The villains of the Disney movies are always angry, they speak in a false way, they dress in a sinister way and even wear devilish horns. The stepmother of Snow White, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, Maleficent… They are characters whose evil is identified at first sight. In real life there are also people like that, but they do not usually show their vileness so ostensibly. What’s more, most of them lead an apparently normal life. Are the integrated psychopathswhich can do a lot of damage without going to jail.
Inaki Pinueldoctor in Psychology from the Complutense University of Madrid and author of My boss is a psycho (La Esfera de los Libros, 2021), regrets that it continues to be believed “that psychopathy is a problem that affects bloody criminals, when what we specialized psychotherapists are finding is that the population of victims of non-criminal psychopaths -people who suffer mobbing (workplace bullying), children facing bullying (bullying) or couples who suffer from zero (or psychopathic) love – is very extensive”.
Knowing how to identify a psychopathic person can save us a lot of trouble. Psychologists have described the most characteristic features of these individuals and, in general, they are a very defined profile. But first it is convenient to clarify what psychopathy is. Most importantly, according to Joseph Louis Carrascodirector of the Unit of Personality and Behavior Disorders of the San Carlos Clinical Hospitalfrom Madrid, is to understand that he is “an anomalous personality”, but should not “be considered as a mental illness, despite the fact that in some manuals it appears as antisocial personality disorder”. Therefore, he has no medical treatment.
It is estimated that pure psychopaths, those who are criminals, constitute between 1% and 2% of the population. But “the most worrying thing”, according to Piñuel, “is that subclinical or integrated psychopaths represent between 11% and 13% of the population”. In Spain there would be about 5 million. This high percentage implies that, probably, we all live with some other psychopath throughout our lives in the family, at work, in relationships or in the circle of more or less close friends. “These are people who live in the realm of normality,” confirms Carrasco.
Psychopaths have very specific characteristics that psychiatrists and psychologists have studied in depth. These are the most relevant:
Lack of empathy
The most characteristic trait of the psychopath is his total lack of empathy. “He can do the worst things to others without feeling any pity, compassion or remorse,” describes Piñuel. “That characteristic makes them highly dangerous because, as they have no discomfort for what they do to the others, nothing contains them internally”.
Absence of moral values
The lack of compassion for others and the desire to meet their own needs even at the expense of others are closely related to the lack of morality of these people. “It is not only that they lack moral values, but they think that other people do not have them either,” Carrasco points out.
Lack of inner emotional world
Lacking moral criteria and empathy, according to Piñuel, “psychopaths lack basic emotions, which leads them to experience great boredom and they entertain themselves by victimizing others.” They lack an inner world and are totally focused on the outside, which they dominate perfectly and spend their time “studying their possible prey to better manipulate them.”
a great manipulator
The psycho master the art of manipulation. The psychologist explains that these individuals “are experts in human weakness and vulnerability and know very well what keys they have to touch to manipulate their victims through guilt, fear or any other vulnerable point, which they know how to exploit perfectly.” Furthermore, they are able to lie calmly“without batting an eye” and, therefore, when they do so, “they generate in their interlocutors a sense of truthfulness”.
a perfect narcissist
Narcissism can be defined as excessive and exaggerated admiration that a person feels for himself, their physical appearance or their qualities. Not all people with narcissistic personality disorder are psychopaths, but psychopathy always has a narcissistic component embedded in it.
The profile of the psychopath is completed with other traits that are present to a greater or lesser degree, since there are different degrees and types of psychopathy: absence of nervousness and fear, impersonal and poorly integrated sexual life, inability to follow any life plan, lack of ability to learn from lived experienceirresponsibility in interpersonal relationships, great poverty in basic affective relationships and, of course, inability to love.
Are psychopaths born or made?
Carrasco is clear that “no one is born a psychopath”. The psychopath “carries in his person a resentment, a tendency to evil, to harm, to mistreatment of the other… and nobody is born with those characteristics; there is nothing prefigured in brain systems.” In any case, there may be individuals “with a certain predisposition, a fertile ground if the conditions for the development of psychopathy are met.” Thus, there would be people who are born with “less capacity for empathy, greater affective coldness or tendency to psychopathy, but psychopathy is made”.
