ROBERT D. HARE
New York: Guilford Press, 1999, 236 pp. (ISBN 1-57230-451-0).
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Author's Note ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xi
Introduction: The Problem l
1. "Experiencing" the Psychopath 8
2. Focusing the Picture 21
3. The Profile: Feelings and Relationships 33
4. The Profile: Lifestyle 57
5. Internal Controls: The Missing Piece 71
6. Crime: The Logical Choice 83
7. White-Collar Psychopaths 102
8. Words from an Overcoat Pocket 124
9. Flies in the Web 144
10. The Roots of the Problem 155
11. The Ethics of Labeling 180
12. Can Anything Be Done? 192
13. A Survival Guide 207
Chapter Notes 221
Preface and Acknowledgments
Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. Their bewildered victims desperately ask, "Who are these people?" "What makes them the way they are?" "How can we protect ourselves?" Although these and related questions have been the focus of clinical speculation and empirical research for over one hundred vears—and of my own work for a quarter-century—it is primarily within the last few decades that the deadly mystery of the psychopath has begun to reveal itself. When I agreed to write this book I knew it would be difficult to present hard scientific data and circumspection in a way that the public could understand. I would have been quite comfortable remaining in my academic ivory tower, having esoteric discussions with other researchers and writing technical books and articles. However, in recent years there has been a dramatic upsurge in the public's exposure to the machinations and depredations of psychopaths. The news media are filled with dramatic accounts of violent crime, financial scandals, and violations of the public trust. Countless movies and books tell the stories of
serial killers, con artists, and members of organized crime. Although many of these accounts and portrayals are of psychopaths, many others are not, and this important distinction is often lost on the news media, the entertainment industry, and the public. Even those members of the criminal justice system— lawyers, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers, parole officers, law enforcement officers, correctional staff— whose work daily brings them into contact with psychopaths often have little practical appreciation of the sort of people they are dealing with. This failure to distinguish between offenders who are psychopaths and those who are not has dire consequences for society, as this book makes clear. On a more personal level, it is very likely that at some time in your life you will come into painful contact with a psychopath. For your own physical, psychological, and financial well-being it is crucial that you know how to identify the psychopath, how to protect yourself, and how to minimize the harm done to you.
Much of the scientific literature on psychopathy is technical, abstract, and difficult to follow for those who lack a background in the behavioral sciences. My goal was to translate this literature so that it became accessible, not only to the general public but to members of the criminal justice system and the mental health community. I tried not to oversimplify theoretical issues and research findings or to overstate what we know. I hope that those readers whose interest is piqued will use the chapter notes to delve deeper into the topic.
The scientific slant to this book reflects my background in experimental psychology and cognitive psychophysiology. Some readers may be disappointed to see that I have devoted little space to discussions of psychodynamic issues, such as unconscious processes and conflicts, defense mechanisms, and so forth. Although many books and hundreds of articles on the psychodynamics of psychopathy have been written over the past fifty years, in my opinion they have not greatly advanced our understanding of the disorder. To a large extent, this is because most psychodynamic accounts of psychopathy have an armchair, often circular, quality about them and therefore do not readily lend themselves to empirical study. However, recently there have been some attempts to establish congruence between
psychodynamic speculations about psychopathy and the theories and procedures of behavioral science. Some of the results
of this work are interesting and, where relevant, are discussed in this book.
Over the years I have been blessed with a steady stream of outstanding graduate students and assistants. Our relationships have always been mutually beneficial: I provide guidance and a nurturing environment and they provide the fresh ideas, creative spark, and enthusiasm for research needed to keep a laboratory vibrant and productive. Their contributions are evident in the frequency with which graduate students are listed as senior authors on publications emanating from my laboratory. I am particularly indebted to Stephen Hart, Adelle Forth, Timothy Harpur, Sherrie Williamson, and Brenda Gillstrom, each of whom played a major role in my thinking and research over the past decade.
Our research has been supported by grants from the Medical Research Council of Canada, The MacArthur Research Network on Mental Health and the Law, and the British Columbia Health Research Foundation. Most of this research was conducted in institutions run by the Correctional Service of Canada. The cooperation of the inmates and staff of these institutions is gratefully acknowledged. To protect the identities of the inmates who took part in the research I have altered the details of specific cases or combined several cases into composites.
I would like to thank Judith Regan for encouraging me to write this book, and Suzanne Lipsett for showing me how to convert technical material into readable prose.
My view of life has been greatly influenced by the courage, determination, and grace of my daughter, Cheryl, and my sister, Noelle. I owe a special debt to my wife and best friend, Averil, who, in spite of a demanding professional career of her own, somehow found the time and energy to actively support and encourage my work. Her warmth, judgment, and clinical acumen have kept me happy, secure, and sane over the years.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder defined by a distinctive cluster of behaviors and inferred personality traits, most of which society views as pejorative. It is therefore no light matter to diagnose an individual as a psychopath. Like any psychiatric disorder, diagnosis is based on the accumulation of evidence that an individual satisfies at least the minimal criteria for the disorder. In cases based on my own files the individuals have been carefully diagnosed on the basis of extensive interview and file information. However, I have disguised these individuals by altering details and removing identifying information, without compromising the point I was trying to make.
Although the topic of this book is psychopathy, not everyone described herein is a psychopath. Many of the examples I use are taken from published reports, the news media, and personal communications, and 1 cannot be sure that the individuals in question are psychopaths, even though they may have been given the label by others. In each case, however, the documented evidence concerning some aspect of the person's behavior is either consistent with the concept of psychopathy or illustrates a key trait or behavior that is typical of the disorder. These individuals may or may not be psychopaths. But their reported behavior provides a useful vehicle for elaborating the various traits and behaviors that define psychopathy. The reader should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is portrayed in this book.
(G)ood people are rarely suspicious: they cannot imagine others doing the things they themselves are incapable of doing; usually they accept the undramatic solution as the correct one, and let matters rest there. Then too, the normal are inclined to visualize the [psychopath] as one who's as monstrous in appearance as he is in mind, which is about as far from the truth as one could well gel.... These monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself— just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye, more what the mind thought a rosebud or a peach should be, than the imperfect original from which it had been modelled.
—William March, The Bad Seed
Introduction: The Problem
Several years ago two graduate students and I submitted a paper to a scientific journal. The paper described an experiment in which we had used a biomedical recorder to monitor electrical activity in the brains of several groups of adult men while they performed a language task. This activity was traced on chart paper as a series of waves, referred to as an electroencephalogram (EEC). The editor returned our paper with his apologies. His reason, he told us: "Frankly, we found some of the brain wave patterns depicted in the paper very odd. Those EEGs couldn't hax'e come from real people."
Some of the brain wave recordings were indeed odd, but we hadn't gathered them from aliens and we certainly hadn't made them up. We had obtained them from a class of individuals found in every race, culture, society, and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming— but always deadly—individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths. Their hallmark is a stunning lack of conscience; their game is self-gratification at the other person's expense. Many spend time in prison, but many do not. All take far more than they give.
This book confronts psychopathy head-on and presents the disturbing topic for what it is—a dark mystery with staggering implications for society; a mystery that finally is beginning to reveal itself after centuries of speculation and decades of empirical psychological research.
To give you some idea of the enormity of the problem that faces us, consider that there are at least 2 million psychopaths in North America; the citizens of New York City have as many as 100,000 psychopaths among them. And these are conservative estimates. Far from being an esoteric, isolated problem that affects only a few people, psychopathy touches virtually every one of us.
Consider also that the prevalence of psychopathy in our society is about the same as that of schizophrenia, a devastating mental disorder that brings heart-wrenching distress to patient and family alike. However, the scope of the personal pain and distress associated with schizophrenia is small compared to the extensive personal, social, and economic carnage wrought by psychopaths. They cast a wide net, and nearly everyone is caught in it one way or another.
The most obvious expressions of psychopathy—but by no means the only ones—involve flagrant criminal violation of society's rules. Not surprisingly, many psychopaths are criminals, but many others remain out of prison, using their charm and chameleon-like abilities to cut a wide swath through society and leaving a wake of ruined lives behind them.
Together, these pieces of the puzzle form an image of a self-centered, callous, and remorseless person profoundly lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional relationships with others, a person who functions without the restraints of conscience. If you think about it, you will realize that what is missing in this picture are the very qualities that allow human beings to live in social harmony.
It is not a pretty picture, and some express doubt that such people exist. To dispel this doubt you need only consider the more dramatic examples of psychopathy that have been increasing in our society in recent years. Dozens of books, movies, and television programs, and hundreds of newspaper articles and headlines, tell the story: Psychopaths make up a significant portion of the people the media describe—serial killers, rapists, thieves, swindlers, con men, wife beaters, white-collar criminals, hype-prone stock promoters and "boiler-room" operators, child abusers, gang members, disbarred lawyers, drug barons, professional gamblers, members of organized crime, doctors who've lost their licenses, terrorists, cult leaders, mercenaries, and unscrupulous businesspeople.
