This will be my first post on how to determine if someone is a psychopath. Please keep in mind that there are therapists, psychologists, PhD's who have dedicated many years to studying psychopathy and still have trouble, when it comes down to it, "diagnosing" a psychopath. In fact, many of these professionals admit that some psychopaths are such skilled and practiced manipulators that they can "trick" their therapist. In John Seabrook's fascinating article about psychopathy, he writes, "several studies suggested that talk therapy made the condition worse, by enabling psychopaths to practice the art of manipulation."
I do not use the term "psychopath" lightly. This is not a term I throw out for all cheating men and women. If that were the case then, according to some studies, about 70% of people would be psychopaths. That is not true, thankfully. It is more like 1 in 25, or .04% of the population.
I spent about a year reading everything I could find on psychopathy. If you're reading this blog, you are probably aware that a very small percentage of psychopaths are actually murderers, or even behind bars. The word "psychopath" is visceral and jarring but what it actually means is an individual who has no conscience and no empathy. There are other traits on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), but, in my opinion, those two are the most significant. I'll add a third that is not on the checklist but that I've found to be a very good indication of "diagnosing" a psychopath: if he "gets off" on hurting/conning/cheating others; that is to say, he is energized by inflicting pain. And by "hurting" and "pain" I do not mean in a physical sense (though some psychopaths are violent, the majority hurt their victims in a much more subtle way).
The problem is, it's difficult to determine if the psychopath is a psychopath because a true psychopath is an extremely good actor. So how can you tell if he's "getting off" on the pain he's causing? If his actions are repeatedly in direct conflict with his words. If he consistently appeals to your empathy and guilt in order to win forgiveness, portraying himself as a victim, and then continues to behave badly. The technical term for this is the "pity play," and Martha Stout, author of "The Sociopath Next Door," says that it's her number 1 trait that she uses in diagnosing a sociopath. Dr. Stout writes, “If…you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath.” (By the way, I will dedicate a post to the "difference" between "sociopath" and "psychopath.")
Ok that's enough to mull over for now. We'll dive into some of the other "red flags" in my next post about determining whether someone is a psychopath.