Predators Among Us: The Psychopaths

As hard as it is to fathom or accept, there are some among us seriously lacking in the qualities that make us the most human, especially empathy and conscience.  And as a result of the aforementioned and a variety of other reasons, these individuals also tend to prey upon others without compunction or remorse.  In fact, their lives are characterized by the repeated senseless and callous use and abuse of others. Over the years we’ve come up with almost as many labels for these disturbing personalities as we have unsatisfying explanations for their puzzling behavior.   They are the predators among us, and the only known intra-species predators at that.  These days, they’re most commonly referred to as psychopaths.

What exactly is a psychopath? Is a psychopath the same as a sociopath or persons with an antisocial personality disorder? Are psychopaths crazy? Are psychopaths born the way they are? Are psychopaths more common than we once thought? And how do you know if someone is a psychopath?  Hopefully, this article will help answer these common questions.

Cleckley coined the term psychopathy in his landmark 1941 book, The Mask of Sanity.  And because some of their most unique and troubling attributes:  unnecessary, pathological lying, superficial charm, and a chilling capacity for heartlessly victimizing others, etc. seemed so irrational to him and his colleagues, it was natural for them to think of psychopathy as a form of mental derangement or insanity.  But psychopaths typically don’t suffer from genuine delusions or abnormalities of normal thought process like persons in the throes of “psychosis” do.  As different as they are from most normal folks, they’re definitely not crazy (although many folks confuse the terms “psychotic” and “psychopath”).

Shortly after Cleckley’s work, the term psychopathy fell into disfavor among professionals and many preferred the label “sociopathic” to describe social predators.  That’s because the core pathology of these folks began to be seen more as a severe type of social dysfunction as opposed to a derangement of mind.  And sociopathy was viewed by most as the most extreme form of antisocial (i.e. “against society”) personality disorder, a personality dysfunction most commonly associated with social parasitism and frequent law-breaking.

I’m among several who’ve always found considerable fault with the various official classification schemes we’ve had for some of our most dysfunctional personalities.  And there’s ample data supporting the inadequacy of even our most recent formulations.  Not all antisocial personalities are criminals, and not all  persons who have committed criminal acts are antisocial personalities.  Similarly, only small portion of criminals are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are habitual criminals.  What’s more, many psychopaths don’t even lead the socially parasitic lifestyles of most antisocial personalities.  That’s why I developed a scheme for classifying the various “aggressive” personality types, a scheme I discuss in depth in my book Character Disturbance.  And at the head of the class are the psychopaths: predatory aggressors who often prey on others merely for the pure pleasure of it.  And while they may have other troublesome personality characteristics as well, the key feature of these most severely disturbed of all characters is their uniquely malignant narcissism.  These folks are simply not like most of us and they know it and are proud of it.  They feel pathologically superior to the rest of the human race.  Most of us possess the “defects” of scruples, occasional apprehension, and the ability to care.  And they see these qualities as necessarily making us inherently weaker and inferior.  That’s why they feel entitled to prey on us.   They have no more compunction about toying with and victimizing those they view as lower than them as a normal person has stepping on or death-spraying an ant that has invaded the kitchen.

Probably the preeminent researcher in the area of psychopathy, Robert Hare, suggests that psychopaths’ impaired capacity for empathy is the reason they lack the conscience that might otherwise keep them from so callously victimizing others.  And there’s been some interesting research findings suggesting biologically-based brain anomalies for the kind of emotional “disconnect” and lack of empathy common in psychopaths.  But I and others have long observed that some psychopaths actually do have at least the capacity for empathy but also have a chillingly unique capacity for “compartmentalizing” or mentally walling-off all feeling when they need to for the purpose of victimization.

Many books that gained popularity in recent years have suggested there’s a psychopath lurking around every corner.  But genuine psychopathy is a relatively rare condition. And while it’s true that because of their capacity to make favorable impressions some psychopaths go undetected or rise to great heights in corporations or even in public office, (this is the premise of sayings such as “snakes in suits” or “sociopaths next door” – some of which became book titles), only a handful of the despicable characters out there are true psychopaths.  That’s why I’ve always suggested how important it is to view character disturbance along a continuum.  

 Just like we’re now learning about autistic disorders, disturbances of character vary in type and intensity.  And long before it became fashionable to view certain personalities as “almost a psychopath,” I proposed that there was one type of personality (the covert-aggressive) who had all of the manipulative characteristics of a psychopath but couldn’t quite rise to the level of character pathology to be classified a genuine conscienceless predator.

Authors like Gavin DeBecker have suggested that most of us have a sort of built-in radar for the predators among us.  Psychopaths are supposed to make the hair on the back of our neck stand on end.  And according to some, we get victimized only when we don’t pay close enough attention to nature’s built-in warning signals.  But I have long noted that although we do in fact inadvertently allow our victimization by all sorts of disturbed characters by not having sufficient confidence in our intuition, some predators have the skill to seduce and charm us without setting off our internal radar.  It’s simply not our fault.  They’re just that good at the art of impression management.

