Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“Sometimes mortals can be more horrible than monsters.”
Hiding in plain sight under the guise of normalcy, they patiently wait to pounce on their next target. The psychopath is a dangerous animal because they are camouflaged to look like you and me, but they lack a key ingredient of what makes us human; a conscience. The main characteristic of a psychopath is the lack of a conscience. Unlike most humans, they have no inner voice helping them distinguish right from wrong. Their moral compass is broken and has been replaced by a desire for self-gratification at any cost. They have an insatiable need for psychological and physical control over others and will use charm, intimidation and violence to get what they want.
Most of us can easily point out the imprisoned psychopath who has been caught and convicted for heinous crimes. They are serial killers such as, Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy Jr., whose evil acts were intensified by their frightenedly disconnected demeanor. Their view of the world is that of a wolf, sizing up a flock of sheep, looking for the most vulnerable one to attack. They view their position in the world as that of an apex predator at the top of an imaginary food chain.
We feel safe and relieved when these real-life monsters are caught and removed from society. But, living among us disguised in the banality of everyday life, the social predator is not as easily spotted. They do not come with a warning label. They do not look like monsters but are capable of committing monstrous acts without regret or guilt.
They are masked in normality and the psychopath in your life may be a spouse, co-worker, neighbor or family member. They may not be caught in sensational headlining crimes but they are as dangerous as any serial killer. If you are unfortunate enough to cross paths with one they will easily wreak havoc and destroy your life before moving on. They will abuse your trust, take your life savings and use you until you have nothing further to give.
It is important to note that although their view of the world is predatory, they are not out of control or deranged. They are actually rational and aware of societal rules. They simply choose to ignore them. The psychopath is not like a psychotic person who cannot distinguish between what is real and not real, and who may act in a violent way unaware of the consequences of their actions. Psychopaths are very aware of the consequences, they just don’t care.
According to James Blair, psychopathy may be a result of an inability to process emotional information. They are not able to read emotional faces and will require more intense facial expressions before they can identify an emotion. When shown a fearful face they are not able to interpret if the person is fearful because they are not able to feel fear. This perhaps may be caused by a difference in brain activity between a “normal” brain and a psychopath’s brain. The brain MRI’s of a psychopath reveals that there is reduced activity in the amygdala, which controls the fight or flight response, where we process fear.
Psychopaths are extremely dangerous because of their inability to feel empathy. The FBI has referred to Psychopathy as the most dangerous of personality disorders. According to Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., who has spent over 35 years researching psychopathy, one person out of a hundred may be a psychopath. The term psychopath and sociopath are used interchangeably and describe the same disorder but reflect the differing views on the origin of the syndrome.
Clinicians who believe the disorder is created by social forces and early experiences will use the term sociopath. The term psychopath is used by those who believe that there is also a genetic, biological and psychological component. This is distinguished from Antisocial Personality Disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) which is primarily a cluster of antisocial and criminal behaviors.
Further, while all psychopaths are narcissists not all narcissists are psychopaths. Both are glib, superficial and exploitive, but a key difference is that psychopaths do not require narcissistic supply unlike a person with NPD. A person with NPD will not want to blow their cover since they need a constant stream of narcissistic supply. Psychopaths are more impulsive, aggressive and deceitful. Further, they are more likely to be career criminals. Some are cold-blooded killers who lack a conscience and kill in a calculated and unfeeling manner, but a large majority are individuals involved in violent crimes, financial scandals and violations of trust.
Psychopaths may look like us but they do not have the normal range of human emotions. Besides lacking a conscience they do not feel empathy. They are color blind in a world full of vibrant colors. They are numb to emotions and only have a shallow appreciation for life around them. If you have been a victim of a psychopath you will not be the only one. Most psychopaths leave a trail of victims as they spread and share their toxicity.
Currently, there is no cure for psychopathy. Being aware of the existence of psychopaths is vital so that you do not become the victim of one. Strong boundaries and trusting your inner voice are essential. In a later post, I will discuss the characteristics that make up this disorder.
Thank you for reading. This article is not meant for you to self-diagnose or diagnose others. This article is for educational purposes only. I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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