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The Psychopaths Among Us
Robert Hare
Extended Book Review

Marvelous rendition, very readable and accessible by any who might be interested. Hare is a world-class resource for what ails humanity. At once scientific and down to earth, he presents a readable account of a, perhaps “the”, primary danger in our times. The dangerous psychopaths are those who are socially smooth and ingratiating on the one hand, but who are devious exploiters and defilers on the other. The metaphor might well be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One never knows until s/he is stung and by then it is too late. The psychopath is in it only for him/herself. Nothing else matters. They populate all societies.

In good scientific practice, Hare pays attention to terminology. People who believe the total lack of conscience arises from genetics giving rise to psychological expressions that may be altered by nurturing naturally prefer the term psychopath. Those who reject any genetic component prefer the term sociopath. We use sociopath on this site more out of habit than design, for we too believe that there is at least some genetic component.

Hare and others have come to defining the Psychopathic Personality as having essentially no conscience that leads to behaviors of the following sort:

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • grandiose sense of self worth
  • need for stimulation/prone to boredom
  • pathological lying
  • conning/manipulative
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow emotional response
  • callous/lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • early behavioral problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
  • many short-term relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

Of course quite normal people exhibit some or even many of these behaviors. Making a clinical diagnosis of psychopathy requires special training in the PCL-R assessment, preferably by the Darkstone Research Group. It involves psychometrics prominently, but also requires some subjectivity in assessing the individual's personal history.

Nevertheless, we reproduce the above as a public service. If someone we know is a troublemaker and exhibits many of these behaviors, it may be time we sought a professional opinion. One place to begin is Hare's Home Page. Hare is the leading expert among many on this personality type.

Hare is most famous for developing analytical criteria that reliably identify the personality type. This book is a must read for those who want to know more about how that is done. A few salient features that caught our eye:

  • Regarding the public fascination with serial killers and the like, Hare quoted Ronald Markman:
    • ”There is something inside them that is also inside us and we are attracted to them so we can find out what that something is... We are all psychopaths under the skin.”
  • In reference to neurological responses, where psychopaths apparently do differ from the rest of us, Hare writes:
    • "They responded to emotional words as if they were neutral words." in the rest of us, hearing the words like murder and cancer evoke emotional responses–fast recognition–whereas words like kite or door evoke no special response and bring slow neural responses. If this finding is confirmed, it should be a means for early recognition of a psychopathic personality and thus provide guidance for early intervention techniques to prevent the awful mental, physical and economic tolls psychopaths visit on the rest of us.
    • Psychopaths usually communicate in distinctive ways, but not so different that ordinary folks would think much about it. But what they do is talk less connected ways than most people and may contradict themselves. When that is pointed out, their very glibness may set your mind at ease. Their ideas are couched in small packages without background; they are often disorganized.
    • Their language, while usually sounding nice, is actually devoid of emotional meaning.
    • Their thought processes look out for number one, first, last, and always. Others do not count unless they can be used in some way.
  • Prison populations contain high fractions of psychopaths. Since they can behave like model citizens and be convincing, parole boards typically give them early release even though they may have a long rap sheet. Since parole boards are usually political appointees who know nothing of criminology, much less psychopathy, it should come as no surprise when we read of a gruesome crime committed by someone recently released from prison. It is the system. Psychopaths tend to be compulsive in their behavior.

Hare goes into considerable detail about how to protect ourselves from psychopaths. Paraphrasing some of his advice:

  • Know what we are dealing with. This works best with guidance from a professional who is expert in psychopathology. Accurate diagnoses takes experience.
  • Recognize the “stage scenery" for what it is. The winning smile, captivating body language, dazzling looks, fast talk, mesmerizing, empathy-arousing approach, dramatic hand movements used so effectively to gain control over us--their next intended victim. Beware of the fixated stare some use to win our hearts or minds. These are all props, and phony as a three-dollar bill.
  • Keep our eyes wide open. Discard our blinkers of denial. Investigate the background of the other person before committing ourselves to action of any sort. If something appears to good to be true, it almost surely is. Ask questions. If the replies are vague, or the type we cannot check out, we must beware.
  • Take special care in high-risk situations. Impulsive behavior here could cost us our life savings, or worse, our lives. Dangers lurk in the very places we may go in search of pleasure or companionship.
  • We are our own worst enemies on this one. Most of us have a hang-up or two that make us vulnerable. Knowing ourselves is as important as knowing the other person. Psychopaths can be uncanny at reading our vulnerabilities. By comparison, we are too often babes in the woods by comparison. They think we are stupid to have feelings.
  • Keep everyone and every “deal” at arms length if you do not know them well well. The sociopath is depending on us to fall into an “enamor trap” of our own making as he laughs all the way to the bank or his/her next conquest.

When the psychopath is a member of our family, it is often doubly hard to come to grips with the reality of a relative. Psychopaths work everyone they can, any way they can. Family members are often the most vulnerable and suffer the greatest anguish and loss. In these situations, all too often our only solution is to cut our losses and bail out of whatever special entanglement they may have us in. That is never easy for those us who have empathy, even after long experiences of abuse or ill-use as the case may be.

In all cases Hare suggests we:

  • Obtain professional advice.
  • Not blame ourselves.
  • Be aware that many psychopaths play the victim role for all it is worth. This type plays our empathy, our humanity, against us.
  • Remember we are not alone. Others have had the same problem. Seeking them out and exchanging experiences can help us get through the hard period. Using support groups where and when the are available. This may not be easy for those of us who take pride in being able to handle our own lives. Nevertheless, they can help.
  • Be aware that the psychopath seeks power, they must be in charge in order to use us to their advantage.
  • Set firm but reasonable ground rules and enforce them vigilantly.
  • Not expect dramatic changes. They will not happen.
  • Cut our losses. As difficult as this may be, it is necessary. We may have to admit we were taken in. We may be dealing with a family member who otherwise would have our full support.

Keep the psychopath in mind as something to fix on the way to peace and justice for all human beings.

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