Piñuel agrees that psychopaths are made, since “there is nothing that differentiates the brain of the psychopath from the non-psychopath” and, in fact, believes that today’s society is loaded with factors psychopathizers. However, he points out that “there are some that are born, it is described from the 40s and 50s.” Many of them are those children who mistreat their classmates at school and have a childhood in which bullying occupies a prominent place.
The psychologist considers that what is really worrying is that “there are socialization processes in evil that make a normal person, without realizing it, when subjected to certain forces, experiences and obedience, go to the dark side”. And, once that border is crossed, there is no going back. In Piñuel’s words, “there is something that crystallizes, a moral faculty that is annulled and is no longer reversible.”
But what can be done is to avoid that transition. The education provided by parents to their children plays an essential role. Thus, Carrasco highlights the influence of “domination, individualism, self-centerednessthe experience of one above others, always feeling threatened” and other feelings and behaviors “that we sometimes transmit to our children”.
The children growing up in a hostile or abusive environment they may have more chances to develop psychopathy, as well as those who are educated in an environment in which limits are not established. “In the consultation we sometimes meet apparently normal families but, as we remove layers, we discover many things,” says the psychiatrist at the San Carlos Clinical Hospital. “There are people who say they have many values, but then act contrary to them.” Faced with this hypocrisy, “the psychopath finds his true essence and comes to the conclusion that everything is a lie and nobody has moral values; that’s where it’s ‘cooking’”.
In certain cases, psychopathy is not acquired in childhood, but in youth. According to Piñuel, a good example is the maras or youth gangs and how they manage to “make the new adept become a psychopath.” In the same way, the Nazis knew what they had to do to “acclimatize the camp guards to make them commit increasingly terrible acts and morally desensitize them so that they could murder thousands or millions of people without experiencing the slightest ethical problem.”
In the psychologist’s opinion, “the good news is that, if we know how a person is socialized into evil, we can stop those processes; denouncing them and explaining them to young people is part of their emotional and sentimental education”.
Does psychopathy have a cure?
It is clear that psychopathy can be prevented, but once it has made its appearance, it is no longer possible to reverse it. Furthermore, treating these individuals is counterproductive. “The psychopath extracts tricks and tools from psychotherapy to continue his destruction more effectively,” explains Piñuel. “For them all psychological knowledge is immediately applicable to doing evil.”
Carrasco points out that there is a subgroup of non-pure psychopaths that can be controlled moderately well with psychiatric and psychological treatment: “There are some psychopathies that are impulsive, that would be bordering on what is known as borderline personality disorder, which can be treated with techniques and drugs to reduce this hyperreactivity”. But these are isolated cases. Generally, the psychiatrist acknowledges, “the psychopath is not aware that anything is wrong with him and if he happens to be in front of the specialist it is because he has committed a crime and a judge or a lawyer has taken him to the consultation, or because his family is worried and looking for help.
How to protect yourself from psychopath
Those who can and should be treated and supported are the victims. “Anyone can be the victim of a psychopath and this is not just me saying it; Says the one who has been the greatest expert in the last 50 years in the investigation of psychopaths, Robert Harewho assured that the problem that those of us who work with them can have is believing that we are immune to them because we know them”.
Since most of these people live totally integrated, it is not easy to recognize them. But it is necessary to do so because the best protection is “knowing what they are like, how they work, how they operate and keeping in mind a maxim: with psychopaths you always have to pay attention to what they do, not what they say”.
Because the big problem is that these subjects know how to trick their victims, to the point that, according to Piñuel, they become “addicted” to whoever is mistreating them in the family, work or relationship. They even believe that they are to blame for their father, mother, son, daughter or partner being the way they are. Hence, many times, the first thing is to convince the victims that they are not guilty and, secondly, to order them to get away as soon as possible from the person who is subjecting them to this manipulation and destruction. Paraphrasing Hare, “If you have a psychopath in your life, don’t stop, run!”.