Fifteen Things You Probably Do Not Know about Psychopaths

Have you ever worked for someone who you seriously thought might be crazy?  About half of all workers have such an experience within a lifetime.  The other half misses out on one of life's most perplexing and educational opportunities.

The subject is psychopathy.  Knowledge and understanding of psychopathy is now advancing, and at an accelerating rate, after a decades-long period of no growth and slow growth.  Good thing!  Psychopathy is the very worst mental disorder; psychopathy and related conditions have cost millions of lives lost and trillions of dollars wasted, though it is still very poorly understood by most people.  I am now speaking not as a medical or psychological professional, but as a professional project engineering manager who has been faced with numerous severe personnel and management problems not addressed in engineering or business school. 

Psychopathy is without a doubt the most destructive, the most deadly, and the least comprehensible of mental disorders.  So, to promote understanding of psychopathy, the following points are offered:

  1. Briefly – A psychopath is a person with a very nasty personality who builds a more attractive and very fake personality to cover his frauds, transgressions, and, sometimes, murders.  A representative sample of people psychologically assessed as psychopaths includes Casey Anthony, who allegedly killed her daughter; John Wayne Gacy, who murdered and sodomized thirty-three young men and who was executed; and Jeff Skilling, who was CEO of Enron when it was destroyed in the largest corporate fraud case in history, and who is now in prison.  Andrew Lobaczewski was a psychologist in Poland during the Cold War who identified Stalin as a psychopath.
  1. Rational – Psychopaths are quite rational.  Psychopaths' minds work no better and no worse than yours, except that psychopaths have a big void where most people have a conscience and moral values.  In a family setting, a psychopath typically abuses the spouse and children and is respected and is even well thought of by outsiders.  In a working environment, psychopaths choose their victims from lower-ranking individuals and take care to act properly around higher-ranking individuals.  In national and international relations, psychopaths create and exploit divisions based on ethnic, religious, national, or class differences.

    On first being exposed to a psychopath, a person may be quite favorably impressed.Odd things then begin to happen.Subordinates soon observe incomprehensible behaviors, including pathological dishonesty, and begin to think that the psychopath is "crazy" – or, more technically, he is psychotic.But a psychopath is not psychotic.Psychopathy is a personality disorder, and psychopaths at their worst may start wars or create worldwide financial disasters.Psychopaths are substantially or totally devoid of human feelings: no sympathy, no empathy, no guilt, no remorse, no conscience, and no sense of humor.

    Psychopaths are quite predatory.Not only are psychopaths without human feelings, but they are, deep down, contemptuous of all with whom they deal: superiors, subordinates, supporters, opponents, associates, and family alike.Psychopaths genuinely think that they are better and smarter than everyone else, an impression that psychopath enablers fully endorse (think Chris Matthews or the German General Staff during WWII).
  1. Mental Disorders – The primary indicators for psychopathy are anti-social personality disorder and malignant narcissism personality disorder, plus tendencies toward criminal behaviors and an inability to establish mature sexual relationships.  These mental disorders are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), though the DSM and the criteria for these mental disorders have been through many revisions as knowledge develops and fashions change.  
  1. Measurement – Formal measurement of psychopathy is performed by a trained professional using Dr. Robert Hare's Psychopathy Check List – Revised (PCL-R), consisting of twenty-one items such as pathological dishonesty, parasitic lifestyle, and irresponsibility.  Not all of the items are required to assess a psychopathic condition.  Neurological exams may be used to confirm damage or defect in the brain.  Electroencephalograms (EEGs), functional Magnetic Resonant Imaging (fMRI), and Computerized Axial Tomography scans (CAT scans) are highly effective in confirming neurological abnormalities; Dr. Hare has done much original research in this area to confirm diagnoses of psychopathy.  On a macro scale, psychopaths are inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt, much like the Soviet Union.  Psychopathy is thought to be incurable at this time. 
  1. Control – Psychopaths want to control you – physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, and politically.  Psychopaths want to control your soft drinks, your ability to defend yourself, your health care, and your life. 
  1. Occurrence – Psychopaths are thought to be about one percent of the population.  Dr. Hare has noted that the occurrence of corporate psychopaths ranges up to four percent of corporate executives; psychopaths with the proper schooling and qualifications are attracted to positions of wealth and power, and they manipulate themselves into positions of responsibility and authority.
  1. Masks – There are few overt characteristics to distinguish a psychopath from the general population, within which the psychopath can easily blend.  Dr. Cleckley's 1941 book, which first described clinical psychopathy, was entitled The Mask of Sanity.  The "mask" to which Dr. Cleckley referred takes different forms.  Ted Bundy wore fake bandages and fake arm and leg casts to attract sympathetic young women, whom he subsequently murdered.  Corporate psychopaths typically collect and ostentatiously display degrees, certifications, and awards as proof of their abilities while committing their often subtle frauds.  Jeff Skilling at Enron in particular had a rock-solid resume, including an MBA from Harvard and a partnership in McKinsey and Company, a premier business consultancy company.  Skilling is now in prison for the greatest case of corporate fraud in history, with thousands of careers disrupted and billions of dollars of corporate value lost.
  1. Causes – Neurological defect or injury is often associated with psychopathy, though some cases have no known causative factors.  Cases have been reported of identical twins, one psychopathic, the other not.  Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein exhibited traits common to psychopaths, and each had been subject to abusive or neglectful parenting, possibly resulting in psychological damage.  There is another possible factor relating to an outsider status.  Napoleon was not French, but Corsican.  Lenin was not Russian, but Kalmyk and Turkic.  Stalin was not Russian, but Georgian.  And Hitler was not German, but Austrian.
  1. Flavors – By far, most psychopaths operate on a family and community level, destroying family relationships, committing crimes and misdemeanors, and rotating in and out of mental hospitals, jails, and prisons, and then back into the community.  But many psychopaths tend to come in other distinct flavors depending on their personalities.  Serial-murder psychopaths and corporate psychopaths were previously mentioned.  Other flavors include military, religious, financial, and political psychopaths.  Dr. Clive Boddy made a convincing argument that the 2008 financial meltdown was the product of financial and political psychopaths.

