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Many shades of bad behavior

Last month I was in a law firm. Not because of a legal issue—I was there to discuss writing the content for their new websites. Two lawyers, who had been part of one firm, were setting up independent practices. One lawyer hired me. The other wasn’t sure, so he wanted to meet me. A week later I learned that the second lawyer decided he would write his website himself.

On Saturday, I was shocked to see a story in the local newspaper: The second lawyer, Seth A. Fuscellaro, who was also a public defender in Lower Township, New Jersey, was charged in a $15 million mortgage fraud scheme. The FBI actually arrested him in municipal court and escorted him out in handcuffs.

The lawyer was one of 11 people charged in the scheme. One man was also charged with attempted murder—he allegedly shot a witness multiple times. (The witness survived.)

As I read the article for the second time, I still couldn’t believe my eyes. When I met Fuscellaro, I saw absolutely nothing that might indicate any inappropriate behavior, let alone fraud on the scale reported in the newspaper. I had no reason to think the man might be anything but a busy lawyer.

Colorado movie massacre

People are having the same reaction, on a much larger scale, to the news that James Holmes, a shy neurosciences student who was working on his Ph.D., was arrested in the shooting massacre in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

People who knew Holmes, and knew his family, are stunned. Neighbors and teachers described him as “smart” but “quiet.” According to an article on CBSNews.com, “In high school, Holmes won a competitive position at a rigorous science boot camp and an internship in neurobiology at the prestigious Salk Institute.”

A video has emerged showing Holmes as an 18-year-old making a presentation to fellow students at a science camp, explaining “subjective experience—what takes place inside the mind, as opposed to the external world.”

Watch: James Holmes: First video of alleged killer released, on ABCNews.go.com.

Obviously, people want to know, “Is Holmes delusional? Does he have a mental illness?” It’s certainly too soon to know. But reporters are already asking the question:

Was this killer mentally ill?

“It says a lot about the type of prejudice we have when we automatically go to the presumption that a clinical mental illness was the cause,” says Praveen Kamban, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California-Los Angeles. “Even the surgeon general of the United States has said there’s very little risk of violence or harm from a stranger who has a mental disorder.

“Not all bad behavior comes from mental illness. Sometimes it can simply be bad behavior.”

Read Probe of shooting suspect James Holmes intensifies, on USAToday.com.

Syndrome of sociopathy (psychopathy)

Here is the point of today’s post: Just because someone behaves badly, even murderously, it does not prove that the person is a sociopath (psychopath).

Sociopathy is a pattern of behavior in which individuals manipulate and exploit others. It is a syndrome, which means the disorder is associated with several recognizable features, symptoms or behaviors.

As I explain on the Key Symptoms page of Lovefraud.com, Dr. Robert Hare identified the traits of a psychopath as:

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions
  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Early behavior problems
  • Adult antisocial behavior

Although James Holmes has yet to be charged in the Colorado shootings, let alone tried and convicted, he was caught at the scene and his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. I think it’s fair to anticipate that he will go to prison.

Obviously, his actions were massively evil. Holmes planned his assault in a cold, calculated way. But is he glib, egocentric, grandiose or impulsive? Does he have a need for excitement? Did he have early behavior problems? Look at the video—does this guy at all resemble the human predators that we were involved with? No.

In my opinion, as heinous as this man’s actions were, he probably is not a sociopath (psychopath).

Joe Paterno

Here on Lovefraud, there was also a raging debate a few days ago about Joe Paterno. This case is a bit muddier, because we have learned, through the Freeh Report, that Paterno did lie, at least in reference to his knowledge of Sandusky’s behavior with young boys. We’ve also learned that he wielded incredible power at Penn State, used his power to protect his turf, and was willing to throw innocent children under the bus in order to avoid negative publicity and a stain on the shining image of Penn State football.

This is reprehensible. It is a betrayal of everything that the coach supposedly stood for. Still, based on what has been published about this affair, I doubt that any competent clinician would diagnose Paterno as a sociopath.

Keep in mind that not only is sociopathy a syndrome, it’s also a continuum. That means that a disordered person can have any of the traits listed above to a greater or lesser degree. To qualify as a sociopath, an individual needs high enough scores on enough of the traits to meet the threshold.

So perhaps Paterno would have scored high on “egocentric and grandiose.” But would he have scored high on all, or even many, of those other traits?

Quite honestly, I don’t know for sure. I never went to Penn State, never met Joe Paterno. I only have access to media reports, and they may be incorrect or biased. Many, many sportswriters have been coming out with articles saying, “I believed Joe Paterno and I was wrong.”

Bad behavior

Here at Lovefraud we’re learning about sociopaths, which is important not only for us as individuals, but for all of society. Millions of these predators live among us; they are incredibly destructive; and we need to watch out for them. The more people who are aware that they exist, the better.

Still, we need to guard against seeing a sociopath behind every bush. Not everyone who is power-centered, lies and steals, or even commits mass murder is a sociopath. As the psychiatrist quoted above says, sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior.



