The case study “Songs My Mother Taught Me” discusses a boy named Charles who at first glance, looks like an ordinary, nice, charming young man. However his appearance is only skin deep, one would never assume just by looking at him that he is a cold -blooded killer. In a random town, on a random day, A door to door sales girl came to Charles’ home selling religious materials. Ten minutes later she was dead; bludgeoned on the head with a hammer, stabbed sixty nine times in the chest, and raped. A horrible crime committed by a horrible person. Maybe, maybe not.
After Charles committed the horrific act he left he apartment and went out to get some ice cream as if nothing had happened. Later he turned himself in to the police with a nonchalance that seemed eerily out of place. The crime that Charles committed was a terrible one at that, but why? Why would some one do such a thing and seem to have no emotion about it what so ever? Why would someone so young, someone, who seemed to have their whole life ahead of them, bludgeon, stab, and then proceed to rape a corpse? To get the answers to these questions we must try to understand Charles and see what the drive is behind his homicidal tendencies.
Charles himself has been the victim of some gruesome crimes. From the time of his birth he was not a wanted child, he had been placed in and out of orphanages and institutions for his entire young life. In these institutions he had been severely beaten, scolded, punished, and at times sexually abused. He received no personal attention, no love, warmth, or affection. Charles was treated like an animal, and later he learned to behave like one. It was not long before Charles learned how to protect himself, after years of being the recipient of an amazing amount of brutality, he began to associate himself with is tormentors.
As he grew he began to become more and more cynical, and his heart began to fill with hatred. Charles began to do to others what was done to him. He would seek out the weak, conquer and destroy. Charles became an afflictor and delighted in giving pain. During these years away Charles saw his mother very infrequently. Sometimes she would come for birthdays and holidays, and other times there were visits to her home, always rushed and hurried. At this point in his life Charles became an emotional cripple.
To understand the motivation behind Charles’ aggressive nature we can look at the theories of five prominent Psychoanalysts: Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Albert Bandura, B. F Skinner, And John. B. Watson. By analyzing these theories using Charles’ case study, hopefully a better understanding of his actions will appear. Freud wrote a book on hysteria that explains the theory that “every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person’s understanding of the world. The emotions appropriate to the trauma are not expressed in any direct fashion, but they do not simply go away.
They express themselves in behaviors that in a vague way give a reaction the trauma. ” (Boeree, G) This statement directly relates to Charles’ case. Charles killing of the young girl was a direct result of his abuse as a child, it was almost symbolic in a way. Charles was actually killing his mother; he was reacting to the trauma that she imposed on him. All of this however is unbeknownst to Charles. According to Freud, the reason for the killing of this girl lies Charles’ subconscious. In Freud’s theory the conscious mind is what you are aware of at any particular time, your present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, and feelings.
This area of the mind seems pretty large however Freud suggests that this is the smallest part. Freud says that the largest part is the unconscious. It includes things that are not easily available to awareness, such as our drives or instincts. As in Charles’ case things are stored there because he can’t bear to look at them such as his memories of the brutal treatment he received as a child, the neglect and abandonment of his mother, and any emotion he may have about all these traumatic events.
According to Freud, the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they be simple desires for food or sex, neurotic compulsions, or motives for just about anything else. Freud believes that these are the needs of an organism, it needs to survive and reproduce, and it is guided toward those ends by its needs, hunger, the avoidance of pain, and sex. Freud further divides the organism into three existing parts, the id, the ego, and the superego. The id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately, such as for food or drink.
The id is basically an infant or a child in its first years of life. As the child becomes older some of the id becomes the ego. The ego relates to the organism to reality by means of consciousness, and it searches for objects to satisfy the wishes the id creates to represent the child’s needs. The ego unlike the id functions according to the reality principle which says take care of a need as soon an appropriate object is found. With Charles during the murder his mind functioning on the id or pleasure principle which is telling Charles to “Kill”.
His ego takes care of this by killing the first woman he sees (object). However, as the ego struggles to keep the id happy, it meets with obstacles in the world. It occasionally meets with objects that actually assist it in attaining its goals. In particular, it keeps track of the rewards and punishments given out by two of the most influential objects in the world of the child, it’s mother and father. This record of things to avoid and strategies to take becomes the superego. It is usually not completed until seven years of age.