The writers and producers of the popular TV drama Dexter put a lot of what we know about psychopaths into the main character.  But they also couldn’t help reinforcing old notions about the kinds of early emotional trauma thought to be at the root of the condition.  This is unfortunate because so many of our most notorious modern day psychopaths came from truly wonderful backgrounds, but knowing our commonly held beliefs sometimes succeeded in getting us to suspend rational judgment when they offered their “abuse excuse.”  There’s also a misconception that because some research is pointing to biological abnormalities that psychopathy must be a strictly genetic or inborn condition (and disturbingly, some lawyers defending psychopaths have even offered the “bad brain excuse” as a way of exculpating their clients).  But the fact is that we’re just in the infancy stage of learning about the nature and origins of this condition.  Biological influences indeed seem to play a role (most evidence coming from brain imaging studies that show differential activity between psychopaths and normals in regions of the brain known to integrate thought with emotion).  But exactly how the character of these predators develops and how brain functioning differs in psychopaths are still largely mysteries.

I for one will be more than happy to abandon the classification scheme I use for defining and understanding the most impaired characters among us, including psychopaths, if a truly better one comes along.  After all, my perspective is based on clinical experience and rational thought, not on purely empirical data and experiment.  But for now, I find it more helpful in understanding how psychopaths fit within the context of character disturbance in general.  As I point out in Character Disturbance, the most problematic characters among us are those who think too much of themselves to care about us (the narcissists – who, by the way, do exist and inflict untold damage upon relationships no matter what the upcoming new official diagnostic manual says) and those who pit themselves against the rest of us (the aggressive personalities) and are determined to dominate us.  Some are indiscriminate in their antisocial conduct (the unbridled aggressive), some generally restrict their misbehavior but are no less dangerous (the channeled-aggressive), some take special pleasure in hurting us (the sadists) and some, like the sub-psychopathic characters I describe in In Sheep’s Clothing, like to manipulate us (covert-aggressives).  But while psychopaths can have all these other traits, too (and, of course, they’re the penultimate manipulators), their cardinal quality is their disdain for most of us and their deeply felt entitlement to prey upon us.  I might have said that they love to prey on “their own kind,” but as hard as it is for some to accept, these folks are distinctly different from what most of us believe makes us human.

There’s a lot more to say on this topic than I can possibly say in one article.  For more information on psychopathy and closely related subjects, you might want to check out some of my other articles, including:

Is Psychopathy Genetic?

Psychopathy 101,

Dexter and the Truth about Psychopaths

Budding Psychopaths or Immature Characters?

Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy

When Evil Wears a Feminine Face

Psychopathy: Is It Really Everywhere?

Character Spectrum Disorders

Will Psychopaths Now Use the Bad Brain Excuse

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46 thoughts on “Predators Among Us: The Psychopaths

  1. Dr Simon, I have a question. Is there any evidence for spaths to be self-injurious? The man I am thinking of bit his nails down to bloody stumps.

    1. Not typically in pure sociopaths. That said, it’s rare that personality types are so neatly and narrowly defined. Sometimes borderline personalities have antisocial, psychopathic, or sociopathic traits that dominate their marginally organized personalities, and such self-injurious and anxious behavior is common to them.

    2. Perhaps some psychopaths aren’t only lacking in inhibitions when it comes to preying on and abusing other people. Perhaps some predators actually indeed do border on truly crazy and don’t mind harming themselves if they think it serves them and not necessarily to manipulate sympathies to themselves and antipathies to their targets, but also it gives them an extraordinary sick thrill, another proof of their “superiority”, another kind of intimidation and fright factor and another terrorizing tactic along the lines of “Look what I don’t mind suffering myself, you fragile excuse for a being”.

    3. I personally think that a lot of theses spaths are insane. Not insane in the typical use of the word though..
      If you look at some really sick behaviors, for instance pedophilia, someone has to be considered
      ” insane ” to not only have that desire but to risk getting caught. My understanding of this twisted interest is that it is EXTREMELY difficult to cure and that the recidivism rate is very very high. Now that these things are available in abundance on the Internet and video, who knows how many of these predators just go “underground” with their interest and don’t commit actual attacks. Retreat to the closet.
      From my perspective, a person must be insane to commit these types of crimes, operating from an insane compulsion rather than a sane mind.
      Ok, nit-picky Dr. Simon……go ahead! LOL! 🙂

      1. Having a 17 year history working with such folks, I have lots to say and stories to tell, but I really must save it for a separate post. Way too much to say to delve into it right now. But to whet your appetites: not all child molesters are pedophiles, not all child molesters or pedophiles are psychopaths, and not all are predators either. And there’s a HUGE difference between someone who’s born with an unusual pattern of attraction that they can’t control and someone who’s willing to stalk, rape, or even murder a child. Believe it or not, there are even pedophiles who never offend (persons with an abnormal sexual interest who never act on it). Anyway, I’ll do a post on it sometime or maybe even a series. Some of the very best manipulative scenarios I have on file are from interviews with these types. They could be illuminating.

