Do Criminals Really Have Low Self-Esteem?

I’ve heard people who are into pop-psychology make the claim that criminals behave the way they do because they have very low self-esteem. I find this incredibly hard to believe, though. From what I’ve seen, not only are guys who have low self-esteem not criminals, but many of the go out of their way to help others, such as being involved with charities and the like. They seem as different as night and day.

Where did this idea that all criminals suffer from low self-esteem originate? Are there any studies that support this statement?? If not, why do so many people believe this ‘fact’???


Some do. Being a drug addict and finding yourself in jail for purse-snatching tends to make it hard to look in the steel mirror (although which is the cause and which is the effect is debatable). On the other hand, a goodly proportion of serious criminals are sociopaths who hold themselves in plenty high esteem, to the point where they’re pretty much incapable of esteeming others. I would be wary of any claims of similar psychological makeup for criminals across the board.

No generalizations are true.

Some criminals have high self-esteem. (ex. White collar criminals). They pride themselves of getting away with fraud, being a con artist and so on…

I have even seen studies where criminals were found to have higher self-esteem than the average.


It’s okay to have low self-esteem if everything you do is wrong.

My sense is that most hardened criminals like THEMSELVES a lot. It’s everybody else for whom they lave low esteem.

Criminals are always trying to prove themselves top dog, always, and all of them.

In jail this is a useful survival instinct, but it also means there is always the spectre of self doubt, which motivates them further.

Prisoners always find someone to look down upon, the aremd robber will look down on the car joyrider, the drug dealer will look down on the common junkie, and they all look down on the nonces(short for nonsense crime) theses are paedophiles, rapists granny bashers and the like.

Even sex offenders have their own heirarchy and one type of sex offender will look with disdain upon a differant category of sex offender.

All this need for heirarchy among prisoners betrays an innate sense of insecurity, just because many of them appear to love themselves a lot, does not mean it is true, virtually all of them have transparently poor justifications for what they do, and they know these justifications are weak, but they still act the part, but it is in the end, an act and they know they are living a lie.

At a very basic level, it seems to me that the criminal is basically saying “What I want and what I do is much more important than what others and society wants”…and that is a very high level of self esteem indeed.

Perhaps they are just disconnected and lack empathy, but to me, the criminal is very much on an ego trip.

For purposes of discussion, what’s a criminal? I walked against the light today, and in the past, had alcohol when I was underage. Those are crimes, so am I a criminal? A lot of people here, judging from other threads, have smoked pot. Are they criminals? Heck, Rosa Parks sat in the white section of the bus, which was against the law. Was she a criminal? I think you have to define your terms first.

I go with CC. I’ll state my prejudice to start with: we are constantly fed this idea that bullies, criminals, etc, behave as they do because they have low self-esteem, but I think that mostly they have high self-esteem but are gits. That said, I’m sure it varies.

The OP is basically L. Ron Hubbard’s take.

Well, a broken clock is right twice a day, so if L. Ron Hubbard really did have that take on the subject, it is probably by accident. That guy was a little on the loony side.

A lot of crimes are committed from an excess of self-esteem. The criminal figures he’s more important than his victim or society, so it’s okay for him to break the law. That’s one reason that prisons have so many problems; an enviroment where most people think they’re better than everyone else and entitled to special treatment is not going to be a peaceful one.

As part of my psychotherapy practice, I have worked with a fair number of individuals who have been sent to me by the juvenile probation department. The contributing factors behind these kids adopting a criminal lifestyle or committing criminal acts vary widely from kid to kid and vary from crime to crime (burglary compared to assualt, drug related crime, or sex crime) It is never as simple as “they have low self esteem.” Usually it is the interplay of several factors Some of these guys come from career criminal families, many of them are arrested with their dads and brothers. Some of these guys are impulsive, some have anger problems, some have been abused and neglected. Some say that they are angry and tired that they have junkie moms and they need to committ crimes to survive. Some just give the simple answer “that is just the way it is where I live.” A fair share of them do have some form of low self esteem, many express doubts that they could ever hold a real job and feel ineffective in “normal” society. Bottom line- in my opinion, the reason behind kids becoming criminal is complex and varies from kid to kid, crime to crime.