Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists. Similarities and differences, and why they are dangerous22/08/2014 14:59
It may seem as though the world has gone mad. It does to me both literally and metaphorically.
In this article I am going to explain, as simply as possible, why we have some of the problems in the world we live in. I am basing this on my own experience both in and out of a clinical, and on RELIABLE research into the areas of psychopathy and narcissism.
The internet is awash with misinformation and misuse of terminology concerning psychopathology and narcissism – even from some so-called professionals who have jumped on the bandwagon of interest in the subject and demonstrate their lack of basic understanding and practical experience.
This is going to be quite a long article even though I have tried to keep it to the basics. As with anything as complicated as psychological or neurological functioning, there is abundant reliable research that has been conducted into the effects of psychopaths and narcissists on specific areas of our society, and on the functioning of ‘types’ of psychopaths and narcissists.
As much as possible, I will keep to the core functions and effects of both which are common across the range of psychopathic and narcissistic behaviour regardless of specifics.
Our perception that violence and oppression are spreading across the world at an alarming rate is partly because we have access to information twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. We have moved away from hearing or seeing news once or twice a day to being bombarded with information through various technology that has become prevalent in the daily lives of most people around the world.
From television with twenty four hour news coverage in our homes, to our mobile devices, we can access information whenever we want, and sometimes get it thrust on us when we don’t.
Being bombarded with information, especially if we tend to use mainstream media services, can be overwhelming. We can become confused, because in among the information there seems to be no logical explanation for why these atrocities are happening or how humans can do such awful things to other humans. After a time we will start to ‘shut-off’ and try to find internal explanations for human behaviour which seems alien to us. The internal explanations can be anything based on our own knowledge and experience, but usually results in a kind of ‘that’s the way it is and has always been’ and ‘they are too powerful for us to change it now’ kind of justification.
However much we value humanity and want the world to live in peace, and continue to live our lives thinking that there is good in everyone, the hard fact is that there is a relatively small proportion of humanity who crave power and control, and it is they who are responsible for the atrocities we see against fellow humans.
It is that simple no matter how complicated the reasons seem to be when presented to us through the media and speeches of ‘experts’ and politicians.
The majority of people around the world want very similar basic things – to live in peace and security free from oppression and violence – which is a very simple and fundamental part of our natural selves as members of humanity. Violence is a last resort of self-defence for ‘normal’ members of society because it is our fundamental nature not to harm others unless we are threatened.
At this point you may be thinking that everyone is different – an individual – because we all live in different environments and have different influences on our lives, such as politics, religion, social environment, life experience, and so on.
Although these things do influence us and our views as we go through life, they are relatively superficial compared to the common core values which are shared across all of humanity, regardless of other factors such as religion and so on. The common core values are deep inside us at all ages and during (and through) all experiences and learning.
There is a group of humans who are missing those core values that the rest of us experience, and it is they who are responsible for the major problems in the world we see today.
They are psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists.
The first thing to do is to dispel some of the common myths associated with this group of humans and some misuses of terminology.
Psychopaths/sociopaths. Clinically, there are no differences between psychopaths and sociopaths. The term ‘sociopath’ gained popularity when some professionals tried to distinguish between lower educated and functioning psychopaths and higher educated and functioning psychopaths. There is no difference in clinical criteria. I will refer to psychopaths – which will include both higher and lower functioning psychopaths.
Psychopaths are not ‘psychotic’. A common mistake is to associate psychosis with psychopaths. The two are totally different and do not relate to each other in any way. Psychosis refers to a symptom common in many health conditions where someone loses touch with their environment and experiences hallucinations. These hallucinations can involve any of the senses and can range from fairly mild to a full blown all-encompassing psychotic episode. Psychopaths do not lose touch with their environment or their reality as part of their psychopathy.
Psychopaths are not necessarily violent. We are used to serial killers and the like being referred to as ‘psychopaths’ in films and entertainment. So much so that many people’s perception is that psychopaths are violent. This is untrue. The vast majority of psychopaths have no more disposition to violence than any other group of people within society. All psychopaths are not killers, and all killers are not psychopaths.
Research has clearly shown that psychopaths who are predisposed to killing (as in serial killers) have experienced some form of abuse during their childhood – usually sexual or sexually orientated in nature.
Children can not be diagnosed as psychopaths. It is not possible to diagnose young people as psychopaths because their critical thinking and morality are continually evolving as they develop. Part of the functioning of a psychopath is that they are making conscious dysfunctional decisions based within a narrow perception. A young person is going through a lot of changes as they develop which can influence their perception as they grow older. A child does not start developing a conscience until they are around 8 to 10 years old, so any kind of diagnosis relating to psychopathy would potentially be inaccurate and sentence the young person to a life of inappropriate interventions. In general, mental health professionals will start to seriously consider psychopathy as an option after the age of about 15 years, although most still prefer to wait until the person is older. The human brain does not stop developing physically until a human is around their mid-twenties, although a diagnosis of psychopathy is possible before this age.
