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Psychopaths in everyday life

In honor of the 4th of July we celebrate but also reflect on how to make our nation and world a better place. I therefore thought it would be fitting to review for you a book, Psychopaths in Everyday Life, by Robert W. Rieber. I highly recommend the book to readers who have some background in psychology. The book explains Dr. Rieber’s view of psychopathy and also discusses how psychopathy relates to what he calls “Social Distress Syndrome.” He says that America is plagued by this Social Distress Syndrome and therefore is breeding psychopaths/sociopaths.

First Dr. Rieber’s view on psychopathy. I was also fortunate to meet with Dr. Rieber to discuss his ideas in detail. He has interviewed many serial killers and has written extensively about psychopathy/sociopathy. By the way, he also has a lot to say about the case of Sybil and the idea of multiple personality.

His view of psychopathy is very similar to my own, and I should say, my own view was shaped prior to discovering this work. His view of psychopathy also appears to be very similar to that of Jack Levin, Ph. D., another psychologist who has worked with serial killers.

Dr. Rieber states, “In my view, the following four salient characteristics, thrill seeking, pathological glibness, the antisocial pursuit of power, and the absence of guilt, distinguish the true psychopath.” He further emphasizes that psychopathy is not a category but a continuum (a point I have also discussed previously see Psychopathy verses sociopathy again… ).

Drs. Rieber and Levin both have an opinion that sets them apart from other psychopathy experts. I want to share this view with you because I think you should be aware of differing opinions. Based on my personal and professional experiences, I also think their view has the advantage of helping us make sense of our first-hand observations.

If you read expert writings on psychopathy, you will see that the mainstream experts seem to hold the opinion that psychopaths/sociopaths lack guilt and empathy. Mainstream experts also teach that lack of a conscience is responsible for the disorder. Any therapist, teacher, minister or observer of humans will tell you that many people have a deficit in empathy and/or guilt and yet these people do not necessarily engage in an “antisocial pursuit of power.” I believe that the focus on the deficits of psychopaths has prevented us from seeing the most important aspect of the disorder- the antisocial pursuit of power.

The minute we say that victims are harmed, not because of a psychopath’s deficits, but because of his or her aberrant motivation, we have a good perspective on what we went through. We need to understand power motivation in order to understand the psychopath/sociopath. It is also power motivation, I believe, that ties psychopathy/sociopathy to the problems of our society.

There is a great quote from the book that leads into an explanation of another point that both Drs. Levin and Rieber make. It is, “The true psychopath compels the psychiatric observer to ask the perplexing, and largely unanswered question: Why doesn’t that person have the common decency to go crazy?”

So why don’t psychopaths have the common decency to go crazy? Dr. Rieber explains, “Since psychopaths act as if they were perfectly normal, i.e. sane, they must be skilled in a cunning manner to dissociate any real guilt that they should feel about their antisocial behavior.” He also says that since psychopaths dissociate, they don’t go crazy. He believes dissociation prevents them from experiencing guilt. He also says that many psychopaths do have some level of guilt they are dissociated from.

Dissociation is a difficult concept to grasp. It means to block out a thought or emotion. The ability to dissociate is related to hypnosis which is an induced dissociated state. Dr. Rieber told me that he does not believe that a person can be completely without guilt or empathy. He instead sees the psychopath/sociopath as being able to block out these from his/her experience. This view is shared by Dr. Levin who asks another interesting question. If psychopaths are unable to experience empathy, how is it that they enjoy hurting other people so much? To enjoy hurting they have to know and to some extent feel, they have hurt.

All of us have seen that psychopaths seek out ways to hurt people. They don’t do it by accident. They therefore have to have enough empathy to know when they have succeeded in their power goals and to feel gratified by the act of hurting. Dr. Levin terms the ability of a psychopath to be cut off from any negative emotion during the act of pleasure, compartmentalization. The concept of compartmentalization is basically the same as that of dissociation. When we discussed these terms, Dr. Rieber told me that Freud called the same process repression.

There is some interesting research from the lab of Dr. Joseph P. Newman demonstrating that psychopaths have an extraordinary ability to focus on a source of reward and ignore punishers. So there is experimental evidence supporting the link between psychopathy and dissociation/ compartmentalization/ repression.

