Saturday, December 11, 2010

Am I a Psychopath? - (Part I)

When the talk falls on whether somebody has mostly primary or secondary traits, my answer in regard to myself is this: I have a variety of both factor 1 and factor 2 traits - yes, I mean traits on Hare's PCL-R (Psychopathy Check List - Revised). I'm speaking in the context of Psychopathy.


Now how can that be?...

- I don't consider myself a psychopath!


The reason is that I think categorizing everybody who have a certain neurological structure as psychopaths is beyond measure a display of lack in understanding of human nature.

...There, I said it: As much as I agree with you in many ways, Dr. Robert Hare(1*), I also think you lack some fundamental understanding and are very much a product of the present philosophy of the society you grew up in, and as such you are narrow-minded in some ways that are damaging, because as much as your research and the conclusion you have come to are helpful in giving information that can be used to limiting a certain category of damage to society, it extends another kind of damage that we've already been suffering from for a very long time.

I have hesitated with saying this directly until now, in part because I've been weary about getting your attention, but since I know I already have it anyway. and since I think what I have to say does carry some weight, it may be time to express where my view differ from yours. I am not saying I don't respect you, because I do. I think you have done some outstanding research and helped us understand and learn about some of the fundamental things about how the human mind works, how it is structured. In that sense we all owe you more than perhaps anybody else in your field of work (at least within the same period in history).


Some of the more well learned readers may now expect me to put forth one of the somewhat well known claims in the last one or two decades saying: "Not all psychopaths are bad!".

I am not going to do that. Quite frankly I don't agree with it, I think it's probably one of the most ridiculous statements out there.
How on earth do anybody come to a conclusion that all psychopaths are not bad!?? They might as well say: "Not all psychopaths are psychopathic!".

I know this psychopath, it's really unfair how people call him a psychopath and all. And yeah, he may be a psychopath, but it's not like he's a psychopath or anything just because he's psychopath! He's not a psychopath just because he's a psychopath, now, is he!?"

Yeah ... not all psychopaths are psychopaths! ... Can we pronounce the word: 'Ri-di-cu-lous'?.


What I am saying is that not everybody who neurological fits the description of a psychopathic person, are psychopaths. And that may seem just as much of a contradiction as the above, but there is a difference.

Another way of saying it: The definition of a psychopath is too narrow, or too wide as it were.


Are Autistic people psychopaths? According to part of the psychopathy definition they are!

An Autistic person who commits violent crimes and who lacks empathy (one of the things they say about Aspies), would fit the description of a psychopath, even if they're not charming. In fact Hare lists a number of known serial killers whom he (apparently) consider to be the very definition of psychopaths. Among these are Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, and Edward Kemper. Hare admits Ed Gein is not classical psychopath, but he mentions him nonetheless. - The point is that psychopaths can (apparently) also have other conditions. In Ed Gein's case he was schizophrenic, and Jeffrey Dahmer seems more austistic.
But at the same time we learn that psychopaths differ from all the other conditions in that they're not insane and they 'know right from wrong'.

Maybe it's just me, but I think there's a lot of internal contradictions, there are something not quite right about it all. Whereas we all probably have a very good understanding of what psychopathy is, it isn't so easy to define psychopathy as any specific kind of human being abstracted from the cultural setting and the mores it adhere to.


I know Aspies who are charming, at least under certain circumstances, and who lie (a LOT!), who most definitely doesn't display a lot of sympathy (I use the word sympathy because I don't really understand what empathy is, but - though I may be wrong - I bet that if they don't have sympathy they don't have empathy either). The only two things where they don't fit with the typical notion of psychopathy is in that they aren't criminal (to my knowledge, that is) and that they have morals.

But then, we also hear that some people with ASPD, and perhaps some secondary psychopaths and at least some sociopaths, can have morals though not the morals of society in general.