Children may exhibit psychopathic traits as they mature, but this does not mean that they are psychopaths. They will be monitored until an appropriate age to see if they are psychopathic or not.
Someone can not ‘develop’ psychopathy. It is impossible for a normal functioning adult to turn into a psychopath. A person is either a psychopath or not – there are no in between stages or a progression of psychopathy. As the psychopath learns and develops, their traits may seem more prevalent or their dysfunctional behaviour may become more noticeable over time, and may also become more noticeable as they try new techniques to manipulate others or they become frustrated.
A ‘normal’ functioning person – someone who has never exhibited psychopathic traits during their life – can not suddenly turn into a psychopath, although they may seem to be exhibiting some psychopathic traits, these are usually the result of their frustration and/or reaction to external stimuli or other mental health problems.
Research into the neurology and physicality of psychopaths has revealed that there are differences between psychopaths and ‘normal’ functioning. Some of these differences may be passed on from one generation to the next.
Men and women can be psychopaths. Both men and women can be psychopathic. There is no discernable difference between genders, although there may be differences between how they exhibit their psychopathy based on their environment.
Psychopaths are everywhere. It is highly likely that you will have encountered at least one psychopath if you have any life experience which brings you into contact with a diverse range of people. If you live in a city, you will certainly have encountered a psychopath if you walk along busy streets – for example in rush hour.
It is estimated that the prevalence of psychopathy in the general populations is between 1% and 4% depending on where you live. This is a higher prevalence than the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem which is schizophrenia.
A psychopath could be anyone. They could be in a high position within a business or profession, or they could be working in a store or cleaning the streets. Although psychopaths are naturally drawn to positions where they can flex their power, each individual’s perception of power over others can vary greatly. The important thing for the psychopath is that whatever they do it allows them access to people and resources that can be of use in satisfying their cravings.
Psychopaths are not easy to spot. A psychopath uses very convincing manipulation and charm to try and mask their dysfunctional thinking. They are also very adept at faking emotions. You would probably become aware that something is amiss with the person fairly quickly if you spent a reasonable amount of time with them – such as a friend, family member, or work colleague. It is much harder to spot a psychopath if they are a casual acquaintance or stranger. Care must be taken when labelling someone a psychopath. There can be lots of other reasons someone may exhibit seemingly ‘psychopathic’ behaviour or traits, and it would be unfair and potentially damaging to jump to conclusions.
Even professionals who have significant experience in the field of psychopathy can sometimes find it hard to determine if someone’s behaviour is psychopathy or not. Often it can take time to come to a definite conclusion.
A compounding factor is that psychopaths are adept at functioning to a reasonable degree in everyday society. They have learned to mimic behaviour and feelings that ‘normal’ people naturally experience as part of everyday social interactions. A result of this is that it is estimated that there are many more psychopaths functioning within society than have been diagnosed as having the disorder.
The difference between narcissists and psychopaths. Both narcissism and psychopathy are very closely related in their diagnostic criteria because they are variations of the same group of behavioural disorders. The primary difference between a psychopath and a narcissist is that a psychopath does not care about, or need, other people or their opinions to support the psychopaths distorted view of themselves and the world around them, whereas narcissists do.
A psychopath will associate with other people who they feel are of use to them in some way. Once that use has is finished, the psychopath will discard them without a second thought.
A narcissist needs others to prop-up their own delusions and ego, and will keep people around them who support their delusion, regardless of whether the person is appropriate for whatever their function is supposed to be. For example, in business or politics, a narcissist will surround themselves with what appear to be ‘yes-men’ regardless of whether those people are the best for the job they are supposed to do. A narcissist will reject someone who is obviously the best person for the job if they think the person is not going to support their delusions, and will employ someone who may be far less capable (or unsuitable) who will support those delusions.
Psychopaths are much more straightforward in who they associate with and have a definite selfish purpose for maintaining the association.
There is no cure or effective treatment. There is no known cure for the disorder, and there are no effective treatments to significantly alter such a disordered person’s behaviour. A few psychologists have claimed that they are able to ‘treat’ psychopaths, but there is no definitive proof of this.
The current claims of treating psychopaths fail to make sense at a fundamental level. For a psychopath to be able to understand and change what seems to them to be natural behaviour requires that they must understand the impact they have on others.
To understand the impact on others requires an understanding of emotions and how they make others feel. By definition, a psychopath is not capable of relating to other people’s emotions, lacks empathy, and has no conscience Therefore, it would be impossible to expect the psychopath to have any understanding of the impact of their behaviour.