98 Comments on "Many shades of bad behavior"

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  1. Truthspeak says:

    Dupey, yeah…..this focusing on your heart condition is scary, to be sure. But, it’s overshadowing every reason that you have to take each day as it comes.

    And, I think that any physician that puts an “expiration date” on a patient is a jackass. I don’t want to know anything because I want to move through every day without focusing on my end.

    As a complete aside, I have a friend who has 2 spath siblings that are obsessed with money. Neither of them works and they’re both absolute parasites. They’ve each profited, financially, on the deaths of other people – Trust funds, etc….. My friend has a fear of dying (like many people do), but hers seems to be a little more pronounced for whatever reasons. At any rate, these siblings all share a Trust and the two spaths have been constantly nagging her to alter things within the Trust so that they can access all of the money, right now. She has a very good career that she has worked VERY (caps for emphasis) hard to develop, with benefits, and she has her own savings account, etc. She is a “responsible adult.”

    So….these siblings are tormenting her with emails, phone calls, and text messages about how her personal decisions were neglectful of THEIR situations, if she were to suddenly die. Now, this gal is in her mid-40’s, healthy, and successful. But, they stick her with this jab at every opportunity. And, it generates extreme anxiety for her. These siblings speak about whose Will they believe they are written into, who has money, who’s likely to die next (older relatives), and so on. This is the most unseemly topic of conversation that I can imagine. So, this friend is concerned that these siblings are just waiting for something to happen to her.

    I have an almost morbid fascination at how thoroughly a sociopath can deconstruct our worlds with a simple phrase, action, threat, or stupid choice. And, it’s clinically fascinating that they move from one target to the next, without skipping a beat.

    So, Dupey-poo…..I want you to hold up your left arm with your hand in a fist, palm-up. Then, I want you to extend your middle finger from that fist as far as you’re able. Then, I want you to say (out loud), “I’m alive, asshole. Now, FARKOFF so I can get some stuff done!”

    HUGS TO YOU, DUPEY………….you’re here for a long, long time



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  2. Stargazer says:

    Truthspeak, I’m like you – I have gotten very good at cutting of toxic people with no explanation. It’s almost sociopathic. I am definitely in touch with my inner sociopath and I use it when I need to in these kinds of situations. You don’t owe toxic people anything, not even an explanation, even if they are immediately family members.

    Duped, none of us know how much longer our bodies have on earth. Look at what happened at the movie theater here in CO a few weeks ago. Our lives are so very precious. We should make the best of whatever time we have. If we cannot feel joy, then there is a reason, and we need to find out the reason and go in the direction of finding a solution. Just choose life and life will choose you. Not that you can be happy all the time, but it is possible to be in a certain amount of peace with whatever is happening. Worrying about how much longer you have to live is necessarily taking you out of the present moment. And you can only find peace in the present moment.

    If you ever feel inclined, there is an excellent old Japanese (Kirosawa) film. I can’t remember the name. It’s about a man who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given 6 months to live. He had lived a very mediocre and lonely life pushing papers around in a government building. After he got diagnosed, he had a small freak-out where he thought he needed to hire hookers and have some excitement. He thought that was the answer, but it didn’t make him happy or bring him love. Then he made a very conscious decision to just completely inhabit his life. He went back to work and instead of shuffling papers around to the bottom of a pile to and forgetting about them, he picked up the next piece of paper and looked at it. It was some sort of inquiry into building a city park that would benefit the people. He had shuffled it to the bottom of the pile because he knew that it would be nearly impossible to push the request through and, like many government bureaucrats, too lazy and jaded to do anything about it. Well, he decided to actually work on this proposal, no matter what it took. He ended up camping out on the steps of the government building and becoming very politically active. He became the voice of the people lobbying for the park. Eventually, due to his efforts, the park got built, and he was loved and revered by many. He had done a great thing to help a lot of people. He did die 6 months later as predicted. And when he did, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people came to his funeral. He had become a very loved man. He made his last 6 months count for something, instead of worrying about when he was going to die. The moral of this film is that being completely present and engaged with your life will bring peace and joy. But trying to chase after happiness like it is something in the future is like the magic bullet – it never works.



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  3. darwinsmom says:

    Star,

    Please do not refer to yourself as having a sociopathic part. The word ‘path’ comes from ‘pathology’, in other words ‘pervasive’. You have no pervasive calousness in you. Everyone can at times be cold and can shut down their empathy in order to survive and stay out of harm’s way. That is the normal condition. A sociopath though is pathologically callous, cold and without feeling. They have no empathy that needs shutting off 🙂

    It was one of the most important lessons in therapy, never to refer yourself as pathological or having pathological traits if it ain’t so. An empathic person can be egocentric, but isn’t narcistic. An empathic person can be callous, but isn’t a sociopath. An empathic person can be selfish, but isn’t an egotist. By giving normal human attitude that vary depending on the situation and circumstances a pathological name, to me it sounds as if seeing it as ‘abnormal’ and ‘bad’ and ‘unhealthy’… but it isn’t necessarily so.

    It breaks my heart each time when survivors refer to themselves as narcistic or sociopathic on here.

