With the release of the Mask of Sanity in the 1940s Dr. Hervey Cleckley began the quest to describe a syndrome called psychopathy, in which affected individuals prey on others without remorse. Since people affected by the syndrome are socially disordered the syndrome has also been called sociopathy. Dr. Robert Hare extended the work of Cleckley and carefully documented the symptoms of the disorder. All this research has lead to two basic conclusions:
1. It is quite remarkable that individuals who choose a lifestyle of remorseless predation of other people are so similar in their behaviors and personality traits.
2. Equally important is the idea that non-disordered people do not “regularly” prey on others.
These two very profound conclusions have been the cause of a dilemma that is outlined by the following statement by a prominent psychopathy researcher:
Clearly, not all people who are violent or callous or sadistic are psychopathic. In fact, it is probably the case that most of the cruelty in the world is not perpetrated by psychopathic individuals. Similarly, although psychopaths commit a disproportionate share of the violent crime, it seems to me that they do not commit even the majority of the violent crime.
Over the last two weeks I have thought about the above dilemma, particularly since attending the Battered Mothers Custody Conference. The dilemma was also discussed at the conference in the form of questioning whether “all batters are psychopaths/sociopaths.” I want to answer this question for you in and extend the answer to the broader context of psychopathy/sociopathy and humanity.
All though I have the utmost respect for the quoted psychopathy researcher, I disagree strongly with his views. I believe that ALL people who are violent, callous or sadistic (in the sense that these traits persist in them) are psychopathic.
Over the last 7 years a number of studies show that the group of traits and behaviors that group together in psychopathy act like a “dimensional trait.” By dimensional trait I mean that psychopathy is similar to height. Just as there are short people and tall people and also what we consider short and tall changes according to age, gender and geography, there are people who are more or less psychopathic. The dilemma only happens when we attempt to categorize a person and call him or her “a psychopath/sociopath.” Scientists and mental health professionals disagree about where to draw the dividing line to indicate “a psychopath,” just like you and I might disagree as to what height makes for a “tall person.”
The dimension, psychopathic is also different from height in a very important respect- that is stability. Whereas height is very stable, psychopathy is only relatively stable and is affected by aging, mood disorders, substance abuse and social environment.
Now I want to explain the source of the confusion around the dimension psychopathic. The source of the confusion is a failure to understand that one issue underlies psychopathy and is the cause of the observed fact that a group of traits and behaviors cluster together in psychopathy/sociopathy.
The cause of psychopathy/sociopathy is an addiction to power. The addiction to power can start at any age but as in most addictions it usually begins by the early 20s. Also like other addictions, the earlier a person becomes addicted to power, the worse the addiction. Addictions that begin early are very resistant to treatment and carry a very poor prognosis. Psychopathy/sociopathy that starts prior to age 10 (puberty) is the most devastating.
The idea that an addiction to power underlies psychopathy/sociopathy has important micro and macro implications for human society. On a micro level the family is affected by psychopathic individuals who are obsessed with the pursuit of interpersonal power at the expense of family members. Violence, callous manipulation and sadism are all part of that power fix. The person that abuses family members does so because it makes him or her feel powerful. That is true whether the abuser is mother, father, brother, sister or any other relation.
The macro level is just as important. Our institutional leaders, if addicted to power produce widespread abuse in our society. Institutional leaders are bosses, politicians, teachers and the like. When we examine risk for “psychopathy” in leaders, it is useful to consider the phenomenon of addiction as applied to power.
Last night we went to The Cheesecake Factory to celebrate my daughter’s 18th birthday. I had one frozen mango marguerita, likely one of six I will have in all of 2009. I will also likely drink 4 glasses of wine and about three beers all year. There are many people who cannot drink just one drink because the pleasure of alcohol sets off a chemical reaction in their brains. Once they have one drink they develop a compulsion to keep drinking.
