by Bob Seitz
March 18, 2006
This article is intended to alert you (assuming
you’re not already alerted) to the ubiquity and horrific characteristics of
psychopaths, both for your personal protection and for an appreciation of what
psychopaths might be doing in the world around us.
The study of psychopaths has lagged behind that of other psychological
disorders, and the insights are only now being widely publicized. Special
attention to this topic might be warranted right now because, apparently, it’s
become politically incorrect to label a recidivist a psychopath. The idea that
someone might be congenitally incapable of feeling emotion may run counter to
what some psychologists and sociologists still would like to believe about the
malleability of the human psyche. (In the early 50’s, we were taught that even
schizophrenia, paranoia, and manic-depressive psychoses could be cured by
Of course, psychopaths aren’t the only
interpersonal train wrecks that can await us in the world. Being emotionally
entangled with an addict (including a compulsive gambler or someone who can’t
control their spending) must be a comparably horrid experience. You would never
know what you would find when you came home. Then there are the philanderers and
the mentally ill…
A few months ago, I read a review in our local paper of the book, "The Sociopath Next Door- How to Recognize and Defeat the Ruthless in Everyday Life", authored by Harvard psychologist, Dr. Martha Stout. According to her, one person in every 25 is a psychopath. Dr. Robert Hare, author of "Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us", places the number of "hard-core" psychopaths at 1 in a 100, but it's still a startlingly large number. Think of what this means: 3,000,000 full-blown psychopaths in the United States, over 1,000,000 of whom “top out” at the 2.5-s level on Dr. Hare’s Psychopathic Scale! It means that every time you drive down the road or visit a crowded shopping center, you’re going to be rubbing elbows with a few psychopaths. That’s scary! No wonder we can't arrive at a peaceful, happy society when we have a minority among us who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, living unnoticed among us except for those unlucky enough to experience their dark sides.
Only One in Thirty Thousand Psychopaths Is a Serial Killer
Dr. Hare says that only about 1 in 30,000
psychopaths becomes a serial killer, although all of them have the potential to
kill without qualms (think Scott Peterson). Nor are they easy to detect. For
example, “Ted Bundy, perhaps the most visible and widely known serial killer
the U. S. has ever produced, honed his skills during the time he spent as a peer
counselor on a crisis hotline” (from “Without Conscience”).
When Bundy had had a fight with his girl friend, he
would go riding with another woman, stop at a gas station, go inside, shoot
whoever happened to be present, come back and casually drive off, with his young
companion unaware that anything improper had transpired.
Equally shocking is a list of celebrity
psychopaths: Leona Helmsley, "the queen of mean", Bernard Ebbers, the
founder of Worldcom, Andrew Fastow, Enron's convicted CFO, and a host of other
leaders of crooked corporations (Jeff Skilling and Kenneth Lay in the case of
Enron?). (Kenneth Lay’s $92-million Seattle-area home was recently displayed
on the Home-and-Garden channel.) Other psychopathic leaders might have included
Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler, Hermann Goering, Josef Stalin, Attila the Hun,
Nero, and Caligula. Dr. Hare cites Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, and Bill Gates as
narcissists (borderline psychopaths) who are kept under control by their
"handlers". They're very insensitive to other people's
feelings. They differ from the true psychopath in that they identify with a
cause (a projection of themselves), and may justify aggressive means to attain
their self-justified ends. By contrast, the true psychopath is a parasite,
concerned only about him/herself (like
Hitler saying, “After me, comes the flood.”)
Are Any of Our Current Leaders Psychopaths?
What’s so unsettling about this for me is the
questions it raises about our current corporate, political, and other
organizational leadership. Are any of the men currently running the United
States psychopaths? I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question, but
it seems to me to be of cardinal significance. What about our corporate
leadership in an age in which our principal lobbyists are global corporations?
