For most of us the idea of a psychopath conjures up images from movies like “Silence of The Lambs” and characters with names like “Hannibal Lector.” Fortunately characters like Hannibal don’t really exist. Serial killers and people involved in ritual torture are rare, but psychopathic behavior is more common than you might think.
I have known several psychopaths in my life. The clearest case involved an older teen who had no sense of guilt. He could learn the rules, but he had no sense of conscience. The only thing that saved him was a mother who loved him, took him to counseling for years and spent a great deal of time patiently teaching him right from wrong. I remember a conversation where he told me, “People know when something is wrong because it feels wrong. I have to remember or be reminded that stealing from someone is wrong. I don’t feel bad if I take something.”Meeting this young boy changed my opinion of a psychopathic personality. Why? Because children with this condition are “emotionally blind.” And while I do not excuse cruelty or criminal behavior, I have sympathy and appreciate how hard it is for some people to learn how to act responsibly. Without help, potentially psychopathic children will become adults who never remain attached to anyone or anything for long. They may end up living a “predatory” lifestyle, feeling little or no regret, and having little or no remorse – except when they are caught or about to be locked up. A psychopath is not necessarily a bad person. But they are prone to have problems with society, rules, expectations and relationships.
A psychopath will use people for excitement, entertainment, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (e.g. money, property, comfort, etc..). They can involve and get other people into trouble quickly and they seem to have no regret for their actions. To date there is no checklist of behavior and symptoms that will tell you with certainty whether or not a person is a psychopath. But there are warning signs. The following warning signs are based on my experience but primarily research conducted by Robert Hare, Ph.D – the leading expert on the Psychopathic Personality.
Characteristics of a Psychopathsuperficial charm self-centered ; self-important need for stimulation ; prone to boredom deceptive behavior ; lying conning ; manipulative little remorse or guilt shallow emotional response callous with a lack of empathy living off others or predatory attitude poor self-control promiscuous sexual behavior early behavioral problems lack of realistic long term goals impulsive lifestyle irresponsible behavior blaming others for their actions short term relationships juvenile delinquency breaking parole or probation varied criminal activity The idea that psychopaths eat people is a myth. In reality, a person with a psychopathic personality can lead what appears to be an ordinary life. They can have jobs, get married and they can break the law like anyone else. But their jobs and marriages usually don’t last and their life is usually on the verge of personal chaos. They are almost always in some kind of trouble or they are not far from it.
A psychopath is usually a subtle manipulator. They do this by playing to the emotions of others. They typically have high verbal intelligence, but they lack what is commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence”. There is always a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories. In particular they have difficulty describing how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may feel and why. In many cases you almost have to explain it to them. Close friends and parents will often end up explaining to the psychopath how they feel and how others feel who have been hurt by him or her. They can do this over and over with no significant change in the person’s choices and behavior. They don’t understand or appreciate the impact that their behavior has on others. They do appreciate what it means when they are caught breaking rules or the law even though they seem to end up in trouble again. They desperately avoid incarceration and loss of freedom but continue to act as if