        1. OK…..Wow…..Dr. Simon, that was a mouth full and a half and I think it tipped my brain scales..I can’t even begin to understand how someone who molests a child is not a pedophile and on and on…..through your post. I think what maybe part of MY confusion is that I may be overgeneralizing the terms! And that Im not as knowledgeable on any of the terms as you are. So….I apologize if Im overstepping my bounds by using terms i may be misusing! That kind of had a word salad ring to it…..;)

        2. This is really intriguing and I look forward to more. This careful, experience-based differentiating what many people lump together is incredibly useful. Probably above all to those who have been in the orbit (or abused by) the people you are describing.

          But…because you’ve not so much whetted my appetite (the topic is a bit too distressing) as piqued my curiosity – are we to guess from what you say that ‘child molesters who are not pedophiles’ = those who enact violence without the motive being sexual attraction per se? — in other words, as is often said, rape (of adults) is not about mere sexual attraction so too those who attack the small and vulnerable are not necessarily ‘sexually aroused by them’. And then the other way around? – some sexually attracted to children are not aggressive or violent enough to assault them; just as a man attracted to a woman who does not reciprocate will not inevitably rape her?
          (Just guessing!)

  2. Since psychopaths and other disturbed characters can rewrite personal narratives, lie, deceive, stretch the truth, omit, redefine the past, speak without caring about whether they are telling the truth or lying and act without caring for consequences(except perhaps for themselves and sometimes not even that), I’d say these kinds of folks are defined, more than other people, by the core philosophy of self-convenience.

  3. “It’s biological and one of the most inherited human characteristics,” said Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chair of psychiatry and director of the Family Center for Bipolar Disorder at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.” From an article on abcnews about the movie, “We need to talk about Kevin.” (He’s referring to psychopathy.)

    A few things to think about. If THIS doctor knows about the inheritability of psychopathy, that means others know as well. Are we able to do a simple genetic test to screen for this? And if we can, why isn’t this being offered? When I contacted a genetic testing company that does simple spit tests to check a person’s DNA, they told me that some of the “psychological” tests they screen for are bipolar, Tourette’s etc. This company said that these things were actually biological. Why don’t more people know about this? Also, I believe the study done by Dr. Joanne Intrator using Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT) at the Bronx VA Hospital checking for differences in how psychopaths process words differently than non-psychopaths, was conducted all the way back in 1991. That’s two decades where we could have been perfecting this testing and at the VERY least, getting the word out about psychopathy. Because the medical and psychological community has been lackadaisical about this, millions of us non-psychopaths have become involved with and given birth to, millions of more psychopaths.
    You said that in your 17 years of counseling, you’d rarely seen a true psychopath. As you know Dr. Simon, psychopaths rarely go to seek help and usually only go when forced to by court order or as a couple when the relationship is in trouble. And psychopaths are notorious for manipulating the counselor. The non-psychopath partner is now putting his or her trust in the professional’s hands and after reading many websites about abuse from the victim’s point of view, the non-psychopath is now somehow included in the blame or responsibility for the psychopath, even though we were NEVER given psychopathy as an option for what’s wrong. Why is the non-psychopath blamed? Because it’s much easier to dump the blame on the head of a person who CAN internalize things. We non-psychopaths are trained up from birth, to examine ourselves FIRST to ensure we don’t inadvertently blame someone else. All this has done is to keep non-psychopaths spinning us in circles while the psychopaths keep abusing us and we now have no way to defend ourselves as psychology has taken away our defenses and replaced them with solutions that “should” work, but have no effect on psychopaths. We as a society are reaping the results of these lies and fallacies that we’ve been forced to swallow and adhere to and the outcome is that we have SEEMINGLY CHOSEN to give birth to and get into relationships with, psychopaths. (Even though we didn’t even KNOW this was a possibility.) It’s that manipulative tool psychopaths use called lying by omission. We were TOLD that we made all our own choices when in fact we weren’t presented with all the information. The blank slate theory was shoved down our throats and we were trained that if we just loved enough and gave enough of ourselves, we could fix any problem. But all this did was wear out those of us who could have had meaningful lives shared with partners who could return our love (not simply milk us for our hearts and then discard us).

    I’ve read you your books and was very disappointed with the most recent one. I had hoped for more TRUTH from you. You said the title of one of your books came from a Bible verse. Well here’s another verse that you should think about. Ezekiel 33:6 “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”

    You and Dr. Hare and the other professionals who know the truth about psychopathy have a very unique opportunity to bless many people who could be helped and saved from the evil of psychopathy. And these people are actually ABLE to feel grateful (unlike a psychopath) for the information you possess. But you all seem to be more interested in dancing around the truth about the prevalence and inheritably of psychopathy by coming up with different names for it and saying that they are different from each other. Prove it. All of you professionals. START by testing for psychopathy and then go from there. I truly believe the numbers would be astounding and it may just prevent the world from becoming what is written in 2 Tim 3:1-5. But either way, you will be held accountable for whatever way you choose to play this, and this means responsible before the Lord.

