Are you a psychopath?

I’ve known a few psychopaths in my time. Nothing like Dexter, the serial killer who coldheartedly cuts up bodies and then goes home to his wife and kids, but, psychopaths all the same. Usually you can’t tell who is a psychopath. Cool cunning is, after all, a characteristic of the psychopath. But if you end up getting to know a psychopath well, eventually you know you are dealing with a psychopath.

If I were to create an ‘Are you a Psychopath’ quiz, I would ask questions that gage the following dimensions: fearlessness, stress immunity, rebellious noncomformity, social dominance, Machiavellian egocentricity, carefree nonplanfulness, blame externalization and coldheartedness. These are the characteristics of the Psychopathic personality. Any of them sound familiar?

Strictly speaking, the term ‘psychopath’ does not exist in the psychological disorders framework. A psychopath is actually termed ‘antisocial personality’ and diagnosed as ‘antisocial personality disorder’. The problem with this diagnosis is that it requires anti-social behavior. What if you are a ‘successful psychopath’? I could think of a couple of fields that might be attractive to a psychopath who doesn’t act out: police force and the military. This is not to say that all police and military men have psychopathic characteristics, because they don’t, well not all of them anyway. And for all those wondering where the women fall in this spectrum of psychopathy, I have to hand it to you guys, this one is all yours. Female psychopaths are as rare as female gynaecologists in Cyprus (has anyone else wondered about this?).

It makes sense really, because many of the characteristics I listed above are in fact characteristics that are prided and rewarded in men. Let’s take fearlessness, for example. Feeling no fear is not exactly a negative…..or is it? Fear is a natural response to danger, and the lack of fear altogether is not gonna do you much good, and as always, neither will the opposite extreme of fearfulness.  Everything in good measure.

It is surprising, however, that social standards of desirable behavior are so far apart from criteria for psychopathology.  Many concepts in the field of psychology get translated into popular psychology and passed on to the masses – like Freud’s dream analysis (everyone wants to interpret their dreams), and who hasn’t heard of the Oedipus complex? More recently, we have been bombarded with techniques for ‘positive thinking’, which would likely be called ‘cognitive reinterpretation’ to psychologists working in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy, but the term ‘positive thinking’ is meaningful to you and me when we hear it. On the other hand, ‘cognitive reinterpretation’ says nothing. So, why haven’t we heard about psychopathic characteristics like fearlessness? Why do we think that a psychopath is a serial killer, and not someone among us, who just doesn’t act out?

Because psychopathic behaviours are sanctioned, encouraged and tolerated in the real world. But take it from me, a medium dose of fear is healthy for you, unless you’re made of iron or leap tall buildings, and in that case, I’d probably lock you up in a lab and run experiments on you, so, better keep it to yourself like any normal psychopath would.

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