The majority of psychiatrists and psychologists accept that psychopaths are effectively untreatable at the current time. The psychopath is very skilled at is taking in information about the functioning of others and mimicking it to manipulate people.
In effect, therapy sessions gives the psychopath another tool (or enhances existing tools) to further their own selfish needs. They learn to be better psychopaths by using the knowledge to mask themselves from their victims.
Even the most skilled psychiatrist or psychotherapist finds working with psychopaths to be an extremely exhausting and difficult task, and some have been manipulated themselves. Fortunately, this is something experts in the field expect to happen and have procedures to recognise and cope with such occurrences.
Some psychopaths are referred to as ‘prosocial psychopaths’ – these are psychopaths who are able to keep their behaviour roughly within socially acceptable boundaries.
Psychopaths are dangerous. As we stated before, most psychopaths are not disposed to violence any more or less than other people in our society unless there are specific circumstances in their past. However, they can be extremely dangerous in other ways.
A psychopath in a position which carries power over others within a company or within society is highly destructive. The only consideration a psychopath has is how the position can benefit them. They have no interest in other people, or in the organisation they are part of, whatsoever except as tools to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve for themselves.
The psychopath sees a very definite chain of responsibility and command within the organisation’s structure. They see those above them as potentially useful, and will use their charm skills and sycophantic behaviour to impress and gain recognition, which they will then use to climb the ladder of power. They will see those below them on the power ladder as being of no use other than to become scapegoats for the psychopath’s mistakes (and in some cases criminal behaviour), to be stolen from (as in taking the useful ideas of others and claiming them for themselves), and as general whipping posts to be dominated or oppressed, and on which to vent their anger and frustration.
The goals of the psychopath are generally very short term when compared to the goals of ‘normal’ people. For example, a ‘normal’ person may see their long-term as following a specific career path with defined stages of skill development or/and study to reach whatever it is they want to do over a period of time. The psychopath will see relatively short term goals along a general path which gives them power in the shortest period of time, and they pay very minimal attention to developing knowledge or skills unless they are essential requirements. The consideration for the psychopath is who is useful to them to achieve more power (however they perceive it) in the shortest possible time.
The nature of the psychopath’s short-term goal setting means that they will become extremely frustrated if their tactics fail to gain them the power they want. This frustration will result in destructive behaviour, and many psychopaths have been responsible for the destruction of organisations through taking unreasonably risky decisions and the erratic nature of their focus, often missing essential information that severely affects the organisation’s operation. On occasions, psychopaths have purposely destroyed organisations for their own personal gain.
If the psychopath is ‘found out’, they will initiate their charm offensive, and can be extremely eloquent in their reasoning for their own failure. They will say and do just about anything that they think will save them if they want to maintain the manipulative relationships they have established.
A typical scenario for a psychopath would be to spend a few years at an organisation – get as much out of it that they can, regardless of the cost to others or the organisation – then move onto another target, and repeat the same process over again in a constant search for more power and control
Another scenario is that a psychopath may remain within an organisation if they can see a variety of opportunities which will satisfy their own needs. For example, the world of politics offers the psychopath many and varied opportunities and routes to gain more power. Although they may stay in the political arena and same party, they will see that as a way to exploit other opportunities, both internal and external. For the psychopath, politics is about establishing a range of useful relationships.
Some psychopaths may maintain seemingly low level positions within organisations if it gives them opportunities to satisfy their craving for their own particular flavour of power. It is not the position that matters to the psychopath but the other opportunities it does or can offer. This can often be seen in psychopaths with criminal intentions.
Personal relationships are treated in the same way by the psychopath. They will maintain a relationship for as long as it is useful to them. People who have had ‘romantic’ relationships have described their relationship as moving from an ‘ideal partner’ relationship to one of domination and control – effectively an oppressive and psychologically abusive relationship. The psychopathic partner will gradually ignore the needs of their partner and may engage in affairs (mostly one night stands, or very casual relationships), or spend more time away from their partner in pursuit of satisfying their other needs.
The ‘romance’, which is usually intense at the beginning, fades as the psychopath starts to see less value in the relationship for themselves. Some psychopaths can maintain long-term relationships provided they are free to pursue their other needs – very similar to psychopaths who maintain low level employment as a tool to access other resources. They can also maintain longer term relationships if they need to maintain an image of stability and respectability, although they will still pursue other self-fulfilling activities within the illusion of the stable relationship.
Some psychopaths are vulnerable. This may come as a surprise but some psychopaths can be very vulnerable to exploitation by others.
People in the general population have varying degrees of intelligence and interpret the world around them in different ways. There are also vast differences in life experience. The same is applicable to psychopaths. Some may be very worldly wise and others may be naïve.