    1. If you search only a little on the web, you’ll find more than two dozen articles I’ve written for several prominent blogs and forums on just the very issues you raise (this is especially true with respect to “tests” for psychopathy as well as the true state-of-the-art when it comes to the neuroscience and other biological contributors to the condition). And if, after reading them you still think I need to be “held accountable” for not putting the whole truth as we presently understand it out there, I’d welcome your comments and would be happy to respond. In the meantime, I would humbly suggest you’re not yet familiar enough either with the work I’ve already done to educate on this topic or the reasons why circumstances have prevented me from doing more to adequately judge the situation. Also, much of the so-called science out there on the topic is riddled with flaws and politically-driven bias. So in truth, our hard knowledge of the topic is in its infancy.

      All this said, I appreciate your comments and know full well that I, like you, will ultimately be held to account for my decisions and actions. That awareness is what drives the care I take in saying what I have on the topic.

    2. IMHO personalities are inherited “to the same degree” that one’s height, build, hair color & texture, eye color, musical & artistic ability, IQ etc. etc. are inherited . . i.e. for all practical purposes 100%. There’s always A disclaimer…people saying. . . “it’s a combination”. I’m sick of it! It is no more a combnation than height, musical & artistic ability, hair color, IQ etc. The science (Minn. twins studies) has proven that personality (aggressiveness, shyness, meekness, psychopathy etc) is inherited. I have also witnessed it. I’m really tired of people cowering to be PC. Enough… own up!

  4. This article highlights many of the things that were so empowering for me when I first came across your work. Before then I was labouring a bit under ‘socialised psychopath’, the best label I could identify — and labouring even more to get people to recognise the key differences between X and the rest of us so that they would realise we couldn’t handle him in the usual ways. ‘Psychopath’ is just too extreme and scary to be credible for others who haven’t seen what the character-disturbed can do when he temporarily abandons impression management. And then you just look hysterical for using the word for such a basically-normal guy.

    Also, the prevalence of CDs is so much greater than even I could believe of psychopathy. Was I just … very unlucky … that I had run into several in the space of a few years?

    So not only the full descriptions and advice, but even the acknowledgment that there is a spectrum, and that this is quite prevalent at the milder ends, is a huge benefit that you have given the rest of us.

  5. Plus. . . We can all agree that personalities in dogs are inherited. They’re even bred to be aggressive, docile, herders, etc. We are animals!

    1. Sarah, you simply overstate the findings from twin studies. There’s no PC here. When I first started in my work, what I was saying was regarded as heresy, yet I persisted. The only thing 100% here is my commitment to accuracy. In my book Character Disturbance, I discuss the fact that the relative contribution or “weight” from strictly biologically-based predispositions and acquired traits through learning varies, with some personality traits being pretty well set since the beginning. And we also know that the biological basis for traits in humans is more than just genetics. Talk about PC, the prevailing wisdom is that sexual orientation is no longer regarded as learned but rather set from birth even though no firm genetic marker or code has been found (some genetic markers have been found for certain influences, but no clear defining orientation “gene”).

  6. As an example…People would agree that hair color/texture is 100% inherited. But many children don’t have the hair color or texture of their parents or even grandparents. We don’t then say hair color & texture is a combination of genes and environment. Inherited doesn’t mean it’s like your ancestors. It just means it was predetermined by you genes. But when a personality, though is different from parents . . We are quick to jump to the conclusion that it must be a “combination” of genes & environment. IMHO this has been disproven by the studies of identical twins separated at birth.

    1. Once again, however, Sarah, you overstate the findings. We know that hair and eye color are mostly inherited. And it’s not only genes at play, but a combination of other factors. And there are anomalies, too, like instances of individuals from certain races where melanin is missing from just the eyes (so they have blue eyes) when all the genetic markers and all the familial history says the eyes should be brown.

      Now with respect to personality traits, I’m a believer that some tendencies, especially aggressive predispositions, impulse control deficiencies, low frustration tolerance, etc. have strong heritable contribution factors. And of course, we now know that the brains of psychopaths don’t work like most brains, and even that the “wiring” is different. But we still can’t conclude that it’s a from birth wiring defect. CT scans of people who suffer from true OCD show certain “wiring” abnormalities and brain dysfunctions, too. And we know there’s a heritable component there, too. But studies also show that with upon successful treatment (either medical or CBT) the functioning and even the “wiring” appears to change!

      All this is to say, that it’s right to dispel the old myth that parents or rearing or environment is responsible for shaping everyone’s personality, and I’ve been preaching that my whole professional life. But it’s still an overstretch to say that all personality is 100% inherited. Still, you’re entitled to your own humble opinion. Just not, as they say, your own facts.

      1. IMHO our physical and psychological attributes are determined by our genes (wiring etc) that we are born with, and barring EXTREME environmental effects (I.e., famine, wars), the environmental influence on our physical & psychological characteristics is INSIGNIFICANT.

      2. Hello,

        I found this page after googling ‘sociopaths blue eyes’ because I was recently seduced and manipulated by a sociopath. It was great to hear that I am not stupid because he really was a great manipulator. And he did have alarmingly creepily blue eyes, an oddly white complexion, and a strangely attractive personality.

        Could you elaborate about the lack of melanin—I couldn’t tell by your ( ) whether or not you believe this to be true.

