Originally, scientific resistance to making evil a focus of psychological inquiry was tied to the moral objection that evil is not an appropriate subject of scientific study. There was a concern that if such study ensued, malevolent motivations would be reduced to psychiatric categories that would result in the abnegation of responsibility for individual acts of harm. Mass murderers, terrorists, those enmeshed in clinical narcissism, to name a few, would find scientific and legal defense for diminished responsibility for their devastatingly abusive and violent behaviors.
Clinicians, like Goldberg, are working to develop theories about the developmental sequence that produces destructive and dangerous personalities so that psychological evil can be addressed and ultimately treated through psychoanalysis, as well as the many forms of spiritual healing offered through religion. Relying on the analyses of extensive case studies, Goldberg has identified five factors as the primary factors that impede the ability and desire to lead a decent life: (1) shame vulnerability, (2) benign neglect, (3) inability to mourn, (4) linguistic difficulties in expressing feelings, and (5) witnessing significant people who behave as if rage-filled anger is a legitimate means for dealing with frustration and conflict.
Like Miller and Peck, Goldberg advances the thesis that the roots of destructively pathological personality are found in developmental failures in childhood, which seriously limit the child's capacity for emotional connectedness and mutuality with others. According to Goldberg, the more prominent the presence of these factors, the more distorting the impact on the child, with the consequent inclination toward destructive attitudes and actions.
In short, shame vulnerability refers to the depleted sense of the child's self-worth and the negative reinforcing of inadequacy. Benign neglect arises from having caretakers who are emotionally and/or physically unavailable to provide the child with needed attention, security, guidance, and compassion. The inability to mourn is a condition that is imposed upon a child who is consistently discouraged from grieving the inevitable disappointments and losses in life. Studies show that children who cannot express their painful emotions often grow into adolescents and adults who become masters of pretense and denial. Language is part of what mediates understanding and intimacy between people. Linguistic difficulties, the use of language to convey feeling and meaning, are frequently found in people who commit violent crimes. Lastly, the attitudes and actions of parents and adult models within the world of the child have a powerful shaping influence on what become acceptable ways of negotiating people, places, and things and the inherent tensions of living. Human behavior is a product not only of environmental challenges but also of the free exercise of choices humans make in dealing with the reality of the burdens and blessings of their unique individual life. Research into destructive personalities helps to illumine the factors and conditions that create the developmental milieu for such aberrations of acceptable behavior but does not completely exonerate a person from responsibility for the consequences of their behavior.
Psychological evil is quickly becoming a specific category of study and practice in the hope of gaining greater insight into predicting those predisposed to destructive behaviors, and thus offering a coherent understanding of signs and symptoms that will aid in early detection and treatment. Experts in the field of medicine, theology, personality and social sciences are now carefully studying the distorted relationalsocial systems and malformation of personality of those from whom evil emanates-those who exhibit the capacity for extreme brutality and atrocity.