    The rarest of psychopathic types is the intellectual psychopath.Karl Marx, Saul Alinsky, and Cloward-Piven come to mind.   Both Marx and Alinsky displayed psychopathic traits and inspired other psychopaths to infiltrate and sometimes forcibly seize governments, followed by characteristic psychopathic inefficiency, incompetence, and corruption in the administration of the state. 
  1. Psychopath Enablers and Supporters – Family and local psychopath enablers are well-identified and can be researched on the internet.  Political psychopath enablers were institutionalized by Antonio Gramsci in his concept of "Corporate Communism," wherein Marxists were to infiltrate and take over cultural institutions: academia, media, legal, courts, and political parties.  
  1. Creativity – Creative psychopaths are often audacious and leave people surprised and off balance, as when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland or when Putin invaded Crimea.  Corporate psychopaths are often credited with being creative even as their organizations suffer massive personnel turnover and financial loss. 
  1. Tough Reputation – Beyond the items on Dr. Hare's PCL-R, psychopaths cultivate a reputation for toughness, but that does not mean that they get good results.  In reality, they are just very nasty personalities who abuse subordinates and may commit crimes.  Rahm Emanuel (now failing as mayor of Chicago) and Rod Blagojevich (now in prison) fall in this category.
  1. Recognizing Psychopathy – Many psychologists have different interpretations of conditions similar to psychopathy.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are virtually the only institutions that unequivocally accept and utilize Dr. Hare's findings on psychopathy in solving crimes and profiling criminals and criminal psychopaths.  The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) specifically recognizes the "bully boss" but ignores the "psychopathic boss."  By whatever label, the two designations are indistinguishable for personnel turnover, financial losses, and criminal behaviors.   
  1. Failure – In practical terms, psychopaths always fail, and psychopathic failure creates misery for families, communities, and nations.  Political psychopaths and their systems fail in the manner that the Soviet Union failed, leaving massive social and economic costs for their supporters and for their opponents.  This is exactly what one might expect from the world's most severe mental disorder.  Long-running psychopathic systems such as militant Islam and Marxism typically endure periods of success alternating with failure, during which massive social and economic losses are endured by everyone, supporters and opponents alike. 
  1. Ending Psychopathic Expression – Dr. Hare and associates are increasingly capable of identifying a psychopath at an early age.  Many conditions are medically or legally sanctioned (eyeglasses may be required for a driver's license), and psychopathy should be in this category, with psychopaths limited in their opportunities to control others.  The Tyee had a novel but quite workable approach to corporate psychopathy: require all corporate executives to have performance insurance, with denial of insurance to those who cannot pass a psychopathy screening exam.  Internationally, the best strategy appears to be to contain psychopathic states and let them die of their own corruption, as the Soviet Union did.

Psychopathy is a common and extremely destructive mental disorder that afflicts not only the psychopath, but whole communities, nations, and the world.  We now have the tools to identify and mitigate psychopathy, if we can develop the will to do so.

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.  mandynamerica.com/blog/

Have you ever worked for someone who you seriously thought might be crazy?  About half of all workers have such an experience within a lifetime.  The other half misses out on one of life's most perplexing and educational opportunities.

The subject is psychopathy.  Knowledge and understanding of psychopathy is now advancing, and at an accelerating rate, after a decades-long period of no growth and slow growth.  Good thing!  Psychopathy is the very worst mental disorder; psychopathy and related conditions have cost millions of lives lost and trillions of dollars wasted, though it is still very poorly understood by most people.  I am now speaking not as a medical or psychological professional, but as a professional project engineering manager who has been faced with numerous severe personnel and management problems not addressed in engineering or business school. 

