This week “Sarah” commenting on Lovefraud wrote:
What is the biggest difference between Narcissists/Psychopaths/Sociopaths and us? The ability to love!
What is one of the over-riding characteristics of the N/P/S? They are they are extremely jealous & envious and must WIN! We have something they will never have . . i.e., the ability to love.
In the Mask of Sanity, the first book to describe psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley wrote:
The psychopath seldom shows anything that, if the chief facts were known, would pass even in the eyes of lay observers as object love… In a sense, it is absurd to maintain that the psychopath’s incapacity for object love is absolute, that is, to say he is (in)capable of affection for another … He is plainly capable of casual fondness, of likes and dislikes, and of reactions that, one might say, cause others to matter to him. These affective reactions are, however, always strictly limited in degree. In durability they also vary greatly from what is normal in mankind. The term absolute is, I believe, appropriate if we apply it to any affective attitude strong and meaningful enough to be called love, that is, anything that prevails in sufficient degree and over sufficient periods to exert a major influence on behavior.
In my opinion, perhaps the only flaw in our current measures of “psychopathy” is their failure to assess “ability to love.” Fortunately, that may soon change thanks to Donald Lynam, Ph.D. , Professor of Clinical Psychology at Perdue University. In his presentation, Interpersonal Antagonism as the Core Feature of Psychopathy Dr. Lynam presented evidence that inability to love is at the core of psychopathy.
I have long admired Dr. Lynam’s work, and his rather renegade status in the world of psychopathy research. During his presentation, I sat next to an accomplished psychopathy researcher, who has become a friend. After Dr. Lynam finished, I offered a public thanks to him for his presentation and brought up the issue that no one else is trying to measure and assess “ability to love” in psychopaths. The researcher sitting next to me said “You can have him as your Guru if you like, but there are problems with his work.” I did not ask my friend to elaborate because I already knew why he said that.
Dr. Lynam has challenged the status quo of psychopathy research because he says, “Factor analysis of the PCL-R (the most widely used rating scale) are unlikely to reveal the core personality components of psychopathy.” His making that statement at the SSSP meetings is kind of like a minister at a meeting of Southern Baptists saying that The Bible doesn’t necessarily have all the answers for modern humans.
Dr. Lynam says (and I very much agree) that if you analyze the PCL-R to understand “the psychopath” you run into circular arguments. How do we know this person is a psychopath? Because he/she has a high PCL-R score. How do we know the PCL-R symptoms reflect the psychopathy personality type? Because they belong to “psychopaths” as identified by the PCL-R. The way to get around these circular arguments is to separate diagnostic measures from personality measures. This is what Dr. Lynam has done.
The most accepted model of general personality posits five basic traits called the Big Five (OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism). Dr. Lynam has studied these traits in relation to psychopathy and he has found that “low agreeableness” explains a majority of individual differences in PCL-R scores. That means that the core of psychopathy is explained by low agreeableness.
What exactly is low agreeableness? Agreeableness has 6 parts to it: trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty and tender mindedness. The items on this list reflect a person’s tendency toward intimacy, needs balancing (ones own needs vs. other’s needs) and caretaking of others; core components of ability to love. Dr. Lynam also mentioned briefly that these are more than personality traits and instead seem to reflect “an ability.” I wrote about love as a developmentally acquired “ability” in Just Like His Father? nearly three years ago, and am glad to see this given more attention by scientists.
After I commented praising Dr. Lynam’s work, another researcher stood up and said, “There’s just something about this that bothers me… my gut tells me it is off… If psychopaths lack agreeableness, why do other people find them attractive?”
I talked with that researcher in private afterwards. Consider Dr. Cleckley’s statement about love and psychopathy. Since psychopaths appear to have fondness and affection, their inability to love is often hidden behind their “Mask of Sanity.” It is only when you really get to know them and you put yourself in a position of depending on them that you discover the importance of their inability to love. This is where victims have wisdom and understanding that many psychopathy researchers will never attain.
For more on Dr. Lynam’s work see: Are they just evil people?