Section 3: Cataloging the Material

Part 2: A comparison with other disorders

35. Other character and behavior disorders, including delinquency



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35. Other character and behavior disorders, including delinquency

Those who repeatedly commit antisocial acts or continue to carry out behavior in

other ways unacceptable to the group and incompatible with good standing among one's

fellows are often referred to as delinquents.


Truly felonious deeds are not regarded as characteristic of delinquency so much as

repetitiveness in misdemeanor or impropriety. In contrast with the orthodox criminal

and to some degree like the psychopath, the delinquent often shows lack of sufficient

conscious motivation to account for his conduct. Though delinquency is not a

diagnostic term, it has value in that it indicates character and behavior disorders lying

between the criminal and psychopathic extremes. Transient episodes of poorly adapted

behavior, particularly in the juvenile, are included. Many of the things which the

psychopath does are typical of the delinquent but seem to constitute only a part of his

life expression, perhaps a relatively small part. Motivation also can often be discovered

in the delinquent. Such motivation may be imperfectly understood by the patient and

may arise indirectly from circumstances, within and without, which he fails to recognize

or to evaluate property.

Ordinary delinquency might be thought of as a relatively mild disorder with fair

prognosis similar in its outer clinical manifestations to the malignant and sweeping

disorder found in the full-blown psychopath. As a pathologic reaction, as a kind of

maladaptation, there are important resemblances and correlations. Hysterical

dissociation and the sort of personality dissociation or disintegration found in

schizophrenia also have something in common as well as important differences.

In one, the disintegrative process is more superficial and self-limited, often of

brief duration; in the other, this process may continue until the entire personality is

fragmented and no longer recognizable and the organism is incapable of functioning

even at the lower levels accepted as characteristic of a human being. In repetitive

delinquent behavior the subject often seems to be going a certain distance along the

course that a full psychopath follows to the end. In the less severe disorder, antisocial

or self-defeating activities are frequently more circumscribed and may stand out against

a larger background of successful adaptation. The borderlines between chronic

delinquency and what we have called the psychopath merge in this area. Although

anxiety, remorse, shame, and other consciously painful subjective responses to

undesirable consequences are deficient in both as compared with the normal, this

callousness or apathy is far deeper in the psychopath. The deficiency is also far more

successfully masked.

It is worthwhile to emphasize that many who, as they mature, become welladjusted

people and happy and distinguished citizens can look back to incidents of

unprovoked misconduct which, if habitual, might constitute delinquency. If such

isolated fragments not only persisted but took precedence in the entire life scheme, and

became in fact the major expression of the personality, behavior would emerge having

much in common with the case histories given in this book.


Many stable and productive adults are known by me (and others, no doubt, by

the reader) who can be clearly identified earlier in life as members of destructive gangs

which, on Halloween or on other special occasions, carried out raids in the residential

section, hurling brickbats about, smashing windows, removing wrought-iron gates,

puncturing automobile tires, and shooting about rather wildly with air guns or smallcaliber

rifles. Some remembered as special leaders in these activities, as well as in halfserious

plans to derail trains or wreck trolley cars by thoroughly oiling the hillside tracks,

became properly respected bankers, Rotarians, physicians, deacons, professors,

attorneys, and scout masters.

A happy husband and father who is also an outstanding civic leader recalls with

some retroactive bewilderment his membership in a select club at college in which the

chief topic at meetings consisted of obscenely boastful accounts of recent enterprises in

miscegenation. In this particular setting, that of an isolated rural community in the

South in the 1920's, such relations in themselves implied a maximum of scatologic

contempt for the partner, a peculiarly derogatory aim in the act, that even the language

customarily used in such reminiscences could not adequately convey.

Another conventional and well-adjusted adult recalls an incident after a beer party

following the last football game of the season when a fair proportion of the celebrants

went out together to a pasture and there pursued and constrained a number of cows in

efforts to achieve sexual relations with the fairly patient but reluctant animals.

A kindly and eminently responsible medical colleague reports numerous episodes

from his adolescent days in a farming community. Among many other fumbling and

confused ventures in the masculine approach, he remembers finding amusement and

delight in joining with other boys to make the rounds of outlying primitive toilets where

young ladies, like all other local people, in response to natural demands, exposed to

those strategically placed the most secret regions of the body through familiar apertures,

Those who lay in wait now made stealthy use of bamboo switches or small branches to

titillate the relatively immobilized and vulnerable ladies at this vividly inopportune

moment. Strange girls visiting in the community gave special impetus to these gross but

hilarious improprieties.

Numerous instances come to mind of young girls who, after episodes of

damaging promiscuity not accounted for by erotic passion, achieve a better evaluation

of such acts and, as they mature, integrate their impulses in such a way as to find

security, personal fulfillment, and adequate sexual response in stable and faithful

marriages. A transient episode in a woman about 30 years of age is also pertinent to the


Despite very unhappy marital relations she had scrupulously refrained


from indulging in any sexual activity except with her husband until shortly after their

divorce. Then, for reasons she could not explain, she found herself susceptible to

almost any overture, and, in fact, made it all too plain that she was cheaply available.

There occurred a series of unrewarding sexual relations with strangers who casualty

picked her up, with some salesmen who happened to appear at the door, and with

acquaintances of long standing (some of whom she considered distinctly unattractive).

After some months of this behavior she reoriented herself and has since then been

leading her customary conventional life.

Temporary periods of distinctly delinquent behavior are apparently not

uncommon even in careers on the whole successful and constructive. More protracted

or habitual reactions of this sort result in disordered patterns that approach in varying

degrees the pattern of the psychopath.