A psychopath who is relatively naïve is still driven by the same motivating factors – immediate gratification, lack of empathy and conscience, and the achievement of power over others to gain what they want and so on – but does not have the knowledge or experience of the world to prevent themselves becoming a target for manipulation by others, psychopathic or not.
As an example, someone may notice the impulsive behaviour of a lower functioning psychopath and see it as being of use to them. They could make the psychopath believe that by performing a function the psychopath would gain gratification or power. They psychopath may not recognise that they are being used for the ulterior motives of someone else, and believe that they will gain what they want by complying with the other person’s request.
Another example is where psychopaths are together in some way, perhaps in an organisation. A higher functioning psychopath may use the lower functioning psychopath to do their ‘dirty work’ and promise them more power and control. The lower functioning psychopath may not realise that they are being used and will comply, seeing it as being of benefit to them. If the lower functioning psychopath does not get the promised benefit, the higher functioning psychopath will use their charm to convince the other that they will gain benefit at some time.
In criminal groups where there is a higher functioning psychopath in charge, they may use lower functioning psychopaths to do their dirty work so they can protect and distance themselves if things go wrong.
Now we have covered some of the basics of psychopathy and narcissism, we can take a look at some of the diagnostic criteria and how they apply in the real world.
The diagnostic criteria must be taken as a whole, it is not possible to pick and choose which part applies to whom in making a diagnosis. As we mentioned before, someone may exhibit some psychopathic or narcissistic traits but it doesn’t mean that those in isolation indicate that the person is a psychopath or narcissist.
There are two sources which set out diagnostic criteria for professionals, the DSM-IV (soon to be replaced by the DSM-V) and the ICD-10.
The DSM-IV (and V) are mainly used in the United States and some other countries around the world. The DSM goes into more detail than the ICD-10, so there is a certain amount of crossover use.
The ICD-10 is mainly used by the member states of the World Health Organisation, and some other countries, and is maintained by the World Health Organisation. Mental health disorders have a classification number.
The main difference between the two is that the DSM is wholly concerned with mental disorders, whereas the ICD is concerned with both physical and mental disorders. For example, the latest Ebola outbreak is in the news at the moment. In the ICD-10 it has a classification of A98.4 which means that if someone is diagnosed as having Ebola virus disease this code will be recorded by medics. The idea is that if the person sees other medics then they will know exactly what the person’s problems are, which is intended to avoid any ambiguity or miss-interpretation.
DSM stands for ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ and the letters after it refer to the edition.
ICD stands for ‘International Classification of Diseases’ and the number refers to the edition.
DSM-IV: Antisocial (or dissocial) Personality Disorder. Code: 301.7
DSM-IV and V defines psychopathy as an antisocial personality disorder with the following diagnostic criteria (Source: American Psychiatric Association. 2012):
- An enduring pattern of inner experience and behaviour the deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture. This pattern is manifested in two (or more) of the following areas:
- Cognition (i.e., ways of perceiving and interpreting self, other people and events)
- Affectivity (i.e., the range, intensity, liability, and appropriateness of emotional response)
- Interpersonal functioning
- Impulse control
B: The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of personal and social situations.
- The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
- The pattern is stable and of long duration, and its onset can be traced back at least to adolescence or early adulthood.
- The enduring pattern is not better accounted for as a manifestation or consequence of another mental disorder.
- The enduring pattern is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., head trauma).
ICD-10: Dissocial Personality Disorder. Code: F60.2
The ICD-10 classifies psychopathy as dissocial personality disorder with the following diagnostic criteria (source: World Health Organisation. 2012):
Personality disorder characterized by disregard for social obligations, and callous unconcern for the feelings of others. There is gross disparity between behaviour and the prevailing social norms. Behaviour is not readily modifiable by adverse experience, including punishment. There is a low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence; there is a tendency to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behaviour bringing the patient into conflict with society.
From the two examples above for psychopathy, you can see that the DSM goes into much more detail than the ICD.
The diagnostic criteria are quite straightforward, the tricky part is applying it in the right context.
To simplify things, and to get down to the basics of how a psychopath behaves, here are the main traits that will be noticeable, which are based on the research of Professor Robert Hare – a leading figure in the world of psychopathy who developed the psychopathy checklist and assessment tool known as the PCL-R:
- Superficial charm
- Grandiose self-perception
- Constant need for stimulation
- Pathological lying
- Highly manipulative
- Absence of guilt
- Shallow or no significant emotional response
- Lack of empathy
- Parasitic lifestyle
- They may also exhibit one or more of: poor behaviour control, sexual promiscuity and early behaviour problems
- Unrealistic or fantastical long-term goals
- Irresponsibility and impulsiveness
- Not able or unwilling to take responsibility for errors or mistakes – blames others
- Frequent short-term relationships
- Problems when they were young – such as delinquent characteristics
- Criminal versatility (although not necessarily committed or convicted of crime)
- Will play the martyr or ‘hard done by’ one to gain emotional responses
- Poor treatment of others who the person sees as being of no useful purpose to them, such as belittling, humiliation, or physical attacks
Not all psychopaths will exhibit all traits, but will display a significant number. Also the intensity of each trait will vary with each individual. The scoring mechanism used by professionals takes these into account.