How to Identify a Psychopath
Dr. Hare describes psychopathy as “…a
chronically unstable and aimless lifestyle, marked by casual and flagrant
violations of social norms and expectations.”
exhibit a cluster of distinctive personality traits, the most significant of
which is an utter lack of conscience. They also have huge egos, short tempers,
and an appetite for excitement -- a dangerous mix. In a typical prison
population, about 20 percent of the inmates satisfy the Hare definition of a
psychopath, but they are responsible for over half of all violent crime.”
deceitful, reckless, guiltless . . . The psychopath understands the wishes and
concerns of others; he simply does not care . . . The psychopath believes that
rules and morals are for other, weaker people who obey because they fear
punishment . . . No matter how bright, and a psychopath is often very bright, he
rarely maintains a regular job . . . he may have an ingratiating manner and
superficial charm, be persuasive, poised . . . Lying, evasiveness, feigned
forgetfulness, vague and inconsistent answers about his past . . . Callous,
deceitful, reckless, guiltless . . . The psychopath understands the wishes and
concerns of others; he simply does not care . . . “
-- Dr. David B. Adams
and articulate. Jekyll and Hyde.
to the point of recklessness
deceiving and manipulating.
need for excitement Lives on the edge.
Unafraid of punishment.
reactive to slights, frustrations
conscience. Never feels guilty.
of responsibility. Parasitic lifestyle.
self-centered. No empathy.
and adult behavioral problems
“We condemn and shun the bank robber but ask the
embezzler to help us invest our money or join our tennis club.
“Psychopaths tend to see any social interchange
as a ‘feeding opportunity’, a contest, or a test of wills in which there can
be only one winner.”
Psychopaths are basically fearless. When asked why
they enjoy deceiving people, one woman said, “Money grows on trees.
They say it doesn’t but it does. I don’t want to do it, but it’s
just so easy.” Another psychopath responded to the question with, ‘You want
the truth? Just for the fun of it.”
Psychopaths will come up with sad stories about
their sad childhoods that are sometimes true and are sometimes cut from the
As one woman in a psychopath support group
“The ‘Jekyll/Hyde’ Psychopath
comes on strong, sweeps us off our feet. He targets us by falsely mirroring our
values, interests, goals, philosophies, tastes and habits. He fakes integrity,
honesty and sincerity. He plays the role of the victim. We take pity on him. He
wants to marry us quickly. This control freak wants us dependent on him. He
portrays false integrity, appears helpful, comforting, generous in his
'idealization' of us phase. It never lasts as Jekyll turns into Hyde. His
victims are objectified and disposable. He convincingly mimics human emotions.
His lack of conscience is shocking, incomprehensible and emotionally painful to
us. We remember his odd reaction to situations. We end the relationship and
salvage what we can, or we are quickly discarded as he cultivates a "new
perfect partner". He will very much enjoy double-dipping attention he gets
by cheating. He will have numerous relationships. He may drop verbal clues about
his true character early in the relationship, but we fail to grasp its meaning.
Eventually the unmasked psychopath emerges and we remember that early warning.
His targets suffer emotional and financial devastation and our emotional
recovery is lengthy.
Defense Strategy: Abandon all efforts to help or cure him. His true identity is exposed and the false character he portrayed is gone forever. Accept the reality. Seek therapy. Join a support group to know you are not alone. Ignore and don't react to his hurtful words. Don't take the bait when he blames or lies. They fool even trained professionals. Do not be gullible, vulnerable or naive. Prepare for a nasty divorce. Accept no abuse. Learn about mental diseases and disorders.”
Can Psychopaths Be Rehabilitated?
The current research picture is that psychotherapy
doesn't dent the psychopath because he/she has an inborn neurological deficit.
Psychopaths have no consciences. The machinery simply isn’t there. MRI brain
scans reveal that the limbic (emotional) region of the normal brain lights up
when we are shown highly disturbing images. In the psychopath’s brain, the
limbic system isn’t activated but the language centers are.
Psychopaths are blind to emotion the way the truly colorblind are blind
For example, “Earl”, who scored at the top of
Dr. Hare’s Psychopathy Scale at the 2.5-s
level, stabbed his kindergarten teacher with scissors, and at 10, was procuring
for young girls, including his sister—was psychopathic in his earliest
Dr. Hare is currently exploring the question of
whether psychopaths can be changed in ways that will make them more socially
productive. As they grow older,
they tend to become less predatory, and less inclined to seek thrills. Whether
that’s because of declining levels of testosterone or whether it’s an
outgrowth of experience, it might offer an opportunity for the adaptation of
psychopaths. This could be very important in a world in which people live a lot
longer than they do today. (Of course, the danger with this would seem to be the
same as the danger of trusting “tame” lions.)