In Charles’ case it was never completed. Because he never had any real consistent parenting, his superego never really developed fully and it could not successfully control the desires if the id and ego together. In dealing with Freud’s theory, he discusses several defense mechanisms that seem appropriate to the case study on Charles, the first of which is denial. Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. In Charles’ case his torturous upbringing ending with the culmination of a murder, seemed to be too much for him to handle.
In other words with his lack of emotion towards the events he simply refused to experience it. A few other defense mechanisms that Charles exhibits are repression, displacement, and isolation. Repression is not being able to recall a threatening situation, person, or event. With Charles he has repressed his hatred and anger toward his mother and tormentors and has displaced it towards his weaker inmates and finally toward the girl he murdered which was a substitute for his mother, or matricide. That is displacement, the redirection of an impulse onto a substitute target.
The impulse to kill his mother was probably okay with him, however actually directing that impulse toward her was in reality to threatening, so he displaced his urge toward the sales girl as a symbolic substitute. The third thing that Charles displays is isolation. Isolation involves stripping the emotion from a difficult memory or threatening impulse. Charles in a very cavalier manner, acknowledged that he murdered a girl, however he treated the situation as if it wasn’t a big deal at all. Something very important to the Freudian theory is identification; it is how we develop our superegos.
Something that Charles did well was identifying with the aggressor. Charles began to focus on not general or positive traits, but of negative and feared traits. In his mind Charles was afraid of his punishers, so he unconsciously tried to conquer that fear by becoming more like them. A key in the case study with Charles is understanding his oedipal complex (devised by Freud) with his mother. Even though Charles was abandoned by his mother he no less loved her. Every time he was around her he felt “sick” (excited) but he couldn’t match the two together.
The main way that Charles seemed to connect with his mother was through her wedding ring in which he found in an old trunk in her bedroom on his infrequent visits her. As he got older he would masturbate with the ring unconsciously using it as a symbol for his mother. This was the only way Charles felt he could connect with his mother, the only way she could “love” him. The ultimate act in displacement. A useful way to understand Charles is seeing him through Freud’s defenses. All defenses are of course lies, even if one is not conscious of making them. Charles repression took him further and further from the truth, from reality.
After a while his ego could no longer take care of the id’s demands, or pay attention to the superego’s. After awhile all his anxiety came rushing back to him, and he eventually broke down. Freud made us aware of two powerful forces and their demands on us. Back when everyone believed that people were basically rational, he showed much of our behavior was based on biology. When everyone believed of people as individually responsible for their own actions, he showed the impact of society. When everyone thought of male and female as roles determined by god, he showed how much they depended on family dynamics.
The id and the superego, the minds way of combining biology and society has ultimately affected the way we view Charles. According to Freud and regarding Charles’s case study, he says that certain neurotic symptoms caused by psychological traumas must be relived in order for the trauma to get better. In this day and age we now know that that is no longer true, however through Freud it has become a common understanding that a childhood full of neglect, abuse, and tragedy tends to lead to an unhappy adult; AKA: Charles. Another popular psychologist that can further explain or theorize about Charles’s behavior is Erik Erikson.
Erikson is a Freudian ego-psychologist. This means that he accepts Freud’s ideas as basically correct. However, Erikson is much more society and culture oriented than Freud was. Because of this aspect Erikson is popular with people who like Freud and those who do not. Erikson is most famous for his work in refining and expanding Freud stages of development. Erikson believes that this takes place in eight stages. Each stage involves certain developmental tasks that are psychosocial in nature. Our progress in each stage is determined by our completion or lack of completion of the previous stage.
The first stage, infancy or the oral-sensory stage, is approximately the first year and a half of life. The task is to develop trust without eliminating the capacity for mistrust. Charles however did not have this opportunity; his parents (absentee father, and mother) were unreliable and inadequate. Charles was rejected and then subsequently harmed, so developed mistrust. Erikson calls this the malignant tendency, which is characterized by depression, paranoia, and psychosis. Stage two is the anal-muscular stage of early childhood, from about eighteen months two three or four years old.
