Entries categorized "Understanding the Psychopath"

A Skeptic Gets Fleeced

A guy who literally wrote the book on gullibility lost a bunch of money by investing with Bernie Madoff.  Here is his story.

He lists a lot of reasons for why people are gullible.  He omits the most-important one: Ignorance of psychopathy and sociopathy.  Most people are still reeling, "How, Bernie, how?"  Indeed, the author of the book on gullibility has a Ph.D. in psychology, yet he writes:

So should one feel pity or blame towards those who were insufficiently skeptical about Madoff and his scheme? A problem here is that the lie perpetrated by Madoff was not all that obvious or easy to recognize (in fact, it is very likely that Madoff’s operation was legitimate initially but took the Ponzi route when he began to suffer losses that he was too proud to acknowledge).

No.  Bullshit. Madoff was a psychopath.  Look at him, even now.  He smiles before the camera.  He feels no remorse or grief.  He was going to give away the remaining $300,000,000 he had in his fund to his children! 

Just because a guy has a nice smile, good credit report, and a long line of references does not mean he won't slice your throat for his own amusement.  Often, it's people who seem too good who we should watch our backs around.

People have zits.  Show me someone who doesn't, and I'll know that Photoshopping has been done. 

Before trusting someone, I need to know: What is wrong with him?  If I can't point to anything, then I immediately avoid that person.  Or, when I must deal with that person, I use appropriate manipulative tactics (which I would never otherwise use on a good person).

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

We all work and live with other people.  But do we really understand other minds, other personalities, other people?  It seems not.

The people who trusted Bernie Madoff lost billions of dollars.  How could he have done such a thing, they ask themselves.  He was so charming.  Many have even rationalized Madoff's conduct.

Some are theorizing that Madoff didn't initially intend to cheat anyone.  Wall Street writer Henry Blodget speculates:

Our guess is that like that of many once-revered figures, Bernie did not set out to swindle anyone.  In the beginning, he probably produced the returns he said he produced.  Then, somewhere along the line, he probably had a bad month or two that he thought he could quickly offset with a strong one. So he fudged the results and then got back to even.

I suppose that's possible.  Or it could be that Madoff is a psychopath.  Strong word?  Not really.

People gasp when I refer to someone as a sociopath or psychopath.  "You can't be right, Mike.  So-and-so has never killed anyone."  That people associate sociopathy and psychopathy with criminal acts reveals the ignorance we have of abnormal psychology.  One need not kill, rape, or maim anyone to be a psychopath - indeed, most don't.  Instead, they make our lives miserable in more mundane ways.

In Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (Amazon.com link) the authors examine the psychopaths we encounter daily.  Not in prisons or courtrooms - but in the home and office.

Calling someone a psychopath refers to his mental state.  Some psychopaths will kill, though most won't.  Some will rob, though most won't.  Psychopaths tend to be more mundane, making your life miserable at work, stealing credit for your projects, cheating on you, taking away business opportunities.  Most psychopathics aren't criminals.  Rather, they walk the streets with you and me.

A psychopath lacks an emotional core.  They don't feel empathy, or remorse, or shame.  If they tortured you, they'd be repulsed at seeing blood stains on their clothing.  "How will I remove this spot," would be a greater concern than your screams.  A psychopathic co-worker would be gladly steal credit for you work. 

In Snakes in Suits, the authors give advice on how one can spot a psychopath.  Using narrative, they show a psychopathy in the office - from hiring to firing.  Their narrative is is illustrative and thus effective.

While educating the reader on how to spot a psychopathy, amazingly, the authors stress that one must never label another person a psychopath. But why? 

They gives no reason other than we lack qualifications to do so.  While I may not have a Ph.D., I read Snakes in Suits for practical advice?  I'll read Plato if I want something abstract.  Like most educated people, the authors have knowledge but lack wisdom.   

Failing to label someone a psychopath could ruin your life.  What's the worst that would happen if, in your own mind, you falsely labeled someone a psychopath?  You might miss out on a good friend?  I suppose that's a loss.  But how likely is that loss? 

The psychopath's chief tool is charm.  How many truly charming people do you know who are also good people?  Not many, I suspect.  Most philander, float from job to job - producing little but somehow making out like bandits.

Charm is usually not a virtue in itself, but is a cover. The most charming people I've known were also the worst people I've ever known.  If you're a good person, do you need to be charming?  Of course not.  Your goodness will show through in your actions.  Unlike a charming person, a genuinely good person builds a record of reliability and good deeds.

Most good, legitimate people have quirks, real quirks.  They can be charming at times, but they aren't Frank Sinatras.  Someone who is too charming is someone to avoid.

Wisdom would thus counsel one to not go around telling everyone you've spot a psychopath, but to liberally use the label for your own benefit.  Life is a probability game.  Falsely labeling someone a psychopathy will not harm you as much as failing to label someone a psychopathy. 

Despite the book's flaws, Snakes in Suits is higly recommended.  It's readable and enlightening.  People too often focus on abnormal psychology within the context of murderers and rapists.  Most of us won't be raped or murdered.  But we will nonetheless encounter psychpaths.  Snakes in Suits will help you see reality for what it is.  As the metaphoric title suggests, look deeper than the suit if you want to spot the snake.

How to Spot a Sociopath, Part 2

Here is an excellent checklist to use when wondering if someone is a sociopath:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self
    Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."
  • Pathological Lying
    Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
    A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions
    When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation
    Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
    Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
    Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
    Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
    Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
    Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial VersatilityChanges their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

The DSM-IV criteria are listed here.  It helpfully notes that you need to look for more than one feature in determining whether someone is a sociopath.  One-in-twenty-five people are sociopaths, so there are a lot of them out there. 

A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following: 

(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
(5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work; behavior or honor financial obligations;
(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.