How Joel Rifkin’s Behavior Can Be Explained Using Psychodynamic Theory

The 1900s marked an important period in human history. This period was characterized by social and cultural events that have remained integral in the process of civilization. Psychology, as an infant discipline, was one of the greatest benefactors of this knowledge revolution. During this period, the discipline witnessed great contributions from Wilhelm Wundt and William James among others. However, the most significant contribution was witnessed by Sigmund Freud on the subject of psychodynamics. This contribution was contained in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams. In the book, he developed the psychodynamic theory from the concepts of psychodynamics developed earlier by scholars and scientists like Gustav Fechner. This theory has since become an integral part of the discipline of psychology. Through it, people’s behaviors have been understood. Scholars have been given tools with which they could understand the factors that lead to certain behaviors in people (Institute of Human Thermodynamics, par. 1). Accordingly, this paper will identify Freud’s psychodynamic theory and its concepts. The paper will then determine the reasons that made one of America’s serial killers, Joel Rifkin to behave the way he did.

The psychodynamic theory was developed in the 1900s by Sigmund Fraud. It was founded on the concepts of psychodynamics. This theory is founded on the basis that an individual develops a given character based on his conscious and subconscious. It is a theory that tries to explain why an individual should behave in a given way under certain circumstances. The theory further seeks to ascertain whether an individual’s unique history plays any role in the individual’s life at that moment of analysis. Finally, the theory tries to explain how an individual’s suppressed expectations and beliefs contribute to his type of behavior (Institute of Human Thermodynamics, par. 3). How does this theory try to ascertain this?

In his effort to explain certain behavioral characteristics and how they develop in an individual, Sigmund Freud develops a concept of three distinct entities forming the human being. These include the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the part of the human being that forms the basis of his needs and drives. These include biological needs like sex and hunger. These are the drives that push an individual to strive so that he can meet their demands. However, there is the part that acts as the regulator of these drives and desires. This is the superego. It includes the societal norms and rules and the individual’s conscience voice that tries to regulate the driving desires of the individual to engage in certain activities. Finally, he identifies the ego as the part of the body that consciously defines the individual’s judgments and thoughts (Institute of Human Thermodynamics, par. 5).

As mentioned earlier, this theory is founded on the concepts of thermodynamics. In this scientific experiment, one law states that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed” (Institute of Human Thermodynamics, par. 8). This law forms the basis of the psychodynamic theory. Freud argues that emotions are also energy forms. Equally, the power of the psyche cannot be created or destroyed. Instead, the formed psychic energy simply transforms into different forms within the body but it does not get destroyed.

To make a clear identification of how this works, Freud comes up with five stages within human development that is usually characterized by changes in the pleasure zones. These stages include the oral, anal, phallic, period of latency, and genital. Any interruption in any of these stages could result in the formation of a personality. As mentioned earlier, psychic energy cannot be destroyed. This is to say that when a child grows with negative experiences, negative energy piles up. Considering that this energy cannot be destroyed, the child will simply develop a defense mechanism that works to hide the energy from the conscious into the unconscious. Therefore, human beings will always live with several emotions hidden into the unconscious. Neurotic anxiety, according to the psychodynamic theory, is dealt with by the id. On its part, the superego plays the role of dealing with moral anxiety. Therefore, when a child is subjected to negative experiences during the five stages of development, the id and the superego hide the mounting pressure into the subconscious. However, an individual’s ego is the physical personality that is visible to society. It is through this that the suppressed anxieties are exposed to society. Therefore, it is the ego that acts as a channel through which the mounting pressure can get away outside the body. This marks the concepts of psychodynamic theory as developed by Sigmund Freud (Institute of Human Thermodynamics, par. 6).

How can this theory be used to explain the behavior of Joel Rifkin, one of the most notorious serial Killers in the History of New York City? To understand this, it is important to understand Rifkin’s background so that we can determine his behavior about the psychodynamic theory and hence determine an explanation of what could have led to that behavior. Records show that Rifkin was born in January 1959 to unknown parents. At the age of three weeks, he found himself in the foster care of Bernard Rifkin and his wife Jeanne. With his character of shyness, Rifkin had to endure insistent attacks from bullies. Furthermore, suffering from dyslexia made him experience great difficulties in his academic journey. With an interest in photojournalism, Rifkin studied in a community college before advancing to the State University of New York at Brockport. Later, he managed to undertake odd jobs that enabled him to get little money that was mostly spent on prostitutes (Bios par. 2).

These events in Rifkin’s life led to his depression. It was further increased by his father’s decision to commit suicide. This increased his violence and involvement in prostitution and murder. He was eventually arrested in 1993 when he engaged in a car chase with the police before he was arrested and a body of Tiffany Bresciani was found in his car. He was charged in 1994 with 9 counts of murder and was given a 203 jail sentence (Bios, par. 5).

One very conspicuous factor in Rifkin’s life is that he was brought up with foster parents. This could give our first identification of anxiety in Rifkin’s life. Secondly, Rifkin was subjected to dyslexia that made him struggle in classwork. This was irrespective of his 128 IQ level. This could be identified as another factor that led to the creation of negative energy within him. Thirdly, Rifkin experienced a rough childhood marked by bullying from other boys. Finally, the death of his foster father who was suffering from cancer dealt a blow to him as he was forced to live without a father. All these events caused negative pressure to build within Rifkin. He developed a hatred for a society which he felt did not favor him. By and by, pressure for revenge against the bullies who had terrorized him piled. He wanted to revenge on nature for having had to make him live without his real parents and also painfully take away the only person who acted as a father to him. He saw the images of pain in his father during the pangs of cancer. All these were hidden in the subconscious.

As the theory of psychodynamic explains, the id and the ego fought hard to combat the neurotic and emotional anxieties. However, the psychic energy that had developed in Rifkin could not be destroyed. It could only be changed to other forms. In this case, it changed from pain and self worthlessness to anger and revenge. Accordingly, the ego started to show the evidence of the suppressed psychic energy that had developed during the days of pain and anger. This revealed the violence that had been suppressed for years. The ego exhibited the character of revenge that had been hidden to the subconscious. This marked the beginning of his violence.

Considering the explanation, it is clear that Freud’s explanation of psychodynamic theory is relevant. By using the specifications in this theory, it is possible to explain a person’s future behavior as evidenced in Joel Rifkin’s case. Therefore, psychologists can employ this theory to understand certain phenomena within people’s lives.

Works Cited

Bios. Joel Rifkin Biography. 2009. Web.

Institute of Human Thermodynamics. Freud’s Psychodynamic Theory and Thermodynamics. 2009. Web.

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