The Psychopathy Spectrum
All disturbed characters on the psychopathy spectrum are significantly impaired in their empathy capacity. But exactly where a person lies on the spectrum depends upon just how devoid of empathy they are and what other problematic traits they also possess. Psychopaths:
- lack empathy
- are extremely decietful, manipulative, conning
- possess a certain glibness, and can be smooth-talking, even charming
- lack conscience
- exploit, use and abuse others without compunction or remorse
Psychopaths have the most malignant form of narcissism. They see themselves as superior creatures. And in their extreme haughtiness, they feel perfectly entitled to prey on those they regard as inferior. (See also: Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy and Malignant Narcissism Goes Beyond Haughtiness.)
Psychopaths differ from antisocial personalities (i.e. chronic major social norm violators) in many ways. But the simplest and most accurate way to draw a distinction is this: antisocials are generally the “hot headed” rebels who resist conforming, whereas psychopaths are the “cold hearted” predators among us. They senselessly, callously, and remorselessly use and abuse others without compunction or remorse. (See also: pp. 38-44 in In Sheep’s Clothing and chapter 3 in Character Disturbance.)
The Empathy Dimension
Empathy is the capacity to identify with the feelings and experience of another. In short, it’s the ability to care. But it’s caring a particular kind of caring. It’s caring with an understanding of and appreciation for what another might be going through. Folks who care empathetically often feel what others feel. They rejoice in someone’s happiness. And they’re saddened by another’s unhappiness. In large measure, we regard empathy one of the main qualities of being human.
Psychopaths lack empathy in the extreme. Some have no capacity for it whatsoever. Others have very limited or restricted capacity. Some psychopaths understand empathy at an intellectual level. They can tell you what it is and recognize it when they see it. And while they might also be able to mimic it, that doesn’t mean they can actually experience it. Everything that’s dangerous about a psychopath stems primarily from their lack of empathy. But that’s not all of the problem. Empathy deficits characterize some other more socially benign conditions, too. The other critical variable is the malignant narcissism. And how devoid of empathy and malignantly narcissitic someone is largely determines where they lie on the psychopathy spectrum.
There’s considerable evidence that the brains of psychopaths don’t work like most brains. The neuronal structures and interconnections that allow most of us to moderate our behavior based on our capacity to care simply aren’t there. In some cases, those structures were never there and could never develop because of unusual biology. In other cases, trauma (i.e. physiological, psychological, disease-induced, etc.) prevented the development of such structures and interconnections or caused once existing structures to disappear.
Psychopaths are inherently very dangerous. Their lack of feeling allows them to victimize without compunction or compassion. They’re nature’s only known intra-species predators. But psychopaths can have other disturbing traits in their personalities that make them even more dangerous. For example, psychopaths possessing sadistic traits often do more than exploit. They enjoy the pain they inflict. And placing and witnessing others others groveling in great disadvantage makes them feel even more powerful and superior. As a result they’re responsible for some of the most cruel and heinous acts and crimes you’ve ever heard about.
Understanding the psychopathy spectrum can give you power. And this is extremely important because some psychopaths are really adept at the art of the con. Somehow, they lure you in before the decimate and destroy you. Some of us have an intuitive gift of fear that signals us that we’re likely in the presence of a predator. But not everyone has this gift, and sometimes even someone with the gift will hesitate to heed their inner warnings. Most of us simply hate to think that heartless predators even exist. So, unfortunately, we only come to accept it after suffering victimization.
In upcoming posts, we’ll continue looking at the wide spectrum of character dysfunction.