“It is very likely that at some time in your life, you will come into painful contact with a psychopath. For your own physical, psychological and financial well-being, it is crucial that you know how to identify the psychopath, how to protect yourself, and how to minimize the harm done to you.”
(Dr Robert Hare “Without Conscience”, preface x11.)
Dr Hare is widely regarded as the foremost authority on psychopaths. His Psychopathy Checklist is applied by doctors all over the world as a standard test for psychopathy. Hare describes psychopaths as ‘social predators.’
Psychopaths are sane, but ruthless, dedicated to achieving power and control. They are personality disordered, but not mentally impaired. They pride themselves on a strong will. They manage to get their own way through a combination of charm, manipulation, deceit, violence, intimidation, bullying and cunning. Hitler was a psychopath. Ted Bundy was another. Ariel Castro is another recent example of remorseless psychopath. As you’ll remember, he kidnapped and sexually enslaved three young women in his house in Cleveland.
As they age, psychopaths move along a spectrum of violent behavior, triggered by the normal upsets of life. Their violence always moves forwards, never back. As criminal expert Robert Keppel points out, the difference between an insecure, angry, domineering spouse and a serial killer like Ted Bundy is just one of degree.
One in 25 people is a psychopath. That’s an awful lot of people.
Scientists have recently discovered that psychopaths think differently from the rest of us. Their recorded brain activity is not like that of non-psychopaths. Theirs is a genetic inheritance. Though it can be severely worsened by poor upbringing, head injuries, sexual and physical abuse, none of those factors caused a person to be a psychopath.
Psychopaths are born devoid of conscience and empathy. Since childhood, they have adapted by imitating normal people. But as they pretended to have a conscience or values, and faked empathy, they despised those they manipulated. By adulthood, these imposters are skilled at blending in. Because they have been brought up alongside normal people, they also know how non-psychopaths think.
Thus they have an advantage over most people. They can fly under our radar, camouflaged by an appearance of normalcy and respectability.
They have been pathological liars and manipulators all their lives. These days most psychiatrists concur that psychopathic patients are untreatable. In fact many are refusing to take them on, citing not only the waste of their time, but also their own need to protect their mental health.
Not only do they have no intention of changing, psychopaths delight in outwitting medical staff.
When we don’t have a clue about what makes them tick, the advantage is definitely with the psychopaths, from white collar psychopaths like John Grambling who remorselessly defrauded people of their life savings, to serial killers. Because as John Douglas, a former FBI profiler and an expert on serial killers, warns psychopaths are “expert in assessing people.”
The odds are strong that you have encountered many psychopaths, also known as sociopaths, and anti-socials, as you went about daily living. The more successful you are in broadening your life, the more of them you will encounter. Some of them could just be an annoying irritant. Others might rob you of your savings, your spouse, your self-confidence, your job, your reputation, even your life.
Dr Hare. “Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought.”
My message is a hopeful one. We can significantly improve our odds, by learning to recognize the red flags of psychopathic behavior.