Robert Hare, in his book 'Without Conscience', lists the characteristics of a psychopath that he uses as part of his checklist. This Hare psychopathy checklist is a complex clinical tool used in the clinical evaluation to determine if someone is a psychopath or not. Just because somebody has some of these traits does not make them a psychopath!
Psychopathy is best thought of as a syndrome, a cluster of characteristics.
Hare divides the characteristics into two groups. Firstly are the personal and emotional characteristics of a psychopath, and secondly are the features of the antisocial lifestyle.
Let's have a look at the first group.
Psychopaths tend to talk a lot. They know how to read people and can be funny and entertaining and they are often boasting, telling stories about how good they are. The stories may be unconvincing but they somehow manage to present themselves as likeable and charming. For some people, however, the psychopath is too smooth, or is simply playing a role.
The psychopath can often talk about any subject as if he were an expert, often even using the jargon. Some of them do it so well, and with such confidence, that they can even fool psychologists, experts in this field, who know they're talking to a psychopath!
And at the same time, some of the serial killers talk about their crimes in gory detail with almost no emotion. People who experience this find it very unnerving.
Psychopaths tend to have enormous egos, an incredible sense of entitlement and an overinflated sense of their own self-worth and importance. They are arrogant and cocky, they have an opinion on everything and they are always right. They have incredible confidence but often without the competence. They typically have lots of grandiose plans for the future. "I want the world to be the way I want it to be" said one psychopath.
In their role as guru or maestro, they often claim to have magic powers, or to be able to do things that other people cannot. This enhances their prestige among their followers. And if anyone questions them about why they're not using their gift right now, they always have a good story to excuse themselves.
One of the most stunning characteristics of a psychopath is the total lack of guilt or remorse that they experience, regardless of the effect of their actions on others. From serial killers to cult leaders to corporate psychopaths to the child psychopath, they all typically have a justification for the decisions they have made and for what they have done.
Interviews with psychopaths reveal that for them, people are simply objects, things to be used. Even family members have the same value as other things they own, such as a mobile phone or a coat.
And use people they do. They will take their money, their possessions, their time, their expertise, their efforts, their bodies, and their souls. (People who have been duped by psychopaths for religious reasons have said that it's like being raped spiritually.) And all this without the slightest care in the world for the victims.
The absence of remorse is evidenced by the fact that many psychopaths, even after being caught and punished for some crime, continue to do the same thing.
When caught out, psychopaths will often deny or minimize the effect of their actions on others. In fact, they typically make out that they are the victim! And they can play the victim role very well. For them it's simply another one of the masks that they present to the world.
Another one of the important characteristics of a psychopath is the inability to understand what other people are feeling or experiencing. They don't know what it's like to be in somebody else's shoes.
What they do is to learn about emotions. They learn from other people what emotions feel like, what they experience, and what is expected in certain situations. Therefore they can appear to be very caring and loving. But it's all a charade, a show, playacting, in order to manipulate the emotions of others.
Being incapable of empathy means they are incapable of love. The emotional world of a psychopath is indeed shallow and dark. This can be difficult to understand when dealing with a sociopath.
"I lie like I breathe, one as much as the other" explained one psychopath. But even when they are caught out in a lie, they simply carry on. Remember, no guilt or remorse! They simply change the story to try and fit in with the lie.
Sometimes they lie so much that it's difficult to know if they know themselves that they're lying. The answer is usually yes, and typically they are proud of the fact that they are good liars. That big ego again! And it is one of the extraordinary characteristics of a psychopath that they are totally unfazed by being caught out in a lie.
Why do they lie? To manipulate and control others. They are all the time trying to dominate and control. They believe that the world is full of predators and prey. And they are definitely predators. Other people are weak, stupid and deserve to be taken advantage of. In fact, the psychopath is doing them a favor, teaching them lessons.
When you consider the characteristics of a psychopath we've looked at so far, it's no wonder that they swindle, cheat, con and defraud others. They play by different rules than normal people, rules that normal people are totally unaware of.
Normally people do not consider that others willfully do evil and harm because they have no conscience. They are simply unaware of how psychopaths work. This puts them at a tremendous disadvantage when in a relationship with a sociopath and it's worth learning how to recognize the signs of a psychopath.
Psychopaths are unable to describe the intricacies of different emotions because they don't experience them. They may mistake sexual arousal for love, or anger for irritability.
One thing that is common is that many of them say they can make themselves angry. They say they can turn it on and off. But they don't know how fear feels. They can certainly notice the signs of fear in other people but they are unable to describe any bodily sensations.
For many people fear is a motivator in that they may do things or not do things because of fear of the consequences. Not so in psychopaths, because they don't experience the unpleasant sensations of fear. This obviously has far reaching effects on the decisions they make. They do, however, know how to manipulate others through fear.
These characteristics of a psychopath may seem unreal to normal people. But for those who have been victims, understanding the inner world of a psychopath may be the only way to make sense of the torment and distress they have experienced, although it can actually be very difficult to recognize these things if you are still in the relationship.
Now let's have a look at the lifestyle that occurs because of the characteristics of a psychopath next...
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