Steve Becker, LCSW

BOOK REVIEW: The Inner World of the Psychopath

Inner world of the psychopathAs you read the list of key symptoms of a psychopath, you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. Check, check, check — the individual who has been making you crazy has all, or almost of all, of the traits.

In shock, you realize that you have a psychopath in your life.

You’ve seen the individual’s glib and superficial charm, lack of empathy, lack of remorse. You knew he or she was deceitful, but now you suspect that every statement this person ever made may have been a lie.

“How can he do that?” you ask. “What was she thinking?”

Steve Becker, LCSW, a longtime Lovefraud author, has just come out with a book that explains what goes on in the mind of a psychopath. It’s called, The Inner World of the Psychopath — a definitive primer on the psychopathic personality.

Everyone is a sociopath

Editor’s note: Steve Becker has a very dry sense of humor, and the following post is written tongue-in-cheek. If you have a humorous story about a sociopath, feel free to add it as a comment.

Well, thanks to the Investigation Discovery Channel, the latest estimates are that 85% of the general population is sociopathic, and likely to commit a horrific, calculated exploitation of another human being within the next three weeks.

The mind of the mass killer

Take someone who is mentally ill/unhinged, add rage, and paranoia, then weaponize this individual, and you’ve got a murderer/mass murderer on your hands.

The “rage + paranoia” is a highly incendiary combination. In these mass murders it strikes me that “paranoia” is almost surely present and necessary—the murderous individual believes that it’s “him against a world” that has “screwed him over,” the world (and everyone in it) becoming a global, generalized “object” and “target” of his violent contempt and rage.

His is a worldview in which he is the “outsider” and everyone else is “on the inside;” in his paranoia, immaturity and narcissism, he has divided the world into these rigid categories—himself on the “outside,” and everyone else “on the inside” (literally and figuratively “on the inside”); the latter become “fair game” for the vengeance he has accumulated and the plans he incubates to ventilate it.

Critiquing “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” by Kevin Dutton, Ph.D.

Kevin Dutton’s “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” is a strange, ultimately disconcerting book. Dutton is erudite and obviously fascinated with his subject—psychopaths. He references some cutting edge research and had access to many heavy hitters in the field of  psychopathy experts.

Yet in the end, I find his book very troubling. His thesis is basically what the book’s subversive title suggests—that psychopaths have qualities of “wisdom.” That is,  psychopaths, he asserts, have certain admirable, enviable and distinguishing qualities in greater volumes than non-psychopaths, qualities the non-psychopath could benefit from in greater quantity so long as (unlike psychopaths) the non-psychopath can regulate and express these “psychopathic qualities” appropriately, in the appropriate contexts.

Dutton seems to be suggesting that psychopaths (or many of them) are, by virtue of possessing these “psychopathic qualities,” in some respects advanced in their psychological, temperamental and even spiritual evolution.  Audaciously, he draws analogies between psychopaths and the most evolved monks and Buddhist masters.

Loving the sociopath who’s spared you

(This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.)

It can be hard to hate or despise even the most terrible human being so long as he’s inflicted his cruelty on others, but spared you. Take a sociopathic relative, even a close one.

If somehow he compartmentalized his life, lived a “double life”—in any case, if you learned that he treated you (retrospectively even) with an exceptional, aberrant mercy that he denied his victims, you might very possibly remain “loyal” to him. You might still even “love” him.

The sociopath’s “loyalty” deficiency

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW.  The use of male gender pronouns is strictly for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.) 

“Loyalty” and “the sociopath” are incompatible terms. We’ve discussed many traits of the exploitive personality, but let’s not minimize a very vital one: deficient loyalty. Clearly,  deficient loyalty is a sociopathic characteristic.

A deficiency of loyalty can be disguised very well by clever, self-serving rationalizations. But you will not find the case of a true sociopath about whom you will ever be able to say: he (or she) was really, through and through, truly loyal.

Loyal? What does “loyal” mean? It’s actually pretty simple to define: when you are loyal, you “have the backs” of those who’ve “had your back.”

The overdiagnosis of sociopaths

(The following article is copyrighted © 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is strictly for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)

Let’s be honest. The term “sociopath” has become so commonplace, a very good thing (reflecting the increasingly spacious public awareness of exploiters), that it sometimes seems that pretty much every jerk we confront we’re tempted to call a “sociopath.”

Now, there’s way more “upside” to this than “downside.” And I’d say this applies to terms like “abusive” as well. And thank goodness the concept of “abuse” is now much more widely understood—it’s wider public reach, along with the lay public’s greater access to issues like “narcissism” and the various diagnoses associated with it (like sociopathy), are wonderful and important developments.

Sociopathic tendencies or full-blown sociopath?

(The article below is copyrighted © 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake and not meant to imply that females aren’t capable of exhibiting the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)

What does it mean to say that someone has sociopathic tendencies, versus full-blown sociopathy, and does the difference even matter?

The simple answer is that someone with sociopathic tendencies will exhibit sociopathic behaviors and attitudes sometimes, while elsewhere he may seem to possess (and, in fact, may possess) a somewhat genuine (if limited and unreliable) capacity and desire to respect others.

In contrast, the full-blown sociopath’s respect for others, when apparently evident, is never really deeply genuine, but rather driven more by expediency or, more specifically, by the lack of any immediate opportunity to benefit from disrespecting or exploiting others.

Revisiting prevailing myths about sociopaths

 As I work with partners and other victims of sociopaths, I see regularly the persistence of certain myths about these destructive individuals.

These myths can retard the process by which partners fully recognize the sociopath for who he is. They can protect him by supporting his “mask” or, at the very least, supporting the “rationalizations” his partners and victims sometimes use to “cut him the slack” he surely doesn’t deserve.

For instance, commonly I hear the position, “Well, he’s not always like this. He doesn’t always act like this.” This supports the notion that sociopaths are continuously flaunting their disorder. But this just isn’t the case.

To begin with, we know that many sociopaths are very skilled at “masking” their particular psychopathology. So it’s perfectly “normal” for them to appear, well, generally “normal.” Yet I can’t tell you how many people I work with who want desperately to see the sociopath’s seeming capacity to behave normally as “contra-indicative” of his sociopathy.

Are clinical “continuums” silly?

The narcissistic continuum?  The psychopathic continuum? The sociopath explained as being someone located at the apex of the narcissistic continuum?

Are clinical continuums silly? Maybe they are.

How “nice” are you? Well, maybe you’re somewhere on a continuum of “niceness.” At the apex, you are a super-nice individual; in the middle, sometimes very nice, sometimes less so; at the nadir, you are just an incredibly “un-nice” (or “mean”) person.

Hmmm. Wow. Somehow this doesn’t seem like a newsflash.

How sloppy are you? Well, couldn’t Robert Hare have developed clinically a “sloppiness” (versus a psychopathic) measure that places all of us somewhere on a “sloppiness” continuum.

With a score of 40, you are an incorrigibly sloppy individual, so sloppy that maybe society needs protection from you; with a score of 1-5, you are seriously, anally “neat,” so pathologically neat that society will DEFINITELY need protection from you.

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