The psychopathic personality is not well understood in our society, where it is estimated that 5-7% of men and 1% of women are afflicted with this emotional dysfunction.
Because high functioning psychopaths blend so well into society, they can usually go about undetected by most people.
Your only real defence then, is to be able to recognize the signs of this dangerous personality disorder early on, so you can avoid them or escape from them, as soon as you realize it.
This is not to say that you are in danger of losing your life from an encounter with a high-functioning psychopath, but those who have had a first hand brush with them have said, it’s tantamount to losing your life, because of the horrendous after-effects they now live with.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea that this personality disorder exists, until they come into contact with one of them, and then they know from experience, that they are very real. Once you’ve been ‘burned’ by such an experience, you will develop a 6th sense for spotting them. Before you get involved again, alarm bells will go off to remind you that something is not quite right about this person.
What you’ll find on this page Understanding the Psychopathic Personality
1. What is a Psychopath?
2. The Difference Between a High Functioning and Low Functioning Psychopath
3. Is a Psychopath Born that Way or Are They the Product of Their Environment?
4. The Case of Jimmy Savile – a High Functioning British Psychopath
5. What are the Consequences of a Close Encounter with a Psychopath?
6. The Psychopath in the Workplace
7. Which Jobs Do Psychopaths Tend to Gravitate Toward?
8. Is there a positive side to having a psychopathic personality?
9. How Come Psychopaths Can Move About So Freely in Society?
10. The Corporate Psychopath
11. Why are So Many Women Drawn to Psychopaths?
12. Are You in a Relationship with a Psychopath?
13. Is There any Hope for Rehabilitation or for a Normal Life for a Psychopath?
14. The Signs of Psychopathic Behavior
15. Dr. Robert Hare’s Checklist of Psychopathy Symptoms
16. The Future of the Psychopathic Personality
The psychopathic personality has become a very successful adaptation in our society. Yet they remain hidden in plain view from most people, who may be troubled as to why there seems to be so much turmoil and political infighting going on around them, until that is, they have that first chilling run in with one, and realize that they just might be dealing with a psychopath.
Psychopaths look normal, and “appear” to react like everyone else. But such reactions are feigned or simulated to appear normal. Their actions however, actually have no emotional content behind them.
The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers. They may not be violent at all. There are many “white collar” psychopaths who use manipulation, deceit, and charm to perpetrate non-violent crimes like fraud and embezzlement. Some even rise so far in the workplace that, surrounded by loyal and steadfast friends who are in powerful places, they become untouchable.
Psychopathy is a disorder of the mind, where the person is able to function in society without any moral scruples, no guilt, no worries, no doubts about himself or herself, no reservations or self-reproach. In other words, no conscience. They have a chameleon quality that allows them to blend seamlessly into whatever setting they are in. The person with this disorder has no idea that there is anything wrong with them. What’s more, most people don’t notice anything wrong with them either.
Because of the damage a psychopath can inflict on those around him or her, understanding this personality style is imperative to avoiding becoming victimized by one. The more aware you are, the better chance you’ll have, of noticing the signs of psychopathic behaviour. This will alert you to the danger before they can catch you off balance, and insinuate themselves into your life.
The Difference Between a High Functioning and Low Functioning Psychopath
High functioning psychopaths, by definition, are adept at concealing their dysfunction outside the home, behind a friendly and likeable persona that appears sincere and unquestionable. They participate convincingly in the workplace, in social groups, churches, and organizations where they may hold high office.
Sir Jimmy Savile, was a notorious predatory psychopath and pedophile, who moved easily through British society for over 50 years from the 1950’s to 2001, protected by the rich and powerful. He was able to cultivate the favour of royalty, Prime Ministers, the Pope, the police, media personalities, school and hospital administrators, and prominent leaders in many walks of life, all of whom thought of him as a “likeable eccentric”, who was completely selfless in his philanthropic efforts to help the poor and disadvantaged.