There is a possibility that a psychopath’s urge
to control is a compensation for his/her perception of the inability to feel
emotions the way others can. (Note that the psychopath is generally quite
pleased with his/her freedom from normal emotions and ability to manipulate
others, and regards “normals” as weaklings and suckers.)
Psychopaths exhibit a constellation of
characteristics that have led to Dr. Hare's 20-Item Psychopathy
We normals would score below 10 (e. g., 4 or 5); psychopaths as high as 40.
Anything above 30 represents a full-blown psychopath. The average score
among all North American prison inmates is 23.3.
The questions below are an eight-question subset
drawn from Dr. Hare’s twenty-question PCL-R that pertains specifically to
psychopaths in the workplace.
Robert Hare’s Eight-Question Screening Quiz for Psychopaths in the Workplace: 2 points for “yes”, 1 point for “maybe” or “sometimes”, 0 points for “never”
glib and superficially charming?
Is he a likable personality and a terrific talker? A flatterer?
Entertaining and persuasive but maybe a bit too smooth and slick? Insincere?
he have a grandiose sense of self-worth?
Is he arrogant? Does he feel he’s above the rules that apply to
“little people”? Does he downplay his legal, financial, or personal
problems, say they’re just emporary, or blame them on others?
he a pathological liar? Does he lie
habitually even though he can easily be found out? When he’s exposed, does he
still act unconcerned because he thinks he can weasel out of it? Is he proud for
his knack for deceit?
he a con artist or master manipulator?
Does he use his skill at lying to cheat or manipulate other people other
people in his quest for money, power, status, and sex? Does he “use” people
he harms other people, does he exhibit a lack of remorse or guilt?
Is he concerned only about himself rather than the wreckage he inflicts
on others or upon society? Does he say he feels bad even though he doesn’t?
he have a shallow affect? Is he cold
and detached, even when someone near him dies, suffers, or falls seriously ill?
Does he sometimes “put on” emotions?
he callous and lacking in empathy?
he profoundly selfish? Does he cruelly mock others? Is he emotionally of
verbally abusive toward employees, “friends”, and family members?
he fail to accept responsibility for his own actions?
he blame others for what he’s donw? Does he refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing
even when the hard evidence is stacked against him?
your boss scores:
1-4: Be frustrated
Be very afraid
Psychopaths in the Workplace
Blue-collar psychopaths populate our prisons, where
as high as 20% of the inmates and 50% of those who are incarcerated for violent
crimes are psychopaths. Blue-collar psychopaths tend to ping-pong between prison
and the outside world. White-collar psychopaths people our financial world where
scams are easy pickings. Psychopaths are psychopathic liars. If caught in the
act, they will often respond by accusing their accusers. (Sound like D. C.?)
Got What It Takes
“It is not difficult to see why psychopaths are
so attracted to white-collar crime.
“First, lots of juicy opportunities present
“Second, psychopaths… are fast-talking,
charming, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure,
unfazed by the possibility of being found out and totally ruthless. And even
when exposed, they can carry on as if nothing had happened, often leaving their
accusers bewildered and uncertain about their own positions.”
“Finally, white collar crime is lucrative, the
chances of getting caught are minimal, and the penalties are often trivial.
Think of the insider traders, junk-bond kings, and S&L sharks whose
financial depredations were so spectacularly rewarding—even when they were
We’re vulnerable to psychopaths because we
don’t think—and don’t want to think—the way psychopaths think. We
don’t want every social interaction to be a stealthy assault, or an
opportunity for someone to psych us out so they can manipulate us. It’s like
driving down the road: we trust—as we must—other drivers to do what
they’re supposed to do, and in an overwhelming preponderance of interactions,
they do what they’re supposed to do. Consequently, when someone blind-sides us
from the side or the rear, or comes over a hill on
our side of the road, we’re unprepared for it.