As we stated previously, most of the traits of a psychopathic disorder are very similar to narcissistic personality disorders.
A few notable traits of narcissists are:
- Has a grandiose sense of self
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
There are many areas of our society where you may recognise people who publically exhibit some or all of the traits of the psychopath or narcissist.
I must stress again that this article is only for general information and is not a manual for diagnosis. Professionals use a range of techniques and tools to ensure their diagnosis is appropriate, and spend time to gather evidence and information.
Even so, we can generalise about some aspects of our society where there seems to be a high number of people who exhibit a range of the traits we have looked at so far.
Some researchers have attempted to identify professions to which psychopaths are naturally attracted, with varying degrees of accuracy and logic.
In general, a psychopath will be attracted to positions which fit with their personal need for power and control over others. How the psychopath interprets those needs and the environment in which they exist will dictate what they are attracted to.
Big business where the potential financial rewards are high would be naturally attractive to a psychopath who perceives financial wealth as a tool for power and control. If their environment allowed and their main driving force was money to gain power, they would find a way to achieve their ambitions through manipulation rather than through achievement and skill.
Major financial institutions offer the psychopath an ideal environment where they can gain vast rewards for little input and skill. They can also use the opportunity for as long or as short a time as they want.
Politics is another area which allows the psychopath to flourish. It is an environment where contacts and manipulation matter more than skill or real achievement. The psychopath can also use it to develop other useful contacts and resources in their quest for more and more power.
At the other end of the scale, a job which gives the psychopath access to the focus of their perception of power will be attractive. For example, if the psychopath wants to control or have some other power over a large group of people, they may see religion as a very viable route to satisfy their needs.
Even manual work such as caretaking may give the psychopath access to the subjects of their power focus, either directly, or indirectly by allowing the psychopath time to indulge themselves while still being able to pay bills and so on. This is often seen in psychopaths who are serial killers or those who commit other violent criminal behaviour. They maintain employment which gives them time to commit their crimes and gives them some financial security. They are looking for relative freedom and don’t want to be committed to intense work ethics or restrictions, even though they may be capable of obtaining much better employment.
The general public’s main exposure to the concept of psychopathy must be the serial killer.
It can be difficult for someone who experiences guilt, empathy, and has a conscience to understand how another human being can commit such atrocious acts time and time again without it seriously affecting them.
It is as natural for the psychopath to NOT feel empathy, guilt, or have any kind of conscience as it is for normal functioning people to feel them.
In one way, when we think about psychopaths this is a problem of our general thinking, we apply our values to others and presume that everyone must be capable of some good, or have good buried deep inside them. The thought of someone who simply does not feel core emotions is frightening and challenging to our concept of humanity.
Serial killers are responsible for a very tiny percentage of deaths at the hands of criminals, and equally make up a tiny percentage of psychopaths.
As we touched on near the beginning, for a psychopath to engage in the serial killing of others, research has shown that there must have been some trauma at a young age. The trauma could be anything that we now consider abuse, from sexual abuse, a domineering parent, or physical or verbal abuse.
Although a psychopath may have experienced abuse as a young child, it does not necessarily mean that they will develop into a serial killer. It will depend on the psychopath’s experiences and the environment they live in as they get older.
Many serial killers show intense cruelty to other humans and/or animals at a young age from which they will get intense immediate gratification. Each of their acts of cruelty and killing from then on is an attempt to experience that same intense gratification.
They get a ‘high’ from the power and control they have had over another human being and will yearn for that feeling again.
Some serial killers will spend years without killing anyone, and others will kill again within a short time. At some point the yearning to experience the same intense power returns and the psychopath becomes focused on how they are going to get it – using all of their psychopathic skills in a cold, calculating way.
The serial killer has no concern whatsoever for their victims. They are nothing more than toys or tools in the psychopaths plan to get the feeling they once experienced. The serial killer will choose victims who are vulnerable and readily available. They do not want to waste too much time or risk exposure through complicated plans, and they do not want a victim who may overpower them and get away.
The serial killer will plan to have total control over the victim. This may involve getting victims who are already isolated and whose disappearance may go unnoticed for some time (such as prostitutes or children playing outside). It may also involve incapacitating the victim in some way so they can be readily removed to a place where the psychopath can commit their horrific acts in relative privacy – so the psychopath can experience the full effects of their craving.