The reality, which only came to light in 2012, a year after his death, is that he raped and assaulted thousands of children, and was given an open door to the most vulnerable of the sick, the youth and the poor in British society – those who had no voice. Even after his death, in the face of clear evidence and the testimonies of hundreds of victims, many of those powerful people with whom he had curried favour, found it extremely difficult to believe that he was anything other than “the exceptional man” they had always believed him to be.
During his reign of depravity, four police forces tried to investigate him. But nothing could ever be proven. He even threatened the police who investigated him, by suggesting that, if the charges did not disappear, they could lose their jobs, because he had friends in high places who could cause them a lot of trouble.
The story of the devastation he wreaked in countless people’s lives is told in this video:
Low Functioning Psychopaths
Low functioning psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to hide their dysfunctional behaviour from public display, and are frequently in trouble with the law, chronically depressed, even reclusive. They cannot maintain a positive or professional facade. You are likely to know immediately when you come into contact with them, by their appearance, and the way they interact with others, that something is not quite right.
With a high functioning or “successful psychopath”, only the family and those who are very close to them are aware of their underside.
What complicates things, even for the family and those in relationship with them, is that this disorder is not always clearly identifiable, because in some individuals, it is illusive and not always consistently present.
It may be part of a combination of disorders which is confusing and crazy-making for ordinary “normal” people. For example, the psychopathic personality can appear as part of a Multiple Personality Disorder (also called Dissociative Identity Disorder), so it is present only part of the time, while another different personality takes over at other times.
It can also appear in the form of Bipolar Disorder, where the person can suddenly switch between an upbeat, fairly normal persona and a low functioning psychopathic personality.
Some psychopaths can split their personality – being high functioning in some situations, and in other environments they become low-functioning. When dealing with these Jeckyll and Hyde aspects of the psychopath, the thing to remember is that it is not your fault, you are dealing with a very sick individual – psychopath or not, and it’s time to extricate yourself from the relationship, the best way you can.
Dr. James Blair – Head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland believes that psychopathy is an emotional disorder, similar to the way clinical depression or anxiety show deficits in the emotional area. The difference with psychopaths is not that they don’t care about others, he says, it’s that they can’t care. They have trouble processing emotional information.
For example, when psychopaths devise schemes to defraud innocent people of their life savings, they have no qualms about this, and do not suffer any remorse over the wake of devastation they leave behind in others’ lives. They lack any sense of responsibility for their actions. They charm and exploit others for their own gain. And when their motives come to light, their only regret is having been caught. They may wreak havoc in society, and will defend their actions with total sincerity, even when they end up in jail. It is meaningless to them that their actions have destroyed other people’s lives.
Recent research claims that there is a difference in the way their brains work. Reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala has been observed, and this may account for the difficulty psychopaths have in processing emotion. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t communicate with the amygdala where the emotions are located.
This video explains what brain scans show about psychopaths who were tested for emotional response using MRI studies.
There’s a charming but cunning recklessness about psychopaths that can be quite attractive to some people. It challenges those around them to either accept them at face value or reject them early on in the relationship. Once the individual accepts the psychopath, they have captured the loyalty of that person, who then becomes vulnerable to manipulation by the psychopath, to forward their own agenda.
Their loyal followers will even go to the extent of justifying any destructive and questionable behaviour that comes to their attention, forgiving the psychopath, and even blaming themselves for thinking anything could be wrong with such a likeable person.
The psychopath has the uncanny ability to tear apart the fabric of another person’s soul and leave them desolate, unable to trust their own judgement, or forgive themselves for allowing the psychopath to have such access to their inner selves. They have no idea how it happened, or why they feel so devastated. They are usually left reeling.
This is no exaggeration. It is very real that these individuals somehow understand how to reach deep into the minds of those they want to manipulate. Once this is achieved, your life force is at stake. This is why they can leave such a trail of destruction behind them.
It is very common for those who have had dealings with psychopaths to end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, similar to those who have survived the horrors of war. They can turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, experience a disintegration of personality, and even commit suicide. Symptoms include: flashbacks, night terrors, lack of appetite, skin rashes, irrational fears and imaginings, trust issues around their own judgment and also others, all of which can, in some cases, make it impossible for them to hold a job, or live a normal life again.