Let me say quite plainly how I see it: Psychopaths are bad, 'bad' is the very fundamental defining part of what it is to be a psychopath. A Psychopath is a person with a certain neurological make-up, but it's more than that: They also fit a description of someone who is bad for other people and for society in general.

A psychopath lack empathy. But he's not a psychopath because he lacks empathy, he's a psychopath because of what he does with his lack of empathy.
A psychopath lacks remorse. But he's a psychopath because of what that leads him to do, of what he uses his lack of remorse as an enabling trait for.
A psychopath lacks anxiety and fear. But that in itself isn't why he's a psychopath, he's a psychopath because of the actions he decides to take which he can take only because he has no fear to stop him from taking them.
A psychopath often has a strong persistent need for emotional stimuli. But he's a psychopath because of the way he seeks stimuli in connection with the type of stimuli he seeks.


Being sadistic does not in itself make you a psychopath. It is what you do with that trait that makes the whole difference. And the same goes for all the other traits.


Being a psychopath is not solely a question of what kinds of personality traits and what neurological make up you have. The definition of psychopathy incorporates to a great extent your actions, what you do with the traits in your personality!



But in my understanding that isn't the whole picture either. I somehow can't help but think a very fundamental part of psychopathy lies in how the psychopath thinks... Or that's how it should be! Because what you do and how you act and behave in life is very much related to how you think.


We often hear that psychopaths believe their victims 'had it coming', or 'it was their own fault', because 'they shouldn't have let me abuse them'. Stuff like that. ... I guess it's got to do with their lack of empathy (though I'm not sure as I don't quite understand what empathy really is). And this is one of the main points where I really differ from any psychopath I have met or heard of: I understand that most people are not like me, and I also understand that people's 'letting emotions run their lives' is not a choice, they really cannot do any different!

Do I use this difference between myself and others? Yes, but only when I have a very good reason to do so. What I'm saying is this: I don't inflict pain without reason or merely for fun. I really have to be very, very under-nourished emotionally before I do something of that sort, and even then I keep it to a minimum.

How many psychopaths can relate to what I just wrote? My bet: None!


This is where I believe my opinion differ from Robert Hare's.


(1*) - ...No, I'm not making myself sound important by talking directly to Dr. Robert D. Hare. I know he'll see this! Hare is a human being like everybody else, not a god. So there's nothing overly self-important in addressing someone, when you know they'll see what you've written! And I know he will. - No, I don't know him and haven't met him. But I know he's researching the same thing I am and with a lot more experience and help than I'll ever have, but texts of the type I write in this blog aren't that common which is why he'll look into them when they get publicly available. - Voila: Nothing psychopathic grandiose about my words to Dr. Hare in this article.

11 comments:

ResCogitans said...

labels are only ever useful up to a point... i guess i'm like you in that i identify strongly with many psychopathic traits, yet i have other traits that would stop me from giving the label to myself.

a pathology is by definition to do with the actions of the person. the socio traits i identify with are mostly to do with the thought process, not with the action. i have a lot of self control and it is only this that has probably stopped a court-required evaluation and diagnosis!

TheNotablePath said...

Psychopaths are not without fear. Fear is very different for them, especially how it is triggered, how much they feel, but they are by no means fearless. It's a very common misconception.

Joseph Newman talks about fear and psychopaths. I also wrote an article on it.

Zhawq said...

ResCogitans,

it's a good thing to have a good self understanding. You seem to do so. and in that I think we are alike.

However, we differ about the psychopathy identification. I do not identify with psychopaths, that's what my blog is about: I am NOT a psychopath, it's a label I was given by my surroundings in a society ruled by dictatorship of the masses. 'The norm is always right'.

That said, I am beginning to understand better why I was given the diagnosis in the first place.


Another thing: You cannot separate actions from psychopathy. Psychopathy is not only a way of thinking, it is a 'cluster' of aspects that relate to everything from thought process, behavior, and character traits.

.....

