Human behavior and personality studies have been fundamental in understanding people in the societies, they attempt to find reasons for their behaviour and find ways of resolving them.
Every country’s crime and justice department depends on psychologists and sociologists who are knowledgeable about behavioral and psychological theories, these people are capable of providing useful information in understanding criminals and ways of preventing the occurrences of their crimes. This paper uses Sigmund Freud’s personality theory to analyze Robert Pickton, a British Columbian convicted of murder.
Robert Pickton’s biography
Robert Pickton was born in 1948 to a family with one sister and a brother. Robert grew up in Port Coquitlam on a family farm. Their mother was their primary care giver as their father was least involved in their upbringing. His mother was very strict, making them perform hard work for long hours.
This work included taking care of their farm animals as well as slaughtering the animals occasionally. Though his father was not involved in his early life, he abused Robert and his siblings, seeing them as losers. Because of this, Robert had a poor relationship with his parents.
In school, Robert was no better as he had poor relationships with people. Children shunned Robert, and he had low grades, with an IQ of 86. Later, Robert dropped half way through school to become a meat cutter. As he grew older, Robert began experimenting with hard drugs such as cocaine and this was the beginning of his encounters with the law. In 1992, Robert was arrested for sexual assault and arrested for attempted murder five years later. The attempted murder charges were dropped for lack of evidence.
However, his behaviours became worse as he lured prostitutes to his farm and murdered them after engaging in sexual activities with them. Robert slaughtered his victims and fed their remains to pigs. Analyzing Robert’s behaviour and personality requires a deep examination of his actions using a theory that tracks his upbringing. Sigmund Feud’s personality theory does this (Hall, 2005).
Sigmund Freud argues that the human mind is divided into id, ego and the super ego, whose interaction determines the individual’s personality. The id exists in the unconscious part of the mind, and consists of instinctual unadulterated energies. It demands immediate gratification of needs, so if an individual is controlled by the id, the individual cannot wait or reason out their needs. They want it, and will have it at that particular time.
The id’s response to body needs is reflexive. The ego, which operates on a reality principle, matches the demands of the id with real world objects and events. In the case of hunger, the ego would make an individual seek food to satisfy the hunger. The last division is the super ego, which reminds the individual of the moral values of the society.
The super ego develops through internalization of values as people grow up. As children grow up, their parents teach them the acceptable behaviour through rewards and punishment. The child slowly learns what is good as well as what is bad. In the case of hunger, the super ego would instruct the individual to either ask for food, cook or buy food instead of stealing.
Without the development of the upper ego, the id identifies the hunger and the ego associates it with food, therefore leaving the individual to obtain the food in any way possible. In addition to the internalization of moral values, the super ego is always in a constant strife for perfection, which makes it as unrealistic as the id. Therefore, the ego interplays between the two extremes. In Robert’s case, there was poor development in the relationship between these three components of the mind.
The ego was unable to control the id, so the id controlled his behaviour, as the super ego had no function at all. He acted on impulse to gratify his needs. His killing behaviour indicated an underlying need that he needed to gratify. Instead of seeking moral ways of satisfying this need, he killed his victims.
The underlying need that Robert had is also a subject of concern because it explains his overall personality. Because of the difficult task the ego has, interplaying and creating harmony between the id and the super ego, sometimes it becomes overwhelmed and seeks ways of defending itself.
Sigmund Freud calls these ways “defense mechanisms’, where the ego unconsciously blocks or distorts unwanted impulses into less threatening forms. Freud identifies several mechanisms that the ego uses to defend itself, they are denial, repression, displacement, projection, reaction formation, rationalization, intellectualization, and regression.
Robert’s case resembles a number of these mechanisms, especially displacement and repression. Displacement refers to a situation where an individual directs an impulse towards a substitute target, which is less threatening than the intended targets. From his childhood, it is evident that Robert had a poor relationship with his parents, as his mother made him work too hard for too long and his father abused him.
He must have repressed negative feelings towards his parents, which he released in killing prostitutes. Prostitutes are less threatening and easy as targets, compared to his parents or males. In addition to this, Robert lacked love, and that is why he sought for love in his pigs, as he could kill, slaughter his victims and feed them to his pigs. There is also an account of Robert witnessing his brother kill someone with a truck. Robert must have repressed this traumatic experience making him more violent.
Freud argued that the sex drive was the most important of all impulses, as it encompassed every aspect of humanity, hence being the primary motivating force. In his explanation, sexuality means any pleasurable sensation. Because of this, he discussed human personality development through psychosexual stages.
