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SSSP meeting highlights: The psychopath’s inability to love

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?



95 Comments on "SSSP meeting highlights: The psychopath’s inability to love"

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  1. Tilly says:

    Matt:
    Bottom line is an alcoholic or addict can recover.
    A psychopath can’t.
    It wouldn’t matter if your Psychopath was an addict/alcoholic or not. He is psychopath which is a million times worse than a “dry drunk”. A dry drunk has feelings. A dry drunk knows right from wrong. A dry drunk has a conscience. A dry drunk usually has an insight into spirituality. They may choose to ignore all of these things, but all the same they have them.
    A pschyopath has none of these things. You were with a psychopathic addict…i.e. a million times worse than any plain ol’ alcoholic or addict.



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  2. Victor says:

    Tilly

    I disagree, A Sociopath does!, know Right from wrong , they just don’t Care! The reason they don’t Care is because they don’t Feel for anyone except themselves and even that is limited! Proof of this is in how many Sociopaths skate under immediate detection . The MADD-OFFS and so many others Portray “Normal” human beings! While their Thinking is Parasitic! People are their Host, to suck the Life out of as long as they are willing !Peace

    Mine had all those Qualities! Drunk, Addict, Violent! He had a choice ,He just could not see the Forest for the Trees! Peace



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  3. Tilly says:

    Victor:
    Sorry, yes they do know right from wrong. I forgot.
    And yes mine was a psychopathic drunk, addict too.
    A drunk and an addict can recover if they have the desire.
    A psychopath can’t.



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  4. Victor says:

    In my reaserch , I have found Hope for the Mothers of at risk Children! But it is still in it’s infancy! For a mother to have the Time to spend with teaching the at risk child . It would need to be an Ideal situation. More a Family affair with every member helping out. We all know how difficult that is today! For a single mother trying to make a living and suport a family?
    The reaserch says, that you have to teach the child to respect that others have feelings even if the child does not feel these , they can be taught what they are and to set the boundries for their own behavior in respect of others!
    A Big DEAL was that punishment was worthless! That Reward for the desired behavior was the ONLY way to train/teach the Child!
    And I thought having a puppy was difficult! Peace



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  5. pollyannanomore says:

    Wow = this is awesome writing and testament to your extensive training and brilliant mind. So love contains many requisite parts. I had read the work of Nell Noddings who describes love as being like a DNA helix model with reciprocal actions between each partner strengthening the love FELT by each and subsequently the love GIVEN OUT by each. She describes love as being an engrossment with another person so that you want to empty out your own soul to contain that of the other and have them contain your own.

    This love is formed of actions – gifts exchanged – perhaps doing a kind thing like making coffee or caring for the other when sick. The sociopath is solely engrossed with themselves. There is no opening of the soul because there is no true soul to be engrossed with so we are hooked in at first by being engrossed with a mirage that gives nothing back but our own reflections of what we want to see. It’s a terribly one sided affair. Only the healthy partner gives till they are empty – the sociopath just takes everything as his right. It’s still so hard to wrap my head around it all – that all that heartfeltness from me meant nothing at all to him – it was like ordering a takeaway while he stomped on my heart and ripped my soul to shreds because he was jealous of it. Or maybe he was just indifferent – indifference is perhaps worse.

    Thanks – this is really food for thought – I am going to check out the link now 🙂



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