On Living As A Real-Life Psychopath

americanpsycho2Wondering what it would be like to walk in Patrick Bateman’s shoes? From author Jon Ronson, a letter he received in response to The Psychopath Test, his much-talked-about book published a couple months ago, from a young psychopath (who felt no or guilt or emotion, but an overwhelming urge to prey on others). Can you empathize?

I just saw your interview on Australia’s ABC 7:30 report on ‘The Psychopath Test’ and wanted to share my experience. I hope that it can remain confidential for the time being, seeing as it is quite personal.

But, when I was 19 (I’m 26-27 now) I went into long-term therapy – for psychopathy.

My case was rather unusual in that I self-referred. The mental health agency had not had a walk-in of this kind before. In the lead up, I had found myself becoming overwhelmed with a predatorial instinct that I could not shake – I’d sit, watching crowds of people go by, driven to mania by what I saw as their limitless inferiorities. Plans were set that, once enacted, would be very difficult to walk back from.

Nevertheless, the decision to go to therapy was one I had taken with some considerable agony, given that I saw this as putting myself ‘on the radar’ so to speak, and thus making it considerably more difficult to ‘act out my nature’ as I saw it.

I undertook a lengthy psychological examination, and the psychiatrist conducting it wrote some pretty stark conclusions devoid of any optimistic prognosis.

My initial forays into therapy did not go well. Overwhelmed with mistrust, concerned at being maniuplated, and uncomfortable with the idea of being ‘managed’ rather than ‘cured’, I left on multiple occassions for some periods of time.

After chewing through several therapists, the director of the agency finally took me on herself, and to our mutual surprise we got along extremely well.

To make a long story short, after years of setbacks, frustrations, resentments and suspicion, I began to make considerable progress. Four years later, with sessions no less frequent than once or twice a week, I came out of therapy unrecognizable from when I went into it.

Yes thearapy was transformative, though it is possible to overstate its impacts. I will always see the world through different lenses to much of the rest of the world. My emotional reactions are different, my endowments are impressive in some respects, not so in others, much like other people.

It is also the case that, being ‘normal’ takes a degree of energy and conscious thought that is instinctive for most, but to me is a significant expenditure of energy. I think it analogous to speaking a second language. That is not to say I am being false or obfuscating, merely that I will always expose some eccentric traits.

So why am I writing all this to you?

Well, from someone who is both psychopathic and treated, there are many fallacies about psychopaths with which I am deeply cynical. Unfortunately psychopaths themselves do themselves no favors, as the label given to them plays into their ego over generously – ‘If we are born that way’ psychopaths reason, ‘then it is not wrong for us to be as we are, indeed we are the pinnacle of the human condition, something other people demonize merely to explain their fitful fears’.

We are neither the cartoon evil serial killers, nor the ‘its your boss’ CEO’s always chasing profit at the expense of everyone else. While we are both of those things, it is a sad caricature of itself.

We continue be to characterized that way, by media, by literature, and by ourselves, yet the whole thing is a sham. The truth is much, much more complex, and in my view, interesting.

Psychopaths are just people. You are right to say that psychopaths hate weakness, they will attempt to conceal anything that might present as a vulnerability. The test of their self-superiority is their ability to rapidly find weaknesses in others, and to exploit it to its fullest potential.

But that is not to say that this aspect of a psychopaths world view cannot be modified. These days I see weaknesses and vulnerabilities as simple facts – a facet of the human condition and the frailties and imperfections inheritent in being human.

At the same time it is true that my feelings and reactions to those around me are different – not necessarily retarded – just different. It is the image of psychopaths as something not quite human, along with espersions as to their natures, that prevent this from being identified.

So how to explain these ‘different’ feelings?

Well, lets look at what (bright) psychopaths are naturally quite exceptional at… We are good at identifying, very rapidly, extreme traits of those around us which allows us to discern vulnerabilities, frailties, and mental conditions. It also makes psychopaths supreme manipulators, for they can mimick human emotions they do not feel, play on these emotions and extract concessions.