Psychopaths are particularly problematic in any work environment. Official statistics say they make up about 5% of the workplace, but this may be a conservative estimate. Some say 1 in 4 bosses is a psychopath. If you’ve spent any length of time in the workforce, it’s likely you have come across them, heard stories from those who are dealing with them, or even been a victim yourself.
The pattern is usually the same. They are pathological liars, unscrupulous, shrewd, and cunning in their dealings with others. They consistently rise to the top of their professions, and function at extremely high levels. They are adept at reading others’ weaknesses and playing on them, while manoeuvring themselves into positions of power by making themselves indispensable to their superiors. In the beginning they carefully cultivate and surround themselves with the support of a powerful cadre of people who are absolutely loyal to them.
Their victims will however, see another side of the psychopath, which feels terrifying. Their attacks are not just professional, but they frequently enter into a personal psychic attack on their targets. This kind of unrelenting and unreasonable attack bores into the very soul of the one who is living through it.
The betrayal is felt so profoundly by their victims, that some may never be able to hold a job again. They find themselves reliving the nightmare over and over, trying to understand it, and yet at the same time, trying to escape from it. The conflict tears apart the psyche of the individual, who is left bereft of all self-confidence. Because they can’t figure out what happened, they know they can’t trust themselves, their own judgement anymore. And that is devastating. This is made worse by the psychopath’s manipulation of the loyal clique who surround him, who also turn on the one who is under attack.
Psychopaths are found in every type of career: in the military, industry, banking, politics, medicine, education and government. According to Dr. Kevin Dutton, a psychologist at Oxford University, who conducted the “Great British Psychopath Survey” in 2011, CEO’s are the favourite job for psychopaths followed by media personalities, lawyers, then surgeons and the clergy. The common element in these occupations is that they require a strong degree of professional detachment but they also have a hierarchical structure. These professions put immense power into their hands, and license them to wield unrestricted control over others, to manipulate others, and even to change the rules if they wish.
In this interview Dr. Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, talks about the types of jobs that have the highest number of psychopaths in them. He also describes a distinct set of personality traits that are characteristic of psychopaths. They include: ruthlessness, fearlessness, coolness under pressure, focus, recklessness, charm, charisma, mental toughness and emotional detachment.
There are some very positive aspects that come easily to the psychopathic personality.
For example: Dr. Dutton observed that:
- They are assertive, charismatic leaders.
- They do not procrastinate.
- They look on the positive side of things, they don’t dwell on failures, they learn from them.
- They don’t suffer regrets or remorse about the past.
- They keep their focus firmly on the goal, and they keep moving forward.
- They don’t get caught up in taking things personally or blaming themselves when things go wrong. Such emotions are a waste of their energy.
- They remain cool under pressure.
The thing is that until an individual comes to the attention of the law, through perpetrating a crime, it is difficult to intervene. There are many psychopaths in prisons, but not all psychopaths are criminals. Some are very successful, and capable of holding well-paying and influential positions in society.
Yet the chaos that they create in the lives of those they turn against, can be worse than that of the worse criminal who finds himself behind bars. These “corporate psychopaths”, are not, of course, identified as psychopaths, and they would never consider themselves psychopaths.
It appears that there may be a 50-50 ratio of genetics to environmental influences when a child is growing up, in determining if he/she will develop full blown psychopathy. If a child is born with a deficit in the amygdala in the brain, then this genetic predisposition can precipitate the development of this approach to life, especially if it coincides with a violent, traumatic or abusive upbringing. The suppression of emotion and sensitivity that occurs as a result, can allow a psychopathic predisposition to take hold.
This enlightening video will help you identify the “Corporate Psychopath”, and perhaps make the case for considering psychopathy to be a successful adaption to the demands of a sick workplace.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. ~ J Krishnamurti
Psychopaths are particularly dangerous to women. A psychopath can look deep into a woman’s eyes, and she can feel totally appreciated, loved and understood. And that is exactly what is happening “for the moment”. It feels real. He is utterly sincere, and totally focused on her “for that moment”.
