The standard definition of psychopath is:
Notice that each definition of psychopath refers to "antisocial" and the inability to feel certain emotions. So what's the link?
Imagine if you never felt guilt, or embarrassment, or remorse for anything you did, ever! And there is no emotional attachment to other people and their emotions have no effect on you. In other words, you have no "conscience", no inner policeman telling you what you should and should not do. And never any regrets either.
What could you do? More importantly, what could you not do? The range of possibilities is endless. You would just go for what you want, regardless of anybody else. You would take what you want, treat people the way you want, manipulate them or abuse them simply for the sake of dominating them.
'Socializing' emotions are those that allow society to function well, with benefits for all concerned. For example, empathy, love, guilt, shame, remorse. Having these emotions means that we treat others well, we treat them fairly and we look out for and help others. If you lacked these socializing emotions, of course your behavior would be antisocial!
This idea is practically impossible for most normal people to understand. And this is what makes the psychopath so dangerous and why it is often difficult to recognize a psychopath. Normal people are not expecting others to be evil or deliberately doing harm, and so they justify the initial bad behaviors of the psychopath. They give them the benefit of the doubt, and this is something you can never do with psychopaths.
The decision making of people who fit the definition of psychopathy is very different from yours or mine. They can decide to do things that we would never do. For example, if they were making the decision to steal somebody's money, or sexually abuse them, or manipulate them into doing something against their beliefs, they would have the same emotion as when they're deciding about what to watch on the television!
Psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder are often used interchangeably. Even in the definition of psychopath above one is used to describe the other. However, some people consider that there are differences, but among lay people (and even some professionals) psychopath is often used interchangeably with sociopath. They are thought to be the same thing.
No definition of psychopath will typically list all the characteristics of the psychopath. In his book "The Mask Of Sanity" (1941) Harvey Cleckley lists 16 characteristics. However, Robert Hare's psychopathy checklist is commonly used today for diagnosis. This is a complex clinical tool used by professionals to examine the characteristics of an individual to determine if they have a sufficient number of the symptoms to warrant a label of psychopath.
This is important, because there is no solid definition of psychopath that says that somebody definitely is, or is not, a psychopath. Instead it comes down to a clinical judgment based on an interview with the person and an examination of their past history.
His checklist is divided into two broad categories, the emotional and interpersonal traits of the personality disorder and typically antisocial lifestyle of the psychopath. For example, they can be witty and articulate, charming, but superficial, with enormous egos and a huge sense of entitlement. And because they have no empathy, guilt or remorse they lie very easily and manipulate and deceive practically everybody they come into contact with.
They can be very impulsive, frequently looking for stimulation, often sexual, and they don't take responsibility for their actions. It's always somebody else's fault! And there may be a history of antisocial behavior as children although the usual story is that nobody knows much of (or it's impossible to verify) the past history of the psychopath that is manipulating them.
It seems nowadays that there are either more psychopaths among us, or we are becoming more aware of them. There are various tests available to determine if somebody might be a psychopath. I say 'might be' because the diagnosis has to be made by a qualified professional. Be careful of labeling somebody a psychopath on the basis that they have some tendencies. You may be right, of course, but be careful!
Of particular importance are psychopaths operating in positions of power. Remember that they like to control and manipulate people for their own benefit. It makes sense then, that they will try to put themselves in positions of power, using whatever tricks, deceit and manipulations they can. Remember for them, the end justifies the means.
Politicians, heads of companies, doctors, therapists, bankers, investors often have tremendous power and it is no surprise that psychopaths will try to work their way into these positions. And interestingly, a lot of the traits that the psychopath has are actively sought out in these positions.
A good CEO needs to be able to take charge, make decisions, and get other people to do what he or she wants. These are often considered to be the signs of a good leader. They are also the skills a psychopath has practiced to control, manipulation and dominate others!
This is the second aspect of decision making that is important in relation to psychopaths. Remember that their own decision making process is not dominated by emotions, so their decisions are organized around their own selfish motives. The second aspect is the effect they have on other people's decision making. Someone in a position of influence will obviously affect the decision making of the people who report to him. Lawmakers will have an effect on the decisions made by those who follow those laws (Consider the changes in the laws affecting major corporations.)
And it is particularly obvious in the effects that psychopathic cult leaders have on their followers, with the creation of pseudo-identities, or clones of themselves, and the impact that has on the decision making of the cult members. (Any close relationship with a psychopath, whether in a cult or in a relationship of 2, can result in a pseudopersonality!)
Through watching movies and reading books, many people are beginning to realize that the standard definition of psychopath as serial killer or serial rapist is incomplete. They are beginning to learn the symptoms of psychopathy and are learning how to spot the psychopath in the workplace.
Or unfortunately for some, by the time they ask themselves 'what is a psychopath?' they have been a victim of a psychopath or are in a relationship with a sociopath and are trying to escape from the mind control and undo the damage and move on. Their definition of psychopath is someone who uses mind control, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and satisfy their personal needs and wants, without any consideration for others whatsoever.
(It is thought by some that psychopaths are deeply insecure and often paranoid, living in a cold emotional inner world and that they control others to offset these things.)
It is estimated that 1% of the population are psychopaths. This may not seem like a big number but the damage they inflict on society and on individuals, emotionally, physically, sexually, mentally and psychologically is enormous.
20% of prison inmates fit the definition of psychopath and about 50% of major crimes are committed by psychopaths. 1 in 7 is female.
Although many of them end up in jail. Most do not. Some experts say that if they have not committed a crime, it's only because they have not been found out yet. They use their charm to disarm. The use mind control to manipulate people, and when in trouble they use guilt and fear so that people do not talk out against them.
There are currently no effective sociopath treatment options.
Think you know a psychopath? Here's a quick test...
The only way to protect yourself from psychopaths is to know that they exist, understand how they manipulate, recognize the signs and know how to detect them. Those involved in the law, those involved in keeping the law, social workers, medics, therapists and those dealing with abuse cases need to understand the definition of psychopath, and more importantly need to be able to recognize the handiwork of psychopaths.
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