    It basically comes down to the message of this song:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1II2nPmBZJk

    Hugs



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  4. Stargazer says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, darwinsmom. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone here. I used the word “sociopathic” to refer to the trait of being able to discard someone on a dime or to be completely selfish. I think we all have the capacity to do that, whatever you call it, and it can be called upon when you need it and it can be a very healthy response in a toxic situation. I call it my inner sociopath, and I rather like that expression. I make the distinction between having a sociopathic part and actually *being* a sociopath, which I know I’m not. I also have a narcissistic side and a truly enlightened compassionate side. I feel that people are all incredibly complex and have within us the capacity to behave in all kinds of ways.



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  5. darwinsmom says:

    Star,

    You’re not offending me at all. If it feels empowering to you, more power to you.

    For me it’s important not to do that at all… I hated myself a long time in my youth for emotions which were completely normal but I feared were abnormal (not just bad, but abnormal and pathological). It was one of the basic causes of my identity crisis, because I would not allow myself to feel or act on such to me ‘abnormal’ feelings. The word I needed to learn to apply to myself, including for extreme stuck responses in abnormal situations, was ‘normal!’, ‘normal!’, ‘normal!’ And my biggest breakthroughs regarding my issues always solely came when I recognized ‘it’s totally normal!’

    And I think for many survivors it is important to realize that the whole range of emotions they have, including anger, coldness, hate, disgust, etc are normal feelings. It’s only pathological when you’re stuck in just a particular set of feelings which are blown out of proportion and that only when it’s been that way all of your life as far as you can remember.

    Anyway, I do cognitively know you meant it in a self-empowering sense, but it still makes me want to hug you and remind you that to turn cold to people who mistreat you or don’t respect you is very normal. 🙂



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  6. Stargazer says:

    Darwinsmom, if I wanted to call myself pathological, I’d call myself a borderline personality because that’s what I was diagnosed with all those years ago. If this ever applied, it no longer does, but whenever I called myself that, it didn’t make me feel the greatest. I am quite proud, however, of my inner sociopath. When many people live their lives from “shoulds” and obligation to take care of needy people, I’m glad that I have broken free from those “shoulds”. I can be just as selfish as the next person or just as compassionate. I can pick and choose to whom I extend my energy and generosity. Usually when people call me selfish, it’s the people who themselves feel they cannot ever say no and who will put the needs of everyone else above theirs. The people who know me the most think I’m very caring and honest, and they don’t have a problem with my boundaries.



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  7. darwinsmom says:

    Star,

    Did you have a specific therapy for that diagnosis?

    The people who’d call me selfish would be those who are truly selfish and didn’t get what they want from me. Ex/Spath accused me of being selfish a few times… LOL. But then some spaths try to flatter me with telling me I’m the sweetest person they know (the one I blocked last weekend). And when they see a chance to diss on me, they’ll say I’m a bleeding heart. I guess it all depends on their agenda… LOL.

    Empathic people rarely refer to me as selfish (can’t think of one such instance really), but they might get into a philosophical disagreement about what constitutes selfishness (that I have experienced).



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  8. hope52 says:

    I totally disagree with the above statement about James Holmes. Let me tell you why.

    I have had the “pleasure” of being with two abusive men. Let me define what I consider “abuse”.

    Individuals who primarily focus on themselves and take pleasure in hurting others – emotionally, physcially, and financially.

    Despite the common denonominator with both of these men, they were different. One the life of the party. Charming, boyish, flirting with all of the women and violent when angered. Screaming at me when I made him mad and did not do what he commanded.

    The other man. Charming, boyish, flirting with all of the women and very quiet. Sitting in front of his computer most of the time and reading his books quietly. It took a lot to get this man “angry” but it when it happened he began to resemble the anti-Christ.

    What is my point? Psychopaths are not completely formed like they fell out of a cookie cutter. There are some nuances of difference. JUST because they do not fit every single symptom on Robert Hare’s list does NOT mean that we should not take notice. Pay attention to what they are doing. Observations become key factors in ascertaining whether or not someone is psychopathic.

    This is not a contest to see who has the “most” characteristics of psychopathy. Sandra L Brown in her book “How To Spot a Dangerous Man” even makes this comment. ONE trait is a wake up call.

    The psychiatrist that was seeing James Holmes prior to his dropping out of school has lawyered up. Hmmmm…another therapist that may have failed to do something. Another “professional” that may have not acted when she took his file to her “Assessment Board” but they never met. My disappointment in her psychotherapy community continues. I do realize that HIPPA does prevent some of this and perhaps a closer look is needed to enable professionals to actually do their job.

    Let us not feel badly that we are thinking James Holmes is a psychopath. Let us not feel badly that we even THINK he might have a brain disorder excaerbated by some type of abusive environment growing up.

    There are still facts to uncover with James Holmes. I will wait for the court to reveal more about this young man. In the meantime, let’s not diminish the work on any level, that so many have tirelessly worked to focus on these demonic individuals.

    There is a reason for bad behavior.



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