But what are these traits really? – Stripped of its pejorative adjectives and mean application, it is a highly trained perception, ability to adapt, and a lack of judgment borne of pragmatic and flexible moral reasoning.

What I’m saying here is that although those traits can very easily (even instinctively) lead to dangerous levels of manipulation, they do not have to.

These days I enjoy a reputation of being someone of intense understanding and observation with a keen strategic instinct. I know where those traits come from, yet I have made the conscious choice to use them for the betterment of friends, aquaintences, and society. People confide in me extraordinary things because they know, no matter what, I will not be judging them.

I do so because I know I have that choice. After years of therapy I am well equipped to act on it, and my keen perception is now directed equally towards myself.

Its true that I do not ‘feel’ guilt or remorse, except to the extent that it affects me directly, but I do feel other emotions, which do not have adequate words of description, but nevertheless cause me to derive satisfacton in developing interpersonal relationships, contributing to society, and being gentle as well as assertive.

Such as statement might tempt you to say ‘well obviously you’re not a real psychopath then’. As if the definition of a psychopath is someone who exploits others for their personal power, satisfaction or gain.

A slightly more benign (but still highly inaccurate) definition is that a psychopath is someone who feels little guilt or empathy for others.

In the end, psychopaths need to be given that very thing everyone believes they lack for others, empathy; a willingness to understand the person, their drives, hopes, strengths and fears, along with knowledge of their own personal sadnesses and sense of inferiority…As it is, such cartoon, unchangeable, inhuman characterizations offers nothing but perpetuation of those stereotypes.

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  • Nuggett

    Couldn’t agree more with the anonymous author.  I have experienced these psychopaths against my will for a few years now.  They use themselves as teammates and others as tools for self-aggrandizement.

    One thing I should point out is that though some may seem far gone as empathy and general morality apply, they WILL respond to genuine human anger and sustained criticism.  That is, I’ve found that these are the interactions that can break psychopaths from their cycle of delusional superiority.  Complete turnarounds are rare, but some introspection, as the author has noted, is possible.  Ultimately, the reality of their status (which is rarely at the very top) can play a contributing factor as well.  

  • Nuggett

    Couldn’t agree more with the anonymous author.  I have experienced these psychopaths against my will for a few years now.  They use themselves as teammates and others as tools for self-aggrandizement.

    One thing I should point out is that though some may seem far gone as empathy and general morality apply, they WILL respond to genuine human anger and sustained criticism.  That is, I’ve found that these are the interactions that can break psychopaths from their cycle of delusional superiority.  Complete turnarounds are rare, but some introspection, as the author has noted, is possible.  Ultimately, the reality of their status (which is rarely at the very top) can play a contributing factor as well.  

  • DeepCough

    “Psychopath” is just a bullshit label used to pin on people who don’t obey the rules because they are intelligent enough to nullify the rules rationally and don’t feel bad about it as they are supposed to be.

  • DeepCough

    “Psychopath” is just a bullshit label used to pin on people who don’t obey the rules because they are intelligent enough to nullify the rules rationally and don’t feel bad about it as they are supposed to be.

    • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

      I understand your sentiment, but I must respectfully disagree.

      There’s an immense difference between “I’m going to go ahead and park in the Fire Lane while I return this video.” and “I’m going to kidnap the 16 year old cheerleader down the street and then torture and rape her to death”.

      • Jin The Ninja

        it was both poignant and lol worthy (in a sick sick way) so of course i like it….

      • Navysealteam7

        Wrong,… You’re thinking of a sociopath. Psychopaths would just consider the many options available at such a moment, they don’t thrive on hurting people ;P

      • DeepCough

        Here’s the basic test for Psychopathy used by psychiatrists to determine whether or not you are a psychopath. It’s as subjective and ad hoc as every other questionnaire is for mental illness whether it’s ADD/ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome.

        http://www.arkancide.com/psychopathy.htm

        • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

          I’m familiar with the PCL-R model of Psychopathy and the Hare Checklist.