Power with me works the same way. I dislike telling other people what to do. I have had to learn to manage this dislike in order to adequately mother my children. Good parenting requires the thoughtful, careful exertion of interpersonal power. Some parents become addicted to that power and become what are called “authoritarian parents.” They are so bossy and dictatorial their poor children never learn to think for themselves.
Institutional leaders are like parents. Leadership requires thoughtful, careful exertion of interpersonal power. For a psychopathic, power-addict the first time they lead the meeting fills them with pleasure and delight. They become obsessed with the feeling and so obsessed with power. Since love and power motives are mutually exclusive, eventually power consumes the person’s entire being and he/she develops all the qualities of “a psychopath.”
Let us look at domestic violence again. Men and women who abuse their partners mentally, emotionally sexually and physically are not normal people who are the subjects of the influence of a violent society. They are power addicts. Just like there are societal factors in alcoholism, gambling and other addictions, there are societal influences on psychopathy. These societal influences no more cause psychopathy or power addiction, than they do alcoholism. Drinking causes alcoholism and exerting power causes psychopathy- in people with an inborn predisposition.
Please comment on what I have written. If you disagree please state your reasons. Let’s have a debate.
Grant: Megalomania doesn’t describe the “disorderedness” of the disorder. It’s the chaos of the behavior that confounds me.
We moved into a house, bought with my effort and earnest money. He was supposed to be paying the payments. Meanwhile the house needed a washer and dryer. He had a new-model Maytag setup that had been in storage, “top of the line,” as he said. It turned out the washer/dryer unit wouldn’t turn on. Furthermore, as I researched online that particular Maytag model, I learned that it had been part of a class action suit that had brought the Maytag corporation to its knees. Aggressively marketed, the unit had been terminally flawed and it just didn’t and wouldn’t ever work.
But the house still needed a washer and dryer unit, because clothes still got dirty, his children still visited, I still went to construction sites, and even if HIS S$$$ didn’t stink, uh, the rest of us needed a washer and dryer. Well, he wasn’t interested in the project. I finally got him to put the Maytag carcass out on the back deck, but in 12 months he never moved it one inch. I brought in a used washer and dryer from a property I was refurbishing so that I could have clean clothes. Did he ever do a load himself? Let me think . . .
So, this kind of nonsensical behavior is what confounds me. It was like he took it as a personal insult that the Maytag unit was terminally flawed . . . and then he was no longer interested. I can’t frame it as a power struggle. It had nothing to do with greed, as Wini might suggest.
Dr. Leedom: #2: Non-disordered people do not regularly prey on others. Please look at the above description. This is where I see the “disorderedness” but I don’t see him as a predator or exploiter in the usual sense.
Like, he could “get” narcissistic supply if he came in with the amazing Maytag washer/dryer, but as soon as it was evident that this was a class-action scale “turkey” he dropped it, even to the extent of leaving it on the back deck in full view of the entire town (if they used binoculars) because it no longer served his narcissistic purpose. And it never occurred to him that leaving dead appliances on the back porch is a profoundly low-life thing to do, certainly not acceptable in a neighborhood of $1M houses.
Playing back his actions is like trying to listen to a CD that has scratches and peanut butter all over it. It skips and jumps and its hard to make sense of it. There certainly is no “music” to it.
I think the general population understands the terms con-artist or thief or lier or cheater – when we say sociopath or physcopath or narcissist or cluster B – WE all of a sudden become the crazy one. ‘Disorder’ sound’s contagious. They are what they are and regardless of what label they are given, they destroy live’s and unless a person, professional physciatrist or not, has been ‘burned’ by one it doesnt matter what you call them…..
Rune, the term disorder is a valid point – it indicates that things are out of sync, and dont go the way normality would anticipate. They are not working properly, hence they are “disordered”.
There are several theories that are used to understand personality disorders. When you find several people displaying similar behaviors that are different to the rest of society, you dont just develop a list of these traits, you try to look at cause, as well as anticipate future behavior. There is a method in the madness, so to speak. The so called ‘Disorder” does actually follow a pattern.