        Also, I think it is interesting that the ‘vampires’ of our stories have pale white skin and icy blue eyes. Coincidence?….maybe not.

        Please respond in an email, if possible bc I won’t be checking the comment section of this page.

        Blessings,
        Vanessa

          1. And I think I just got taken by another one Dr. Simon…….This time in a business/ home improvement situation. 🙁 AND I’ve said it before HERE! that even though you have been targeted in the past, it’s not a guarantee you will not get targeted again in a different way. I don’t think it helps that I’m not fully recovered from the Spathtard incident and logically it should make me even more cautious but I think I was even more vulnerable because I was worn down and so off kilter from Spathtard. This time I stand to loose money and not a small amount either. Of course I feel (and see now) that I was really not prudent in my choice in hiring this guy.

          2. and he is sooooooo charming and the issues I had with him are MY issues with him, not other peoples. How he treated me in this job situation may not be how he treats others in a different situation. I think this may get really ugly and I’m afraid his co-workers may also be involved or semi involved…..flying monkeys.

  7. Also, as long as we can include environment into the reason for character disorders, we feel we have some level of CONTROL because we have someone/something to blame. Of course I agree that EXTREME environmental conditions (like famine) would impact on your height, build,hair etc. An analogous example for personalities could be living through war, being in a concentration camp etc.
    EXTREME environments have an effect on our physical & emotional health. I venture to say the psychopaths/narcissists (character disordered) we usually refer to in the United States were not exposed to these EXTREME environments…famines,concentration camps etc.

    1. Now, you’re getting closer, Sarah. And you’re right about the “comfort level” associated with blaming the environment, because then our notions about the basic decency of humankind and our amenability to change and growth is not challenged. But it’s still more than just only EXTREME environments playing a role. As I say in the book, there’s a “DYNAMIC” interplay between innate traits and environment that goes on all through the formative years. For example, shyness is a hugely biologically-endowed trait. And if a shy person just happens to be born into a family where the parents and siblings are the every-person-for yourself and unsupportive types, they’re not likely to move much past wall flower personality development, whereas if they had a supportive, encouraging environment, things are likely to be quite different. Perhaps you might consider resting with your very valid point that for too long we’ve over-weighted environmental factors for lots of political and other (mostly psychological and sometimes even religious) reasons.

      1. It is now generally agreed that psychopaths don’t (or can’t) change. (i.e., they can’t grow a conscience). Is it ONLY the psychopathic personality that is NOT effected by environment? NO!
        IMHO personality (disorders) don’t change because they are inherited (genes, wiring, chemistry etc) They may learn to manage their aggression (or disorders) more effectively when they are “under the gun”, but they are acting (lying). Their true disorders manifest as soon as they can get away with it.

        1. Were part of your premise correct, Sarah, your conclusion would be perfect. But still, as much as there are kernels of truth in what you say, you overstate several things. By definition, personality patterns are “stable, ingrained, and not easily modifiable.” And when a personality like a psychopath lacks the capacity for conscience, of course it’s not possible to “grow one.” Also, by definition, personality patterns become “disorders” when they markedly interfere with adaptive functioning and display more than the usual resistance to change. Nonetheless, not all folks with disturbed or disordered personalities merely lie or fake change. Many do, but not all. And we must always be wary. And unfortunately far too many victims in relationships have endured misery for far too long waiting for hoped changes that never come. Still, however, I have to challenge your extreme stance here (they can’t ever change because it’s strictly due to their inherited wiring. chemistry, etc.) because although it seems rational, and has some degree of empirical support, is simply inaccurate.

          I don’t think I’ll weigh in on this again. I think the readers know your convictions here. And I think they’ve heard enough of my read on the data. Perhaps I’ll write about it sometime and the whole debate can start again! LOL I have mounds of info not just from the 28 plus years I’ve spent in the realm of personality theory, assessment, and treatment, but also from my mentors, several of whom are the true giants in the field.

          1. I understand your caution in determining Pd’s.
            As yet another lay person, I have researched psychopathy for a few years. I doubt I have met a true psychpath yet. In the IT world, one does meet a few snakes.
            Like James, my interest is neuroscience. Learning that psychopathy can be inherited, made me examine my own family. Most of the extended family are sensitive, most are night owls, most like technology past the superficial. Like Sarah, I tend to believe DNA is a large factor. One family member thought environment was king but after his 2 adopted infants grew, their parents knew environment is not the real marker…. although a good enriching environment does have an interesting role.
            The big picture is important to me. I have a renewed respect for being empathetic and feeling fear. Understanding more about the brain, amydala, even the size of the amydalas, sense of smell tells me what side of the fence I am.
            I believe psychopaths are highly costly to world societies. They must be identified.
            A good example is the young lady in BC who is being watched due to killing the family pets. She was adopted, very bright and was taking criminology to learn how to get away with murder.

