and sometimes browsed through his trophies – enjoying the feeling that he managed to scare women and seize their valuables. He continued to endure mother’s dictatorship but became more self-confident in communication with her. Her irascible personality, slaps and insulting words hurt him less. After a heart-to-heart talk with the young robber, Marina Khokhlova understood that his motive was not profit-related. By robbing women, the boy was taking revenge upon his mother for all her unkindness, insensibility and severity. The boy also understood and accepted this. Now Arthur P. is serving a term in a specialized penal colony for minors.


Obviously, certain traits, such as impulsivity; aggression, greed and arrogance, can lead to a crime, especially if the person had suffered from psychologically-harmful environment, cruelty or negligence during the childhood. But this does not necessarily mean that this person will become an offender. Generally speaking, there is always a choice. And everybody makes this choice himself.



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