Psychopathy is not a term that is officially used in the field of psychiatry. Although it’s used interchangeably with terms such as anti-social personality disorder (AsPd) and sociopathy, there are however, differences between them. These may include a genetic predisposition, whether or not criminal activities are involved, the need for continual excitement, the ability to feel remorse/empathy and the level to display socially acceptable behavior.
Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian professor emeritus in psychology developed a reliable diagnostic test for psychopathy known as the PCL-R. He views psychopathy and anti-social personality disorder as two separate disorders. Dr. Hare also believes that although all psychopaths suffer from AsPd, not all individuals with AsPd are psychopaths. According to Dr. Hare, the following three factors are indicators of the presence of psychopathy: an anti-social personality disorder, the criteria for psychopathy as described in the DSM-IV and the results of the PCL-R test. The test is reliable when it comes to violent and criminal psychopaths, but has not been administered by Hare to psychopaths who are outside the prison system.
This is worth noting. Publicity and social perception as portrayed in the media (films or news stories) have created the idea that psychopaths are hardened criminals, or cold serial killers like Hannibal Lecter, who cut up their victims into pieces. However, this form of psychopathy is extremely rare and, fortunately, these criminals are usually locked up once they’ve been caught. What is worrisome, is that the majority of people with psychopathic traits are found right in our midst. For example, they can be found in the business world, politics, art world and the medical profession, but can also be found on the school board, behind the counter at the local town hall or in the healthcare industry. There’s no place that is guaranteed to be psychopath- free.
Psychopaths can come across as very normal people – often even better than normal – and the chance of running into a pro-social or functional psychopath (the garden variety psychopath) on any given day is far greater than you would think. The reason for this, is that psychopathic character traits such as articulateness, high verbal intelligence, superficial charm and moderate impulsiveness can cover up their pathological lying and manipulation, allow them to fool everyone and take no responsibility for their behavior. This can mean that medical professionals are also not always aware they are dealing with a psychopath. They are exceptionally good actors and lead you to believe they are responsible, good, decent people who only want the best for you. They ‘change’ into the person they think they need to be so they can feed off, or in other ways, abuse their current victim. For a while, they play the role of the ‘ideal’ boy or girlfriend, business partner or professional to achieve their goal. The psychopath doesn’t see his victims as a fellow human beings with their own emotions, needs and desires, but as suppliers of what he/she wants, which could be anything: attention, admiration, influence, status, money, power, sex, sympathy and/or favors.
Research regarding psychopathology
The questions that are often posed by anyone trying to understand psychopathy are: What is wrong with these people? Are they sick? Is the cause genetic? Are they maybe traumatized? Did something go wrong with their upbringing?
There has been a great deal of scientific research conducted regarding psychopathology, although clear-cut answers to all of these questions have yet to be found. The reason is partly due to the fact that scientists are still unable to pinpoint how the inner psychological processes work and, therefore, have not been able to come up with a clear-cut description of the personality profile of a psychopath. A diagnosis based on behavior can, however, be made with certainty. Brain scans indicate that parts of the brains of psychopaths show, under certain circumstances, more or less neurological activity than non- psychopathic control subjects. Genes also play a role in determining the predisposition for a particular brain and personality structure, which means that some people, because of this predisposition, have a lower than average capacity to feel empathy or anxiety. Due to these same traits, some people are extremely resistant to stress, such as surgeons, fighter pilots, financial traders or firefighters. The difference between someone who experiences little anxiety, for example, and a psychopath, lies in whether or not they intentionally want to do harm to others. Therefore, genetically and from brain scans it’s not yet possible to determine whether someone is developing into a psychopath.
Research into the relationship between brain structure and criminal behavior remains ongoing. Research is currently being conducted into the MAOA gene and the development of a behavioral disorder. In addition, the amount of testosterone to which a baby in the womb is exposed seems to influence the development of the empathic capacity in the human brain. In her book ‘Making Evil’, criminologist Julia Shaw discusses neuroscientific research on low prefrontal ventromedial activity in the brains of malignant people.
Another way of explaining the psychopathic phenomenon is through a spiritual approach. From that perspective, psychopathology is viewed as an intense lack of self-awareness /consciousness and an inability to further develop on that level. This makes it impossible for these people to have a connection with themselves and fellow human beings, but they are very good at pretending. In his book ‘Putting a End to Destructive Relationships’, Jan Storms describes how the soul or ‘essence’ is absent in the psychopath. Only an inner emptiness exists, and everything you see and experience in a psychopath’s behavior is a compensation for that emptiness. This can result in startling lack of empathy, remorse and conscience. It even goes so far that psychopaths find enjoyment in harming others.
