Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Psychopath: A Rebel Without a Cause?

Hatred of the father is manifest in psychopathic behavior and rule-breaking.

Key points

  • What constitutes psychopathic behaviors depends on the framework of society’s mores and practices.
  • The super-ego seeks to nurture and protect and create safe environments for a child to grow and develop.
  • The psychopath tends to have blatant lack of remorse when they physically or emotionally hurt others.
Source: Guren-The-Thirdeye/Pixabay

The award-winning 1955 movie, "Rebel Without a Cause,"1 featuring James Dean and Natalie Wood, created a sensation as it featured issues echoing society’s concern at that time with delinquency and young adult gang violence. The movie was based on a 1944 book by psychologist Robert M. Lindner. Its full title was Rebel Without a Cause … the Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.2

Super-ego stunting and psychopathic behaviors

Lindner’s book is a case study of a male psychopath who displayed pervasive psychopathic characteristics from an early age. Lindner asserts that his pioneering use of hypnoanalysis provided insights into the psychopathic personality that are otherwise unavailable.3 The movie deviates substantially from the book and does not consider any of its hypnoanalytic underpinnings. It did, however, incorporate what Lindner saw as a key deficit of all psychopaths: “super-ego stunting” stemming from “a profound hatred of the father.”4 By extension, this hatred is manifest in the psychopath’s dismissal of society’s norms. He posits that this in turn causes “the psychopath’s unselected exploitation of everyone and everything … [thereby causing] the rampant unrestrained conduct typical of psychopaths.”5

Changing norms can affect the manifestations of psychopathy

Lindner notes that some of what constitutes psychopathic behaviors depends on the framework of society’s mores and practices.6 For example, breaking taboos or rules in American society in 1950 may look different than similar rule-breaking in 1990. As such, different behaviors might be branded “psychopathic” in 1950 versus 1990. What remains the same is that there is pervasive rule-breaking and, of course, the psychopath’s signature callous and unemotional exploitation of others and a blatant lack of remorse when they physically or emotionally hurt others.7

Rule-breaking by female psychopaths

Psychopathy researchers Jason Smith, Carl Gacono, and Ted Cunliffe have authored a book that comprehensively documents and describes psychopathy among females.8 Their case studies and analyses of research document extensive rule-breaking and norm-shattering. When questioned, psychopathic females can feign concern for their children’s well-being, while personally engaging in behaviors and practices that place them at grave risk of physical or emotional injury or harm. According to Smith, Gacono, and Cunliffe, “Women with [high levels of psychopathic characteristics] tended to display poor parenting styles in which the women were indifferent or abusive toward their children.”9 Such incidents would be consistent with Lindner’s “super-ego stunting.” The super-ego, as the “parenting” influence, would seek to nurture, protect, and create safe environments within which the child could grow and develop. The psychopathic mother’s actions and inactions most certainly present huge risks for their children.

Two rule-breaking episodes that could have been life-threatening

My mother demonstrated high levels of psychopathic characteristics in her interactions with others. As her child, I was subject to ongoing emotional turmoil and abuse. In addition, her frequent impulsive rule-breaking behavior created circumstances that could have burned our house down and killed us. In one incident, she decided she could make money by storing highly flammable and explosive fireworks in our house’s basement, piling stacks of boxes on top of each other in the laundry room. Storing the fireworks in the house was illegal, but even worse, they were placed near electrical circuits that may have been overloaded. One day my father detected an acrid smell of smoke from a burning washing machine circuit. Only his quick action with pails of water saved our lives. The fireworks were less than a foot away from the smoldering fire and disaster was barely avoided.

In another incident, to save some money, my mother worked with a neighbor to break open and create a “jerry-rigged” gas and electric meter bypass. Once again, she broke the law and disregarded any potentially devastating consequences. This is vintage psychopathy in everyday situations … demonstrating as Lindner stated, “the rampant unrestrained conduct typical of psychopaths.”


1. Ray, N. (1955). Rebel Without a Cause. Warner Bros.

2. Lindner, Robert M. (1944) Rebel Without a Cause ... the Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath. New York, NY: Grune & Stratton.

3. Lindner. 24.

4. Lindner. 7.

5. Lindner. 8.

6. Lindner. 1.

7. Hare, Robert D. (1990). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. 40–46.

8. Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. (2021). Understanding Female Offenders: Psychopathy, Criminal Behavior, Assessment, and Treatment. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

9. Smith, Jason M., Gacono, Carl B. & Cunliffe, Ted B. 148.

More from Winifred Rule
More from Psychology Today