At the same time, it’s important to know that
psychopaths aren’t that uncommon, and that they’re well-camouflaged
Martha Stout’s Six Rules for Identifying and Dealing with Psychopaths
labels with a grain of salt.
question authority when it conflicts with your own sense of right and wrong.
agree to help a psychopath conceal his or her suspicious activities at work.
are afraid of your boss, never confuse this feeling with respect.
assess the damage to your life.
Stewart once remarked on the Fire List that he had been shocked to discover that
there is real, deliberate evil in the world. One of my first thoughts upon
reading about the prevalence and characteristics of psychopaths was that their
existence might explain why this is so. I wondered about the survival value of
psychopathy, and mentioned this to Fred Britton. Fred pointed out that
psychopaths make prolific lovers, but lousy husbands and fathers. Consequently,
they leave a wake of children and fractured families behind them. From an
evolutionary standpoint, this qualifies as success.
Hare mentions that screening efforts are now made in Europe to keep psychopaths
out of corporate management suites, but that in the United States, investors are
still taken in by corporate psychopaths who, they think, will turn the company
around. In the end, these psychopaths loot their companies and swindle from
their stockholders. Immediately
following the dot.com scandals, there was a flurry of reform activity. By now,
the Bush administration has allegedly replaced the reform-minded head of the SEC
with a more accommodative chief, and, I believe, has set the stage for the next
round of scandals. Watch where you put your money! (About half the mutual funds
in which I had invested during the nineties cheated their shareholders,
including me, and have since been sold to new corporate entities.)
Our administrative assistant at Georgia Tech told
about a minister in her small town in western Alabama. The town’s minister
gave outstanding sermons, and on Sunday mornings, people flocked in from miles
around to hear him preach. One Sunday, the FBI attended one of his sermons and
took him away in handcuffs. He had been operating a stolen-car ring on Sunday
The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to
For me, Robert Hare's book spotlighted the whole
question of personality inheritance, and of the Gaussian distributions of
personality traits. And of course, we need a spectrum of personality traits. The
problem may lie in a lack of day-to-day awareness on the part of
wishful-thinking people like myself that bad guys are out there. We're not going
to eliminate them and maybe we shouldn't, but maybe it will help to be more
aware of them.
We are so vulnerable to scams because we try hard
to do right, and it’s inconceivable to us that
I recently read about a mathematician who, influenced by Isaac
Asimov’s fetching concept of “psychohistory”, has tried to
develop and apply this concept to the stock market. “Psychohistory”,
for those who are unfamiliar with Asimov’s “Foundation”
series of scifi novels, is a mathematical formulation of sociology that
allows Dr. Hari Seldon, “with the highest IQ in history”, to predict
the imminent fall of the first Galactic Empire, and to engineer the rise
of a second galactic imperium a thousand years hence.
“Psychohistory” can only work statistically on large
masses of people, and its manipulations must be kept secret from those who
are being manipulated, or the manipulated will start manipulating back.
The stock market works like this. As soon as word of a successful
moneymaking strategy gets out, it becomes so widely used that it no longer
works. This raises the
question: what kind of progress has political science made in becoming a
science? To what extent is political control a science these days instead
of an art? It can only work as long as the majority of the population
(including ourselves) is unaware that it’s happening. We, the public,
tend to think in terms of emotions and issues, whereas politicians don’t
ask what to do but how to do it. . When our revered leaders say that
Saddam Hussein is a terrible man (which I take as true) and that he’s
harboring terrorists who want to kill our wives and daughters, we snap to
quivering attention like the easily-manipulated ground-apes that we are,
and are ready to go off and kill or be killed., while our revered leaders
conduct business-as-usual in a safe place. To give an example, in 1898, on
the eve of the Spanish-American war, William Randolph Hearst wired his
homesick correspondent in Cuba, Frederick Remington, “Please remain. You
furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.” And he was as good as
his word, fomenting the Spanish-American war that led to the extermination
of between 200,000 (our official number) and 2,000,000 Filipinos Mike Hess
may have insight into this.