Inevitably, the serial killer is never satisfied with subsequent killings because they do not experience the same intensity they did with the first one. They are driven to getting the ultimate high which continues to elude them no matter how many others they kill. But the serial killer is driven by their primitive and intense urges.
The likelihood of a serial killer stopping killing is extremely low. They will only stop when circumstances change to make it physically impossible with the resources they have available, or the risk of exposure is too high. Serial killers are not unintelligent, and they are able to calculate risk. If it is too high they will stop killing until the risk is reduced to an acceptable level, or they may change their plan or relocate to a new region to start over again.
Some serial killers are so confident in their own abilities and perceived superior intelligence that they will engage in games with law enforcement. Other serial killers will be so confident that they may mimic emotions and seem as though they are part of the general population or community, even volunteering to help police find the missing person, or offering support to the friends and families of victims.
This is one of the reasons people who know the psychopath in a casual way may be shocked and may express that the psychopath seemed like ‘such a nice helpful person’. It can be extremely confusing and traumatic to think that someone they know is responsible for such horrific acts.
Serial killers have eluded capture even though they have been right in front of law enforcement. It is harder for the serial killer to be so brazen nowadays because of advances in forensics and psychology. Even so, there are still some who get through the net and remain at liberty to kill again before they are brought to justice.
The serial killer shows no remorse, guilt, or conscience for their crimes when they are caught. They may feel a form of regret – but that is only regret that they didn’t take more precautions to prevent getting caught.
Some serial killers will protest their innocence even in the light of irrefutable evidence of their guilt, and some will continue to protest their innocence throughout the term of their incarceration. If someone unware of the serial killers tactics were to listen, they may find their story credible and develop a sympathetic ear, which the serial killer will use to further manipulate the person. Other serial killers accept that their killing spree has come to an end and may confess. But this will still be part of a sick game where they crave admiration for their power over others.
There is another form of psychopath who could also be considered a serial killer, and that is the psychopath who has the power to wipe out other humans and justify their actions with the consent of others in their society.
These are the most dangerous psychopaths of all, and are responsible for more killings and other atrocities than any other psychopathic ‘group’ or ‘type’.
You will find these psychopaths in government and extremist organisations. These psychopaths have access to considerable resources, including propaganda, military power, and the support of other psychopaths and narcissists both in their own country and in foreign powers or international organisations.
They will justify their actions through the misinterpretation and manipulation of the commonly accepted beliefs and principles of the majority of people within their society, such as religion and the perception of freedom and democracy.
Throughout history, psychopaths in positions of power within governments and religions have been responsible for inflicting incredible levels of suffering on their own people and others around the world on the flimsiest of pretences.
Historically, we have seen a close relationship between religious organisations such as churches, and governments of the time. The ‘church’ uses the faith of the masses as a propaganda instrument to instil ideas and concepts which the psychopaths want the populous to believe. From this, they gain support from believers who are in fear of the consequences of non-compliance, or people who have a genuine belief in the authority of church or government leaders.
This instilled fear could be that they will not please their ‘God’ in some way and will be shunned and sent to some horrible fate for eternity, or they could be afraid of their own safety if they are seen as enemies of the campaign of brutality.
The government then provides the military and regulatory power for enforcement.
Both the church and government involved use this tactic of total domination and suppression as a way to maintain and expand their own power – using citizens as tools which are to be discarded if they threaten that power in any way.
In most countries laws are passed which protect the power of government rather than being of benefit to the nation as a whole.
The combination of religion and government is still a powerful psychopathic force in the modern world. Most of the major conflicts in the world at the moment have the pretence of religion as their driving force and are backed up through a system of military might and extreme violence against civilians.
Modern governments in ‘democratic’ nations cite the need to ‘defend democracy’ and ‘freedom’ from supposed enemies who threaten to take them away.
The problem for ‘normal’ thinking people is whether to believe these claims or not. A high percentage of the population will have a misguided inherent trust that their governments are acting in the populations best interests, and others will just go along with whatever seems to be popular at the time, on the basis that if all those other ‘normal’ people believe it then it must be true.
This is an ideal situation for psychopaths in positions of power. The government’s propaganda will be believed because a vast majority of the population will go into a default emotional state of belief, which is natural for ‘normal’ human beings. The psychopaths will then use this to ensure their continued success in gaining more power over more of the population. Those who challenge the mass view will be shunned and branded as ‘crazies’ or ‘infiltrators’, and some may be branded as ‘collaborators’ for expressing alternative views.
As we have learned relatively recently, the integrity of our governments is questionable at best.
