Just What Is a Psychopath?

Obviously if you are reading this you have some interest in knowing what a psychopath is, or perhaps you’re conducting research on psychopathy. Maybe still you are not satisfied with mainstream psychology’s findings as regards psychopathy or personality disorders in general. Nevertheless, I am not sure I am completely qualified to answer that question as I have no formal education in psychology, only knowledge gleaned from intense internet research and peer reviewed articles. While I have been diagnosed with Antisocial and Narcissistic Personality traits, I have not been diagnosed as a psychopath honestly, because there is no such thing as a clinical diagnosis for it. I can tell you a bit about myself and my own research, though, which may help you, dear reader, and others like you in your quest.

My regular doctor referred me to a Clinical Psychologist after telling her some things about myself. The first visit I made consisted of two psychologists pummeling me with questions about myself, my family, and my childhood. All the while they were watching my every move, my facial expressions, mood changes, how often I blinked and made eye contact. The second visit they put me through a barrage of psychological evaluations. A few weeks later I went back in for an overview of their findings. According to their evaluation I showed strong ASPD and Narcissistic traits. They added me to their calendar and asked me to come back once every two weeks to speak with them, handed me a packet of papers that included recommendations for therapeutic mental and physical exercises, and sent me on my way. I have not been back since.

I did, however, have a new-found fascination for ASPD and Narcissism. So, being true to myself, I began my own research into what they are and how the traits apply to me as far as I can tell.

Academically speaking, I am most unqualified to state what a psychopath truly is. That being said, personally, I do not believe that anyone has truly pinned it down scientifically. Yes, there are many famous psychologists such as Robert Hare and Hervey M. Cleckley who essentially agree with each other’s findings, however, there are other similarly popular psychologists who oppose Hare’s PCL-R (the Psychopathy Check List, Revised), such as Willem H. J. Martens. I believe that these men agree on more than they disagree, though. Their opposition to one another is not necessarily on what a psychopath is, but in how to identify one and further, in Martens’ case, how to treat one successfully.

Willem believes that Hare’s PCL-R is dangerous and that psychopaths can actually be healed. Hare and his colleagues believe the opposite, of course, because from their own research they find that psychopaths actually have abnormalities in the brain that cannot simply be healed through therapy.

To stay on point, however, I do not believe that psychopaths can be identified as easily as psychologists would like to think. The mind is extremely complex and due to our individual experiences, emotional/mental traumas, and genetic diversity no one two people, even psychopaths in the purest sense, are exactly equal. Most humans have some level of empathy, some have just enough, and fewer still have little or none. It is my opinion that all are necessary.

I keep stating that I don’t know what a psychopath is and unequivocally I do not. I have an idea, though, which is my own opinion based on my own experiences and the information that I have found on the subject. Hare, Cleckley, Martens, et al have published scores of articles on psychopathic traits. These include no conscience, little to no empathy, no remorse, glibness, superficial charm, cunning/manipulative, persistent lying, the inability to maintain long-lasting relationships, and many more. One can see that the majority of the diagnostic criteria that make one a psychopath are related, either directly or indirectly, to morality as a whole. Psychopaths, then, in my opinion, are simply individuals that are unhindered by morality. They have no need for it themselves, though they do rely upon the morality of others in order to get their way, especially in the case of Narcissists whom I consider insecure psychopaths due to their constant need for what Otto Fenichel called Narcissistic Supply. The psychopathic mind is free to do as it pleases without being fettered by objective morality, and so he uses that freedom to his own advantage at all times. If it does not benefit the psychopath in some way, then he/she has no need for it. With psychopaths there is intent in every action to satisfy his own needs and wants, morality and ethics be damned.

In the past it was believed that the easiest manner in which to determine whether or not a person had psychopathic traits was to measure their level of empathy. If it was drastically low or lacking completely then this typically was cause for further investigation. However, a new study conducted on psychopaths’ brains revealed something startling, that psychopaths actually have what is called an empathy switch. According to a study conducted in the Netherlands, psychopaths actually do have the capacity for empathy. In empaths (non-psychopathic people, or as I like to call them, Muggles), this capacity for empathy is always turned on. In fact, it can be said that they do not have a switch at all. In psychopaths, however, there exists a “switch” that is turned off by default meaning that unless something triggers the switch and turns on their ability to empathize, they will not. The researchers monitored the brain activity of psychopaths while the patients watched videos of various situations that would elicit empathetic feelings in empaths. Of course, their brain activity was null and void in the areas that would normally light up when feeling empathy. Next, the psychopaths were instructed to watch the videos again and this time try to empathize with the actors, to try and feel what they would be feeling. After this instruction, the same brain regions that typically become active when an empath feels empathy, lit up in the psychopaths’ brains, as well.

So, out with the “lack of empathy” card.

To reiterate what countless other websites and psychologists have stated in the past, despite what many people believe about psychopaths, the vast majority of them are not serial killers. Estimates state that the percentage of psychopaths in the United States alone is between 1% and 3%. That’s between 3 and 9 million people, only a small fraction of which are in our prison system. This makes it very possible that you passed one on your way to Starbucks today, or that one of your coworkers is, indeed, a psychopath. Again, though, there is no cause for alarm. It doesn’t mean that you should be watching over your shoulder for a knife-wielding, crazy eyed coworker.

Psychopaths are no less normal than empaths. In fact, I would argue that they are in fact  more normal, more grounded in reality as it is than in this grand puppet show the whole of humanity has created from reality. Psychopaths can see through morality all too easily and express their dissatisfaction with its restraints through various means. They are ready and willing to go where empaths are not, into that void that an empath dare not go. Were it not for the psychopath, it is quite possible that human civilization may not have reached the heights it has. That is a stretch, of course, but entirely plausible.

Anyway, I feel like I am rambling so I will stop now. Until next time.

Just What Is a Psychopath?

One thought on “Just What Is a Psychopath?

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