It is a question that is often posed by the victims of psychopaths, by people who have known them, and just by the curious. In fact, when you type “do psychopaths” into Google, the search suggestions are as follows:
- do psychopaths cry?
- do psychopaths feel fear?
- do psychopaths yawn?
- do psychopaths love?
- do psychopaths dream?
The first four are boring questions, and very easy to answer by anyone who ever gave them any thought:
- Yes, but hardly. Fearlessness is one of the main criteria in the PCL-R
- You might as well ask, “do psychopaths need to breathe?” Yes, we yawn when we’re tired, just like you!
But the fifth question is interesting. Its answer isn’t immediately obvious a priori and it tries to delve into the inner worlds of psychopaths in a clever way. What’s more, it’s one question to which, despite its popularity among inquisitive souls, is difficult to find a satisfactory answer, amid tedious conversations that go nowhere, and threads where everyone says equally plausible but mutually contradictory things.
Well look no further, because I am a psychopath, and I can confirm that yes, I dream. I don’t dream very often (or at least I don’t often remember my dreams), in fact more often than not I have the stereotypical “death sleep” of a vampire, unburdened by thoughts and concerns from the day. I don’t have sleepless or disturbed nights because of stress, and I don’t lie awake mulling over ‘bad’ things I’ve done. But I do, on occasion, dream. My dreams tend to be fairly weird, though nothing so surreal as to inspire artwork.
One recent dream I had, there was a bird trapped inside my room, beating its wings pointlessly against the closed window. As I walked over to open the window and free it, it seemed to panic and fly at me, so I hit it to stop it pecking me and it fell to the floor, dead. A couple of nights ago, I dreamt the house next door was on fire. The family that lives there has three children, and they were also trapped upstairs (noticing a pattern yet?) I dialled for the emergency services, but when the fire brigade arrived, they had brought the police and accused me of setting the fire, which as far as I can recall, I hadn’t. In both dreams, I tried to do the decent thing, but the other ‘characters’ in the dream had other ideas and did their best to throw my help back in my face. I’m not really into dream interpretation, but if anyone wants to have a go at figuring these ones out, be my guest.
Most commonly, I’m not even in my own dreams. Or rather, I’m like a static observer or an omniscient narrator, and the other people in the dream are acting out a story in front of me. Usually they’re not people that I know in real life, just ‘characters’ that inhabit the dream world. Sometimes I can go in and out of different people and take control of them for a while, make them do what I want to do, see the dream from their perspective, and then fly out and go back to watching again. These dreams tend to be violent, and seem to be set predominantly in horror movies or wars, but there’s not really any emotional content to them or consequences for being in them. Like I said, I’m more of a bystander watching things happen. Even when I ‘take over’ the characters, what happens to them doesn’t really end up affecting me. If the person I’m inhabiting gets hacked to death, then I just fly out of them and look down on their mutilated corpse with detached interest.
Very occasionally I dream of people close to me dying. In real life, this sort of event doesn’t cause much emotion in me. If I liked the person, I am sorry they’re no longer around for me to enjoy them, but the idea of crying about it is utterly foreign. However, in these dreams, I’m very upset, grief-stricken even, in a way I have never been in my waking life. I seem to imagine myself as an ordinary, empathetic person, crying about the death of someone I love, just like I’ve seen other people be around death, and being really cut up about their loss. Unlike the previous two types of dream, these are closer to what I would think of as a nightmare, in that they’re actually unpleasant to experience. I don’t enjoy feeling those emotions, or at least dreaming that I am feeling them, and I especially don’t enjoy losing control of myself. Then, when I wake up, I’m back to normal. My pillow is sometimes wet; whether with tears or sweat, I don’t know. But I just think “huh, that was weird”, and go about my day.
I have no idea if these dreams bear any resemblance to the sorts of dreams other people have. I’d be interested to hear from you.
Art credit goes to the extremely creative, extremely talented and extremely dead Zdzisław Beksiński.
I wonder if he’s living his dreams now?