The tactic of ‘false-flag’ operations (where an entity creates a false scenario and blames it on the other side) has been used extensively to purposely generate a situation where the majority of the population will feel frightened by a perceived threat. This is nothing new. ‘False flag’ tactics have been used throughout the history of human conflict, and still remain a part of military strategy today.
In the USA, the CIA are notorious for planting the seeds of false conflict which is then used for propaganda to promote fear. Inevitably, with majority public support the government will engage on a campaign of slaughter and/or oppression in the name of ‘defence’ to gain more control and power – which can include valuable natural resources.
In effect, the government (or organisation) creates the problem, waits for fear to spread which will then cause the population to call for action, and then presents a solution which will usually involve the mobilisation of military or some other ‘security’ force, and may also include the introduction of legislation which will restrict the perceived freedoms of the population. There may be other reasons instead of, or in addition to, military/security mobilisation and legislation, but these tend to be the main areas an organisation such as a government will present as a solution.
If one looks a little closer at the proposed solution, there may be a disparity between the claimed benefit and the actual effect. For example, a government may claim that there is an economic crisis and that they need to reduce the country’s spending, yet they will still find incredible amounts of money to engage in military operations. The disparity will generally make little logical sense when one takes a wider view.
You may be wondering how an organisation such as a government in a ‘democracy’ can achieve psychopathic objectives when there are many people involved in the decision making process. It may seem unreasonable to think that a whole government can consist only of psychopaths.
The psychopath in a position of government uses the same tactics on their fellow government officials as they do on the general population and in personal relationships. As we pointed out previously, psychopaths and narcissists are naturally attracted to positions of power, so there will be a higher percentage of psychopaths and narcissists in or associated with government than is prevalent in the general population.
With an increase in the number of psychopaths and narcissists in one organisation, so the level of manipulation and thirst for power will increase. In a way, a sort of ‘group psychopathy’ develops. Psychopaths can see self-advantage in associating with other psychopaths, because they will be working towards the same or similar goals. A group of psychopaths working together can be a formidable force for any reasonable thinking person.
When we then factor in the party politics that most ‘democratic’ governments are based on, and the sycophantism that comes with it, the psychopaths in power can ensure that their agendas and policies are supported by ‘fellow party members’. There will also be more normal thinking people within the political parties who will be afraid to go against what seems to be the general consensus.
An example of this may be when a government leader proposes a policy that is unpopular and which requires a majority vote to be passed. The leader (or his delegated persons) will put pressure on fellow party members to vote in favour of the proposal – whether they agree with it or not. Many will comply stating that the political party in power is presenting a ‘united front’, when in fact they are afraid of being shunned, or will see opposing the proposal as damaging their personal position and objectives.
Problems can occur when several psychopaths are in powerful positions.
With each psychopath only being interested in their own needs, they may challenge the leader of the group or government and attempt to take power away from them – for example they may start tactical planning to place themselves as the seemingly better choice than the current leader.
Other problems can occur when the psychopath thinks that those they have placed in key positions no longer support the psychopath’s agenda. It is then that we will observe tactical moves in the powerbase of a government. Those who the psychopath thinks are no longer of use or are non-supportive will be replaced by those who are either supportive of the psychopath’s agenda or are easily manipulated and controlled.
This kind of psychopathic cooperation can also occur between different organisations where psychopaths in power see that they can benefit from mutual arrangements, or through influencing the decision making progress of the other organisation. In return, they offer incentives to the other organisation’s psychopaths which will appeal to their self-interest. For example, a form of bribery may occur if a company wants beneficial laws to be passed by a government.
Where we have psychopaths in key organisations such as governments, we will see the same pattern of behaviour over and over again, and not necessarily from the same group or person.
The psychopath never learns anything significant from their mistakes, and so we will see the same mistakes over and over again. This can be true across different psychopaths in similar positions, where we may see remarkably similar ‘problems’ and justifications for actions which are detrimental to citizens.
Psychopaths have no allegiance to political parties or their manifestos even though they may appear to. To the psychopath, a political party is another tool they can use – a collection of people who hold similar views that the psychopath can manipulate to their advantage. The psychopath will have chosen their ‘politics’ based on their own ambitions for power and control, and the circumstances and society in which they live.
The psychopath is fairly easy to understand whatever their perceived social status and power. The basic functioning is the same across all psychopaths.
They are driven by an incredibly selfish agenda and have no regard whatsoever for who or what they may damage or destroy along the way.
The psychopath will do their utmost to protect themselves, even when there is evidence to contradict their arguments. They will use the same excuses and justifications for their actions and the aftermath time and time again – very similar to the tactics of serial killers which we looked at earlier.
Higher functioning psychopaths tend to be more devious and tactical, whereas low functioning psychopaths will be more impulsive and need immediate gratification.