Theodore Millon, a well known personality theorist, postulates that personality is like a circle, with 3 lines, or dimensions crossing it. These three dimensions are active vs passive, self vs other, and pleasure vs pain.
Normal personalities are roughly in the middle of each dimension, and thus fall in the middle of the circle. They strike a balance along all three continuums.
An N, however, will be grossly Self focussed, much more pleasure focussed, but usually passive. An anti-social will be strongly self focussed , and active, but enjoys pain, or gets pleasure from others pain. The N doesnt enjoy or inflict pain consciously, because they just dont care. But, if you get hurt along the way, too bad for you.
A Borderline is so undifferentiated, that they cant take a consistent stance on these dimensions, and flip flop all over the place. They are truely ‘disordered’.
A Dependent personality is Other/Passive/Pain, whereas a Histrionic is Other/Active, and probably pain. The Scizoid would be Self/Passive, and hence little threat to people.
I find Millons theory useful, but much prefer Freud and Klein. I know they are out of fashion at the moment, but I think their systems much better describe what happens. For an N:
Basically, a child idealises the primary care-giver, who meets all their needs, as perfect. And the child sees the care giver as merely an extension of themselves. The child of age 2 is totally narcissistic, and expects total, immediate and unconditional gratification (you will see your needy N here, who idealises you in the beginning, thinks you are perfect, is so in love with you, and suggests true love). Then, as time goes by, the child begins to note flaws in the idealised care giver. These flaws pose a threat to the idealisation – how can you be perfect, but have flaws ? You will notice the Ns intolerance of certain things here, odd criticisms, funny dislikes, personal quirks.
Now, as the theory goes, because the child needs the care-giver, and idealises this person onto whom the PROJECT PERFECTION, they learn, with difficulty, to accept the flaws. They then RE-INTROJECT, or re take back into themselves, their flawed ideal, accept it as perfect, but with flaws, and move on to the next stage of development.
The N, however, percieves so many flaws, real or imagined, that they refuse, psychologically, to accept this, and REJECT the care-giver. Instead, they turn to themselve for the gratification of their needs. You will see here the DEVALUING by the N.
This stratergy of rejection, however, stunts future progress. The N continually seeks out in later life another care-giver, whom they can project perfection onto, and hopefully re-introject. THATS US ! As none of us are perfect, the pattern repeats, and we are DEVALUED AND DICARDED for the next ideal.
You will also see the primary flaw of the N here – they are unable to accept people as human, ie as having flaws. They have NO EMPATHY for you and your flaws! And you will be punished for having those flaws, and dissapointing your N.
Rune, if you think of the movie “Psycho”, Norman Bates was unable to see his mother as deeply flawed. So when she said “Kill”, he did. He was an N. Lots of other Horror movies involve a mad mother who controls a disturbed son.
The Anti-Social, however, has sucessfully passed the flawed care-giver stage, and has accepted that the care-giver is a very flawed person. The care-giver is re-introjected as a very SELFISH, but necessary evil. The care-giver has met their own needs, but put themselves, not the child, first. Adults are seen as selfish because they meet their own needs first, and the child’s second. The child hates this, but accepts it, and adopts the same approach.The world is then viewed as a place full of selfish, lazy people, who will all end up disappointing you. The ASPD then goes through life with a “do unto others before they do unto you” attitude. As people are “bad”, they can be abused. They actually deserve it, and life is simply a competition for love, which is in very short supply. Let the best man win !
So the ASPD isnt pre-occupied with perfect love, but with getting what they need from flawed people.
After the S/P had pulled a “surprise” birthday party for his then 9-yr-old, that involved 22 children of both genders having a sleepover at the house — without my advance knowledge or consent — he did a lot of self-promoting exciting activities (schlepping everyone to a nearby motel where he took advantage of their indoor pool, for example) and then, at 10:30 he disappeared. Children were fighting, crying, needing blankets and intervention, and he was nowhere to be found. I finally went to our bedroom and found him in bed, almost asleep. I asked him, in my polite but direct way, “What the #%$^?” He beamed a sleepy smile and said, “Isn’t it wonderful how the parents trust me?” and rolled over and went to sleep. So what was that?