Read the newspaper in this light, and the clues to the extent of the problem virtually jump off the page. Most dramatic are the cold-blooded, conscienceless killers who both repel and fascinate the public. Consider this small sampling from the hundreds of accounts available, many of which have been made into movies:
- John Gacy, a Des Plaines, Illinois, contractor and Junior Chamber of Commerce "Man of the Year" who entertained children as "Pogo the Clown," had his picture taken with President Carter's wife, Rosalynn, and murdered thirty-two young men in the 1970s, burying most of the bodies in the crawl space under his house.
- Charles Sobhraj, a French citizen born in Saigon who was described by his father as a "destructor," became an international confidence man, smuggler, gambler, and murderer who left a trail of empty wallets, bewildered women, drugged tourists, and dead bodies across much of Southeast Asia in the 1970s.2
- Jeffrey MacDonald, a physician with the Green Berets who murdered his wife and two children in 1970, claimed that "acid heads" had committed the crimes, became the focus of a great deal of media attention, and was the subject of the book and movie Fatal Vision.
- Gary Tison, a convicted murderer who masterfully manipulated the criminal justice system, used his three sons to help him escape from an Arizona prison in 1978, and went on a vicious killing spree that took the lives of six people.4
- Kenneth Bianchi, one of the "Hillside Stranglers" who raped, tortured, and murdered a dozen women in the Los
Angeles area in the late 1970s, turned in his cousin and accomplice (Angelo Buono), and fooled some experts into believing that he was a multiple personality and that the crimes had been committed by "Steve."5
- Richard Ramirez, a Satan-worshipping serial killer known as the "Night Stalker/' who proudly described himself as "evil" was convicted in 1987 of thirteen murders and thirty other felonies/ including robbery, burglary, rape, sodomy, oral copulation, and attempted murder.
- Diane Downs, who shot her own children to attract a man who didn't want children, and portrayed herself as the real victim.
- Ted Bundy, the "All-American" serial killer who was responsible for the murders of several dozen young women in the mid-1970s, claimed that he had read too much pornography and that a "malignant entity" had taken over his consciousness, and was recently executed in Florida.8
- Clifford Olson, a Canadian serial murderer who persuaded the government to pay him $100,000 to show the authorities where he buried his young victims, does everything he can to remain in the spotlight.9
- Joe Hunt, a fast-talking manipulator who masterminded a rich-kids' phony investment scheme (popularly known as the Billionaire Boys Club) in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, conned wealthy people into parting with their money, and was involved in two murders.10
- William Bradfield, a smooth-talking classics teacher convicted of killing a colleague and her two children.11
- Ken McElroy, who for years "robbed, raped, burned, shot . . . and maimed the citizens of Skidmore, Missouri, without conscience or remorse" until he was finally shot dead in 1981 as forty-five people watched.12
- Colin Pitchfork, an English "flasher," rapist, and murderer, was the first killer to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.13
- Kenneth Taylor, a philandering New Jersey dentist who abandoned his first wife, tried to kill his second wife, savagely beat his third wife on their honeymoon in 1983, battered her to death the next year, hid her body in the trunk of his car while he visited his parents and his second wife, and later claimed he had killed his wife in self-defense when she attacked him following his "discovery" that she was sexually abusing their infant child.14
- Constantine Paspalakis and Deidre Hunt, who videotaped their torture and murder of a young man, are now on death row."
Individuals of this sort, and the terrifying crimes they commit, certainly grab our attention. Sometimes they share the spotlight with a mixed bag of killers and mass murderers whose crimes, often unbelievably horrific, appear to be related to serious mental problems—for example, Ed Gein, a psychotic killer who skinned and ate his victims;1* Edmund Kemper, the "co-ed killer," sexual sadist, and necrophiliac who mutilated and dismembered his victims;17 David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer who preyed on young couples in parked cars;18 and Jeffrey Dahmer, the "Milwaukee monster" who pleaded guilty to torturing, killing, and mutilating fifteen men and boys, and was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life terms.19 Although these killers often judged sane—as were Kemper, Berkowitz, and Dahmer—their unspeakable acts, their grotesque sexual fantasies, and their fascination with power, torture, and death severely test the bounds of sanity.
Psychopathic killers, however, are not mad, according to accepted legal and psychiatric standards. Their acts result not from a deranged mind but from a cold, calculating rationality combined with a chilling inability to treat others as thinking, feeling human beings. Such morally incomprehensible behavior, exhibited by a seemingly normal person, leaves us feeling bewildered and helpless.
As disturbing as this is, we must be careful to keep some perspective here, for the fact is that the majority of psychopaths manage to ply their trade without murdering people. By focus-
ing too much on the most brutal and newsworthy examples of their behavior, we run the risk of remaining blind to the larger picture: psychopaths who don't kill but who have a personal impact on our daily lives. We are far more likely to lose our life savings to an oily-tongued swindler than our lives to a steely-eyed killer.
Nevertheless, high-profile cases have considerable value. Typically they are well documented, alerting us to the fact that such people exist, and that before being caught they were relatives, neighbors, or co-workers of people just like us. These examples also illustrate a frightful and perplexing theme that runs through the case histories of all psychopaths: a deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering experienced by others— in short, a complete lack of empathy, the prerequisite for love.
In a desperate attempt to explain this lack, we turn first to family background, but there is little to help us there. It is true
that the childhoods of some psychopaths were characterized by material and emotional deprivation and physical abuse, but for every adult psychopath from a troubled background there is another whose family life apparently was warm and nurturing, and whose siblings are normal, conscientious people with the ability to care deeply for others. Furthermore, most people who had horrible childhoods do not become psychopaths or callous killers. Illuminating as they may be in other areas of human development, the arguments that children subjected to abuse and violence become abusive and violent adults are of limited value here. There are deeper, more elusive explanations of why and how psychopathy emerges. This book represents my quarter-century search for those answers.
A major part of this quest has been a concerted effort to develop an accurate means by which to identify psychopaths among us. For, if we can't spot them, we are doomed to be their victims, both as individuals and as a society. To give just one, all-too-common example, most people are perplexed whenever a convicted killer, paroled from prison, promptly commits another violent offense. They ask incredulously, "Why was such a person released?" Their puzzlement would no doubt turn to outrage if they knew that in many cases the offender was a psychopath whose violent recidivism could have been predicted
if the authorities—including the parole board—had only done their homework. It is my hope that this book will help the general public and the criminal justice system to become more aware of the nature of psychopathy, the enormity of the problems it poses, and the steps that can be taken to reduce its devastating impact on our lives.
"Experiencing" the Psychopath
I could see the dark blood from Halmca's mouth trickling down the sheet toward the part of her that was under Hud. I didn't move or blink, but then Hud was standing up grinning at mc; he was buckling his ruby belt buckle. "Ain't she a sweet patootie?" he said. He whistled and began to tuck his pant legs into the tops of his red suede boots. Halmca had curled toward the wall...
—Larry McMurty, Horseman, Pass By
Over the years I've become accustomed to the following experience. In response to a courteous question by a dinner acquaintance about my work, I briefly sketch the distinguishing characteristics of a psychopath. Invariably, someone at the table suddenly looks thoughtful and then exclaims, ''Good lord—I think So-and-So must have been ..." or, "You know, I never realized it before, but the person you're describing is my brother-in-law."
These thoughtful, troubled responses aren't limited to the social realm. Routinely, people who have read of my work call my laboratory to describe a husband, a child, an employer, or an acquaintance whose inexplicable behavior has been causing them grief and pain for years.
Nothing is more convincing of the need for clarity and reflection on psychopathy than these real-life stories of disappointment and despair. The three that make up this chapter provide a way of easing into this strange and fascinating subject by conveying that characteristic sense that "something's wrong here but I can't quite put my finger on it."
One of the accounts is drawn from a prison population, where most of the studies of psychopathy take place (for the practical reasons that there are a lot of psychopaths in prisons and the information needed to diagnose them is readily available).
The two other accounts are drawn from everyday life, for psychopaths are found not only in prison populations. Parents, children, spouses, lovers, co-workers, and unlucky victims everywhere are at this moment attempting to cope with the personal chaos and confusion psychopaths cause and to understand what drives them. Many of you will find an uneasy resemblance between the individuals in these examples and people who have made you think you were living in hell.
After I received my master's degree in psychology in the early 1960s, I looked for a job to help support my wife and infant daughter and to pay for the next stage of my education. Without having been inside a prison before, I found myself employed as the sole psychologist at the British Columbia Penitentiary.
I had no practical work experience as a psychologist and no particular interest in clinical psychology or criminological issues. The maximum-security penitentiary near Vancouver was a formidable institution housing the kinds of criminals I had only heard about through the media. To say I was on unfamiliar ground is an understatement.
I started work completely cold—with no training program or sage mentor to hint at how one went about being a prison psychologist. On the first day I met the warden and his administrative staff, all of whom wore uniforms and some of whom wore sidearms. The prison was run along military lines, and accordingly I was expected to wear a "uniform" consisting of a blue
blazer, gray flannel trousers, and black shoes. I convinced the warden that the outfit was unnecessary, but he nevertheless insisted that one at least be made for me by the prison shop, and I was sent down to be measured.