          Personally I feel there are inadequacies in most of the diagnostic and clinical models, PCL-R, included.

          I think that most people would agree, however, that Psychopathy is comprised of more than just the ability to generate convenient rationalizations.

          • DeepCough

            Just as a good liar can pass a polygraph test (and a great liar can make his polygraph results purposely inconclusive), a true psychopath would get a perfect 0 on the Hare Checklist and the psychiatrist would be none the wiser.

          • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

             I agree. A psychopath with an excellent Cleckley mask and low impulsiveness would likely do well.

            The ones that come to the attention of the criminal justice system and/or the mental health system are not generally that type of psychopath, though.

          • DeepCough

            In other words, they’re not really psychopaths at all, just innocent people getting labelled as something they are not, which happens often in the criminal justice and mental health system.

          • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

            No, that’s not quite what we were talking about.

            I’ll agree that people get misdiagnosed and mislabeled all the time. But the recent thrust of our discussion has been those people who can evade the label. Not the people who get stuck with the label unfairly.

            I’m starting to get the sense that this topic may be a bit “too close to home”, for both of us.

          • DeepCough

            I will conclude this discussion with the George Carlin axiom of psychopathy:

            “A maniac will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo. A crazy person will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo, but he’ll be wearing a Bugs Bunny suit while he’s doing it.”

  • Mamagriff50

    I’m sorry but this letter sounds like it was written by the author. Need a little more publicity, maybe?

  • Mamagriff50

    I’m sorry but this letter sounds like it was written by the author. Need a little more publicity, maybe?

    • Jonathan Fields

      No, that’s some nonsense. I’ve read a lot of Ronson’s work and I very much doubt he would do that.

  • Anonymous

    If I read this correctly I think I fit their mold.  I don’t give a damn about 99% of the population around me.  I’m also one tropical island away from going evil genius on everything.

  • I_abide

    If I read this correctly I think I fit their mold.  I don’t give a damn about 99% of the population around me.  I’m also one tropical island away from going evil genius on everything.

  • Anonymous

    If the message is that Psychopaths are not necessarily serial killers, then that is a very apt choice of pictures to accompany the article.

  • Anonymous

    If the message is that Psychopaths are not necessarily serial killers, then that is a very apt choice of pictures to accompany the article.

  • Redacted

    If part of the message is that Psychopaths are not necessarily serial killers, then that is a very apt choice of pictures to accompany the article.

  • Vi0let_femme

    In the end, we need the things we lack? What an astute observation. 
    When I was a young child made to listen during the evening sermon on Sunday, I heard the preacher say that when a person is at their most unlovable that is when they need love the most.  Which is just what that psychopath just said. 

  • Vi0let_femme

    In the end, we need the things we lack? What an astute observation. 
    When I was a young child made to listen during the evening sermon on Sunday, I heard the preacher say that when a person is at their most unlovable that is when they need love the most.  Which is just what that psychopath just said. 

  • Wanooski

    Well you also need a lot of start up capital to be an evil genius.

  • DeepCough

    Hey, if you’re a psychopath in need of capital, then you’re perfect for the Stock Market.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisbarth/2011/09/26/new-study-old-news-stock-traders-are-psychopaths/

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Call me, we have cookies.

    Also, we just got in a new batch of Arduinos.

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Call me, we have cookies.

    Also, we just got in a new batch of Arduinos.

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    I understand your sentiment, but I must respectfully disagree.

    There’s an immense difference between “I’m going to go ahead and park in the Fire Lane while I return this video.” and “I’m going to kidnap the 16 year old cheerleader down the street and then torture and rape her to death”.

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    I understand your sentiment, but I must respectfully disagree.

    There’s an immense difference between “I’m going to go ahead and park in the Fire Lane while I return this video.” and “I’m going to kidnap the 16 year old cheerleader down the street and then torture and rape her to death”.

  • Anonymous

    it was both poignant and lol worthy (in a sick sick way) so of course i like it….

