Do psychopaths suffer?

Are psychopaths victims of their own condition? Do they experience emotional pain? Is this even possible? Read on and find out…

I am not asking whether psychopaths are capable of suffering; clearly a psychopath with cancer would suffer just as much as anyone else. The kind of suffering I’m interested in here is the kind that is a direct result of the psychopath being, well, psychopathic.

To go about this, I take my inspiration from a now well-known, and controversial, article, “The Hidden Suffering of the Psychopath”, written by William H.J. Martens, MD, PhD and published in the Psychiatric Times. 

The entire article is well worth a read but two paragraphs particularly stuck out:

“Despite their outward arrogance, psychopaths feel inferior to others and know they are stigmatized by their own behavior. Some psychopaths are superficially adapted to their environment and are even popular, but they feel they must carefully hide their true nature because it will not be acceptable to others. This leaves psychopaths with a difficult choice: adapt and participate in an empty, unreal life, or do not adapt and live a lonely life isolated from the social community. They see the love and friendship others share and feel dejected knowing they will never be part of it…

…Furthermore, many psychopaths are disheartened by their inability to control their sensation-seeking and are repeatedly confronted with their weaknesses. Although they may attempt to change, low fear response and associated inability to learn from experiences lead to repeated negative, frustrating, and depressing confrontations, including trouble with the justice system.”

Without coming on all “poor me”, I must admit that I see a lot of myself in that. Yes, even the inferiority complex, though I hide it from even myself most of the time. Failing to learn and consequently making the same mistakes over and over is particularly distressing. Imagine resolving to change something about yourself, and actually making temporary improvements before getting distracted by something exciting and not realising where you’re headed until it’s once again too late. I mean how retarded do you have to be?

Do I envy love and friendship? When I’m not busy convincing myself that love is a weakness (it totally is by the way, though that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having), I feel like the loneliest person in the world. I have friends – people I keep around due to aspects of their personality I enjoy – but obviously I can’t really connect with them properly. Sure we can share a joke, or a interest in something or other, or a stimulating conversation, but then they start talking about their feelings, and I’m reminded of what I don’t have.

Is this suffering? Well, in comparison to many types of physical suffering (burning alive, being raped, our aforementioned cancer example) probably not, but how does it fare alongside other examples of emotional suffering? Is what I describe on par with the pain of depression, or loneliness as experienced by normal people?

You decide.

P.S. To read the full article, which is spread over two pages, search “hidden suffering of the psychopath” in Google and open the first two results in different tabs. This is necessary to get around Psychiatric Times’ restrictions on how much content non-subscribers can access (trust the psychopath to find a loophole, right?)