THE PSYCHOPATH NEXT DOOR...
Psychopath. We hear the word and images of Bernardo, Manson and Dahmer pop into our heads; no doubt Ted Bundy too. But they’re the bottom of the barrel – most of the two million psychopaths in North America aren’t murderers. They’re our friends, lovers and co-workers. They’re outgoing and persuasive, dazzling you with charm and flattery. Often you aren’t even aware they’ve taken you for a ride – until it’s too late.
Psychopaths exhibit a Jekyll and Hyde personality. “They play a part so they can get what they want,” says Dr. Sheila Willson, a Toronto psychologist who has helped victims of psychopaths. The guy who showers a woman with excessive attention is much more capable of getting her to lend him money, and to put up with him when he strays. The new employee who gains her co-workers’ trust has more access to their chequebooks. And so on. Psychopaths have no conscience and their only goal is self-gratification. Many of us have been their victims – at work, through friendships or relationships – and not one of us can say, “a psychopath could never fool me.”
Think you can spot one? Think again. In general, psychopaths aren’t the product of broken homes or the casualties of a materialistic society. Rather they come from all walks of life and there is little evidence that their upbringing affects them. Elements of a psychopath’s personality first become evident at a very early age, due to biological or genetic factors. Explains Michael Seto, a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental health in Toronto, by the time that a person hits their late teens, the disorder is almost certainly permanent. Although many clinicians use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably, writes psychopath expert Robert Hare on his book ‘Without Conscience’, a sociopath’s criminal behavior is shaped by social forces and is the result of a dysfunctional environment.
Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt, says Hare. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others. “Psychopaths play on the fact that most of us are trusting and forgiving people,” adds Seto. The warning signs are always there; it’s just difficult to see them because once we trust someone, the friendship becomes a blinder.
Even lovers get taken for a ride by psychopaths. For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It’s primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once, says Willson. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game. Willson refers to the movie ‘Sliding Doors’ to illustrate her point. In the film, the main character comes home early after just having been fired from her job. Only moments ago, her boyfriend has let another woman out the front door. But in a matter of minutes he is the attentive and concerned boyfriend, taking her out to dinner and devoting the entire night to comforting her. All the while he’s planning to leave the next day on a trip with the other woman.
The boyfriend displays typical psychopathic characteristics because he falsely displays deep emotion toward the relationship, says Willson. In reality, he’s less concerned with his girlfriend’s depression than with making sure she’s clueless about the other woman’s existence. In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you’ll forgive them, and one day when they’ve gone too far, they’ll leave you with a broken heart (and an empty wallet). By then they’ll have a new player for their game.
The problem with their game is that we don’t often play by their rules. Where we might occasionally tell a white lie, a psychopath’s lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. “Psychopaths don’t discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat,” says Seto. “There’s no distinction between friend, family and sucker.”
No one wants to be the sucker, so how do we prevent ourselves from becoming close friends or getting into a relationship with a psychopath? It’s really almost impossible, say Seto and Willson. Unfortunately, laments Seto, one way is to become more suspicious and less trusting of others. Our tendency is to forgive when we catch a loved one in a lie. “Psychopaths play on this fact,” he says. “However, I’m certainly not advocating a world where if someone lies once or twice, you never speak to them again.” What you can do is look at how often someone lies and how they react when caught. Psychopaths will lie over and over again, and where other people would sincerely apologize, a psychopath may apologize but won’t stop.
Psychopaths also tend to switch jobs as frequently as they switch partners, mainly because they don’t have the qualities to maintain a job for the long haul. Their performance is generally erratic, with chronic absences, misuse of company resources and failed commitments. Often they aren’t even qualified for the job and use fake credentials to get it. Seto talks of a patient who would get marketing jobs based on his image; he was a presentable and charming man who layered his conversations with educational and occupational references. But it became evident that the man hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, and was unable to hold down a job.
How do you make sure you don’t get fooled when you’re hiring someone to baby-sit your child or for any other job? Hire based on reputation and not image, says Willson. Check references thoroughly. Psychopaths tend to give vague and inconsistent replies. Of course the best way to solve this problem would be to cure psychopaths of their ‘illness.’ But there’s no recipe for treating them, say psychiatrists. Today’s traditional methods of psychotherapy (psychoanalysis, group and one-on-one therapy) and drug treatments have failed. Therapy is more likely to work when an individual admits there’s a problem and wants to change. The common problem with psychopaths, says Sets, “Is they don’t see a problem with their behavior.”
Psychopaths don’t seek therapy willingly, says Seto. Rather, they’re pushed into it by a desperate relative or by a court order. To a psychopath, a therapist is just one more person who must be conned, and the psychopath plays the part right until the therapist is convinced of his or her ‘rehabilitation.’
Even though we can’t treat psychopaths effectively with therapy, it doesn’t mean we can’t protect ourselves, writes Hare. Willson agrees, citing the most important factor in keeping psychopaths at bay is to know your vulnerabilities. We need to “realize our own potential and maximize our strengths” so that our insecurities don’t overcome us. Because, she says, a psychopath is a chameleon who becomes “an image of what you haven’t done for yourself.” Over time, she says, “their appearance of perfection will begin to crack,” but by that time you will have been emotionally and perhaps financially scathed. There comes a time when you realize there’s no point in searching for answers; the only thing is to move on.
Taken in part from MW© – By Caroline Konrad – September 1999
THE MALIGNANT PERSONALITY:
These people are mentally ill and
extremely dangerous! The following precautions will help to protect
you from the destructive acts of which they are capable.
First, to recognize them, keep the following guidelines in mind.
(1) They are habitual liars. They seem incapable of either knowing or telling the truth about anything.
(2) They are egotistical to the point of narcissism. They
really believe they are set apart from the rest of humanity by some special grace.
(3) They scapegoat; they are incapable of either having the
insight or willingness to accept responsibility for anything they do. Whatever the problem, it is always someone else's fault.
(4) They are remorselessly vindictive when thwarted or
(5) Genuine religious, moral, or other values play no part in their lives. They have no empathy for others and are capable of violence. Under older psychological terminology,
they fall into the category of psychopath or sociopath, but
unlike the typical psychopath, their behavior is masked by a
superficial social facade.
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