  • Navysealteam7

    Wrong,… You’re thinking of a sociopath. Psychopaths would just consider the many options available at such a moment, they don’t thrive on hurting people ;P

  • DeepCough

    Here’s the basic test for Psychopathy used by psychiatrists to determine whether or not you are a psychopath. It’s as subjective and ad hoc as every other questionnaire is for mental illness whether it’s ADD/ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome.

    http://www.arkancide.com/psychopathy.htm

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    I’m familiar with the PCL-R model of Psychopathy and the Hare Checklist.

    Personally I feel there are inadequacies in most of the diagnostic and clinical models, PCL-R, included.

    I think that most people would agree, however, that Psychopathy is comprised of more than just the ability to generate convenient rationalizations.

  • guest

    I’d be interested to see more research into the overlap of ‘psychopathy’ & Asperger’s.  I think the 2 could easily be mistaken and, like the author of the letter suggests, those traits can becoming self perpetuating if the person thinks they are destined to behave a certain way.

  • guest

    I’d be interested to see more research into the overlap of ‘psychopathy’ & Asperger’s.  I think the 2 could easily be mistaken and, like the author of the letter suggests, those traits can becoming self perpetuating if the person thinks they are destined to behave a certain way.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Evil Robot building party!?

  • DeepCough

    Just as a good liar can pass a polygraph test (and a great liar can make his polygraph results purposely inconclusive), a true psychopath would get a perfect 0 on the Hare Checklist and the psychiatrist would be none the wiser.

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

     I agree. A psychopath with an excellent Cleckley mask and low impulsiveness would likely do well.

    The ones that come to the attention of the criminal justice system and/or the mental health system are not generally that type of psychopath, though.

  • Jonathan Fields

    No, that’s some nonsense. I’ve read a lot of Ronson’s work and I very much doubt he would do that.

  • Guest

    Why is this article here?  Although it’s mostly interesting and correct its conclusion couldn’t be way more off.  True psychopaths perceive empathy as a weakness, as he states, and would only use this to their advantage.  What they need is understanding, in that you are aware of their deficiency and are taking proper precautions, and being civil in the process.

  • Guest

    Why is this article here?  Although it’s mostly interesting and correct its conclusion couldn’t be way more off.  True psychopaths perceive empathy as a weakness, as he states, and would only use this to their advantage.  What they need is understanding, in that you are aware of their deficiency and are taking proper precautions, and being civil in the process.

  • DeepCough

    In other words, they’re not really psychopaths at all, just innocent people getting labelled as something they are not, which happens often in the criminal justice and mental health system.

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    No, that’s not quite what we were talking about.

    I’ll agree that people get misdiagnosed and mislabeled all the time. But the recent thrust of our discussion has been those people who can evade the label. Not the people who get stuck with the label unfairly.

    I’m starting to get the sense that this topic may be a bit “too close to home”, for both of us.

  • Vigilantius

    This is a very interesting article.  I think I’ll hang a copy of it in my crawlspace.

  • Vigilantius

    This is a very interesting article.  I think I’ll hang a copy of it in my crawlspace.

  • Vigilantius

    Seriously though…this (we reckon) reformed psychopath is basically describing Capitalism.  When people are competing with each other we often see people as either the opposition to be fought against or customers to be exploited.  This is one reason so many Uhmurkans are attracted by narrow ideologies because they provide this comfort zone in what is essentially a hostile culture.  Not only are people competing with others in their job, they naturally compete against their neighbors and others in their community.  Homeowners associations for example are clear examples of creating an environment of fear and monitoring in an effort to make everyone the same in order to drive any personality out of the community.  Other narrow ideological schemes like most religions and all political parties provide a box a person can live in and be accepted by other people in the society.

    Why?  Well, the answer is simply that Western Civilization has created a society that is not for the benefit of all, Capitalism forbids that.  That is the paradox of western governments, especially Uhmurkah.  While the articles under which this country are founded talk about the inalienable rights of man…the country was established in a post-genocide environment and built upon a foundation of slavery of other humans…clearly psychopathic behaviour.  (I’m stronger than you because I’m smarter, whiter and I’ve got guns…so I’ll take your land, your possessions…and your life.)

