Sanctuary for the Abused
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Most Psychopaths Aren't Killers - You Can't Always Tell
excerpted from DON JUAN AS PSYCHOPATH
by Gordon Banks
Scientific study of the psychopath is hindered by the fact that the subjects recognize no defect in their own psyche, no need to change.
We mainly know them through the those captive populations who have had difficulty with the law and are institutionalized. Those who are "successful," can only be studied at a distance. While some psychopaths undoubtedly correspond to the popular view of the brutal killer, criminal, or rapist, many, if not most, do not.
Often they are referred to by the term sociopathy or antisocial personality, emphasizing the chaotic relationships with other people and society, but while this aspect of these personalities is most readily apparent, there are many other features of this character disorder having nothing to do with other people which also show considerable deviation from normal behavior. For this reason, I prefer the older term psychopath.
In recent years, there has been a growing realization that there are many psychopaths who successfully avoid trouble with the law, and estimates of the percentage of psychopaths in the population (formerly estimated at about 3%, based only on studies of prisoners) have been revised upward.
As is common in medicine, and especially in psychiatry, where there is often no "litmus" test which can be applied, diagnosis is a matter of nosology and categorization. This is bound to lead to disagreements between various authorities as to which manifestations warrant inclusion or exclusion of an individual from a given diagnosis. Naturally, this has led to various schools of thought on the subject of psychopathy.
The 19th century physicians recognized that there were some walking among other men who were of sound reason and intellect, but when it came to the moral realm were "deranged". They described individuals who had no sense of right and wrong, no feelings of guilt or shame for wrongdoing, and had a marked propensity to lie, cheat, and engage in other activities which normal society considered reprehensible. (First labelled "moral insanity") During the last 40 years, psychopaths have been more intensively studied and recent research seems to indicate that they actually represent a variant of human beings with abnormal brain function.
While the psychopath often recognizes that other people have a "conscience", and will feign remorse to avoid punishment, as Cleckley explains, "he shows almost no sense of shame. His career is always full of exploits, any one of which would wither even the more callous representatives of the ordinary man. Yet he does not, despite his able protestations, show the slightest evidence of major humiliation or regret. This is true of matters pertaining to his personal and selfish pride and to esthetic standards that he avows as well as to moral or humanitarian matters."
Lack of insight and judgment
It is in this realm that the psychopath comes closest to the psychotic. While seemingly in full possession of his reasoning ability, by all the means of clinical psychology to test and assess them, the psychopath demonstrates an inability to comprehend the meaning and significance of his behavior for other people, and to judge their probable reactions to his behavior. He is often astounded to find that people are upset by his exploits. Although he knows intellectually what punishment is decreed for certain crimes, when caught, he puts up elaborate rationalizations and defenses, and seems surprised when he is actually punished.
...a lack of guilt and remorse, but a semantic lack of understanding of the concept of authenticity. Psychopaths can be thought of not as being hypocrites, but as actually not understanding or using language in the same way other people do.
While the psychopath has likes and dislikes and fondness for the pleasures that human company can bring, analysis shows that he is completely egocentric, valuing others only for their enhancement of his own pleasure or status. While he gives no real love, he is quite capable of inspiring love of sometimes fanatical degree in others. He is generally superficially charming and often makes a striking impression as possessed of the noblest of human qualities.
He makes friends easily, and is very manipulative, using his ability with words to talk his way out of trouble. Many psychopaths love to be admired and bask in the adulation of others. With the lack of love, there is also a lack of empathy. The psychopath is unable to feel sorry for others in unfortunate situations or put himself in another's place, whether or not they have been harmed by him.
Inability to Form Meaningful Relationships
While psychopaths are notably sexually promiscuous, their inability to love or to show any but the most superficial kindness to others prevents them from forming meaningful relationships with others, including parents and spouses. The promiscuity seems more related to their lack of restraint than to an exaggerated sexual drive. Bizarre and indecent liaisons are common.
The psychopath is remarkably free of both the psychological and physiological manifestations of anxiety. They often pass lie detector tests, and are well known for their valor in war, risking their own lives, and often recklessly endangering their entire units and disobeying orders in the process. It is said that the decision often comes whether to award a man the Medal of Honor or to court-martial him, and the "Rambo" stories of former war heros in trouble with the law have basis in real life.
The famous psychopath, Aaron Burr, directly disobeyed the orders of his superior in winning a battle and fame during the American revolution. It is this "bravery" that often helps the psychopath win the affection of followers and accord him a respected place in society, which is later disillusioned by his subsequent exploits.
Another aspect of the fearlessness, is the obliviousness of the psychopath to punishment. Not only does the threat of future punishment have no power to deter him, but actual punishment does not reform him.
Irresponsibility, Insincerity, and Unreliability
While the psychopath is charming and makes friends easily, those who come to rely upon him soon painfully find out that he has no sense of responsibility. Continually promises are made and broken without regard for the gravity of the consequences, for which the psychopath will then deny responsibility.
He can solemnly lie while looking the victim in the eye, showing no anxiety whatever.
The inability to restrain his impulses is what often leads to the downfall of the psychopath. While he theoretically knows what is considered proper behavior, and can even provide sage advice, it is in carrying out the actual process of living that the psychopath runs into trouble. There is a tendency toward continual excitement and stimulation.
It is this obliviousness to the consequences of risk taking that often leads to the uncovering of a "successful" psychopath who was previously well ensconced as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician, or some other respected person in the community.