I was speaking to one of my clients this week who joked to me that I must think he is “a complete psychopath.” I assured him that I did not think anything of the sort, yet it is amazing how many therapy clients believe themselves to be psychopathic without really knowing what they are suggesting about themselves.
(It is funny how many clients seem to worry about what the therapist
thinks of them… It really can get in the way at times… That is a
discussion for another day though.)
In the village where I lived while I was at secondary school, a boy who went to the same school used a samurai sword to dismember and kill a man who used to bully him… He may be considered more of a psychopath! His attack was in the middle of a fired up psychotic episode and many debates were held as to the difference between ‘mad’ and ‘bad.’
Today I want to cite some fascinating research about psychopaths… Because not all of them are criminal apparently…
So what do think, do you have anyone who might be a psychopath in your life?
Experts have recognised for some time that not all psychopaths are violent criminals. Many of them live inconspicuously amongst us… So please do spend most of this weekend looking sideways with squinted eyes at everyone you encounter 😉
However, according to Mehmet Mahmut and his colleagues, these less overt psychopaths have been relatively uninvestigated. Something which may well worry us therapists whose clients keep insisting they are psychopaths! It’s not even clear how comparable they are to their more notorious counterparts.
It is worth noting, from my own training, research and reading, that psychopaths are not universally what we deem ‘crazy’. They do not necessarily hallucinate or believe things that we deem to be crazy-type things — though they do often lack empathy and tend to display cold sadism and highly manipulative, narcissistic and controlling behaviour… Although I could just have been describing many office managers and estate agents… Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Psychopaths can come across as empathetic if it suits their selfish ends and means and can seem genuine and concerned or on the surface appear highly social, charming, even charismatic — Did you ever watch the film ‘American Psycho’?
So anyway, this piece of research at Science Direct had one hundred university students completed a self-report measure of psychopathy that investigated four key areas — lack of empathy, grandiosity, impulsivity and delinquency. The top 33 per cent and bottom 33 per cent of scorers subsequently formed high and low psychopathy groups. The low and high psychopathy groups then completed the kinds of neuropsychological tests that have often been used on research with criminal psychopaths.
The high psychopathy students, as well as recording low empathy on the self-report test, also scored poorly on tasks that reflected the same kind of performance seen in criminal psychopaths. This gambling task, known as the Iowa task is thought to measure functioning in a specific frontal region of the brain called orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which is known to be involved in emotion and decision-making.
The high psychopathy students did actually show usual executive function and IQ, just as most criminal psychopaths do. The researchers said their findings show that criminal and non-criminal psychopaths share the same neuropsychological profile.
Is this something we should be worried about?
So what is it that makes criminal psychopaths get into trouble, while non-criminal psychopaths do not? The researchers speculated that “criminal psychopaths may be steered towards criminality by their backgrounds, in particular a lack of early parental supervision, deprivation and having a convicted parent.”
I knew it would come down to social circumstances, I feel safe again.
“An increased research focus as to the nature of psychopathy across non-criminal and criminal populations is important in that it may reveal factors protecting non-criminal psychopaths from becoming criminal psychopaths and hence reduce the emotional and financial havoc they can wreak” the researchers concluded.
The research examines the point that not all psychopaths are criminal. Phew! People can be psychopaths but not commit crimes although they can cause extensive emotional fallout in the lives of others. It does not mean you do actually have to now accuse anyone whoever caused you emotional upset of being a psychopath, ok?!
As we are seeing in the media, some psychopaths can find themselves in power and influntial positions and as such, may not have to follow the letter of the law as the rest us and so can openly display their psychopathic nature developing right in front of the eyes of the world… And then you get your knighthood stripped off you by the Queen, who obviously does not want psychotic peers of the realm!