Deviant Identity

The other patient we approached got changed quickly, and then returned to her customary chair in the main T.V. lounge for her last three hours of viewing. She was glued to the television for most of the day, only leaving her chair for meals, visits to the toilet and rare baths. She preferred films, but had an encyclopaedic knowledge of virtually every popular programme on the main terrestrial channels, including cartoons, Blue Peter, cookery programmes, all the soaps, and most of the adverts. Clutching the remote control to her chest like a talisman, she would look completely devastated if staff selected a programme on behalf of another patient. Her viewing began at dawn, and only finished when night staff finally turned the melting set off around midnight.
A lot of our patients’ behaviour seemed at first glance to be masochistic, because it didn’t appear to deliver anything but discomfort and embarrassment, but on closer examination it became clear that they were often gaining an oblique satisfaction out of their activities. Although they were struggling in life according to most conventional criteria, some of the patients took an almost professional pride in their deviant acts, smiling or laughing after they had hit out, or when they’d been returned to the unit after absconding, or when they had thrown their food about. One young lady delighted in urinating around the unit, and found it particularly hilarious to defecate in her wardrobe and chest of drawers. It was what the sociologists called a ‘crystallisation of deviant identity’, where a sense of achievement and worth was attached to antisocial conduct. Patients developed a distinct hierarchy on the unit based on their aggressiveness, disruptive potential, manipulative ability and intelligence, and they also learned antisocial behaviours from each other, with new admissions frequently adopting some of the older patients’ idiosyncrasies, tricks and manoeuvres within a short space of time.


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