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  • The Freudian Excuse has been used by defendants in real-life court cases, although nowhere near as often (or as successfully) as fiction make it out to be.
    • It's not really a legal defense, except as a set-up for some form of insanity plea. No matter how much you explain your actions ("I'm only a murderer because daddy beat me" as analogue to "I'm only a thief because I have no money"), explanations don't form a legal excuse.
  • Psychologist Philip Zimbardo spends most of his book, The Lucifer Effect, talking about what causes good people to turn evil, but punctuates it with reminders that understanding the evil doesn't make the people any less responsible.
  • Joseph Fritzl. Turns out he hid his daughter and three of her children in his basement in Austria for twenty-four years because his mother abused him.
  • In The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams recounts the horrific tale of how he had to wear shorts for the first four weeks of sixth form (having been forced by school regulations to wear them all through prep school, despite having already grown taller than most of the teachers). He says that if he ever "[came] across as a maladjusted, socially isolated, sad, hunched emotional cripple...then it's those four weeks that are to blame".
  • "It is my personal opinion that lyrics cannot harm anyone. There is no sound you can make with your mouth or word that will come out of your mouth that is so powerful that it will make you go to hell. It's also not going to turn anyone into a 'social liability.' 'Disturbed' people can be set on a 'disturbed' course of action by any kind of stimulus. If they are prone to being antisocial or schizophrenic or whatever, they can be set off by anything, including my tie or your hair or that chair over there." -- Frank Zappa
  • Unfortunately in real life, while it is not always true, people are actually more likely to do bad things if their parents did them. For example, if someone was abused by their parents, they will be more likely to abuse their own children.
  • While it's certainly no excuse for his actions, Adolf Hitler had an abusive father [1] and wasn't let into an art school.
    • Interestingly, while they were enemies, both Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin had domineering, abusive fathers and doting, protective mothers. Which may account for their similar mix of hostility, paranoia, entitlement, and megalomania.
    • In Stalin's case, he also had smallpox as a child.
      • Some also suspect Hitler was a scat fan. To elaborate, his mother was very strict when it came to toilet training, which some believe caused him fetishize poo as something "dirty" and "forbidden", which these believers point towards his later atrocities, as they feel this fetish caused him to think of certain groups of people as "unclean".
  • Sexual abuse is one of the factors that can lead to men and women becoming pedophiles, though current evidence suggests that this is a very, very small minority.
  • A recent book studying relationship abusers yielded interesting results (will add name of book when I can find it in this office). When asked why they abuse, they said it was because their mother/father/etc. abused them. When the interviewer called BS, telling them they would remember the abuse and not want to inflict it on others, nearly 60% of the abusers fessed up and said that wasn't why they abused.
  • One theory of Anti-Social Personality Disorder is that usually those who have it did not merely have Abusive Parents; rather, they had Abusive Parents who periodically would make some half-assed and short-lived attempt at discipline or generosity, or pretend that everything was "normal", for example to fool outsiders. Its the chaotic and random hypocrisy of the situation that really set them off, teaching them that punishment is arbitrary, kindness is a mask, and other such Family Unfriendly Aesops that they end up internalising, along with a shortage or total lack of more positive role models.
    • Anti-Social Personality Disorder (colloquially known as "sociopathy" or "psychopathy", although they are technically subsets of ASPD) is a serious mental disorder for which the most prominent symptom is a complete inability to feel empathy. The DSM-IV-TR describes it as: "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." ASPD is unique in that it is the only mental disorder for which psychiatric treatment offers NO benefit and, in fact, actually results in the person becoming a "better" sociopath. Talk therapy is ill-advised and people with the diagnosis (which is almost NEVER made until the person is above 18 years of age) tend to be manipulative, extremely prone to blaming others, and present themselves as having experienced severe victimization, but are also extremely superficially charming, appear more intelligent than average (although they tend to have an extremely average IQ; sociopathy and high-IQ scores are not correlated), and will do and/or say anything they must to convince a person that they are good. It has been theorized that people with ASPD do not have the kind of "inner monologue", that voice in your head, that most people do. They also, for whatever reason, have an extremely high pain tolerance (generally) and are completely and totally desensitized towards human violence (and gore).
      • There is no treatment, and while only a small percentage of people with ASPD become "criminals", most end up on either side of the social spectrum; many CEO's of Fortune500 companies meet all criteria for ASPD, for instance.
  • Subverted with Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who went on record to say that he took full responsibility for his actions, and that when he heard people trying to explain his crimes by blaming his parents it actually made him angry because they had nothing to do with it, and were as in the dark as anyone.
    • Jeff Foxworthy, you got your wish!
  • Another famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, may have played this straight. His father was not only domineering and abusive, but frequently humiliated him in front of the neighborhood kids because of his more effeminate interests. It got worse when he tried to engage in more typical boyish behaviors and discovered that he had a debilitating heart condition that prevented him from doing so, making him feel like even more of an outcast. People have theorized that all this may have made him bitter and angry at the world and humanity to the point that he stopped trying to repress his then emerging paraphilic urges. That said, there's no way to tell for sure that he would have ended up differently even if he'd had a normal childhood.
  • Ted Bundy was born an illegitimate child, which was unfortunate for him as his grandparents were very much religious. And he eventually found out the truth that his so-called sister was actually his mother. And of course, he felt shy and lonely as a child. Essentially, his girlfriend breaking up with him was the last nail in the coffin.


  1. Whom he believed had Jewish heritage, although it's ambiguous whether he actually did.
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