          2. Thanks for your comments, Dianne. BTW, I’m not at all against the notion of biological predispositions to personality formation. In fact, I’m one of the first to subscribe to it. But I take issue with the premature assumptions and interpretations made of the data we’re getting. Yes, amygdalas appear to be smaller in this population. But the brain is one of the most “plastic” organs ever designed by nature, and ALL of its structures are subject to environmental influences in their formation. There was even a case unearthed recently of a woman born without a cerebellum whose posterior cortex portions of the brain uniquely structured themselves throughout her development, and coupled with her determination to be involved in sports created for her a sort of substitute cerebellum. So, while the research solidly points to biological contributions to the disorder (and there are several studies that show other brain abnormalities) to conclude that those abnormalities are strictly genetically determined or present in their unique form right from birth is very premature at best. Still, it would not surprise me to find a heavy biologically-based predisposition to this disorder, and to all the “aggressive” personality patterns.

  8. I say personality characteristics are inherited “to the same degree” as physical characteristics. Physical characteristics (height, hair color & texture etc) are 100% inherited..although they may not be like either parent. it just means it was predetermined by genetics. The same is true IMHO of personality characteristics.

  9. Also with better nutrition, your hair might be more lustrous, you might be an inch taller & visa versa… These environmental effects are not significant…They won’t make a genetically short person tall or a person with straight thin hair have thick curly.

  10. The twins studies have shown that personality wise, the identical twins separated at birth were more like each other and their family of origin, rather than like the family that brought them up.

  11. Some known psychopathic serial killers, eg, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Btk killer etc. we’re known to have normal childhoods. But their “normal” environment did not reduce their killing impulses. I would venture to say that the effect of their normal environmental was to teach them to hide their killer impulses, and made them better killers/psychopaths. This is a combination of genes and environment that’s not considered.

    1. There’s some evidence that when we expose psychopaths to treatment programs designed to help “neurotics,” they learn way too much about neurotic sensitivities, thus making them even better predators.

  12. One might assume that a psychopath raised in a normal home would be deterred, when, if anything, the normal home might produce a more effective psychopath.

  13. Dr. Simon, a slightly off-topic question for you. In your books there are vignettes, and in a couple of them, you refer to “worksheets”. In this context, “I asked you to look at the worksheets I gave you.. please work on them and we’ll discuss them at our next visit..” I don’t have the phrasing exact but that’s close enough. I imagine that you are referring to worksheets that contain CBT exercises. Where did you get them? Are they the standard worksheets one can find on the internet, or did you create your own? I would be so interested to see what you use. Is that possible? I understand fully that they are not a tool to be used without the proper relationship with a CBT trained therapist. I’m just curious! Thank you!

    1. The worksheets I reference are creations that I devised over a 20 year period and periodically updated and refined. They were initially based on some primitive worksheets devised by Dr. Stanton Samenow and then expanded and refined considerably, based on my experience working with disturbed characters. I have two versions, one for the disturbed character, and one for those trying to understand and deal more effectively with the disturbed character.

  14. “It’s nature, not nurture: personality lies in genes, twins study shows. Nature rather than nurture is responsible for creating your personality, according to a study of twins which found that character is something you are born with.” It’s at:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9267147/Its-nature-not-nurture-personality-lies-in-genes-twins-study-shows.html

    I said for “all practical purposes” character is 100% inherited”, & “environmental influences are insignificant”.
    It’s true for dogs . . It’s true for us.
    By inherited, I mean genes, wiring, chemistry, mutation etc that you are born with.

    1. I hope many will read the actual study in the personality journal and respect it’s conclusions and caveats. It only affirms what I’ve been saying. While nature plays a much bigger role in the endowment of certain personality traits than traditional theories postulated (something I and others have long argued), it’s not correct to say that we’re simply born with our character or that biology purely determines our personality. And the many other traits affecting personality formation that have strong biological bases are outlined in Character Disturbance in the chapter on personality development.

      1. Excellent article! Now here are factors that these studies have not taken into account:

        (1) Look-alikes who are not related. For example, do celebrity-lookalikes have similar personalities, pointing toward being GENE-related (even if not OFFICIALLY related? By that, I mean those who practically look like peas-in-a-pod, albeit not officially related.

        (2) the quantum spooky-action-at-a-distance phenomenon, which could explain what causes MZ twins to wind up marrying similar-named people, build similar things simultaneously, and so forth.

        (3) the astrological factor of being born in the same place at same time

        (4) ABOVE ALL, AND WHAT RELATES TO YOUR ARTICLE: I’m convinced that to a great degree, what causes many of the MZ twins to do the same actions at same time, even when they’re apart, is NON-AWARENESS. I challenge researchers to find sets of MZ twins who are in a state of HIGH-AWARENESS most of the time, and see if they do the same stuff at the same time. I propose that “awareness” can allow MZ twins to rise above the “autopilot” built into them, whether by dint of astrology, or whether by dint of quantum theory, or whether by dint of genetic-wiring.

        1. P.S. Just wanted to add an apology, since upon re-examining my post, it may not have been entirely accurate. i.e. the studies may indeed have taken some of those factors into account.

          I might say I’m a “survivor” or have PTSD. However, neither is accurate, since I’m a “non-survivor” and it’s OTSD (ongoing traumatic stress disorder) since I’m a mid-aged spinster by now, and nothing was ever resolved.

