If I told you that I was a psychopath, would you be worried about your life or assume I’m the CEO of a successful company? Most of us associate psychopaths with serial killers, but what if we could get into the psychopath’s mind? What could we find out?
Inside the Psychopath’s Mind
Most studies into psychopathy are carried out on men. Usually, these men are criminals who have committed heinous acts of violence. As a result, we, the public, get a skewed view of what it is to be a psychopath.
We watch TV dramas about the rampages of frenzied psychopaths. We assume that all serial killers must be psychopaths. However, we also read news articles that tell us about the psychopathic traits of many politicians and top businessmen.
Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley first described psychopaths in his book ‘The Mask of Insanity’ (1941). Cleckley noted there was more to the archetypal psychopath than criminal acts of violence. He pointed to the ruthless businessmen, the slick politician, and the unscrupulous lawyer.
Robert Hare, the originator of the Hare Checklist for Psychopathy, agreed with him:
“People tend to think of psychopaths as criminals. In fact, the majority of psychopaths aren’t criminal.” Robert D. Hare
Cleckley devised the first ‘Psychopathic Checklist’.
Cleckley Checklist for Psychopathy
- Superficial charm
- Lack of delusions
- No signs of fear
- Not reliable
- Propensity to lie
- No remorse or guilt
- Lack of judgment
- Does not learn by mistakes
- No affect
- Incapable of love
- Impersonal sex life
- No life plan
Looking at the above checklist, it’s easier to see how people with psychopathic traits can lead to somewhat ‘normal’ lives. But we never really know what it’s like to be one. Or what’s going on inside the psychopath’s mind?
We simply can’t put the link between psychopaths and murderers aside. We wonder, are they forever plotting their next murder or how to manipulate their next victim? As interest in psychopathy grows, more and more people with psychopathic traits are stepping forward.
Even TV series such as Killing Eve attempts to take us into the mind of the psychopath Villanelle. How does she function? Does she see the world the same way we do?
The upshot of all this attention on psychopaths is that they are now starting to recognize themselves depicted in films and documentaries. For the first time in many of their lives, they are beginning to understand that they’re different from the rest of us. This has allowed psychiatrists and interviewers incredible access into the mind of a psychopath.
A Glance into a Psychopath’s Mind: Interviews with Psychopaths
I’ve often wondered what questions I would ask a psychopath. Luckily, as the subject becomes less taboo, more people are coming forward and revealing their lives as psychopaths. As a result, we can now have an insight into the psychopath’s mind.
The following quotes are from two different diagnosed psychopaths, both female, which show that psychopathy is not fixed but in fact ranges between people.
Do you feel emotion?
“People think we have no emotion, which is absolutely not true. We just feel them way turned down. If most people feel an emotion between seven and eight on a dial of ten, I feel it between zero and two.” A
“It was Mum’s funeral today. I haven’t shed a single tear. Everyone presumes I’m in shock and, of course, I tell people how devastated I am. The truth is I just don’t care.” B
Just as we get a spectrum of severity with children who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, so can psychopaths experience a difference in emotions, albeit a very small one. One feels nothing and the other explains that hers are dampened to a low level.
Do people know you are a psychopath?
“No. Psychopaths use what we call a ‘mask.’” A
“I took my six-year-old goddaughter, Chloe, to the park. Her mum obviously has no idea that a psychopath is on babysitting duty.” B
Psychopaths hide their true nature from those around them. They become adept at mimicking what they learn to be the correct behavior around them. So, while they might not feel the same pain or emotion as everyone else, they can see how everyone else behaves during these situations.
“I have studied others carefully, so I know what to say and do to make it seem like I am the same as you.” A
“The correct response to an injured puppy is to make a donation, look sad and pretend to be horrified, even though I think they’d be better off dead.” B
This understanding of human behavior helps them to hide their psychopathy and blend in.
Do you feel empathy for other people?
“I may not feel the same pain, but I can understand you feel pain, and that series of behaviors usually warrants a certain response: comfort or interaction, engagement.” A
“One of my team at work is doing a sponsored run to raise funds for a local animal rescue centre. I make appropriate sad noises when she shows me Facebook pictures of the centre’s neglected dogs.” B
Of course, psychopaths don’t start off knowing what is the right and wrong way to respond. As children, they will sense that they’re different from everyone else. They might keep quiet as they don’t have the same responses as their classmates. Or they may learn that they can manipulate their peers and parents by lying.
Either way, they’ll hone their behavior over time until they are experts in adapting their reactions.
Are you able to have relationships?
“Certainly. I’ve been with my partner for 19 years, and he’s been with me through the whole diagnostic process, and it’s definitely been a learning curve.” A
“Simon, my boyfriend of four years, has left me. I should be upset but I’m not. He was 43 and desperate for children.” B
It appears from the two interviews that the psychopath in the successful relationship has told her partner about her condition. He is aware of her shortcomings and they both manage it through a conscious effort.
On the other hand, in the relationship that failed the boyfriend wanted children and the psychopath deliberately manipulated the situation to prevent this from happening.
She said that in the end:
“Before he left, Simon described me as cold and uncaring. It’s probably true.”
Are you a violent person?
“For some reason, people think we want to kill people. I may not care, I may not have an emotional reaction to someone’s pain, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going out of my way to cause pain.” A
“I’m certainly not a murderer plotting my next kill and I’ve never even knowingly committed a crime.” B
Despite hearing it from the horse’s mouth, I still find it hard to understand the mind of a psychopath. They just seem so alien to me. Human beings are distinguished from animals by our empathy and altruism. So to have psychopaths living amongst us is inconceivable.
For some, an insight into a psychopath’s mind will just be more worrying. For others, it will be a relief. I’m still not sure how I feel, to be honest.
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