The psychosexual theory contains stages which indicate an individual’s development process. The individual must successfully pass each stage in order to have a desirable personality. Additionally, the success of one stage depends on the success of the previous stage.
Every stage has a need that the individual must fulfill. When the needs of one stage are poorly fulfilled either through over or under gratification, then fixation occurs. This leads to poor development or to the development of faulty personality traits. The periods are divided into oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2010).
The oral stage is the first stage and occurs between the first two years of birth. At this stage, pleasure is in the mouth and is gratified through mouth activities such as swallowing and sucking. Fixation at this stage leads to abundance of certain activities such as smoking, eating and drinking in an adult individual.
The anal stage occurs when the child is about two and half years, and the ideal thing that caregivers teach children is controlling their physiological processes. Fixation in this stage may make an individual having physical problems such as enuresis. The third stage is the phallic stage, which occurs at about four to five years of live. This is a critical stage because it marks the point of identification formation.
The male child identifies with the father while the female identifies with the mother. Freud says that from birth up to this stage children of both genders have high affinity to their mother. They both have feelings towards her because she gratifies their needs. However, at this stage, the girl child starts competing with the mother and leans more towards her father.
A process Freud calls Penis envy. After realizing that she cannot fight her mother, the child identifies with her mother. Boys, on the other hand, go through Oedipus complex. This is a situation when the boy’s attraction towards his mother fails to fade in order for him to identify with the father. Freud explains that boys usually hate their fathers during their competition for the mother’s attention. Later, the boy gets castration anxiety, a fear for loosing his penis.
Because of this anxiety, most boys try to become like their fathers in order to appeal to their mothers. Therefore, they identify with the father, adopting his attitudes and values. When this fails to happen and Oedipus complex occurs, the boy carries these feelings for his mother into adulthood. He soon learns that he cannot gratify these feelings through his mother, and seeks ways of gratifying them. He may become obsessed with prostitutes.
This stage clearly describes Robert’s situation, as Robert had a poor relationship with his parents. For a beginning, he must have had the attraction towards his mother. However, his attractions were rejected as the mother was strict with him. Because of this, he became frustrated and had no way of releasing his frustrations. Secondly, Robert did not form any identity with his father, as his father was not involved in his upbringing (Engler, 2008).
In cases where his father was involved, he abused Robert. This way, Robert had no one to teach him values, as well as help with his identification. His hatred for his parents together with his feelings towards his mother drove him to prostitutes and violence. He could release his frustration by killing his victims, whom he saw as representation of his mother.
This way he was “making her pay”. The fourth stage in Freud’s development is the Latency stage, which occurs at the age of 6 to 12 years. At this stage, children repress sexual interests and substitute them with other activities such as athletics, learning and peer group involvement. This helps children form healthy competition habits and initiate relationships with peers. This stage is only possible if the child has formed an identity and is more in control of his abilities and emotions.
Unfortunately for Robert, his latent stage was unsuccessful. Robert could not compete or form relationships with his peers. This also contributed to his dropping out of school. The last stage according to Freud is the Genital stage, which begins at puberty; at this stage, the child emerges as the person they will be. Fixations in earlier stages usually determine the individual’s personality. However, at this stage, the child may be transformed and become better adults (Page, 1998).
In cases where fixations had adverse effects on the child and there are critical signs of damage, psychoanalysis can help as a corrective measure otherwise, the child represses the experiences and carries them to adulthood, hence influencing their personalities. Robert had not received any help for his fixations and repressed experiences (seeing his brother kill someone). Because of this, the experience influenced his poor personality, attitudes and behaviors.
In addition to this, Robert was poorly socialized. He grew up on a farm, and he killed and slaughtered animals from a young age. This experience is traumatizing to any young child. However, he seemed to have assumed that killing and slaughtering was normal. When he dropped out of school, he became a meat cutter, which is similar killing and cutting. Because of the recurring “killing and cutting’ socialization, Robert perceived these activities as normal.
Engler, B. (2008). QR code for Personality Theories. New York: Cengage Learning.
Hall, C. (2005). Introduction to Theories of personality. New York: Wiley.
Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2010). An Introduction to Theories of Personality MyPsychKit Series. New York: Prentice Hall.
Page, M. M. (1998). Introduction to Theories of Personality: Supplemental Class Notes and Reading Assignments. New York: Cengage Learning.