(Interesting stuff, Grant.) I don’t get the payoff for the guy. Pain for others? All I see is the pointless chaos.
With an N, when a challenge arises to their view of perfect love, you may encounter a ‘narcissistic rage’, which shows just how threatening to their psychological balance your imperfections are. Thats why you find yourself ‘walking on egg-shells’ around an N. Their primary defense when you criticize them is Projection – that is, it is Your imperfection that is the problem. They are perfect, you are not, so it must be your fault.
With an Anti-Social, when a challenge arises, they view your criticsm of them as hypocracy. They see you as as selfish as they are, and thus in no real position to criticize. All your criticism tells them is that they havent fully outsmarted you yet. You are thus not likely to encounter rage, but sweet-talk and lies.
The N is inclined to withdraw, post rage, and revert to fulfilling their own needs, and punishing you by withdrawing their affection and idealisation of you. The AS, however, will escalate the game, because they are ACTIVELY trying to get goods out of you. And they will do whatever they have to win.
If you ARE OTHER/PAIN ORIENTATED, YOU MAY SELF-HARM. The other counts for more than the self (low self-esteem).These people tend towards depression, and masochism. IF You are SELF/PLEASURE orientated, youd tend to abuse others, and be sadistic.
There are a lot of people who are more comfortable with pain than pleasure, simply by force of experience. They know how to suffer. They dont know how to be happy.
Rune, I think that the “trust” of the other parents was wanted, but for free (SELF orientated), and that going to bed leaving the mess behind is very SELF (I am more important). It sounds like an exercise in Narcissism, selfishness. Other people are simply here to meet my needs – an emotional 2 year old cant be expected to look after other kids, or act responiblly. Thats your job.
I got to thinking last night before I went to sleep and this morning as I drank my coffee.
The Bernie Madoff deal is BIG, and I would classify him as a “ten” because of the huge amount of damage he did. But would he be ANY WORSE (just because he did it on a grand scale) than the same type of thing done by a P to just ONE old lady, ripping off all her funds? I’m not sure about that.
Using the LEVEL of violence (emotional or physical) as a measurement is problematic. Using the success of the damage vs just attempting the damage is also problematic.
Yes, we see a PATTERN in their behaviors, but there is also some chaos or randomness as well.
As for addicts not being responsible for their addiction or their behavior in seeing to get their fixes, I don’t give them a pass at all. As for Ps being addicted to “control” and that’s why they do it, and thinking they need empathy and “help” for their addiction. BULLL HOCKEY!
Okay, they are a danger to society, they are an irritant in the lower “levels” of their damage. What do we as a society do with them?
Rehabilitation is out. (as we know but obviously some others still think they can be rehabilitated)
Transportation is out unless Australia agrees to let us use the interior for a penal colony or Russia will take them in Siberia.
Incarceration without parole is too expensive. Incarceration doesn’t teach them anything but a PhD in criminal ways and means.
The death penalty is really too randomly administered and our justice system too flawed depending on lots of things (the OJ murder trial is a perfect example).
I think the perfect thing is to BRAND THEM say on the forehead with a large N or P (as determined by the jury) so that others are warned on sight.
Saudi Arabia does a fair job with their system of cutting off the right hand of a thief (which precludes the thief ever eating with others as they are not allowed to dip their left hand, which is used for managing bodily functions, into the communal food dish.
But I think for our society branding would be more appropriate, especially since our justice system of determining guilt or innocence is quite flawed.
I am sure you all know there is a great deal of “tongue in cheek” above, but NOT totally tongue in cheek either.
I am at a total LOSS on what to do with them other than “shoot on sight” for some of them, such as the Trojan HOrse Psychopath..and fortunately the state with their restraining order pretty much gave me that license.
The “three-strikes-you’re-out law” (life without parole) enacted by many states is the closest thing I can think of for treating serial felony convictions in an appropriate manner.