The result was an early sign that all was not as orderly as the place appeared: The jacket sleeves were far too short, the trousers legs were of hilariously discrepant length, and the shoes differed from each other by two sizes. I found the latter particularly perplexing, because the inmate who had measured my feet had been extremely meticulous in tracing them out on a sheet of brown paper. How he could have produced two entirely different-sized shoes, even after several complaints on my part, was difficult to imagine. I could only assume that he was giving me a message of some sort.
My first workday was quite eventful. I was shown to my office, an immense area on the top floor of the prison, far different from the intimate, trust-inspiring burrow I had hoped for. I was isolated from the rest of the institution and had to pass through several sets of locked doors to reach my office. On the wall above my desk was a highly conspicuous red button. A guard who had no idea what a psychologist was supposed to do in a prison—an ignorance 1 shared—told me that the button was for an emergency, but that if I ever need to press it, 1 should not expect help to arrive immediately.
The psychologist who was my predecessor had left a small library in the office. It consisted mainly of books on psychological tests, such as the Rorschach Ink Blot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test. I knew something about such tests but had never used them, so the books—among the few objects in the prison that seemed familiar—only reinforced my sense that I was in for a difficult time.
1 wasn't in my office for more than an hour when my first "client" arrived. He was a tall, slim, dark-haired man in his thirties. The air around him seemed to buzz, and the eye contact he made with me was so direct and intense that I wondered if I had ever really looked anybody in the eye before. That stare was unrelenting—he didn't indulge in the brief glances away that most people use to soften the force of their gaze. Without waiting for an introduction, the inmate—I'll call him
Ray—opened the conversation: "Hey, Doc, how's it going? Look, I've got a problem. I need your help. I'd really like to talk to you about this."
Eager to begin work as a genuine psychotherapist, I asked him to tell me about it. In response, he pulled out a knife and waved it in front of my nose, all the while smiling and maintaining that intense eye contact. My first thought was to push the red button behind me, which was in Ray's plain view and the purpose of which was unmistakable. Perhaps because I sensed that he was only testing me, or perhaps because I knew that pushing the button would do no good if he really intended to harm me, I refrained.
Once he determined that I wasn't going to push the button, he explained that he intended to use the knife not on me but on another inmate who had been making overtures to his "protege," a prison term for the more passive member of a homosexual pairing. Just why he was telling me this was not immediately clear, but I soon suspected that he was checking me out, trying to determine what sort of a prison employee I was. If I said nothing about the incident to the administration, I would be violating a strict prison rule that required staff to report possession of a weapon of any sort. On the other hand, I knew that if I did report him, word would get around that I was not an inmate-oriented psychologist, and my job would be even more difficult than it was promising to be. Following our session, in which he described his "problem" not once or twice but many times, I kept quiet about the knife. To my relief, he didn't stab the other inmate, but it soon became evident that Ray had caught me in his trap: 1 had shown myself to be a soft touch who would overlook clear violations of fundamental prison rules in order to develop "professional" rapport with the inmates.
From that first meeting on, Ray managed to make my eight-month stint at the prison miserable. His constant demands on my time and his attempts to manipulate me into doing things for him were unending. On one occasion, he convinced me that he would make a good cook—he felt he had a natural bent for cooking, he thought he would become a chef when he was released, this was a great opportunity to try out some of his ideas to make institutional food preparation more efficient,
etc.—and 1 supported his request for a transfer from the machine shop (where he had apparently made the knife). What I didn't consider was that the kitchen was a source of sugar, potatoes, fruit, and other ingredients that could be turned into alcohol. Several months after I had recommended the transfer, there was a mighty eruption below the floorboards directly under the warden's table. When the commotion died down, we found an elaborate system for distilling alcohol below the floor. Something had gone wrong and one of the pots had exploded. There was nothing unusual about the presence of a still in a maximum-security prison, but the audacity of placing one under the warden's seat shook up a lot of people. When it was discovered that Ray was brains behind the bootleg operation, he spent some time in solitary confinement.
Once out of "the hole/' Ray appeared in my office as if nothing had happened and asked for a transfer from the kitchen to the auto shop—he really felt he had a knack, he saw the need to prepare himself for the outside world, if he only had the time to practice he could have his own body shop on the outside .... I was still feeling the sting of having arranged the first transfer, but eventually he wore me down.
Soon afterward I decided to leave the prison to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, and about a month before I left Ray almost persuaded me to ask my father, a roofing contractor, to offer him a job as part of an application for parole. When I mentioned this to some of the prison staff, they found it hard to stop laughing. They knew Ray well, they'd all been taken in by his schemes and plans for reform, and one by one they had resolved to adopt a skeptical approach to him. Jaded? I thought so at the time. But the fact was that their picture of Ray was clearer than mine—despite my job description. Theirs had been brought into focus by years of experience with people like him.
Ray had an incredible ability to con not just me but everybody. He could talk, and He, with a smoothness and a directness that sometimes momentarily disarmed even the most experienced and cynical of the prison staff. When I met him he had a long criminal record behind him (and, as it turned out, ahead of him); about half his adult life had been spent in prison, and many of his crimes had been violent. Yet he convinced me, and
others more experienced than I, of his readiness to reform, that his interest in crime had been completely overshadowed by a driving passion in—well, cooking, mechanics, you name it. He lied endlessly, lazily, about everything, and it disturbed him not a whit whenever I pointed out something in his file that contradicted one of his lies. He would simply change the subject and spin off in a different direction. Finally convinced that he might not make the perfect job candidate in my father's firm, I turned down Ray's request—and was shaken by his nastiness at my refusal.
Before I left the prison for the university, I was still making payments on a 1958 Ford that I could not really afford. One of the officers there, later to become warden, offered to trade his 1950 Morris Minor for my Ford and to take over my payments. I agreed, and because the Morris wasn't in very good shape I took advantage of the prison policy of letting staff have their cars repaired in the institution's auto shop—where Ray still worked, thanks (he would have said no thanks) to me. The car received a beautiful paint job and the motor and drivetrain were reconditioned.
With all our possessions on top of the car and our baby in a plywood bed in the backseat, my wife and I headed for Ontario. The first problems appeared soon after we left Vancouver, when the motor seemed a bit rough. Later, when we encountered some moderate inclines, the radiator boiled over. A garage mechanic discovered ball bearings in the carburetor's float chamber; he also pointed out where one of the hoses to the radiator had clearly been tampered with. These problems were repaired easily enough, but the next one, which arose while we were going down a long hill, was more serious. The brake pedal became very spongy and then simply dropped to the floor—no brakes, and it was a long hill. Fortunately, we made it to a service station, where we found that the brake line had been cut so that a slow leak would occur. Perhaps it was a coincidence that Ray was working in the auto shop when the car was being tuned up, but I had no doubt that the prison "telegraph" had informed him of the new owner of the car.
At the university, I prepared to write my dissertation on the effects of punishment on human learning and performance. In
my research for the project I encountered for the first time the literature on psychopathy. I'm not sure I thought of Ray at the time, but circumstances conspired to bring him to mind.
My first job after receiving my Ph.D. was at the University of British Columbia, not far from the penitentiary where I had worked several years before. During registration week in that precomputer age, I sat behind a table with several colleagues to register long lines of students for their fall classes. As I was dealing with a student my ears pricked up at the mention of my name. "Yes, I worked as Dr. Hare's assistant at the penitentiary the whole time he was there, a year or so, I would say it was. Did all his paperwork for him, filled him in on prison life. Sure, he used to talk over hard cases with me. We worked great together." It was Ray, standing at the head of the next line.
My assistant! I broke into the easy flow of his remarks with, "Oh, really?" expecting to disconcert him. "Hey, Doc, how's it going?" he called without losing a beat. Then he simply jumped back into his conversation and took off in another direction. Later, when I checked his application forms, it became apparent that his transcript of previous university courses was fraudulent. To his credit, he had not attempted to register in one of my courses.
Perhaps what fascinated me most was that Ray remained absolutely unflappable even after his deceit was revealed—and that my colleague was clearly going along for the ride. What, in his psychological makeup, gave Ray the power to override reality, apparently without compunction or concern? As it turned out, I would spend the next twenty-five years doing empirical research to answer that question.
The story of Ray has its amusing side now, after so many years. Less amusing are the case studies of the hundreds of psychopaths that I have studied since then.
I HAD BEEN at the prison for a few months when the administration sent an inmate to me for psychological testing prior to a parole hearing. He was serving a six-year sentence for manslaughter. When I realized that the complete report of the offense was missing from my files, I asked him to fill me in on the details. The inmate said that his girlfriend's infant daughter
had been crying nonstop for hours and because she smelled he reluctantly decided to change her diapers. "She shit all over my hand and I lost my temper," he said, a grisly euphemism for what he really did. "I picked her up by the feet and smashed her against the wall," he said with—unbelievably—a smile on his face. I was stunned by the casual description of his appalling behavior, and, thinking about my own infant daughter, I unprofessionally kicked him out of my office and refused to see him again.