          To give concrete current examples:

          My very-aged dad has been from apt. to hospital, to nursing home, back to apt., back to hospital, and back to nursing home, all within the space of the past few months. To add to that, I live in a very difficult societal environment, and basically have fanatic older siblings and siblings-in-law, three of whom are quite NPD in their respective ways, and also a BIL with a severe tyrannical streak, who barely ever cracks a smile.

          They’d hired two aides over the past several years, who each work approx. 12 hours. One of them has a similar personality as my BIL. However, she keeps herself “meek” and “tamped-down”, as long as aforesaid sibs don’t butt in and rock the boat. I try to be with my dad when my sib’s are not there, but it’s not always possible to know, due to their uncaring lack of communication.

          Very often, they don’t know how to handle my dad’s case, whereas I’m the one who’s practically a dead wringer of him and his physical tendencies, thus I realize experientially (via lifelong chronic conditions) what can help.

          But I’m continuously condescended to by said siblings, and that carries over to the aides, who in turn have become increasingly disrespectful of me, despite my having offered them countless tips in the past, aside from having been pals. Or so I thought. Basically I’ve learned a lesson in TurnCoat-101.

          The problem, is that my NPD brother (the only son) had been assigned the role of primary caregiver. Throughout my life he had subtly tormented me and exploited me, with me (as youngest) having being his sounding-board, seamstress, you name it, while in turn, he often acted either “warmly” conversational or like a moody iceberg, at whim. He also happens to be extremely gifted musically, and sorta fits the bill of “Musical Temperament, by Kemp” – browsable on Amazon.

          Now back to my dad’s current situation. My speed-talking, shallow-thinking sibs & BILs often confer with each other (leaving me out).

          They undermine me in front of the aide’s who themselves aren’t intelligent enough to respect my knowledge, nor remember my countless past kindnesses, especially as they know full well who runs the show. Last week, the bolder one of them was presumptuous enough to tell me “keep your feuds to yourself and your family. You confuse us…” when all I did was try to finish feeding my dad some direly-needed yogurt & so forth, prior to my tyrannical BIL arriving on the scene with his perpetual frown, and ordering that he be given Ensure – which has 9% sodium. All I did was say generally “no not Ensure” – because I needed to give him the yogurt first. That was actually toward my BIL, not her. Whereupon she went behind the curtain, and made fists at me, in a major tirade about confusing her and the other aide.

          Had my BIL not barged in (as he always manages to do with precision negative-timing) everything would have proceeded peacefully.

          I also have a sister (the wife of aforesaid) who actually all of us agree is poison. For example, when the aide was telling my agitated father “Mr.xxx, I need to tie this [catheter bandage] so that you won’t pull it off” (stupid of her to say that), I apprehensively cautioned her “Not too tight” whereupon my poison sister aggressively said “JaneDoe knows herself not to tie it tight, she’s not a child!” Well… that upped the notch of undermining me and building resentment toward me in the aide’s insolent heart (I could see from the aide’s concurring expression). Ironically, the aide’s temperament is nearly a carbon copy of my BIL’s.

          As to my other sister, the “sweet” one:
          When I dared intersperse something to the hospital nurse, in that cramped room, after my sister (as usual) had the floor, my sister promptly followed up by sweetly telling the pretty blonde “I’m sorry”. As if just opening my mouth was a crime to apologize for. That same sister, when I was about to add a smidgen of sunflower oil to lubricate my dad’s pureed nursing home food – due to severe constipation, said in her sweet “logical” yet thoughtless way (without even being near enough to gauge the actual amount) “Isn’t that too much oil: Won’t it be nauseating for him?” This was said in front of the attractive young speech therapist, yet again undermining me, and making me appear as if I’m the imbecile. Many medical personnel fail to understand family dynamics and nuances, easily fooled in by facades, and thereby reacting on cue.

          The situation is extremely complex, the likes of which defies the imagination. Its something that I wish I could verbally/anonymously discuss with Dr.Simon. The pain I’ve accrued over the years, both emotionally and physically, frankly mimicks holocaust survivors. At age 55, I have borderline Sjogrens, bowmans-corneal dystrophy, painful atrophied eyelids as shown via professional scan, extremely painful joints, varicose veins, terrible feet, numerous inflamed skin tags, and way more. And I’m all alone in a difficult environment within a cruel world, hoping against hope that I won’t soon become immobile. God help me if that happens, given the state of unhealthcare today, combined with a severely sub-par personal monetary situation (which never allowed me to truly escape from association with my uncaring family).

          When will God finally have mercy on society’s victims??
          You might laugh at this, but I often key in these types of plea’s onto search engines such as DuckDuckGo. A bit like anguished messages in bottles.

