Ever found yourself in a relationship with someone who was extremely jealous or aggressive and made your life a living hell by being completely manipulative and lying compulsively and yet somehow you couldn’t find yourself leaving that person because they were at the same time so sweet and charming?
Did the thought ever cross your mind that you might be dating a psychopath? Well, maybe you actually were. Believe it or not, psychopaths aren’t just cold-blooded serial killers, like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. They are people who live among us. They can be a family member, friend or even someone we have dated.
In this article, we will examine what a psychopath is and how to detect signs of psychopathy in individuals. “Psychopath” literally means “sick mind” and “psychopathy” is a personality disorder where a person has blatant disregard for right and wrong. Although it would take a professional to properly diagnose someone as having psychopathic tendencies, here are some of the signs you can look out for:
● Pathological lying
● Extremely charming and persuasive
● Antisocial behaviour
● Lack of empathy and remorse for their actions
● Grandiose sense of self
Pathological lying: This means that the person lies compulsively and for the most inconsequential things. Ever asked yourself how someone could lie so convincingly? Well it’s precisely because the illness can reach a level where the person starts to believe their own lies.
Extremely charming and persuasive: The psychopath possesses superficial charm. They are extremely cunning and manipulative and are like this so that they get their way.
Antisocial behaviour: This, in simple terms, is blatant disregard for others. It involves lying and manipulation for the psychopath’s personal gain. To be able to lie, con and get away with it is what is exciting to them since they are usually controlled by their impulses and seek pleasure in engaging in risky behaviour.
Lack of remorse and empathy: Because the psychopath is egotistical and only cares about him/herself, they lack remorse and are usually callous. They are unable to “put themselves in another’s shoes” because, quite simply, it is of no importance to them.
Grandiose sense of self: The psychopath is usually narcissistic and extremely self-absorbed. They often suffer from delusions of grandeur and believe they are better than other people and require constant praise and admiration, even if this means self-praise about their successes and achievements.
So what makes a psychopath? Usually a combination of genetics and environment. For instance, the child of a diagnosed psychopath has an increased risk of psychopathic tendencies as a direct result of genetics. Research has shown that the brain activity for a psychopath is different from that of a normal person and that they have diminished volume in the amygdala, which is the region in the brain responsible for fear, empathy and emotional regulation.
There are also socio-environmental factors that could account for psychopathic behaviour, like experiencing childhood abuse, parental neglect and abandonment, and drug and alcohol abuse by parents. In sum, growing up in a dysfunctional home that is lacking in love, affection, respect for others and positive reinforcement for good behaviour could lead to a person developing psychopathic tendencies.
Sadly, there is no “cure” for this personality disorder. Because psychopaths are compulsive liars, it is extremely difficult to know whether they are telling the truth or not. Research has shown that although the psychopath’s brain doesn’t respond to fear and punishment in the same way as a normal person would, it does respond to reward. An experiment conducted among a population of inmates who displayed psychopathic tendencies showed that their overall behaviour improved when they were rewarded each time there was good behaviour.
If you know of someone who you think may be exhibiting psychopathic tendencies then seeking help will have to be a joint effort of family, close friends and mental health professionals working as a team to first get the person to recognise they have a problem and, second, to find ways of coping. No mental illness is “untreatable” and one way to start is by remembering to praise the positive behaviour the person displays as opposed to constantly reminding them of the bad that they do.
Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation’s Psychiatric Department and also sees patients privately. You can send questions, comments or schedule a private consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org