Curious about what subsequently happened to this man, I recently tracked down his prison files. I learned that he had received parole a year after I had left the prison, and that he had been killed during a high-speed police chase following a bungled bank robbery. The prison psychiatrist had diagnosed this man as a psychopath and had recommended against parole. The parole board could not really be faulted for having ignored this professional advice. At the time, the procedures for the diagnosis of psychopathy were vague and unreliable, and the implications of such a diagnosis for the prediction of behavior were not yet known. As we will see, the situation is quite different now, and any parole board whose decision does not take into account current knowledge about psychopathy and recidivism runs the risk of making a potentially disastrous mistake.
Elsa and Dan
She met him in a laundromat in London, where she was taking a year off from teaching after a stormy and exhausting divorce. She'd seen him around the neighborhood, and when they finally started to talk she felt as if she knew him. He was open and friendly and they hit it off right away. From the start she thought he was hilarious.
She'd been lonely. The weather was grim and sleety/ she'd already seen every movie and play in the city, and she didn't know a soul east of the Atlantic.
"Ah, traveler's loneliness," Dan crooned sympathetically over dinner. "It's the worst."
After dessert he was embarrassed to discover he'd come out without his wallet. Elsa was more than happy to pay for dinner, more than happy to sit through the double feature she had seen earlier in the week. At the pub, over drinks, he told her he was a translator for the United Nations. He traveled the globe. He was, at the moment, between assignments.
They saw each other four times that week, five the week after. Dan lived in a flat at the top of a house somewhere in Hampstead, he told her, but it wasn't long before he had all but moved in with Elsa. To her amazement, she loved the arrangement. It was against her nature, she wasn't even sure how it had happened, but after her long stint of loneliness she was having the time of her life.
Still, there were details, unexplained, undiscussed, that she shoved out of her mind. He never invited her to his home; she never met his friends. One night he brought over a carton filled with tape recorders—plastic-wrapped straight from the factor}', unopened; a few days later they were gone. Once Elsa came home to find three televisions stacked in the corner. "Storing them for a friend," was all he told her. When she pressed for more, he merely shrugged.
The first time Dan failed to show up at a prearranged place, she was frantic that he'd been hurt in traffic—he was always darting across the street in the middle of the block.
He stayed away for three days and was asleep on the bed when she came home in midmorning. The odor of rancid perfume and stale beer nearly made her sick, and her fear for his life was replaced with something new for her: awful, wild, uncontrollable jealousy. "Where have you been?" she cried. "I've been so worried. Where were you?"
He looked sour as he woke up. "Don't ever ask me that," he snapped. "I won't have it."
"Where 1 go, what I do, who I do it with—it doesn't concern you, Elsa. Don't ask."
He was like a different person. But then he seemed to pull himself together, shook the sleep off, and reached out to her. "I know it hurts you," he said in his old gentle way, "but think of jealousy as a flu, and wait to get over it. And you will, baby,
you will." Like a mother cat licking her kitten, he groomed her back into trusting him. And yet she thought what he'd said about jealousy was so odd. It made her sure that he had never felt anything like the pain of a broken trust.
One night she asked him lightly if he felt like stepping out to the corner and bringing her an ice cream. He didn't reply/ and when she glanced up she found him glaring at her furiously. "Always got everything you wanted, didn't you/' he said in a strange, snide way. "Any little thing little Elsa wanted, somebody always jumped up and ran out and bought it for her, didn't they?"
"Are you kidding? I'm not like that. What are you talking about?"
He got up from the chair and walked out. She never saw him again.
On their twin daughters' thirtieth birthday, Helen and Steve looked back with mixed feelings. Every burst of pride in Ariel's accomplishments was cut short by an awful memory of Alice's unpredictable, usually destructive, and often expensive behavior. They were fraternal twins but had always borne a striking physical resemblance to each other; however, in personality they differed like day and night—perhaps the more appropriate metaphor was heaven and hell.
If anything, the contrast had grown starker over three decades. Ariel had called last week to share great news—the senior partners had made it clear to her that if she continued as she was, she surely would be invited to join their ranks in four or five years. The call from Alice—or rather Alice's floor counselor—was not so cheerful. Alice and another resident at the halfway house had left in the middle of the night and hadn't been seen in two days. The last time this had happened, Alice had surfaced in Alaska, hungry and penniless. By then, her parents had lost count of how many times they had wired money and arranged for Alice to fly home.
While Ariel had had her share of problems growing up, they
Early behavior problems and adult antisocial behavior—"Is criminal record reflective of badness or nonconformity?"
Interestingly, he had nothing to say about Lack of remorse or guilt
In a recent article for The New York Times, Daniel Goleman wrote, "Data suggest that in general about 2 to 3 percent of people are estimated to be psychopaths—with the rate twice as high among those who live in the fragmented families of the inner cities."9 However, this statement, and others proclaiming an increase of psychopathy in our society, confuses criminality and social deviance with psychopathy.
While crime—and the socially deviant behavior that helps to but doesn't completely define psychopathy—is already high among the lower class, and is rising in society as a whole, we don't know if the relative number of psychopaths among us is also on the increase. Sociobiologists take the view that behavior development is influenced by genetic factors, and they might argue that the number of psychopaths must be increasing, simply because they are very promiscuous and produce large numbers of children, some of whom may inherit a predisposition for psychopathy.
I'll examine this argument and its chilling implications in later chapters on the roots of psychopathy. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to discuss the known aspects of the enigma. The next step into the heart of the matter brings us to the role of conscience in the regulation of behavior.
Internal Controls: The Missing Piece
When a rogue kisses you, count your teeth.
Elyse met Jeffrey in the summer of 1984, and she was never to forget that day. She was at the beach with some friends when she spied him and was completely charmed by his huge, bright smile. He walked right up to her and asked for her phone number, and his effrontery somehow disarmed her—she just gave in to his smile and his utter lack of self-consciousness. He called her the next day and then somehow showed up at her job. So it began . . . with a smile.
She was working at a daycare center then. Jeffrey began meeting her at work for her coffee breaks, then for her lunch breaks, for her bus rides home; every time she walked out of the building, Jeffrey was there waiting. He told her very little about himself—said he was a cartoonist trying to get his own strip. Sometimes he carried large amounts of cash; at other times he was dead broke and used her money. He didn't live anywhere in particular, and all his clothes were "borrowed." He was funny—hilarious, Elyse thought. When it was all over, she realized that the humor had been both the draw and the distraction. The whole time he had been cannibalizing her life, she'd been laughing her head off at his jokes.
He talked nonstop, describing all his ideas, schemes, and plans, but none ever amounted to anything. Whenever she asked him about some plan he'd described, he seemed annoyed. "Oh, that! I'm onto something much bigger, much bigger now."
One day while they were at lunch, he was suddenly arrested. The next day Elyse went to visit him in jail. The police said he'd spent the night at a friend's house and the next day had sold the man's camera equipment. She didn't believe it, but the judge did. It turned out that Jeffrey was wanted by the police on a number of matters. Jeffrey went to prison.
Despite his incarceration he never lost his grip on Elyse. He wrote to her from prison at least once every day, sometimes as many as three times. He wrote of his talents, his dreams, his plans. He wrote of her and the life they would have together. He nearly drowned Elyse in words—"verbal vomit" was the phrase one writer used in describing a similar case. If only Jeffrey could find the right channel for his energies, he'd be on top of the world, he'd be able to do anything, he claimed. And he would give her the life she deserved—he loved her so much. She was so dazzled that the phrase "send money" at the end of one of his letters didn't even faze her.
In eight months Jeffrey was out. He went directly to Elyse's house and dazzled her anew, but her roommates were not impressed. Jeffrey propositioned one roommate and crawled into bed with the other while she slept. In the latter incident, he forced the young woman's shoulders down and held her fast, seeming to enjoy the fear on her face as he kept her from escaping. Needless to say, with Jeffrey in the house night and day, the communal living arrangement collapsed.
It was soon clear that he had no intention of leaving and no intention of finding a job. Still, Elyse kept trying to find work for him. The first interview he had was successful, but his first day on the job he stole all the money out of the cash register and disappeared for five days. Then a friend called to tell Elyse that Jeffrey was dealing drugs. When he showed up, light-hearted and talking a mile a minute, she confronted him. He denied all wrongdoing. And she believed him. She was on a yo-yo of believing, disbelieving, and believing again.
Elyse's parents stepped in and insisted that she consult a psy-
The question is, Why? What accounts for the terrific power that the personality without conscience has over our collective imagination? "Clearly, evil is alluring," wrote Weber, "and not just to those who would dramatize it. From mild naughtiness to vicious criminality, the performance of bad deeds is something the rest of the population evidently wants to know about. This is one way to explain why the psychopath, that personification of remorseless evildoing, has such an established place in the public consciousness."
Weber pursued this line of thought with forensic psychiatrist Ronald Markman, who (along with Dominick Bosco) wrote Alone with the Devil, a book about Markman's professional work with murderers. The psychiatrist suggested that as an audience we identify with psychopaths, living out our fantasies of life with no internal controls. "There is something inside them that is also inside us and we are attracted to them so we can find out what that something is," Markman wrote. In Weber's interview he went even further: "We're all psychopaths under the skin."
