I have heard it suggested that there may be those who “attract” psychopaths. It does not matter what the relationship. Some feel that there are people who are simply prone to involvement with individuals with psychopathic features. Is this true? Maybe. Maybe not.
Why do they feel this way?
Talk to victims. There are many who have been involved with psychopaths who feel that they are “everywhere.” The same story keeps happening over and over. It’s like Ground Hog Day or Fifty First Dates. Perhaps these victims have had several romantic experiences with psychopaths. Perhaps they feel many of their family members are psychopaths. Others report experiencing a variety of different encounters in various areas of life.
On the surface, it may seem like an easy conclusion to come to. I, on the other hand, believe that we have not even begun to understand just how complicated an issue this really is, which may be influenced by many different factors. Here are some of my thoughts.
A psychopath “behind every bush?”
Among the general population, there are not “psychopaths behind every bush.” However, psychopathy does occur along a continuum. It is a spectrum disorder of sorts. In other words, one person may exhibit only a few traits of psychopathy. Another may exhibit some or all.
Therefore, the numbers of troubling individuals may actually be higher than once suspected. If we only count those who are affected by the disorder as those who fit the criterion for a clinical diagnosis, we are leaving many troubling individuals out of the statistical equation. That does not mean, however, that they are not present in our lives, wreaking havoc.
What do we do about all of the sub-clinical folks who may be just as troubling and dangerous as those amongst the prison population or those who have created enough of a stir to warrant in-depth assessments? We may need to take another look at how we decide who is “psychopathic enough” to gain our attention, as many routinely “fly under the radar.”
Once we know about psychopathy and the other Cluster B disorders, we may begin to recognize those with the disorders or a number of their features.
How is psychopathy assessed and why do we care?
To briefly explain, one of the instruments available for measuring psychopathy is the PCL-R, which was developed by Dr. Robert Hare. Only trained mental health professionals are to diagnose using this tool. However, if we look at the checklist items, we are able to decide for ourselves if we know individuals who exhibit the various behaviors. If these occur frequently and/or consistently, over time, we may know someone with psychopathy.
With this measure, professional evaluators are able to assign a score ranging from 0 to 40. Time is beginning to show that this assessment is more successful among some groups of offenders than others.
Non-psychopathic individuals tend to have scores of about a 4 or 5 on the PCL-R. Survival dictates that we must all possess a small number of traits which allow us to act in our own best interests. However, do not be confused. Higher scores likely do not correlate with what is being argued may be adaptive behavior.
The motivations of non-psychopaths are very different from those of psychopaths or those with elevated features. Disorder and adaptation are two different things.
Understanding the psychopathy “numbers game” is helpful so that we do not become too attached to a score, accepting it as the only thing that matters.
Does the number matter?
A score of 30 has been established as the cut score for psychopathy, acknowledging a score of 20 as high, and of possible potential concern, but still sub-clinical. But what about those with scores of 15 or 18? Not exactly psychopathic, but not “normal.” We must acknowledge that we need to look at the facts of cases involving these individuals collaterally. These individuals may be of great concern as well. Ask anyone who has dealt with them.
It is also worth noting that how the score was attained may be of importance.
The real world
So, even if they are not “behind every bush,” understanding the disorder and how these features tend to present should be of great importance to the general population. The chances are good that most of us will be at least superficially involved at some point.
The extent of our involvement may vary, depending on many outside variables. However, I do not think it is safe to suggest that there may be some who “attract” psychopaths.
Granted, we may need to examine some of our vulnerabilities, train ourselves not to ignore red flags, and control some of our behaviors and responses, but we should not internalize our involvement too much and no one should lay blame on anyone for their involvement.
I have said it before, and I will say it again; we did not choose these people. We chose the persona they pitched us.
What about the frequency among family members?
Among families, however, the “psychopaths everywhere” concept may be somewhat different. Science continues to examine whether psychopathy is genetic or environmental. While it seems that both may play a role, research strongly supports that a genetic component exists.
As a result, it is possible that there are many psychopathic individuals in a particular family. This does not mean that everyone will be afflicted, but it may mean that there is an over representation of the disorder in a blood line.
Therefore, it is likely that a non-psychopathic family member may feel “surrounded” by psychopaths. Simply put, the numbers may be far greater than in a family without a predisposition for the condition. It can be a difficult situation to navigate regardless of the causes.
In the end
Ultimately, it does not matter if psychopaths are “everywhere” or not. To those involved, even if they are only “somewhere,” the problems tend to be significant. Whether we are simply more in tune to human behavior, we “attract” them, or we live among more than others due to genetics or rearing tendencies, without an understanding, they can be the most trying people we know.
They have the potential to create problems in our homes, at work, or in our own backyards. The good is that once we understand their behavior patterns, we can better help ourselves and those we love.