A psychopath’s focus is riveting. It gives the woman the kind of attention most women can only dream of in a relationship. That’s because he knows what women want, and he makes an in-depth study of any particular woman he targets. He will know her most cherished needs, sometimes even better than she knows them herself. As a result, the subject of his attentions is completely captivated. And who wouldn’t be, to have someone so totally dedicated to satisfying your every need? And once ensnared under his spell, the woman will do anything to keep that feeling alive.
Dr. Kevin Dutton, whose father was a psychopath, comes by his understanding not only from academic study, but from first hand visceral experience in his family. During an interview with a psychopath, he relates a story the man shared which gives a revealing insight into what it must be like to live as a psychopath.
‘If you had a deaf guy standing watching a building burning down and a child inside the building could be heard screaming in pain, and the deaf guy didn’t go in, you wouldn’t hold him to blame. Imagine if you’re emotionally deaf. You can hear the sound, but it doesn’t do anything for you. You don’t feel that emotional kick in the backside to go in and do something.’
Dr. Dutton goes on: “That means psychopaths must miss out on some of life’s greatest pleasures, too. If the happiest moments of our lives tend to involve sharing joy with others—falling in love, having fun with people we care about— they don’t have any of that.”
Women who fall in love with psychopaths are destined to be hurt. It’s hard to imagine when you are in love with these men that they actually feel nothing. But one has to draw the conclusion from all the clinical research and anecdotal evidence about them, that a psychopath does not feel any love for those who love them. Many women believe that their love will change them, that their love is so loyal, so true, so beautiful that it must eventually get through to their loved one. But when you realize that they are incapable of responding to love, because they do not have the normal brain development to be able to feel with, you have a big decision to make.
If you are in a relationship with a psychopath, you risk losing your trust in yourself, your self-esteem, your mental health, your material possessions, your job, your independence, your friends and family, and even your life!
Those who fall in love with them, begin to blame themselves for anything that goes wrong. They can’t believe that anything could be wrong with the most important person in their life, their wife/husband or partner. They keep believing things will change for the better. As a result, they suffer all kinds of abuse. The psychopath is always convincingly sorry, and promises things will get better, but it never does.
Since a psychopath does not have any depth of feeling, they do not suffer with guilt, and have no empathy or compassion for others, and that includes their closest loved ones. But there is one drawback. This leaves them open to never being able to feel deep joy or happiness, or true intimacy with another person. However, they do not miss this, since they have never felt it. What you’ve never had, you never miss.
And the upside to that means that they do not feel any real hurt to themselves as a consequence of their actions in any relationship. They are immune to hurt. So they really have nothing to lose. They just pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on to another relationship.
For the innocent partner, extricating themselves from such relationships is not easy, because the victim is under what might be called a form of mind control. The sooner they realize that their thinking, their behaviour, their decisions, were all under the control of the psychopath, the better their chances of escaping. Once they realize they have been deceived from the get-go, they can begin to take steps to disengage themselves. When they begin this process, there is no turning back. They must become deaf, blind and dumb to all appeals from the psychopath. The only person they are allowed to forgive is themselves, and to realize that they now beginning a whole new life.
If you don’t have the support of a best friend, or someone who will be there for you as you go through this process, then you need to find a counsellor you are comfortable with, whom you can establish a good rapport with, who will be there for you.
A very helpful resource that explains how to handle all the evasions, finger-pointing, lies, slander etc. that psychopaths will throw at you is Dr. Hare’s Checklist of Psychopathy Symptoms. It not only lists the traits but explains them in detail, giving examples, and suggestions on how to deal with them.
We all know how hard it is to try to change even the most trivial behaviour in ourselves, where the pattern is very well established. When talking about a pre-set mental condition that’s been operating since birth or before birth, how on earth are we going to be able to attempt to change that?
Dr. James Blair lectures on developmental psychology at University College London. His research into psychopathy has focused on the part of the brain called the amygdala.