Psychiatrist Joanne Intrator, at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, offers a course titled The Psychopath in Fact and Film, in which she explains how film lends itself to this form of indentification, raising moviegoing from a level of casual curiosity to an act of emotionally charged voyeurism. She said that cinema "allows us to slip easily into the vicarious pleasure of the voyeur. A darkened room subdues our conscious moral world and allows us another focus of an inner state not dominated by the constraints of superego (conscience). In the dark we are enjoying, with a subtle consciousness, aggressive and sexual pleasure at seemingly no cost."4
These cinematic experiences may have a beneficial effect on psychologically healthy people, reminding them of the danger and destructiveness that psychopathy carries with it. On the other hand, these experiences may also serve as powerful role models for those with poorly developed internal standards, serious psychological problems, or feelings of alienation from mainstream society.
Rebel Without a Cause
In 1944, psychoanalyst Robert Lindner wrote a classic study of criminal psychopathy, Rebel Without a Cause.5 Lindner viewed psychopathy as a plague, a terrible force whose destructive potential is greatly underestimated. He described psychopaths in terms of their relationship to society:
The psychopath is a rebel, a religious disobeyer of prevailing codes and standards ... a rebel without a cause, an agitator without a slogan, a revolutionary without a program; in other words, his rebelliousness is aimed to achieve goals satisfactory to him alone; he is incapable of exertions for the sake of others. All his efforts, under no matter what guise, represent investments designed to satisfy his immediate wishes and desires, [p. 2]
The culture may change but the psychopathic "rebel" remains the same. In the mid-1940s, Lindner wrote that psychopaths were often to be found at the edges of society where they "sparkle with the glitter of personal freedom, the checks and reins of the community are absent and there are no limits either in a physical or in a psychological sense." (p. 13]
Today the psychopath appears to be everywhere among us, and we must ask ourselves some important questions. Why is our fascination with psychopathy growing—in our movies, on television, in our mass market books and magazines? Why are more and more crimes of violence being committed by young people? And what is it about our society that leads one expert to say:
The young criminal you see today is more detached from his victim, more ready to hurt or kill. The lack of empathy for their victims among young criminals is just one symptom of a problem that afflicts the whole society. The general stance of the psychopath is more common these days; the
sense that I am responsible for the well-being of others is on the wane.6
Are we unknowingly allowing a society to evolve that is the perfect breeding ground, and perhaps even a "killing field/' for psychopaths? As our morning newspaper tells us, this question grows more pressing every day.
Crime: The Logical Choice
If crime is the job description, the psychopath is the perfect applicant.
In Fritz Lang's classic 1931 movie M, Peter Lorre played a child molester/murderer who snatches his unlucky victims off the streets as the impulse hits him. The police are unable to find the killer, and the underworld of hoods and criminals takes on the job itself. Once it tracks down its prey, the seedy, creepy outlaw mob drags him to a deserted brewery and tries and convicts him in its own underworld court. This movie was one of the most effective dramatizations ever of the notion of "honor among thieves."
Is there honor among thieves? Scratch the surface of the average prison inmate and you'll find some sort of moral code—not necessarily the code of mainstream society, but a moral code nevertheless, with its own rules and proscriptions. These criminals, although at odds with some of the rules and values of society at large, may still follow the rules of their group—a neighborhood, extended family, or gang. So, to be a criminal does not mean to be without conscience—or even to be weakly socialized. Criminals come to crime in a variety of ways, most of them entailing outside forces:1
involved with a psychopath. Psychopaths have little difficulty in making use of people who feel physically or psychologically inadequate, or who feel compelled to hold on to a relationship no matter how much it hurts.6
What Chance Do We Have?
By this time many readers likely have the uneasy feeling that there is little they can do to protect themselves from any psychopath who happens to cross their path. However, even though most of the advantages lie with the psychopath, there are several things we can do to minimize the pain and damage they cause us. (In the final chapter I discuss a variety of survival techniques.)
The Roots of the Problem
"1 know now, so there's no sense in lying any more," said Mrs. Penmark to her daughter Rhoda. "You hit him with the shoe: that's how those half-moon marks got on his forehead and hands."
Rhoda moved off slowly, an expression of patient bafflement in her eyes; then, throwing herself on the sofa, she buried her face in a pillow and wept plaintively, peering up at her mother through her laced fingers. But the performance was not at all convincing, and Christine looked back at her child with a new, dispassionate interest, and thought, "She's an amateur so for; but she's improving day by day. She's perfecting her act. In a few years, her act won't seem corny at all. It'll be most convincing then, I'm sure."
—William March, The Bad Seed
The Scene described above is from a bestselling novel that capitalized on the unthinkable and "monstrous" idea of children simply "born bad." The novel told the story of a little girl named Rhoda Penmark, whose true nature was revealed in the book when she murdered a classmate:
There had always been something strange about the child, but [her parents] had ignored her oddities, hoping she
would become more like other children in time, although this had not happened; then, when she was six and they were living in Baltimore, they entered her in a progressive school which was widely recommended; but a year later, the principal of the school asked that the child be removed. Mrs. Penmnrk called for an explanation, and the principal, her eyes fixed steadily on the decorative gold and silver sea horse her visitor wore on the lapel of her pale gray coat, said abruptly, as though both tact and patience had long since been exhausted, that Rhoda was a cold, self-sufficient, difficult child who lived by rules of her own, and not by the rules of others. She was a fluent and a most convincing liar, as they'd soon discovered. In some ways, she was far more mature than average; in others, she was hardly developed nt all. . . . But these things had only slightly affected the school's decision: the real reason for the child's expulsion was the fact that she had tunned out to be an ordinary, but quite accomplished, little thief. . . . with none of the guilts and none of the anxieties of childhood; and of course she had no capacity of affection either, being concerned only with herself, (p. 40-41]
The story told in The Bad Seed is really that of Rhoda's mother, Christine Penmark, and it is a story of guilt. Christine Penmark, after forcing herself to see her daughter clearly for the budding psychopath she was, asks herself how on earth the relatively calm, orderly, loving, and promising family life she and her attentive husband had provided resulted in nothing short of a child murderer.
Eerie as it seems, this novel is remarkably true to life. The parents of psychopaths can do little but stand by helplessly and watch their children tread a crooked path of self-absorbed gratification accompanied by a sense of omnipotence and entitlement. They frantically seek help from a succession of counselors and therapists, but nothing seems to work. Bewilderment and pain gradually replace the expected pleasures of parenting, and again and again they ask themselves, "Where did we go wrong?"
To many people the very idea of psychopathy in childhood is inconceivable. Yet, we have learned that elements of this personality disorder first become evident at a very early age. A mother who read of my work in a newspaper article wrote this note to me, clearly in desperation: "My son was always willful and difficult to get close to. At five years old he had figured out the difference between right and wrong: if he gets away with it, it's right; if he gets caught, it's wrong. From that point on, this has been his mode of operation. Punishment, family blowups, threats, pleas, counseling, even a run at what we called 'psychology camp/ haven't made the slightest difference. He is now fifteen and has been arrested seven times."
Another mother wrote that her family was being held hostage by the young boy they had adopted several years earlier. As he learned his way around the world and became more aware of his powers of manipulation and intimidation, this child became the chief actor in a chaotic and heartrending family drama. At the time she wrote the letter, the mother had just given birth, and she and her husband were now in fear for its well-being in the presence of their incomprehensible adopted son.1
Many people feel uncomfortable applying the term psychopath to children. They cite ethical and practical problems with pinning what amounts to a pejorative label on a youngster. But clinical experience and empirical research clearly indicate that the raw materials of the disorder can and do exist in children. Psychopathy does not suddenly spring, unannounced, into existence in adulthood. The precursors of the profile described in the preceding chapters first reveal themselves early in life.2
Clinical and anecdotal evidence indicates that most parents of children later diagnosed as psychopaths were painfully aware that something was seriously wrong even before the child started school. Although all children begin their development unrestrained by social boundaries, certain children remain stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are inexplicably "different" from normal children—more difficult, willful, aggressive, and deceitful; harder to "relate to" or get close to; less
susceptible to influence and instruction; and always testing the limits of social tolerance. In the early school-age years certain hallmarks emphasize the divergence from normal development:
- repetitive, casual, and seemingly thoughtless lying
- apparent indifference to, or inability to understand, the feelings, expectations, or pain of others
- defiance of parents, teachers, and rules
- continually in trouble and unresponsive to reprimands and threats of punishment
- petty theft from other children and parents
- persistent aggression, bullying, and fighting
- a record of unremitting truancy, staying out late, and absences from home
- a pattern of hurting or killing animals
- early experimentation with sex
- vandalism and fire setting
The parents of such children are always asking themselves, "What next?" One mother, with a graduate degree in sociology, told me that at age five her daughter—whom I'll call Susan— "tried to flush her kitten down the toilet. I caught her just as she was about to try again; she seemed quite unconcerned, maybe a bit angry, about being found out. I later told my husband about the episode, and when he asked [Susan] about it she calmly denied that it had happened. . . . We were never able to get close to her, even when she was an infant, and she was always trying to have her own way, if not by being sweet then by throwing a tantrum. She lied even when she knew we were aware of the truth. . . . We had another child, a son, when [Susan] was seven, and she continually teased him in cruel ways. For example, she would take his bottle away and brush his lips with the nipple, drawing it away while he frantically tried to suck. . . . She's now thirteen, and although sometimes
she puts on her sweet and contrite act we're generally tormented by her behavior. She's truant, sexually active, and always trying to steal money from my purse."