Confused manifestations of revolt or self-expression are, as everyone knows,

more likely to produce unacceptable behavior during childhood and adolescence than in

adult life. Sometimes persistent traits and tendencies of this sort and inadequate

emotional responses indicate the picture of the psychopath early in his career.

Sometimes, however, the child or the adolescent will for a while behave in a way that

would seem scarcely possible to anyone but the true psychopath and later change,

becoming a normal and useful member of society. Such cases put a serious

responsibility on the psychiatrist.

A patient I once saw affords an excellent example. A 15-year-old high school

boy, the son of respectable and God-fearing parents, attacked with considerable

violence and apparently tried to rape a 9-year-old girl. When interviewed, he showed

indifference, despite the fact that the girl's father had threatened him with death and

tried to seize him. He denied actual rape and spoke calmly of the whole affair as if it

were a minor matter, such as, for instance, breaking a neighbor's window. He later tried

to excuse himself by inventing a palpably absurd story about being drugged with

marijuana given him in the form of cigarettes by a Mephistophelian stranger. This boy's

parents were severely pious and strait-laced. Much of his teaching had apparently

implied that a minor oath or any preoccupation with thoughts of sex should be regarded

as soul-devouring. He seemed indeed much like a psychopath, but might his conduct

not have been the result of an ordinary adolescent drive emerging in a mind relatively

without restraining principles partly because of the very fact that absurd trifles had been

so magnified by his teaching that he saw all prohibited things at a level of importance

and had dismissed all as absurd because so many indeed were? In such a case I feel that

the child should be given benefit of the doubt until evidence of a persistent pattern is

thoroughly established.


A 16-year-old boy was sent to jail for stealing a valuable watch. Though

apparently content and untouched by his situation, after a few questions were asked he

began to seem more like a child who feels the unpleasantness of his position. He

confessed that he had worried much about masturbation, saying he had been threatened

and punished severely for it and told that it would cause him to become "insane."

He also said no one liked him, that he talked and yelled too much, and that no

one would play with him. While speaking of this he seemed to echo a real worry, to

reenact a former attitude to a perplexity and trouble that he once felt. At the moment

this boy seemed accessible and it was felt his problem might be understood, as many of

the behavior problems of children and adolescents can be understood. In the next

moment, however, hope faded, and it became apparent that the boy was not now taking

seriously what he might once have taken seriously. I could not reach a level of any

inward reality. There remained only the mimicry of feeling that, if it ever existed, had

now vanished. Of course, it cannot be stated positively that there was no genuine

feeling. It cannot be known that a schizophrenic who fails to turn his head when told

of a tragedy fails to suffer. We often feel with strong conviction, however, that the

schizophrenic does not appreciate such events in the ordinary sense and as people who

are not schizophrenic appreciate them. With similar conviction I believe that this boy

was no longer aware of serious conflict or suffering or humiliation either about

masturbation, about his present status in jail, or about the almost unbelievable series of

absurd, shameful, and fruitless acts that had occupied him for years, He was entirely

rational in the ordinary sense and of average intellectual capacity.

He admitted having broken into his mother's jewelry box and stolen a watch

valued at $150.00. He calmly related that he exchanged the watch for 15 cents' worth of

ice cream and seemed entirely satisfied with what he had done. He readily admitted that

his act was wrong, used the proper words to express his intention to cause no further

trouble, and, when asked, said that he would like very much to get out of jail.

He stated that he loved his mother devotedly. "I just kiss her and kiss her ten or

twelve times when she comes to see me!" he exclaimed with shallow zeal. These

manifestations of affection were so artificial, and, one might even say, unconsciously

artificial, that few laymen would be convinced that any significant feeling, in the

ordinary sense, lay in them. Nor was his mother convinced.

A few weeks before this boy was sent to jail, he displayed to his mother some

rifle cartridges. When asked what he wanted with them, he explained that they would fit

the rifle in a nearby closet. "I've tried them," he announced.


And in a lively tone added, "Why, I could put them in the gun and shoot you. You

would fall right over!" He laughed and his eyes shone with what seemed a small but real


This might be considered merely childish jest. A normal child might, of course,

say such a thing, and in a normal child it would be merely a jest. I believe that this boy

also spoke in jest, but I fear that he might carry out the jest, not with bitterness or hate

in the ordinary sense but merely because the fancy struck him and because the death of

his mother would mean so little to him that it cannot be counted in the ordinary terms

of human emotion.

This boy's history showed, over a period of several years, dozens of episodes

similar to the present. His misdeeds were apparently without purpose. He gained

nothing, took little or no precaution against detection, and seemed to be unmoved by

punishment. He is mentioned here because I could not help but wonder if a few years

earlier he perhaps did feel shame and insecurity and might have been amenable to

teaching. It was difficult to say whether his behavior disorder would tend to improve or

be substantially modified by ordinary treatment or whether this was an early stage of the

psychopath's career.


Next: Section 3: Cataloging the material, Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 36. A case showing circumscribed behavior disorder


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Section 3, Part 2


  • Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step
    Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step, Some material has been presented in which manifestations of the disorder occur. It is our task to arrange it in such a way that its features can be seen clearly and compared with the features of other disorders. Such a step should be helpful in our efforts to recognize what we are dealing with and to evaluate it. Let us compare these patients known as psychopaths with others showing clinical illness and deviated reactions or patterns of living. Significant details should emerge, differentiation should become clearer, and distinguishing features of our subject should become more apparent at





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