But how is psychopathy related to The Social Distress Syndrome? Dr. Rieber puts together a nice argument demonstrating that the breakdown of all of our social institutions is associated with an increase in the prevalence of psychopathy. He says psychopaths and psychopathy permeate our society. However, the book does not discuss why or how social distress is causally related to psychopathy developing in individuals and in institutions. I will present my own opinion about that for you to consider on this July 4th.

If the pleasures of power and thrill seeking are behind psychopathy, and psychopaths can easily ignore everything within and outside themselves to focus on these pleasures, then we have to ask, “How is it that these pleasures become the most important thing in a person’s life?” The answer to that question has been in scientific writings for a long time and in religious writings for even longer.

The great primate researcher Harry Harlow made the observation nearly 30 years ago that the motivations of love and power are in an opposing balance. He discovered that thankfully in primates including humans, the love motive develops before the power motive. Because the love motive develops first it is stronger and puts the brakes on the power motive. A baby starts learning to love at birth or even before. The desire for power doesn’t start until the second year of life.

Now we can see the link between social distress and psychopathy/sociopathy. When all of our society’s institutions are broken, including the family, we are robbed of the capacity to fully experience love and to develop the ability to love. Instead of being motivated to love and care we become motivated to compete and take. The motivations of love and power are mutually exclusive, so a person can’t be simultaneously motivated by both. Also the pleasure of love has to be practiced to be maintained. There is no vaccination against evil. Love during childhood doesn’t prevent psychopathy for life. If love is not practiced during all phases of life relationships become power focused instead.

The answer for ourselves, the psychopath and our country is simple and yet extremely difficult. We need to restore ourselves to a place of love for our fellow humans. If love is primary we will still engage in friendly competition, but we will not get pleasure from cutting each other’s throats!

Love motivation has to permeate our families, our places of worship, our schools, our work places, our government and our foreign policy. When love rather than power becomes our most important pleasure, then we will all have a path toward social and personal well-being.

Until our collective pleasure balance is in the right loving place, we will all have to cope with the Psychopaths in Everyday Life.



80 Comments on "Psychopaths in everyday life"

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  1. Wini says:

    Dear southernman429: That’s a typical reaction from being violated by someone you loved. Take a deep breath. Focus on your breathing. Listen to your breath inhaling and exhaling. Don’t focus on anything else but listening to your breathing. As soon as you only focus on your breathing … a total calm will come over you. That is God’s calmness, tranquility, peace and love. That is what we were suppose to get from those we loved .

    … Oh, by the way, even the obnoxious (that’s what Tolle calls them, obnoxious with heavy pain bodies) is our expressing our love for God. What we see in others is our love for God.

    Remember this while you heal yourself. Be kind and good to yourself. If you don’t want to answer the phone or the door, don’t. If you don’t want to see someone and they insist on coming by. Don’t. Now is the time for you. I liked soaking for hours in a steamy hot tub with my favorite music playing …. one night I couldn’t even get out of the tub. I was going to freak, but I chilled and managed to climb out. I was like a floppy doll. (LOL) ….ooooohhh, oooooohhh, oooohhh, I just remembered what Tolle said about sleeping. Lie directly in the middle of your bed … arms and legs stretched out, flat on your back, no pillow … and go to sleep. He said, that’s what we are suppose to do while we sleep. You are going to sleep like a baby. And after you do, thank God for this (smile) that’s God pampering you.

    Peace.



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  2. rperk6069 says:

    Not to break up the thread or anything, but I kind of need some advise. An old friend of mine, who also knows the P, told me tonight that he heard that J, is supposedly doing wonderful. The woman (girl, who is 27 by now and he is going on 44) whom he got pregnant while he was with me, is now pregnant again by him and supposedly off the meth, has a good job and is living within 7 miles of me just doing great. This is what J told his hairdresser who told my friend. Now my perdicument is, that makes me feel like crap. He treated me so very bad and now I don’t know what to do with my feelings which I know are wrong. Can someone give me some insight in why I am feeling this way cuz I am too close to the situation to figure it out myself. I haven’t seen him in over a year and haven’t spoken to him since the last day in Feb. of this year in which he told me how unhappy he is with “her”. Please help. Thanx



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  3. henry says:

    Hi Perky.. I am sure some of the wiser bloggers will come too comfort and advise you. But from my point of view, it’s sound like a lot of gossip and I would ask your friend not to tell you anything about him, you don’t need to know what is going on, good or bad, you need to enforce your no contact by telling this friend this. I don’t know any body that know’s my X’s whereabout or what is going on but if I do come across a mutual aquantance and they udder the word MIKE I will stop them right there and tell them I dont want to know….next subject…



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  4. OxDrover says:

    Dear rperk,

    I’m so sorry you are going through this right now, I do know how hard it is..but Henry’s suggestion is the right one, now that ou are NC physically you need to go NC emotionally. That means no talking about him, and no listening about him.

