|credit Matthew Jones|
The Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R) was designed by Robert Hare to enable practitioners to identify psychopaths. Below are some of its key points. Now, it should be noted that for a full and accurate diagnosis, an extensive interview should be conducted by a qualified psychologist. However, hopefully, the points listed below will be sufficient to give you some forewarning and perhaps enable you to protect yourself.
Grandiose sense of self
You know those people who just seem to think they are better than anyone else? Psychopaths typically display a greatly inflated view of their own worth and capabilities. This means that they operate under the belief that they are better than you, smarter than you, more deserving than you. They tend to see themselves as the centre of the universe, and so are justified in following their own rules rather than those of society.
Psychopaths are natural liars. They will lie about the strangest of things, apparently for no other reason than for ‘duping delight’ - the thrill of lying. They are such proficient liars, that their victims will often find themselves doubting their own knowledge rather than the words of the psychopath. When caught in a lie, the psychopath is rarely embarrassed, but will simply concoct another story to cover up the gaps. It is easy for them - they experience no guilt, no fear of discovery, none of the things that may prevent the rest of us from lying.
Perhaps the most well-known psychopathic trait is a lack of empathy, an inability for psychopaths to understand and appreciate the emotions of others. However, recent brain imaging studies have indicated that this conclusion may be too simplistic, and that, when pushed, psychopaths can in fact form a mental representation of the experience of others. What is unclear, however, is how emotional this is. Is it simply the case that they cognitively understand another’s experience, but do not appreciate the depth of their feelings? It is fair to say that a psychopath will struggle to empathise. However, it should be noted that, because they are such good liars, they can feign it pretty well.
Psychopaths rarely consider the wisdom of a course of action or its possible consequences. Their behaviour can be reckless in the extreme. They can be highly reactive to perceived insults, and will struggle to control their reactions.
Obligations and commitments mean absolutely nothing to psychopaths. They are likely to show a pattern of erratic job performance, of abandonment of responsibilities and can generally be considered to be untrustworthy.
Glib, superficial charm
The psychopath can be extremely effective in presenting themselves. They will often come across very well to those who meet them and may be considered likeable and charming. However, sometimes the act will seem to be a little bit overdone. You may feel that they are just a little too smooth, giving the impression that they are perpetually playing a role. Psychopaths will also frequently feign knowledge of a wide range of subjects, using sufficient jargon that, to the uninformed observer, their knowledge will seem to be comprehensive. Those with greater knowledge on these subjects are unlikely to be fooled and will quickly notice that the psychopath’s knowledge appears ‘thin’, with little substance to back it up.
The psychopath will have a limited range and depth of feeling, and so appear unemotional. When they do display emotion, it’s almost as if they are behaving in the way they think they should, rather than actually feeling the emotions they portray. It’s commonly said that the psychopath “knows the words but not the music”. They are also prone to sudden, dramatic, but short-lived displays of temper.
Need for Stimulation
The psychopath will have an ongoing, excessive need for excitement. They are people who live life on the edge, sometimes even committing crimes for the sheer thrill of it. They do not cope well with the monotony that comes with a routine, and are easily bored.
They are frequently seen to be living off other people, using those around them for their own ends.
Early behavioural problems
Psychopaths generally begin to exhibit serious behavioural problems at an early age - for example, persistent lying, theft, fire-setting, bullying, etc. Whilst these behaviours are not uncommon in children raised in difficult, disrupted environments, the behaviour of psychopaths is markedly more extreme. Another common factor is early cruelty to animals - often a sign of serious emotional and behavioural problems.
None of these factors alone do a psychopath make. It is only when they are all taken together that one can start considering psychopathy as a factor. Whilst not all psychopaths are criminals, it is true to say that coping with one in your everyday life can be exhausting, exasperating and sometimes psychologically damaging. If you do find yourself in this situation, it is important that you take extra care in protecting yourself, both physically and emotionally, from the harm they may cause.
The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh (Arrow, Paperback Original & eBook, £6.99, 21st April 2017).
The first body comes as a shock. The second brings horror. The third signals the beginning of a nightmare. When fifteen-year-old Isla Bell finds three bodies propped against Hadrian's Wall, her whole world falls apart. In such a close-knit community, everyone knows the victims, and the man who did it. Twenty years on and Isla has dedicated her life to forensic psychology; studying the brains of serial killers, and even coming face to face with the convicted murderer who turned her world upside down. She is safe after all, with him behind bars. Then another body appears against the Wall. And another. As the nightmare returns and the body count rises, everyone in town is a suspect.