Mythbusting psychopathy (part 1) 

There are far too many common myths about psychopaths out there that I am sick of reading about. Here is a list of the most irritating, along with a hearty dose of reality. Note the links, which are my citations.

Which one surprises you the most? Let me know in the comments. 

 

MYTH: Psychopaths don’t know they’re psychopaths.

Oh really? While some psychopaths (particularly very young or uneducated ones) may not know the specific term “psychopath”, or that it applies to them, all psychopaths of at least young adulthood are fully cognisant of their difference from others. What’s more, in this age of near-universal internet access, I’d be very surprised to come across an adult psychopath without some understanding of their psychopathy, though I expect back in the pre-web days many lived their whole lives without ever finding out why they were different. Most couldn’t be happier to be what they are; that is to say, most are fucking arrogant pricks.

 

MYTH: Psychopaths are ‘worse’ than sociopaths; psychopaths are born, sociopaths are made; psychopaths and sociopaths are different things.

Actually, neither psychopath nor sociopath are medical terms. The official term covering both in the latest versions of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM – 5) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD – 10) is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” have been used for the various theoretical explanations for the condition, with specialists using “psychopath” preferring a biological or neurological explanation (e.g. a psychopathic gene, brain damage) and researchers using “sociopath” more interested in social causes (e.g. childhood abuse, poor parenting). Modern consensus among psychologists and neuroscientists points toward a combination of the two, and most researchers in the field prefer the use of “psychopath” over the now rather dated and pop-sciencey “sociopath”. Osteopaths and homeopaths are something else entirely…

Yes, Bob Hare’s famous PCL-R Checklist is a slightly different beast, but since it is only administered to dickheads locked up in prison, I would argue it focuses too strongly on criminality (and how an individual should be treated by the justice system) for it to be considered a legitimate diagnosis. I will concede that Hare himself does not like psychopathy being lumped in with ASPD. However, the British National Health Service and the American MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia both consider psychopathy to be a severe form of ASPD. Wait, this is stupid.

So in actual fact, it seems nobody can agree on what, if anything, is the difference between these three terms: psychopathy, sociopathy and ASPD. Abandon hope and run to the hills.

 

MYTH: Psychopaths have no empathy.

Psychopaths have little or no warm empathy; that is to say they do not typically share the emotions of others or care about how other people feel. They are unsympathetic and lacking in compassion toward others. Psychopaths are quite capable of cold empathy, however; that is to say understanding how other people think and feel. They deliberately mimic facial expressions and behaviour that they see in others. Autistic people (in the broadest sense of what is a very broad spectrum) are kind of the opposite of this: they care about others’ feelings and share emotions, but are usually very bad at working out what other people are thinking or reading facial expressions.

Recent research has also suggested psychopaths are capable of warm empathy when they actively try to empathise with other people, and that they can activate it like a switch when asked to do so.

 

MYTH: All evil in the world is psychopaths’ fault.

This barely warrants an answer. Every human being is capable of evil, but non-psychopaths mostly use their morality, their political ideals or shudder their religion as justification for their wrongdoing. The infamous Milgram experiments on obedience demonstrated that average Joe is more than happy to electrocute someone to death when told to do so by an authority figure.

Yes, psychopaths do bad things if they feel like it. I’d say that’s a hell of a lot more honest than, for instance those who claim to believe in equality but still want a strong border to keep out the people with dark skin, or those oh-so-pious liberal saints who ignore Hobo Bill every day to get their morning Starbucks, or the followers of the Religion of Peace™ who blow themselves to kingdom come for a sniff of virgin. Ask most psychopaths, they will say the same. We are sick of taking the blame for everything, and laugh at the hypocrisy of those who assign said blame.

 

Pic #2 - This is what happens when a psychopath gets access to coloring pages

MYTH: Psychopaths actively wish harm on others. They hate everyone else. 

You’re thinking of sadists and misanthropes. There is certainly a lot of overlap between sadism and psychopathy, but the true psychopathic attitude toward others is indifference. Everything I do is to benefit me; you do not come into the equation. If in the process of taking care of number 1, I make you laugh, cry, smile or squeal, well that was just incidental. You’re welcome / sorry / I don’t care.

 

 

MYTH: Psychopaths are all active criminals or behind bars.

It is true that as much as 25% of the American prison population may be psychopathic, and that some of the worst serial killers and mass murderers in history were psychopaths. What’s more, probably every psychopath out there has committed a crime at one point or other in their life (who hasn’t?) and clever ones are likely to get away with them for longer. Taking my whole life into account, I am guilty of physical assault, fraud, theft and petty vandalism (oh and probably “psychological abuse”, which my country in its infinite wisdom has recently made a crime. Talk about discriminating against my lifestyle!) These are not regular occurrences in my life though, and I am not known to the police.

It is simply not the case that every psychopath is a hardened career criminal. Many, indeed probably most, psychopaths have never killed or seriously hurt another person. These ‘socialised’ psychopaths live normal lives, going to work, walking the dog, paying taxes, washing up, beating up prostitutes in back alleys… Psychopaths are found in all walks of life, more often than not with good, stable jobs and at a high or upwardly-mobile point on the social hierarchy. Which means that yes, some are drug lords, mafia bosses and terrorist leaders. But most are… well, see below.

 

Image result for i'll kill you i'll kill all of you especially those of you in the jury

MYTH: Psychopaths are a horrible scourge and a drain on our society.

Just look at the list of the top 10 jobs with the most psychopaths:

  1. Corporate executive
  2. Lawyer
  3. Broadcast media
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Print or web journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Member of the clergy
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant

So your society would likely collapse without psychopaths running your shit for you.

 

MYTH: Psychopaths are more intelligent than non-psychopaths

Psychopathy does not affect intelligence. There are some psychopathic geniuses, and many who are borderline retarded. Most lie somewhere in between, just like the general population. I would describe myself as well above average intelligence, but not (yet!) at the level of a genius. Bearing in mind my own “inflated self-worth” and “arrogance”, you may wish to adjust that estimate slightly lower.

Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 next week. Stay in touch.

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