This sadistic pleasure is also referred to as ‘duper’s delight’. They are of the opinion that their victim shouldn’t have been ‘so stupid’ to fall into their trap. They use this rationalization to shrug of the fact that they have left behind a trail of destruction. They can completely close themselves off from the awful reality they have created for someone else. They can show remorse at well-chosen moments, for example, when it might result in a lesser punishment or insures that their victim continues to do their bidding.
Thomas Sheridan describes in his book about psychopathology (Puzzling People, 2011) why victims become so traumatized from an experience with a psychopath. In Sheridan’s view, the psychopath is not a whole person but some type of entity. He states that; the psychopath is not comprised of human energy. As a victim you are, or have been, dealing with something artificial, with a created persona, and not with a real person with a soul. A persona is an invented character (e.g. a hero or underdog) in a story or play.
The psychopath is the author, director, leading actor, lighting technician and art director of his/her made up film or play. A play that you, as victim, have unwillingly and unknowingly become a part of and it is the intention that you ‘play along’ with the game in your supporting role. The problem begins when you don’t want to do that anymore. When the psychopath decides it’s time to end the play, because of boredom or it becomes too difficult to keep up, the plug is pulled and the curtains fall.
End of performance
At some point, your ‘loved one’/business partner/the persona usually abruptly disappears. The ‘person’ who then appears can suddenly be a totally different one, with a different way of speaking and a different attitude. For example, he may already have a ‘new’ girlfriend with tattoos (often someone who was put on stand-by, unknowing of what’s going on) while he always said he hates tattoos. You simply don’t recognize your loved one anymore. Well, that’s because he never actually ever existed. It was all an illusion and that’s a huge shock. You are left with no answers so there’s no closure. All you can do is speculate, which drives some people close to feeling like they’re going insane. The victim falls into a totally unexpected grieving process because he/she had no idea that it wasn’t a relationship with a real living person with real feelings and commitment. The shocking discovery that from the very beginning, everything was fake, the realization of having been conned by a performance artist, the bewilderment, the abuse of your trust, the unexpected sense of loss and the unavoidable grief are, according to Sheridan, the causes of trauma in the victim.
In his book, ‘Without Conscience, 2003’, Dr. Hare refers to the psychopath as an intra-species predator; something which preys upon its own kind. In nature, it’s highly unusual that an animal preys upon its own species. A cat hunts a mouse for its meal, not another cat. The behavior of a psychopath who preys upon people to consume their energy is, according to the laws of nature, a rare and strange phenomenon, Hare states. Similar to the conclusions in Sheridan’s book, this suggests that the psychopath’s makeup and energy is derived from something inhuman or unnatural. For centuries, people have attempted to explain the nature and origin of psychopathy. In numerous ancient, holy texts from around the world, for example the MahāBhārata or the Nag Hammadi library, it is described in various terms and this makes it highly probable that psychopathy has existed for thousands of years.
The effect of therapy on psychopathy
Therapy has little or no effect on psychopaths. It provides them, in fact, with more insight into human psychological processes allowing them to become even better liars and manipulators, rather than learning how to positively change their behavior. Psychopaths do know that their behavior is wrong. It’s not for nothing that they operate with stealth and dishonesty. It is in no way the case that psychopaths don’t know what they’re doing. It is more likely a complete disinterest in the horrific consequences their victims must face. This is why it’s so essential for people around them to learn how to protect themselves against psychopaths. This begins by being able to recognize manipulation. The first steps are to become informed about psychopathy and learn to trust your intuition. Does something sound too good to be true? Always be on the alert. Unfortunately, you often only realize you have been preyed upon when it’s too late. The psychopath is already long gone with your money or has started a new family while you are still barely able to comprehend what has happened to you.
Victims of psychopaths need help and guidance to recover from the psychological and physical damage. Years of living with (subtle) manipulation leads to emotional instability, depression, burnout or exhaustion. The consequences of abuse at the hands of a psychopath can result in a form of PTSD, also known as Complex PTSD. It essential to the recovery process that the health professional you choose is well-acquainted with this disorder.