“The amygdala is a small structure that is housed underneath the temporal cortex, almost in the middle of your brain. It’s crucial for emotion and particularly emotional learning. It’s most important for the generation of fear”.
Since neuroscientists like Blair seem to be picking up indications of poor amygdala functioning in psychopaths, what we can hypothesize is that some kind of drug that may help boost the functioning of the amygdala may help these individuals and make them safer to be around. That drug has yet to be found.
Rehabilitation does not work. They only learn more ways to control others to achieve their ends. They remain cold-hearted, and unreachable. They have no concept that their actions could cause others grief, because to them, it is the norm that they have been living as long as they can remember. So a psychopath on his own would not seek help or believe that there is anything wrong with him or her.
We began this article with the hope that familiarity with the signs of psychopathy should offer some protection from being taken advantage of by psychopaths. It should also help to make a decision about whether to remain in a job where you are becoming a victim of a psychopath. The common consensus on this is to run. There is no way you can win without losing much more than a psychopath would ever lose. In summary, here are 10 Signs of Psychopathic Behaviour.
Dr. Robert Hare, a criminologist who has done extensive research on psychopathy, has developed The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). This is used worldwide by researchers and clinicians, to assess cases of psychopathy and especially in working with the prison population, to rate a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. It consists of 20 items detailing symptoms that are typical of a prototype psychopath.
The 20 Traits Assessed by the Hare Psychopathy Checklist:
1. Glibness and superficial charm
– smooth-talking, engaging and slick.
2. Grandiose self-worth
– greatly inflated idea of one’s abilities and self-esteem, arrogance and a sense of superiority.
3. Pathological lying
– shrewd, crafty, sly and clever when moderate; deceptive, deceitful, underhanded and unscrupulous when high.
– uses deceit and deception to cheat others for personal gain.
5. Lack of remorse or guilt
– no feelings or concern for losses, pain and suffering of others, coldhearted and unempathic.
6. Shallow affect / emotional poverty
– limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness.
7. Callous/lack of empathy
– a lack of feelings toward others; cold, contemptuous and inconsiderate.
8. Fails to accept responsibility for own actions
– denial of responsibility and an attempt to manipulate others through this.
9. Needs stimulation/prone to boredom
– an excessive need for new, exciting stimulation and risk-taking.
10. Parasitic lifestyle
– intentional, manipulative, selfish and exploitative financial dependence on others.
11. Poor behavioral controls
– expressions of negative feelings, verbal abuse and inappropriate expressions of anger.
12. No realistic long-term goals
– inability or constant failure to develop and accomplish long-term plans.
– behaviors lacking reflection or planning and done without considering consequences.
– repeated failure to fulfill or honor commitments and obligations.
15. Juvenile delinquency
– criminal behavioral problems between the ages of 13-18.
16. Early behavior problems
– a variety of dysfunctional and unacceptable behaviors before age thirteen.
17. Revocation of Conditional Release
– violating probation or other conditional release because of technicalities.
– brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs and an indiscriminate choice of sexual partners.
19. Many short-term marital relationships
– lack of commitment to a long-term relationship.
20. Criminal versatility
– diversity of criminal offences, whether or not the individual has been arrested or convicted.
In January 2015, scientists signed an open letter to protect humankind from machines. They say we are only a few decades away from having a sociopathic supercomputer that could enslave humankind.
When one considers the strides in development that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making in our time, it could be that in the future, having a psychopathic personality may become an advanced and even preferred personality style for dealing with the unpredictabilities of life.
Physicist Stephen Hawking, in an article for The Independent in the UK, wrote: “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
It might be a stretch, but perhaps, in psychopathic personalities we are getting a preview of what it will be like, in a few decades, to live with superhuman artificial intelligences, who have no emotion, and are capable of taking over the running of the world.
In any case, at the present time, we must view psychopaths as emotional predators, who specialize in confounding others and hiding their true selves, while creating chaos and destruction wherever they go to further their own agenda, and in the process psychologically destroying the people with whom they live and work.
For more information on Depression see: Are You Depressed? Do You Know Someone Who is Depressed?