The problem society has is that it is very difficult to prevent psychopaths from indulging themselves. If they are in positions of power within organisations and governments, they will rarely be subjected to any form of formal diagnosis, and will continue as they wish. The exception is if they commit crime that is serious enough (and that they can not manipulate their way out of) that results in their removal from society.
This can be seen in politics when politicians who are responsible for acts which would otherwise result in the prosecution of a normal citizen seem to be allowed and able to get away with their crimes.
Psychopaths with perceived power surround themselves with people who will support and protect them, which allows them distance between prying eyes and themselves.
Not all psychopaths pose a danger to humanity and are able to maintain relatively stable lives, and it is important to make that differentiation.
For those who pose a threat to society, the only option is to remove them, and take measures to ensure other psychopaths do not replace them – not an easy task. It will take incredible commitment from all areas of society to expose psychopaths, and commitment from a vast range of professionals – equally committed – to ensure psychopaths are separated from society.
To be realistic, there is very little chance of society in its current form effectively challenging the psychopaths in power and take effective action to prevent their destructive functioning.
For psychopaths to change their behaviour it would be necessary to remove any advantage to obtaining power or influence over other members of humanity – something which humanity has not evolved to as yet, and something which it may never evolve to while psychopaths manipulate society and cling on to control.
Similar situations can be seen in countries which retain an active ‘royalty’, although there are some differences in the way they maintain psychopathy.
If we look at what ‘royalty’ is, it is nothing more than a collection of descendants of someone (or a group of people) who decided to take power at some point – there is nothing special about them – they are not ‘chosen ones’ – and within the concept of humanity they certainly have no more ‘right’ than anyone else to claim power. They have created an environment where challenging their perceived right to rule is either extremely difficult or impossible.
We know that psychopathy is highly likely to be passed from generation to generation, and there is a high likelihood that the ancestors of today’s royals were psychopaths, or interbred with psychopaths, through historical accounts of their actions and brutality against other humans. Therefore, the genetic abnormality will have been passed from generation to generation, and will have manifested itself within those who claim to be ‘royalty’ at points throughout the family’s history.
This could be compounded through inbreeding and other genetic abnormalities prevalent in their family lineage.
In this scenario, the ‘royals’ have been bred into a ‘psychopathic environment’ where the chances of psychopathy in individuals is higher than in the general population. If developed then their actions will reflect the manifestation of the abnormality.
Behaviour related to psychopathy may remain unnoticed because of the way the family have developed as a social group, in which psychopathy has historically been accepted – perhaps as some ‘oddity’ – and traditions of family members interaction have been adjusted and developed to account for the abnormal functioning of psychopathic family members in the past.
They are already in positions of significant power by default, so many of their psychopathic needs may be met within their day-to-day environment. Their focus may then be to maintain their power, with the occasional venture to enhance the satisfaction of that power craving. Perhaps this is achieved though general dysfunctional behaviour, such as having affairs, or behaving without regard for others.
In every country where there is absolute or mixed monarchic rule today there is also a very high level of oppression and disregard for human rights. This may be a coincidence, but an interesting one.
Regimes dominated by psychopathy rarely last (although the timescale is relative). In the case of ‘royal’ dynasties, many have been removed through popular revolution within fairly recent history.
In business and commerce, psychopaths are often removed when the damage they have done comes to light or plunges the organisation into financial or legal trouble.
In government, psychopaths are often removed through a voting process or through grossly unacceptable behaviour.
Unfortunately, in many cases psychopaths are removed and replaced with other psychopaths.
The prevalence of psychopathy in positions of control and power must be of concern to any normal thinking person.
In reality, their prevalence is very small, and they are far outnumbered by people who do not have psychopathic abnormalities. But so convincing are their false interactions that time and again people are fooled into believing the psychopath’s expressed intentions and emotions and fail to recognise the patterns of behaviour which should ring alarm bells.
Hypothetically, if all normal thinking people were to create an environment where the psychopath could not gain power, satisfy their craving, would have to account for their actions, and would be removed from or shunned by society, the psychopath would become extinct. They would not be able to engage in relationships through which their defective neurology could be passed to other generations. A very simple concept, but one which is extremely difficult to achieve – not impossible though.
I hope that this brief look at how psychopathy affects the world we live in has been informative. As I stated at the start, the subject is far more involved that I can cover in this short article. If you have an interest in the subject then I would strongly recommend you do your own research – BUT be careful where you get your information from.
I have added a few links which can get you started from reliable sources.
In closing, there is a piece of advice that I think is very important.
If you are in a relationship with a psychopath, either personally or professionally, it is advisable that you get out of it as soon as possible. They will not change (although they may promise and say anything if they want you to stay) no matter what you do. If you remain in hope that the relationship will get better you are deluding yourself – it won’t. However emotional and hard it is – get out.