Adolescent Behavior Disorders and Psychopathy
The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic "bible," DSM-1V, has no category that captures the full flavor of the psychopathic personality in children and adolescents. Rather, it describes a class of Disruptive Behavior Disorders characterized by behavior that is socially disruptive and is often more distressing to others than to the people with the disorders. Three overlapping subcategories are listed:
- attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, characterized by de-velopmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperacrivity
- conduct disorder, a persistent pattern of conduct in which the basic rights of others and major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated
- oppositional defiant disorder, a pattern of negative, hostile, and defiant behavior without the serious violations of the basic rights of others that are seen in conduct disorder
None of these diagnostic categories quite hits the mark with young psychopaths. Conduct disorder comes closest, but it fails to capture the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal personality traits—egocentricity, lack of empathy, guilt, and remorse, and so forth—that are so important in the diagnosis of psychopathy. Most adult psychopaths probably met the criteria for a diagnosis of conduct disorder when they were younger, but the reverse is not true—that is, most children with conduct disorder will not become adult psychopaths. But there is a subcategory of conduct disorder—with "poor social relatedness, little anxiety, high levels of aggression, and other 'psychopathic' charac-
teristics"— that is virtually the same as the disorder defined and diagnosed by the Psychopathy Checklist in adults.3
More direct evidence of psychopathy in children comes from a recent study conducted at two child-guidance clinics, one in Alabama and the other in California. The children, mostly males aged six to thirteen, had been referred for a variety of emotional, learning, and behavioral problems. Basing their work on the Psychopathy Checklist, the researchers, headed by Paul Frick of the University of Alabama, assessed each child for the presence of the personality traits and behaviors described in chapters 3 and 4 of this book. The research teams identified a subgroup of children with much the same pattern of emotional/ interpersonal features and socially deviant behaviors that characterizes adult psychopaths. For these researchers, and for countless numbers of bewildered and despairing parents, childhood psychopathy became a stark reality.
A Difficult Challenge: How to Respond
Most of the children who end up as adult psychopaths come to the attention of teachers and counselors at a very early age, and it is essential that these professionals understand the nature of the problem they are faced with. If intervention is to have any chance of succeeding, it will have to occur early in childhood. By adolescence, the chances of changing the behavioral patterns of the budding psychopath are slim.
Unfortunately, many of the professionals who deal with these children do not confront the problem head-on, for a variety of reasons. Some take a purely behavioral approach, preferring to treat specific behaviors—aggression, stealing, and so forth—rather than a personality disorder with its complex combination of traits and symptoms. Others feel uncomfortable with the potential long-term consequences to the child or adolescent who is diagnosed with a disorder widely believed to be untreatable. Still others find it difficult to imagine that the behaviors and symptoms they see in their young cli-
ents are not simply exaggerated forms of normal behavior, the result of inadequate parenting or poor social conditioning, and therefore treatable. All kids are egocentric, deceitful, and manipulative to a degree—a simple matter of immaturity, they argue—much to the dismay of the harried parents who daily must deal with a problem that refuses to go away and even worsens.
I agree that it is no light matter to apply psychological labels to children—or to adults. Perhaps the issue with the most pressing consequences for children is the "self-fulfilling prophecy," whereby a child who has been labeled a troublemaker may indeed grow to fit the mold, while others—teachers, parents, friends—reinforce the process by subtly conveying their negative expectations.
Even if the procedures meet accepted scientific standards, no diagnosis is free from error or misapplication by careless or incompetent clinicians. For example, I read of a case in which a young girl was diagnosed as schizophrenic by a psychiatrist. It was later confirmed that she was actually being starved by her parents; once she received proper care her condition improved dramatically. In hundreds of other known cases, and probably countless unknown ones, incorrect psychiatric diagnoses have had a profound impact on patients' lives. And it's not hard to imagine these consequences being compounded if a misdiagnosis means that other, treatable problems are overlooked.
On the other hand, failing to recognize that a child has many or most of the personality traits that define psychopathy may doom the parents to unending consultations with school principals, psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors in a vain attempt to discover what is wrong with their child and with themsehvs. It may also lead to a succession of inappropriate treatments and interventions—all at great financial and emotional cost.
If you are uncomfortable applying a formal diagnostic label to youngsters, then avoid doing so. However, do not lose sight of the problem: a distinct syndrome of personality traits and behaviors that spells long-term trouble, no matter how one refers to it.
Can Anything Be Done?
Dear Ann Landers: I am writing this letter on behalf of my sister who is the stepmother of a 22-year-old high schi>ol dropout. I'll call him "Denny." The boy's father was divorced from his first wife when Denny was an infant. He has been married to my sister for seven years.
My sister has spent thousands of dollars on the boy, including $10,000 for a military boarding school, from which he was dismissed for cheating, lying and stealing. She has hired tutors to help him with his schoolwork, taken him to three psychologists who told her he was full of hostility, and had him examined by doctors who ruled out physical problems.
Denny has lived with my sister and her husband, with his grandmother, and with his own mexpert expert other. He is now living with an aunt. He does not work, does not pay rent and is happy to be supported by anyone who is willing.
My sister and brother-in-law have found him jobs which he cannot seem to keep. They have supported his interest in sports without overindulging him, and now they are out of ideas.
Denny does have some good qualities. He does not drink or take drugs. However, he has been cruel to my sister's dogs and horses. He has been seen kicking and hitting them.
How can this boy be motivated? We fear he will turn to a life of crime unless something is done.
Up Against It in Virginia
Dear Virginia: Why should a 22-year-old work when he can live rent-free and be supported by relatives? Obviously, Denny has been spoiled rotten.
He is an angry, disturbed young man whose life is going to be a litany of trouble unless he is willing to go for therapy and come to terms with himself. It will take a lot of hard work but the rewards will be worth it. The next thing he should do is get his high school diploma.
Show him this column and tell him if he'd like to write, I'd be happy to hear from him.
—Ann Landers, Press Democrat, January 8, 1991
I don't know if "Up Against It in Virginia's" sister has a psychopathic "boy" on her hands. But if she does, it would be difficult to find a more characteristic response by a layperson in our society: Quit indulging him and send him for therapy. You might even urge him to write to Ann Landers.
It's a well-meaning approach and one that most people with the financial resources are inclined to take. But where the person in question meets the criteria for psychopathy, it is an approach doomed to failure unless the circumstances and the therapist— and the patient—are very unusual indeed.
More than twenty years ago, in a book directed at psychologists and psychiatrists, I wrote this:
(With] few exceptions, the traditional forms of psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis, group therapy, client-centered therapy, and psychodrama, have proved ineffective in the treatment of psychopathy. Nor have the biological therapies, including psychosurgery, electroshock therapy, and the use of various drugs, fared much better.1
At this writing, in early 1993, the situation with regard to treatment remains essentially the same as it has always been.
Indeed, many writers on the subject have commented that the shortest chapter in any book on psychopathy should be the one on treatment. A one-sentence conclusion such as, "No effective treatment has been found," or, "Nothing works," is the common wrap-up to scholarly reviews of the literature.
However, with our social institutions threatened by soaring crime rates and our legal, mental health, and criminal justice systems overburdened to the point of paralysis, it is essential that we continue the quest for methods to reduce the enormous impact that psychopaths have on society.
CLINICIANS OFTEN DESCRIBE psychopaths as individuals whose powerful psychological defense mechanisms effectively squelch anxiety and fear. Laboratory research supports this view and suggests that there may be a biological basis to their ability to cope with stress. This may sound as if psychopaths are to bo envied. However, the downside is that the boundary between fearless and foolhardy is fuzzy: Psychopaths are always getting into trouble, in large part because their behavior is not motivated by anxiety or guided by cues that warn of danger. Like individuals who wear dark sunglasses indoors, they look "cool" but they miss much of what goes on around them.
Some particularly gruesome examples of the ability to remain cool in what should be an extremely fearful situation have recently come to light. Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee man who committed unspeakable crimes, including serial murder, mutilation, and cannibalism, calmly and deliberately convinced police that a naked and bleeding teenager who had escaped from his apartment was actually an adult lover who had been with Dahmer by consent. Dahmer's story was that the two were merely involved in a lover's spat, and the police left, apparently reassured, with the boy still in Dahmer's hands. Dahmer murdered the boy soon after they left. During his trial, in which he pleaded guilty but insane to fifteen murders (the jury found him sane), evidence of other close calls came to light. For example, an Associated Press report (February 11, 1992) described an incident in which Dahmer was stopped by police while he was driving the body of his first victim to the dump. When an officer pointed his flashlight at a plastic bag containing the body,
a formal treatment program their attitudes and behavioral patterns have become well-entrenched, difficult to budge even under the best of circumstances.