    Today, oppression by the 1% of Uhmurkans who have leveraged their pathology upon the rest shows that you don’t have to have  a crawlspace to be psychopath.  All it takes is not giving a shit about anyone else.  That’s the Uhmurkan Nightmare.

    Fiat lux

  • Vigilantius

    Seriously though…this (we reckon) reformed psychopath is basically describing Capitalism.  When people are competing with each other we often see people as either the opposition to be fought against or customers to be exploited.  This is one reason so many Uhmurkans are attracted by narrow ideologies because they provide this comfort zone in what is essentially a hostile culture.  Not only are people competing with others in their job, they naturally compete against their neighbors and others in their community.  Homeowners associations for example are clear examples of creating an environment of fear and monitoring in an effort to make everyone the same in order to drive any personality out of the community.  Other narrow ideological schemes like most religions and all political parties provide a box a person can live in and be accepted by other people in the society.

    Why?  Well, the answer is simply that Western Civilization has created a society that is not for the benefit of all, Capitalism forbids that.  That is the paradox of western governments, especially Uhmurkah.  While the articles under which this country are founded talk about the inalienable rights of man…the country was established in a post-genocide environment and built upon a foundation of slavery of other humans…clearly psychopathic behaviour.  (I’m stronger than you because I’m smarter, whiter and I’ve got guns…so I’ll take your land, your possessions…and your life.)

    Today, oppression by the 1% of Uhmurkans who have leveraged their pathology upon the rest shows that you don’t have to have  a crawlspace to be psychopath.  All it takes is not giving a shit about anyone else.  That’s the Uhmurkan Nightmare.

    Fiat lux

  • Vigilantius

    Seriously though…this (we reckon) reformed psychopath is basically describing Capitalism.  When people are competing with each other we often see people as either the opposition to be fought against or customers to be exploited.  This is one reason so many Uhmurkans are attracted by narrow ideologies because they provide this comfort zone in what is essentially a hostile culture.  Not only are people competing with others in their job, they naturally compete against their neighbors and others in their community.  Homeowners associations for example are clear examples of creating an environment of fear and monitoring in an effort to make everyone the same in order to drive any personality out of the community.  Other narrow ideological schemes like most religions and all political parties provide a box a person can live in and be accepted by other people in the society.

    Why?  Well, the answer is simply that Western Civilization has created a society that is not for the benefit of all, Capitalism forbids that.  That is the paradox of western governments, especially Uhmurkah.  While the articles under which this country are founded talk about the inalienable rights of man…the country was established in a post-genocide environment and built upon a foundation of slavery of other humans…clearly psychopathic behaviour.  (I’m stronger than you because I’m smarter, whiter and I’ve got guns…so I’ll take your land, your possessions…and your life.)

    Today, oppression by the 1% of Uhmurkans who have leveraged their pathology upon the rest shows that you don’t have to have  a crawlspace to be psychopath.  All it takes is not giving a shit about anyone else.  That’s the Uhmurkan Nightmare.

    Fiat lux

  • DeepCough

    I will conclude this discussion with the George Carlin axiom of psychopathy:

    “A maniac will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo. A crazy person will beat nine people to death with a steel dildo, but he’ll be wearing a Bugs Bunny suit while he’s doing it.”

  • http://www.huntervalleyhampers.com.au/ bwendo

    Everything in moderation, and with some love and companionship and attachment, perhaps the psychopath can be saved too!

  • http://www.huntervalleyhampers.com.au/ bwendo

    Everything in moderation, and with some love and companionship and attachment, perhaps the psychopath can be saved too!

  • shims

    NOTHING IS TRUE, EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED!!

  • shims

    NOTHING IS TRUE, EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED!!

  • http://thelastpsychiatrist.com The Last Psychiatrist
  • http://thelastpsychiatrist.com The Last Psychiatrist
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