Charles Manson: Two Points of View on a Killer’s Personality


There are lots of theories about what shapes a person’s personality and when following these approaches, sense can be made of a certain individual’s habits. Charles Manson is a well-known serial killer whose personality is reflective of two particular character theorists’ views. Sigmund Freud, whose psychosexual phases of development might explain some of the qualities held by Manson. Karen Horney was another theorist whose views on youth love and nurturing, or lack of it, might explain Charles Manson’s personality.

Collected information on both Freud and Horney’s views will be compared to Charles Manson, his character and his behaviors to conclude if these theories apply. Historical details from Charles Manson’s biography from youth to adulthood will be included.

An Assessment of Charles Manson’s Personality Many studies have been done on what causes people to behave the way they do and what causes them to have certain characteristic. One specific person that has an intriguing and horrific personality is the well-known Charles Manson.

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Charles Manson was said to have had anti-social character disorder and was also known to be a master manipulator. The history of Charles Manson’s denied youth might provide some descriptions to how and why an individual reacts to society as he did. Charles Manson was born in 1934 illegitimately to a 16 years of age alcoholic and prostitute. His daddy was never ever present in his life nor did he ever have a daddy figure. His mom would desert him for weeks and often months at a time.

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When his mother was jailed, Charles was sent out to cope with a spiritual auntie till his mother’s release. Continuing her way of life, Charles ended up in a boy’s house and when he eventually fled to be reunited with his mother, he was abandoned when again. Charles Manson wound up on the streets and this led to his life of criminal offense. By 1952, Charles had spent 17 years, which was half his life, put behind bars. He had 8 assault charges currently.

While in prison, Charles Manson was known as a model inmate and he even got released against his wishes because he felt he could not adjust to the world. (Rosenberg, 2009) He also fathered two children, one by his ex wife and one by another woman. In the 1960’s, Manson gathered hundreds of followers which he called “The Family.” They lived on a deserted ranch. Most of Manson’s followers were impressionable young females and he used LSD and amphetamines to help manipulate and convince them to act out his wishes. He slowly broke down his follower’s beliefs and made them believe that he was Jesus and that a race war was impending. Eventually Manson’s most loyal followers carried out his acts of violence and left seven people dead. In 1969, police raided the ranch on suspicions of vandalism, unaware of the murders committed until after the arrests. Charles Manson has been labeled “The Icon of Evil.” (Rosenberg, 2009) Charles Manson had a long history of neglect and abandonment since his childhood and this may have played a role in the development of his personality.

The psychoanalytic analysis could argue that since he spent his childhood and feeling he had no control of his life due to the instability, this could have led to his personality traits. Manson found satisfaction in dominating those around him. Some of his characteristic personality traits are emotionally insecure, fanatical, manipulative, neurotic, extroverted, obsessive and controlling. (Rosenberg, 2009). Karen Horney thought anxiety was part of the basic human condition but she also thought that it was a result of social forces and since anxiety causes a feeling of being in a hostile world, the environment as a whole is dreaded. (Engler, 2009) The text also states that when a parent cannot provide a child’s basic needs, this can cause an insecurity in a child that lead to “domination, isolation, hostility, indifference, lack of respect and guidance and neurotic needs and trends” (Engler, 2009, p 124) Of the ten neurotic trends mentioned by Horney, Manson had a few including exaggerated need for power, need to exploit others, exaggerated need for social recognition and the need for personal admiration (by the family).

Based on Karen Horney’s ten neurotic trends and the fact that Manson lacked love and nurturing as a child, these factors may have contributed to his personality. Some of the anxieties felt by Charles Manson from childhood experiences could have been that he had a 16 year old mother that was an alcoholic and prostitute and was abusive. He never knew his father. His mother once traded him for a pitcher of beer. His mother and uncle were convicted of sexual assault and armed robbery. He was in and out of reform schools and he had an IQ of 109. (Rosenberg, 2009) Sigmund Freud believed that most behavior is determined by past behavior, such as childhood experiences. Freud would say that traumatic childhood experiences could have contributed to Charles Manson’s aggression, murderous tendencies and personality disorder. He would also say that Manson was motivated by unconscious awareness because this is made up of repressed childhood memories and this causes anxiety. (Feist & Feist, 2006)

Since Manson is constantly trying to satisfy desires, he is controlled by the id. His aggression and destructive drive also originates in the id. (Feist & Feist, 2006) Charles Manson was never able to keep his ego stable nor were his actions ever controlled by the ego or superego. According to the text, “the ego is a faithful servant of the id and tries to fulfill its needs realistically” (Engler, 2009, p 47). The defense mechanisms triggered in Manson followed the Freudian theory as well. This included the repression of negative childhood experiences and his denial after the fact of the killings that it was wrong. Also Charles Manson ultimately used projection to project his feelings and actions onto others to express his impulses. Manson’s lack of love and nurturing caused him to be incapable of close love.

Freud would say Manson was fixated on the phallic stage because he is reckless, stubborn proud and narcissistic. According to the text, “a theory of personality is an organized system of beliefs that helps us understand human nature” (Engler, 2009, p 3). This means that these theories are based on people attempting to understand how and why others act and react the way they do to their environment and their history. What really made Charles Manson the man he was? No one will ever know exactly but Sigmund Freud’s and Karen Horney’s theories seem to apply to many aspects of Manson and his personality traits. Manson is said to have antisocial personality disorder, otherwise known as a sociopath. This was noted by a psychiatrist while Manson was in his teens.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths” (Mayo Clinic, Anti Social Personality). I feel this would be an accurate representation of Manson. Charles Manson’s deprived childhood inevitably contributed to his personality and his behaviors as an adult. He never learned a sense of trust and as stated by both Karen Horney and Sigmund Freud, childhood anxieties and deprivation can lead to a multitude of negative personality traits, which were definitely present in Charles Manson.


Anti-social Personality Disorder. (2012). Mayo Clinic Staff. Retrieved September 7 2012 from

Feist, J and G. Feist. (2006). Theories of Personality. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rosenberg, J. (2009). Charles Manson: Biography in the 20th century. Retrieved Sept 6 2012 from

Engler, B. (2009). Personality theories. (8th ed). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

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Charles Manson: Two Points of View on a Killer’s Personality. (2017, Feb 11). Retrieved from

Charles Manson: Two Points of View on a Killer’s Personality

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