- Many psychopaths are protected from the consequences of their actions by well-meaning family members or friends; their behavior remains relatively unchecked and unpunished. Others are skilled enough to weave their way through life without too much personal inconvenience. And even those who are caught and punished for their transgressions typically blame the system, others, fate—anything but themselves—for their predicament. Many simply enjoy their way of life.
- Unlike other individuals, psychopaths do not seek help on their own. Instead, they are pushed into therapy by a desperate family, or they enter treatment because of a court order or as a prelude to applying for parole.
- Once in therapy they typically do little more than go through the motions. They are incapable of the emotional intimacy and deep searching for which most therapies strive. The interpersonal relations crucial to success have no intrinsic value to the psychopath.
Here's a psychiatrist's dispirited description of psychopaths— whom he refers to as sociopaths—as patients:
. . . sociopaths have no desire for change, consider insights (to be] excuses, have no concept of the future, resent all authorities, including therapists, view the patient role as pitiful, detest being in a position of inferiority, deem therapy a joke and therapists as objects to be conned, threatened, seduced, or used.2
Not exactly the introspective search for personal insight and relief that a therapist hopes to find in a patient. Psychopaths typically want to sit out the psychotherapeutic dance, and many therapists are quite willing to let them do so.
- Most therapy programs do little more than provide psychopaths with new excuses and rationalizations for their behavior
and new insights into human vulnerability. They may leam new and better ways of manipulating other people, but they make little effort to change their own views and attitudes or to understand that other people have needs, feelings, and rights. In particular, attempts to teach psychopaths how to "really feel" remorse or empathy are doomed to failure.
These sobering conclusions apply both to individual therapies, in which a therapist and a patient interact one-on-one, and to group therapy, in which people with different problems try to learn from one another and to develop new ways of thinking and feeling about themselves and others.
- As I noted earlier, psychopaths frequently dominate individual and group therapy sessions, imposing their own views and interpretations on the other members. For example, a group leader in a prison therapy program had this to say about an inmate who had scored very high on the Psychopathy Checklist: "He refuses to talk about things he doesn't initiate. He doesn't like to be confronted or questioned about his behavior. ... He refuses to see how he blocks communication and dominates the therapy group by his long-winded monologues that attempt to circumvent discussions about his own behavior." Yet, shortly after this was written, the psychiatrist wrote, "I am certain he has improved. He accepts responsibility for his actions." And a psychologist wrote, "He has made good progress. ... He appears more concerned about others and to have lost much of his criminal thinking." Two years after these optimistic statements about him, the inmate was interviewed by a female graduate student for one of my research projects. She said that he was the most terrifying offender she had ever met and that he had openly boasted of how he had conned the prison staff into thinking that he was well on the road to rehabilitation. "I can't believe those guys," he said. "Who gave them a license to practice? I wouldn't let them psychoanalyze my dog! He'd shit all over them just like I did."
A FORTY YEAR-OLD MAN with fifty-five convictions for fraud, forgery, and theft in three countries attempted to avoid deportation from Canada on the grounds that he had been rehabilitated
- In one study, psychopaths were not motivated to do well, dropped out of treatment early, and derived relatively little benefit from the program. Following release from prison, their rate of return was much higher than that of the other patients.3
- In another study, psychopaths were almost four times more likely to commit a violent offense following release from a therapeutic community program than were other patients.4 But not only was the program not effective for psychopaths, it may actually have made them worse! Psychopaths who did not take part in the program were less violent following release from the unit than were the treated psychopaths.
At first glance this finding may seem bizarre. How could psychotherapy make a person worse? But the finding is not at all surprising to those who run these programs. They report that the psychopaths usually dominate the proceedings, frequently playing "head games" with the group leaders and other patients. "Your problem is that you rape women because you unconsciously want to punish them for what your mother did to you," the psychopath pedantically tells another patient. At the same time, he offers few insights into his own behavior.
Unfortunately, programs of this sort merely provide the psychopath with better ways of manipulating, deceiving, and using people. As one psychopath put it, "These programs are like a finishing school. They teach you how to put the squeeze on people."
They are also a rich source of facile excuses for the psychopath's behavior: "I was an abused child," or, "I never learned to get in touch with my feelings." After-the-fact insights of this sort explain very little, but they sound good to those primed to hear them. I am constantly amazed at how willing some professionals are to take such statements at face value.
Group therapy and therapeutic community programs are not the only source of new tactics psychopaths use to convince others that they have changed. They frequently make use of prison programs designed to upgrade their education; courses in psy-
Can Anything Be Done?
Another Sobering Thought
Virtually all the evidence on the effectiveness of treatment for psychopaths is based on programs for people in prison or psychiatric facilities or in trouble with the law. Many of these programs are intensive, well thought out, and carried out under reasonably good conditions. And still they are ineffective.
Even if some program were effective in changing the attitudes and behaviors of psychopaths, there would be no way of using it to deal with the millions of psychopaths not in custody or court mandated to enter treatment. There is little or no chance that any on-the-street psychopaths would even contemplate entering such a program. And society has no means of forcing them to do so.
Occasional case reports or bits of anecdotal evidence claim that some particular procedure has had a beneficial effect on a psychopath. For example, in the past few years several people have told me that they have managed to bring about considerable improvement in the behavior of a psychopath they lived with. They can't understand why I don't get excited about their experiences.
Perhaps they did manage to make a therapeutic breakthrough, but there is no way of determining if this is the case. Was the treated individual actually a psychopath? Did he or she improve in middle age, a time when the behaviors of some psychopaths "spontaneously" improve? What was the individual's behavior like before this change? And how do we know that it was the "psychopath" who changed? Many people confuse improvement in the behavior of the psychopath with changes in the way they themselves deal with the person.
For example, a woman with a psychopathic husband may say that he is not quite as bad as he once was. But what really may have happened is that she learned how to deal with the problem by keeping out of his way or by working extra hard to satisfy his needs and demands. She may have buried her personality and sacrificed her needs and aspirations in order to reduce conflict and tension in the relationship.
We cannot take seriously claims of effective treatments for
psychopathy unless they are based on carefully controlled empirical studies.
Should We Simply Give Up?
Depressing though the evidence is, there are several things that we should consider before writing psychopaths off as un-treatable or unmanageable.
- First, despite the hundreds of attempts to treat these individuals and the great variety of techniques tried, there have been few programs that meet acceptable scientific and methodological standards. This is an important point, because it means that the evidence we base our conclusions on is not very sound. This applies both to the common reports that a particular program didn't work and to the occasional report that something did work. Most of what we know is based primarily on clinical folklore, single-case studies, poor diagnostic and methodological procedures, and inadequate program evaluation. Indeed, the state of the treatment literature on psychopathy is appalling.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about reading the treatment literature is that the diagnostic procedures often are hopelessly inadequate or so vaguely described that it is impossible to determine whether a given program had anything at all to do with psychopathy.
Another recurrent problem in trying to evaluate treatment or management programs is the failure to use carefully selected control or comparison groups. We know that the behavior of many psychopaths improves with age, and it is important to know the extent to which a given therapeutic program improves on the "natural" or "spontaneous" changes that occur with age.
- Second, few treatment programs are designed specifically for psychopaths, and those that are have to contend with so many administrative, government, and public policy issues that they soon become something other than what was originally intended. The fact is, a well conceived and methodologically
Can Anything tie Done ?
sound program for the treatment of psychopaths has yet to be designed, carried out, and evaluated.
- The third point is that some of our efforts to treat psychopaths may be misplaced. The term treatment implies that there is something to treat: illness, subjective distress, maladaptive behaviors, and so forth. But, as far as we can determine, psychopaths are perfectly happy with themselves, and they see no need for treatment, at least in the traditional sense of the term. It is a lot easier to change people's attitudes and behaviors when they are unhappy with them than when they consider them perfectly normal and logical.
But isn't the behavior of psychopaths maladaptive? The answer is that it may be maladaptive for society but it is adaptive for the individuals themselves. When we ask psychopaths to modify their behavior so that it conforms to our expectations and norms, we may be asking them to do something that is against their "nature." They may agree to our request, but only if it is in their own best interests to do so. Programs designed to get psychopaths to change their behavior will have to take this into account or be doomed to failure.
"EVERYBODY SWEARS PSYCHOPATHS can't be treated. That's a lot of hogwash," said Joseph Fredricks, a homosexual pedophile whose long history of violence included the murder of an eleven-year-old boy. "Psychopaths are as human as anyone. They're psychopaths because they are more sensitive than anyone.... They can't stand pain of any sort, that's why they let it roll off their backs," he said. [Canadian Press, September 22, 1992]
Elements of a New Program
Recognizing the urgent need for new ways to deal with criminal psychopaths, and aware of the prevailing pessimism about traditional treatment programs, the Canadian government recently challenged me to design an experimental treatment/management program for these offenders. I accepted the challenge
with a psychopath in the first place. Admittedly, this is a lot easier said than done. But there are some things you can do to protect yourself. If they don't work, the only thing you can do
is try to minimize the harm you experience. The next chapter offers some practical advice on both protection and damage control.
