Have you ever encountered criminal psychopath?
I say ‘criminal’ because, as I’ve pointed out before, not all psychopaths are criminals (and not all criminals are psychopaths). Psychopaths make excellent salespeople, for example, because of the pleasure they get in getting one over another. The criminal psychopath
breaks societies laws and values to attain goals
is isloated (i.e. law-breaking revolutionary groups are not psychopathic)
has a confusing array of effects on others
One of the most frightening examples I’ve seen is in the movie ‘Bundy‘ where the serial killer is driving along in his VW, sees something, swerves across the traffic to a motel where – in broad daylight – he loads two enormous pot-plants into his car and drives off without a care in the world.
Effect 1. Collusion
The criminal psychopath will do anything and everything to get what he wants and people often respond by complying. (I say ‘he’ because there are fewer female psychopaths than male.)
People collude through fear. The psychopath overtly threatens, or covertly hints, or his reputation precedes him. Whatever, the psychopath gets what he wants because people give it to him.
People also collude through despair. By this I don’t mean they despair because of the danger they’re in or because they’re breaking their own values. They despair because very deep down the psychopath despairs. He will not recognise his own despair, though – it would lead him to suicide – so he causes others to feel it. The psychological term for this is projective identification.
Example 1: “You’re the only person who can help me; there’s no other hope.” The other becomes convinced of this, goes against his or her own better judgement, and in a flash the psychopath is on his merry way.
Example 2. In his memoir ‘Experience‘ Martin Amis discusses the murder of his cousin Lucy Partington by the serial killer Frederick West. Along the way Amis mentions West’s “beseeching face.” No doubt it was this that lowered his victim’s resistance.
Effect 2. Disbelief
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, people often repsond to the psychopath by refusing to believe that he committed this or that outrage. This is because of the famed psychopathic charm.
Example: Many people cannot accept OJ Simpson’s guilt because he is such a nice guy.
Warning: beware foiling the nice psychopath. The niceness will be replaced by revenge, sooner or later.
Effect 3. Rejection
A third effect the criminal psychopath has on people is condemnation. Because the criminal psychopath is bad, it’s easy for us to attribute all badness to them and regard them as the dregs. What’s missing from this is the acknowledgement of our own badness.
Example: Carmela Soprano won’t condemn Tony because “there are far bigger crooks than my husband.” In other words: I’m a good person, he’s my husband, therefore he must be a good person – it’s the others who are bad. (This formula is flawed from the start – she is not a good person. Who is?)
The confounding thing about the criminal psychopath is that all three of the above effects will be produced by the same person. As a consequence, an unintended effect of the criminal psychopath is to destroy group functioning.
Effect 4. Acceptance-as-is
This, the psychoanalyst Nevile Symington says, is the correct position to take when treating a psychopath. It means acknowledging one’s own sadism, etc. without disbelieving the psychopath’s far greater sadism; it also means not colluding with or rejecting him.
A TV example: Harry Morgan, Dexter‘s adopted father and a former homicide detective, was first to spot Dexter’s passion for human vivisection and helped his son channel his homicidal impulses in a more constructive pursuit: delivering vigilante justice. (Fun but unlikely, don’t you think?)
One could accept the crimimanal psychopath as he is. Or one could just keep well away!