I recently read an article online in Scientific American called “How to Act Like a Psychopath without Really Trying.” The article addresses several issues regarding psychopaths among them how to identify them and what it really means to be a psychopath. The alarming thing to me was that I think more people are psychopaths than I previously thought.
First let’s step back and define this more specifically. A psychopath is generally speaking someone ”… who use[s] manipulation, violence and intimidation to control others and satisfy selfish needs. They can be intelligent and highly charismatic, but display a chronic inability to feel guilt, remorse or anxiety about any of their actions.” (Nauert) This interests me because I had the thought that a psychopath was more specifically defined. Maybe more about use of violence or some other DSM categorization. But this definition catches a lot more folks in the net.
Author of the aforementioned article, John Whitfield, indicates that about 1% of people are psychopaths. The note I wrote in the margin is that I wonder if that’s higher. Maybe it’s because I’ve dealt with the general public for so many years, but I run into people on an almost daily basis that in some form fit this definition. The lowest common denominators seem to be the use of manipulation and the seeming lack of any qualms about doing so. Like many things perhaps psychopathy runs on a spectrum – maybe even a bell curve! Maybe the majority of us really are to some degree slightly psychotic.
Now the word “chronic” might level this out a bit. Someone must do this chronically to be considered psychopathic. I’m sure we all do something selfish and not feel bad about it from time to time. And I only see snippets of behavior from many people that I interact with. But if that’s the foot you put forward what am I to think? These days is that first impression ok to come off like a psychopath?
What really strikes me in looking at it this way is how many people I’ve known who seem to be psychotic. People who I have met and interacted with frequently – some who at one point or another I have considered to be friends – would seem to exhibit characteristic of a psychopath. What does this say about society today? Goodness, what does this say about the company I keep?
I know I’m probably painting with a broad brush here, and I’m sure I’ve exaggerated my perspective. But I have to tell you that it certainly makes me more cautious in dealing with people who manipulate and/or intimidate. I’ve seen people who are irrational and unpredictable, and now I might have a clearer understanding of why.
Whitfield, J.. “How to act like a psychopath without really trying [excerpt].” Scientific American. Scientific American, 2011. Web. 5 Jan 2012.
Nauert, R.. “A better definition of ‘Psychopath’.”PsychCentral. N.p., 2006. Web. 5 Jan 2012.