A person who is a HABITUAL criminal and goes to prison, gets out and commits another felony has OBVIOUSLY not “learned” or been rehabilitated, and so if he/she commits the THIRD FELONY, it is pretty obvious that there is a PATTERN of criminal behavior there, and there is probably a pretty good chance that they are at some level psychopathic in behavior even if they are not “legally a P”—-
Our jails and prisons are so full now that they are making huge efforts to release people early. Though the Trojan HOrse psychopath (and he is professionally diagnosed) has 3 separate convictions for molestation of kids 9, 11 and 14, has never completed a single parole without new offenses, has multiple other felony convictions (15 pages of them) and the DA here in our county plead him down to one charge with a 3 yr sentence, and out on parole in a year and a half. The number of months this man has been OUT of prison in his adult life is only in the teens, if you added them all up, and he is 40 yrs old.
It is frustrating, depressing, fear making, crazy making, and lots of other words, but nothing truly describes the futility of society trying to control these people the way it is being done. BUT, if social history is consulted, THIS IS NOTHING NEW, we just have a better media.
In doing a history of Perry County, Kentucky, which I wrote a few years ago, I researched the history of the feuds there. (My husband’s family was from there) and they were actually shooting people off the witness stand. The history of the feuds in eastern Kentucky and western Virginia and West Virginia are famous, and horrible. The Hatfield’s and McCoy feud is only one of them. These feuds, believe it or not, are continuing to this day and I found tombstones in modern cemeteries where the inscription read “Killed from ambush” which is actually the way most of the murders were done, even though there was some organization to the feuds.
My husband’s family was highly involved in most of the feuds, and on both sides of the feuds. Several of his ancestors were killed in or were killers in the feuds as well. ONe of the larger ones was started in 1806 and lasted to well up after the Civil war with about 80 deaths on one side and about 100 on the other. The eye witness descriptions of the killings (mostly from ambush) were horrible, with young children witnessing the murder of their parents, but themselves not being killed.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre in the 1850s in Utah by the Mormons who killed about 150 people cold blooded could not have been anything but psychopathic behavior in action under the guise of “religion.”
The various ethnic feuds in Africa, Asia, Europe, in the former Soviet Union, Mao, Stalin, Germany, etc etc all are the result of psychopaths in action on a grand scale with dupes as their followers.
Since the “garden of Eden” where “Satan” duped Eve into eating the “forbidden fruit” the psychopaths of this world have preyed on the victims in this world. I think it always has been and always will be the case. I’m not sure there is a way to “control” it, especially when some kinds of psychopathic behavior are sanctioned by society, or overlooked and allowed. When one segment of society is allowed to control other segments entirely (slavery for example.)
Most of us have dealt with and been abused by one, two, three or even four Ps, and some of us have dealt with (and been abused by) “organized” psychopathic behavior (such as the financial and political and business groups) and the criminal and abusive behavior of our political leaders effects us all. (MAdoff’s abuse will effect our entire economy and many many individuals) but I don’t have an answer for how to control them. I WISH I DID.
There was a time (my teen aged years) when I thought I knew the answer for ALL THE ILLS OF SOCIETY, but the older I get the more I know that I don’t know “Jack Chit” about it all. That makes me sad. The only thing I think I can do is to take care of myself as well as I can, educate and heal myself from the Ps in my immediate vicinity, and protect myself as well as I can from future involvement.
On the larger scale of things, the “damage” done to my life, while personally devastating to me and those close to me, is only a pimple on an elephant’s butt compared to the larger damage done to society at large, and to the 60 million Mao killed or the 60 million Stalin killed and God alone knows how many tortured, and the 6 million Hitler killed and tortured. But history if FILLED with tales just as bad or worse.
Life is NOT FAIR and the Ps have the advantage of no conscience. The person who attacks always has the advantage. We who do not attack first are always in a defensive mode, which means “we” (prey) will always be at a disadvantage to “them” (the predator.)