    1. There’s so much confusion on this issue, in no small measure because of the inconsistent use and misuse of the terms by many professionals. But if you search this site and the http://www.counsellingresource.com site using the keywords you’ll find several articles I’ve written that address the subject and there are 3 pages in my book Character Disturbance that make the framework for the concepts clear. But to summarize, let me re-post a reply I gave to a woman from Australia to this same question:

      The concept of “psychopathy” was introduced by Cleckley in his landmark book “The Mask of Sanity.” What Cleckley noticed in a certain subset of antisocial personalities (social parasites and criminals) was that some individuals had the uncanny ability to appear “normal” or even “charming” while having so little human empathy and so little conscience that they could use and abuse others without the slightest compunction or remorse. And he also noticed that their tendency to lie was uniquely pathological in that it appeared nonsensical (i.e. they lied even when the truth would suffice). He and others considered this to be an extraordinary pathology of the mind, and a derangement bordering on a type of insanity (hence the title of the book “mask of sanity.” Some years later, the term “psychopathy” fell into disfavor as many clinicians and researchers – while agreeing that there did seem to be a unique personality type devoid of empathy and conscience – preferred to focus on the impact on society and on individuals in relationships, and began using the term “sociopathy” instead of psychopathy. In any case, both of these terms refer to a unique subset of individuals with antisocial personalities. And whereas your “garden variety” antisocial personality is pretty much a social parasite, frequently either living in disregard of the law or actively violating it and engaging in wide range of impulsive, reckless behaviors, psychopaths or sociopaths can in fact lead outwardly appearing respectable lives (i.e. Bernie Madoff) yet have no conscience about using and abusing others. These are the archetypal “snakes in suits.” Now if this weren’t confusing enough, lay persons as well as clinicians frequently use the terms antisocial personality and sociopath as if they were synonymous, and to make matters worse there are even some folks who prefer to use the term “dissocial” personality” to describe recalcitrant antisocial personalities and still others who want to reserve the term dissocial to those with specific genetic predispositions to antisocial behavior. Finally, if all that isn’t confusing enough, many lay persons use the term “antisocial” to describe someone who’s being stand-offish or ostracizing themselves from a group, when in fact, “asocial” would be the best term to describe someone who simply lacks interest in social interaction and “avoidant” would be the best term to describe someone who actively retreats from social involvements.

  15. For the greatest insight you’ll ever get into the psychopath, one man who’s selflessly studied them in the field, in all their guises has now rechristened them, “Unitards.”

    If you ‘really’ want to know the rabid~machinations of their psychology and pathology, then Erol’s selfless magnification and amplification of their ‘solitary’ pathology, eventually led him to the ‘final’ word on the subject.

    I recommend you start with this post and then work your way forward from there. If you’re not ‘reactionary’ his insights are truly mind~blowing:~

    https://christlikebe.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/measure-urself/

    Ciao,
    Che’

  16. I am lay person who is fascinated by psychopathy and the brain. Recently, I read that the amydala of a psychopath is smaller than normal brains.
    I know you question inherited personalities, however I do believe there is more to shared DNA than environment.
    A family member adopted 2 infants. They believed very strongly in environment until the children were in their teen years.

  17. to whom this may concern
    about a month ago my daughter came to me that her stepdad touches in her privates area and the pd and cps is involved and her mothers states that why she need medication and that why adhd kids lie and her mother keeps manipulating the kids and my daughter and the case worker can see that my daughter being manipulating and it is a ashamed and ever since my divorce been final since 2011 my daughter mother keeps manipulating her and her mother did the same thing and try to manipulating me and until i put my foot down she did not like that at all and my ex loves to live in secretive and manipulating and keeps changing her friends and it is very hard to be at peace with her and what should i do and i am in the process in counseling with me and my daughter but it is very difficult to work with her mother because she says she busy and does not have time need to know how to handle this situation and my ex wife lie and covers up a lie is very crazy.

  18. Marc, It sounds crazy…… It is a difficult situation because lies are so hard to prove and these types of people are very good at lying.. But, If you think your daughter is being molested by this step father then you have to report it. It sounds like you have done that. Honestly, in my mind, it all comes down to this……..You do the best you can do, and be the best you can be and don’t let your ex partner drag you down to her level. Take what ever steps you have to, to the best of your ability.
    Maybe Dr. Simon will step in with some concrete suggestions that will be of some help to you. I wish you luck.

  19. I had the most horrifying experience when I hired a woman who was a full-blown psychopath. She changed from a soft spoken polite person to a vicious feral animal. This is not an exaggeration. On her last day of work she dropped her mask completely: She stomped around the office with her torso bent 90 degrees; her voice was loud and vicious; her eyes were laser focused and her body was extremely tense. There was nothing to provoke her. She was a menacing presence. She was a wolf.

    Looking back there were signs that I ignored. For example, she once stared at me with intense reptilian eyes that frightened me for a week. There was the mimicking of my speech, the initial love-bombing, exploition of my generosity and kindness. She was not civil or civilized.

    She did not work. She only pretended to work when I was around. She did not do what is asked of her. She never said please or thank you. She was entitled selfishness personified. She also stole from me.

    On her last day she upped the ante in her game playing and did an elaborate set up of a show for me. The high she got showed on her face when she was in the midst of it. I knew right then that I was dealing with a psychopath.

    Psychopaths are not human. I saw the wild beast behind the mask with my own eyes.

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