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Sirote, A. (2009). Too Evil or Too Good? A Review of Abby Stein's; A Prologue to Violence: Child Abuse, Dissociation, and Crime. Psychoanal. Perspect., 6(1):67-70.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 6(1):67-70

Book Review

Too Evil or Too Good? A Review of Abby Stein's; A Prologue to Violence: Child Abuse, Dissociation, and Crime

Review by:
Alan Sirote, LCSW

Are violent perpetrators sociopathic with deficient consciences or do they have a dissociated cache of overly severe guilt? Is it naive to suggest that hardened criminals can be helped? What degree of agency do serial offenders have in the commission of vicious acts? Are we distinctly different from aggressive felons or are we too similar for comfort? These are only a few of the questions that Abby Stein grapples with in this provocative volume that explores the origins or “prologue” to violence.

Stein convincingly highlights a link between dissociation and crime, and shares impressive research to buttress this connection. She argues against those who eschew guilt as a necessary criterion for the diagnosis of sociopathy or antisocial personality disorder and suggests instead that guilt is pervasive, saturating the perpetrator to the extent that it must be disavowed. Its roots blossom forth from the malicious intent and cruelty of primary caregivers. As Donnel Stern points out in his foreword:

Most often, Stein tells us, violent criminals are not conscienceless; they are not, in other words, what we are used to thinking of as psychopaths or sociopaths. They are not simply evil; or rather, if they are evil, theirs is a complex kind of evil, an evil that seems desperate not to know itself. It is an ashamed and guilty evil, not proud or entitled. Stein suggests not only that we consider the possibility that these people do have consciences, but also that because of insanely brutal disciplinary measures they suffered at the hands of their “caretakers,” their consciences may actually be especially, crazily, severe, so severe that the people who commit these acts may be even less willing than the rest of us to know what they have done (pp. ix-x).

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