    But keep this in mind, “she’s off meth”–I’m glad for her, but do you really think she will STAY off meth with the P in her life? Probably not. “Having another baby”—boy that makes me hAPPY—NOT!!! A meth head for a mother and the P for a father, that child in cursed before it is born without even one good functional parent.

    Hun, he will never be “doing wonderful” for very long, you can BET on that. She is not better than you are, and my guess is that she is just strung out enough on the Meth that for this minute she thinks he is “wonderful”–by getting preg again we can tell for sure she isn’t “wise” now can’t we?

    You got the best of the deal, my dear,you got RID of HIM!!

    (((((BIG HUGS))))



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  5. Beverly says:

    Dear Rperk, when I first broke with my ex, he cleverly used mutual acquaintainces to send me information about how well he was doing and how he had met someone else alot younger blah blah blah blah. At first I was annoyed and jealous, and then I thought, yea he has deliberately done this to wind me up at a distance and to try and give me the impression that he has a ‘new life’ with someone else and not to get involved. Perfect ploy – he final stab in the back.

    But after I calmed down, I resolved NOT to speak to any mutual acquaintances about info on either side, either coming from me or him. He still doesnt know I have had cancer, as although I know he will never contact me again (he did too much), I will never contact him for any reason, even to let him know that.

    Finally, I know that whatever relationship he is in, will never work out long term (unless he finds a willing slave) and that as soon as he is up to his tricks, most women will put him out with the trash. So take heart Rperk, its just a way of winding you up and engaging all your thoughts on him.



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  6. rperk6069 says:

    Thank you all. Last night I was upset, mostly because of the way I felt when I heard about him. I was kind of shocked that I still had even a little bit of feeling left toward him. I don’t like the fact that he is back in my area and too close to where I live and hope he stays away from me. I guess the warning is good so I know to keep my eyes open. (He likes to drive by peoples houses and check up on them).

    I feel sorry for the new victim and the children she is having with him. Especially the children. They are innocent and he has 4 older children already with his ex-wife that he doesn’t take care of or support.
    I see I have quite a bit farther to go in the healing process, just thought I was farther along then I truly am.



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  7. Wini says:

    If, every time you knocked on my door I punched you in the nose … how often would you visit me? Think about this. What I just explained is physical abuse. Mental abuse is the same except you can’t see the bloody nose.

    Remember this whenever you think of your EXs. Remember the punch in your nose and they will continue to punch every time you open your door (aka, your heart, your mind, your emotions). You can only knock on their door when they too, go through self evaluation, feel the emotions, grow, forgive, be compassionate again, learn how to love and respect every one and everything.

    Peace to your heart and souls as you go through the process of recovering after the abuse.



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  8. OxDrover says:

    Dear Rperk,

    The triggers that come back from time to time do tell us that we have more healing to do (there is a thread here on that, go back and reread it again. I do quite often)

    A few weeks ago when my contact with my XDIL-P and my mother triggered a “break down” and tears etc. I realized I had some more healing to do, and I THINK I got it right this time, but if another trigger zings me I will go back and redo it again, eventually as we make baby steps we start to be able to make bigger steps, so don’t let this little set back make you think you haven’t already done a LOT of healing because you have, and these little back tracks are just to “sweep” the corners again where we missed a little something with the “broom” of our healing. I find when I sweep my kitchen with a real broom that I always have to go back and do it again because somehow no matter how carefully I sweep there is always a pretty good pile of stuff I missed the first time through, so I do it a second time and am always amazed at the pile of dirt I missed the first time through. I think our healing is the same way emotionally, and we miss a pile of pain here or there, little ones, but as we “keep sweeping” we get it all “cleaned out” ((((hugs)))))



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