The task here is to develop independence while minimizing shame and doubt. In this stage of Charles’ life he developed shame and doubt. Any authority figure that he had at the time came down hard on any of his attempts to explore and be independent. Charles soon gave up, and began to feel deeply ashamed. He lost both his self-control and his even more precious self-esteem. Stage three is the general-locomotor stage or play age. From age three to six, the task confronting every child is to learn initiative without too much guilt.
Charles had no parents guiding him along the way to provide initiative, or to allow him to explore and daydream. He was never taught or never learned the difference between right and wrong. Erikson calls this ruthlessness. A ruthless person such as Charles takes the initiative into his own hands. They don’t are who they hurt, as long as they achieve their goals. Charles became so extreme in his ruthlessness that he became a sociopath. Stage four is the latency stage, or the school age child from about six to twelve. The task is to develop a capacity for industry while avoiding an excessive sense of inferiority.
Charles had neither parents, teachers, or peers who encouraged him, so he never developed a felling of success. Because of this Charles developed a sense of inferiority. Stage five is adolescence, beginning with puberty and ending around eighteen or twenty years old. The task during adolescence is to achieve ego identity and avoid role confusion. Ego identity means knowing who you are and how you fit in to the rest of society. It requires that you take all you’ve learned about life and yourself and mold it into a unified self- image, or identity.
Given what we know about Charles he seemed to have a lack of identity. Erikson refers to this as repudiation. They repudiate their membership in the world of adults, and even more, they repudiate their need for an identity. Some teen-agers allow themselves to fuse with a group, especially the kind of group that is eager to provide the details of your identity. Charles fits this example perfectly. Charles immediately wanted to belong to the “bad” group of boys. They were destructive, and allowed Charles to withdraw into his own psychotic fantasies.
After all, being “bad” or being “nobody” is better than not knowing who you are. This is best described by a quote from Charles from the case study. “Well, it’s hard to say what I mean. If you got -I mean- if you feel nothing belongs to you, then maybe you don’t know who you areI mean it’s always someone else, like wearing a costume in a play. Especially if it’s like it was with me. You see, I never had nothing that could tell me who I was, even my bed wasn’t mine. I was just a name. “(Songs my Mother Taught Me pg. 26) Stage six is the stage of young adulthood, which lasts from about eighteen to thirty.
The task is to achieve some degree of intimacy, as opposed to remaining in isolation. Isolation is exactly where Charles remained. It is obvious why he never learned how to be intimate, so he developed the malignancy Erikson calls exclusion. Exclusion refers to the tendency to isolate oneself from love, friendship, and community, and to develop certain hatefulness in compensation for one’s loneliness. Stage seven and stage eight of Erikson’s theory don’t really apply to the case study because they deal with middle adulthood, and late adulthood, both of which was not discussed in the case study.
Erikson’s theory of stages has not been a popular concept among personality theorists, only Freud really shared his convictions. Most theorists prefer an incremental or gradual approach to development and speak of “phases” and “transitions”, rather than clearly marked stages. In fact, it is difficult to defend Erikson’s eight stages (six). In different cultures, in within cultures, the timing of these stages can be quite different. In some cultures babies are weaned at six months and potty trained at nine months; in others, they still get breast fed at five and potty train at six.
At one time in our own culture, people were married at thirteen and had their first child by fifteen. Today, we tend to postpone marriage until thirty and rush to have our one and only child before forty. Somehow Erikson’s stages give us a loose framework from which to gage growth. Talking about our culture as compared with others’ or today as compared with a few centuries ago, by examining the ways in which we differ, in comparison to the “standard” that his theory provides. Albert Bandura is a psychologist whose theory is centered on behaviorism.
Behaviorism, with it’s emphasis on experimental methods, focuses on variables we can observe, measure, and manipulate; it avoids whatever is mental, or rather what is internal or unavailable. In the experimental method, the standard procedure is to manipulate one variable, and then measure its effects on another. All this boils down to a theory of personality that says one’s environment causes one’s behavior. Bandura suggests although environment causes behavior, behavior causes environment as well. He labeled this concept Reciprocal determinism: the world and a person’s behavior cause each other.