A Survival Guide
The police tell us that a determined burglar can break into even the most secure home. However, they also say that knowledge of how burglars work, common sense, and a good alarm system or an aggressive dog can reduce the risk of being victimized. Similarly, although no one is immune to the devious machinations of the psychopath, there are some things you can do to reduce your vulnerability.
- Know what you are dealing with. This sounds easy but in fact can be very difficult. Although this book should help, all the reading in the world cannot protect you from the devastating effects of psychopaths. Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, manipulated, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone's heartstrings.
Psychopaths are found in every segment of society, and there is a good chance that eventually you will have a painful or humiliating encounter with one. Your best defense is to understand the nature of these human predators.
- Try not to be influenced by "props." It is not easy to get beyond the winning smile, the captivating body language, and the fast talk of the typical psychopath, all of which blind us to his or her real intentions. But there are a few things worth trying. For example, don't pay too much attention to any unusually captivating characteristic of people you meet—dazzling looks, a powerful presence, mesmerizing mannerisms, a soothing voice, a rapidfire verbal pitch, and so forth. Any one of these characteristics can have enormous sleight-of-hand value, serving to distract you from the individual's real message.
Many people find it difficult to deal with the intense, emotionless, or "predatory" stare of the psychopath. Normal people maintain close eye contact with others for a variety of reasons, but the fixated stare of the psychopath is more a prelude to self-gratification and the exercise of power than simple interest or empathic caring.1
Some people respond to the emotionless stare of the psychopath with considerable discomfort, almost as if they feel like potential prey in the presence of a predator. Others may be completely overwhelmed and intimidated, perhaps even controlled, with little insight into what is happening to them. Whatever the psychological meaning of their gaze, it is clear that intense eye contact is an important factor in the ability of some psychopaths to manipulate and dominate others.
The next time you find yourself dealing with an individual whose nonverbal mannerisms or gimmicks—riveting eye contact, dramatic hand movements, "stage scenery," and so on— tend to overwhelm you, close your eyes or look away and carefully listen to what the person is saying.
Are the eyes "windows to the soul?" Many people believe that they are. Although the eyes are in fact highly fallible indicators of the inner world of others, they are not entirely devoid of information, particularly when the message they convey to others appears inconsistent with the individual's facial expressions and verbal behavior. "When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first," is but one of scores of maxims that could be cited.
An acquaintance told me about her experiences with a "love
date you with those piercing blue eyes. He was so intense he could sometimes be spooky." [He) gave his famous stare to Rick Guida (the prosecutor) who'd been told by an FBI agent that the Bradfield stare had once made him fall back two steps. The stare practically demolished Guida. He was literally floored. He sat down and played with (the dog)... . When Bradfield tried the stare on a police officer, Jack Holtz, the latter stared back and said, "That bullshit only works on intelligent people."
Equally interesting was Wambaugh's description of Jay Smith, recently freed by the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on procedural grounds. Smith's secretary reportedly said:
You've never seen such a pair of eyes in all your life. There was no feeling in them. You might think you've known a few people with cold fish eyes, but not like his.
Wambaugh commented that "They were not fish eyes. They were eyes that newspaper editors in later years loved to isolate for effect. They were referred to as 'reptilian,' but that was not correct either." Later he said that all the teachers "had trouble describing the eyes of their principal. 'Amphibian' came to mind, but that wasn't precisely correct either."
Smith's secretary finally realized what his eyes resembled, said Wambaugh. "Not fish, not reptiles .. . [but] the eyes of a goat!" . . "That, my friend, is the prince of darkness," said a teacher, [p. 18]
Can the eyes reveal the devil incarnate, as the teacher's comment implies? In cases where a real or fictitious serial killer— a Ted Bundy or a Hannibal Lecter—commits unspeakable crimes it may be difficult to believe otherwise. However, it is likely that the behavior of psychopaths—including the few that murder and mutilate—stems more from a total indifference to the feelings or welfare of others than from sure evil. Their eyes are those of an emotionless predator, not those of satan.
But interesting as they are, anecdotes and examples of this
sort should not lull us into the false belief that we can reliably spot a psychopath by his or her eyes. It is all too easy to misread the eyes of others and to draw erroneous conclusions about character, intentions, and truthfulness. To believe otherwise is to court disaster.
- Don't wear blinkers. Enter new relationships with your eyes wide open. Like the rest of us, most psychopathic con artists and "love thieves" initially hide their dark side by "putting their best foot forward." But they go further to exploit the axiom that social intercourse depends on trust, and that it is impossible for us to pay close and cynical attention to everything they say and do. Accordingly, they typically attempt to overwhelm their victims with flattery, feigned concern and kindness, and phony stories about financial dealings and social status. Cracks may soon begin to appear in the mask they wear, but once you are trapped in their web of deceit and control, it will be difficult to escape financially and emotionally unscathed.
The police and consumer advocates tell us that extra caution is called for whenever someone or something seems too good to be true. This is good advice and, if followed, will help protect you from the psychopath's potentially deadly snare. At the very least you should take the time to check out any new acquaintance who appears to have a financial or romantic interest in you. I'm not suggesting that you hire a private investigator every time you meet someone at a party or in a bar, only that you make some reasonable inquiries. Ask the individual about his or her friends, family, relatives, employment, place of residence, plans, and so forth. Psychopaths usually give vague, evasive, or inconsistent replies to queries about their personal lives. Be suspicious of such replies, and try to verify them.
This is sometimes surprisingly easy to do. For example, several years ago a woman I know became romantically involved with a man she'd met at her church. He appeared to be well connected and to have impeccable credentials, and he said he was a graduate in business administration from a well-known eastern university. She considered investing heavily in a business venture he was promoting. When I met him 1 told him
that we were graduates of the same university, but he was evasive about his experiences there, always managing to change the subject. My suspicions aroused, I did some checking and learned that he had never been a student at my university. Further investigation revealed that he was a swindler, wanted in several countries. He skipped town, leaving my friend disillusioned by the experience and angry at me for destroying her fantasy world.
- Keep your guard up in high-risk situations. Some situations are tailor-made for psychopaths: singles' bars, social clubs, resorts, ship cruises, foreign airports, to name but a few. In each case, the potential victim is lonely, looking for a good time, excitement, or companionship, and there will usually be someone willing to oblige, for a hidden price.
Single travelers are a favorite target of psychopaths, who readily spot them looking lost and forlorn in a foreign airport or tourist spot. For example, I know a professional woman who was weary, lonely, and homesick after several weeks on her own in Europe. She was befriended by a helpful man at the airport in Lisbon. Posing as an undercover agent on the track of a smuggling ring, he managed to win her confidence and to enlist her aid in the operation. In the ensuing weeks the pair traveled all over Europe, running up enormous bills on her credit card. When she finally became suspicious, he dumped her. In retrospect, she said, the whole affair seemed bizarre, but at the time it all made sense. "1 was tired, depressed, and he was so understanding and comforting."
- Know yourself. Psychopaths are skilled at detecting and ruthlessly exploiting your weak spots, at finding the right buttons to press. Your best defense is to understand what your weak spots are and to be extremely wary of anyone who zeros in on them. Judge such people more critically than you do those who do not seem to be aware of, or catering to, your vulnerabilities.
If you are a sucker for flattery it is certain to be written all over you, an engraved invitation to every unscrupulous operator looking around for fresh victims. Basking in flattery, like sitting
too long in the sun, can be pleasant at first but painful in the end.
If you have a bit of larceny in your soul you are particularly vulnerable to schemes that are a bit shady. Lonely people with money are extremely easy targets for the psychopath.
Knowing who you are is not always easy. Self-examination, frank discussions with family and friends, and professional consultation may be of help.
Unfortunately, even the most careful precautions are no guarantee that you will be safe from the predation of a determined psychopath. In some cases, the matter may be beyond your control, as it usually is in an "arm's length" financial relationship with a psychopath. Many frauds and scams are perpetrated against banks, brokerage houses, savings-and-loan institutions, pension funds, and so forth. Individual investors have no say in day-to-day operations, and they can lose their money through no fault of their own. For example, a distraught high-school counselor recently told me about an investment broker who "lost" several million dollars from the teachers' pension fund the broker had been entrusted to manage. The counselor was out several hundred thousand dollars not because he was careless but because the officials responsible for finding a reputable investment broker had been conned by a slick psychopath.
FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST J. Reid Meloy tells of his being snared while interviewing an applicant for a job whose entire resume eventually turned out to be phony. "The interview went quite smoothly, though," Meloy said in a telephone interview. "I was really impressed with this guy, couldn't get over how bright he was. As we talked, he'd drop in a phrase here, a phrase there that really had me standing back and thinking, 'Wow! This guy is actually brilliant. How do I get him to want the job?' It took me a while—longer than I'd like to admit—to figure out that he was quoting from several papers I had written and recently published. He was impressing me, yes, but with
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