Notable,

psychopaths generally do have the ability to feel fear, but it's a marking trait that their fear is lower than with other kinds of 'paths (Sociopaths and people with ASPD). The main thing about psychopaths where feelings and emotionality are concerned is that they generally have low levels of either.

What they share with other 'paths is that they also have a comparatively small range of emotions.

TheNotablePath said...

Psychopaths are perfectly capable of fear. Dr. Joseph Newman has extensively studied them with brain analysis equipment to back it up. I suggest you look into it.

Zhawq said...

Yes, I know about it. And it's true what you note here, but psychopaths are not 'just' psychopaths, there are different groupings - fundamentally the 'primary' and the 'secondary'.

There's a group of people with psychopathic traits and who fit the definition closely enough to receive the label (at least in traditional psychiatric terminology). It is a group who's traits are heavily of the secondary kind, which means they are largely products of background, upbringing, especially childhood and youth experiences. This group also very often have strong traits of paranoia and can at times even exhibit psychosis-like symptoms.

In fact, anxiety issues are very common in people who have so called Antisocial Personality Disorder. DSM-IV operates with this term as descriptive of all categories of psychopathy, but it is now generally understood that this is misleading because it includes personality types that are widely different and who's similarities are mostly behavioral.

The definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder is likely to be removed completely, or changed, and psychopathy or sociopathy, or perhaps both of these, will be introduced.

Andreas said...

I use the word Sociopath to describe someone who naturally thinks and feels the way a sociopath/psychopath does, and I use the word Psychopath to describe a person that behaves in that untowards way.
Basically cognition differing from behaviour.

I know nothing of serial killers. I never took an interest in them, so it always strikes me as funny, when people cite their interest in serial killers as a component in them suspecting themselves of being psychopaths.

Also, I don't really believe that a person can be made into a sociopath; I believe it is something that you are born as. Psychopathy seems to be an environmental issue. Perhaps a rogue sociopath?

TheNotablePath said...

Psychopaths are perfectly capable of fear. Dr. Joseph Newman has extensively studied them with brain analysis equipment to back it up. I suggest you look into it.

Zhawq said...

ResCogitans,

it's a good thing to have a good self understanding. You seem to do so. and in that I think we are alike.

However, we differ about the psychopathy identification. I do not identify with psychopaths, that's what my blog is about: I am NOT a psychopath, it's a label I was given by my surroundings in a society ruled by dictatorship of the masses. 'The norm is always right'.

That said, I am beginning to understand better why I was given the diagnosis in the first place.


Another thing: You cannot separate actions from psychopathy. Psychopathy is not only a way of thinking, it is a 'cluster' of aspects that relate to everything from thought process, behavior, and character traits.

.....

Notable,

psychopaths generally do have the ability to feel fear, but it's a marking trait that their fear is lower than with other kinds of 'paths (Sociopaths and people with ASPD). The main thing about psychopaths where feelings and emotionality are concerned is that they generally have low levels of either.

What they share with other 'paths is that they also have a comparatively small range of emotions.

Anonymous said...

As a psychopath who is pursuing a Ph.D. studying psychopathy, I just wanted to note that you shouldn't talk about what psychopathy is or how one attains a diagnosis of psychopathy when you clearly have a very limited understanding of how the process actually works. Do some more research into how the PCL-R is applied and how diagnoses are actually made -- as well as the purpose of the DSM -- before you criticize. (Not to say the PCL-R shouldn't be criticized, just that you're rather missing the point.)

I won't explain your error to you. I think you'd more enjoy figuring it out for yourself.

Anonymous said...

I could relate to it quite well, in a cognitive empathy kind of way.Q IF psychology as a field comes up with a fair,just,concise and completely accurate description of the phenomena we refer to as psychopathy, will you guys feel better about identifying with it? What if they give it a really cool name ?

Nata said...

"A psychopath lack empathy. But he's not a psychopath because he lacks empathy, he's a psychopath because of what he does with his lack of empathy." -> I've never found more accurate description. That's the pith. Which implies that there is a choice, actually...