Psychopathy is without a doubt the most destructive, the most deadly, and the least comprehensible of mental disorders.  So, to promote understanding of psychopathy, the following points are offered:

  1. Briefly – A psychopath is a person with a very nasty personality who builds a more attractive and very fake personality to cover his frauds, transgressions, and, sometimes, murders.  A representative sample of people psychologically assessed as psychopaths includes Casey Anthony, who allegedly killed her daughter; John Wayne Gacy, who murdered and sodomized thirty-three young men and who was executed; and Jeff Skilling, who was CEO of Enron when it was destroyed in the largest corporate fraud case in history, and who is now in prison.  Andrew Lobaczewski was a psychologist in Poland during the Cold War who identified Stalin as a psychopath.
  1. Rational – Psychopaths are quite rational.  Psychopaths' minds work no better and no worse than yours, except that psychopaths have a big void where most people have a conscience and moral values.  In a family setting, a psychopath typically abuses the spouse and children and is respected and is even well thought of by outsiders.  In a working environment, psychopaths choose their victims from lower-ranking individuals and take care to act properly around higher-ranking individuals.  In national and international relations, psychopaths create and exploit divisions based on ethnic, religious, national, or class differences.

    On first being exposed to a psychopath, a person may be quite favorably impressed.Odd things then begin to happen.Subordinates soon observe incomprehensible behaviors, including pathological dishonesty, and begin to think that the psychopath is "crazy" – or, more technically, he is psychotic.But a psychopath is not psychotic.Psychopathy is a personality disorder, and psychopaths at their worst may start wars or create worldwide financial disasters.Psychopaths are substantially or totally devoid of human feelings: no sympathy, no empathy, no guilt, no remorse, no conscience, and no sense of humor.

    Psychopaths are quite predatory.Not only are psychopaths without human feelings, but they are, deep down, contemptuous of all with whom they deal: superiors, subordinates, supporters, opponents, associates, and family alike.Psychopaths genuinely think that they are better and smarter than everyone else, an impression that psychopath enablers fully endorse (think Chris Matthews or the German General Staff during WWII).
  1. Mental Disorders – The primary indicators for psychopathy are anti-social personality disorder and malignant narcissism personality disorder, plus tendencies toward criminal behaviors and an inability to establish mature sexual relationships.  These mental disorders are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), though the DSM and the criteria for these mental disorders have been through many revisions as knowledge develops and fashions change.  
  1. Measurement – Formal measurement of psychopathy is performed by a trained professional using Dr. Robert Hare's Psychopathy Check List – Revised (PCL-R), consisting of twenty-one items such as pathological dishonesty, parasitic lifestyle, and irresponsibility.  Not all of the items are required to assess a psychopathic condition.  Neurological exams may be used to confirm damage or defect in the brain.  Electroencephalograms (EEGs), functional Magnetic Resonant Imaging (fMRI), and Computerized Axial Tomography scans (CAT scans) are highly effective in confirming neurological abnormalities; Dr. Hare has done much original research in this area to confirm diagnoses of psychopathy.  On a macro scale, psychopaths are inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt, much like the Soviet Union.  Psychopathy is thought to be incurable at this time. 
  1. Control – Psychopaths want to control you – physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, and politically.  Psychopaths want to control your soft drinks, your ability to defend yourself, your health care, and your life. 
  1. Occurrence – Psychopaths are thought to be about one percent of the population.  Dr. Hare has noted that the occurrence of corporate psychopaths ranges up to four percent of corporate executives; psychopaths with the proper schooling and qualifications are attracted to positions of wealth and power, and they manipulate themselves into positions of responsibility and authority.
  1. Masks – There are few overt characteristics to distinguish a psychopath from the general population, within which the psychopath can easily blend.  Dr. Cleckley's 1941 book, which first described clinical psychopathy, was entitled The Mask of Sanity.  The "mask" to which Dr. Cleckley referred takes different forms.  Ted Bundy wore fake bandages and fake arm and leg casts to attract sympathetic young women, whom he subsequently murdered.  Corporate psychopaths typically collect and ostentatiously display degrees, certifications, and awards as proof of their abilities while committing their often subtle frauds.  Jeff Skilling at Enron in particular had a rock-solid resume, including an MBA from Harvard and a partnership in McKinsey and Company, a premier business consultancy company.  Skilling is now in prison for the greatest case of corporate fraud in history, with thousands of careers disrupted and billions of dollars of corporate value lost.
  1. Causes – Neurological defect or injury is often associated with psychopathy, though some cases have no known causative factors.  Cases have been reported of identical twins, one psychopathic, the other not.  Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein exhibited traits common to psychopaths, and each had been subject to abusive or neglectful parenting, possibly resulting in psychological damage.  There is another possible factor relating to an outsider status.  Napoleon was not French, but Corsican.  Lenin was not Russian, but Kalmyk and Turkic.  Stalin was not Russian, but Georgian.  And Hitler was not German, but Austrian.
  1. Flavors – By far, most psychopaths operate on a family and community level, destroying family relationships, committing crimes and misdemeanors, and rotating in and out of mental hospitals, jails, and prisons, and then back into the community.  But many psychopaths tend to come in other distinct flavors depending on their personalities.  Serial-murder psychopaths and corporate psychopaths were previously mentioned.  Other flavors include military, religious, financial, and political psychopaths.  Dr. Clive Boddy made a convincing argument that the 2008 financial meltdown was the product of financial and political psychopaths.

    The rarest of psychopathic types is the intellectual psychopath.Karl Marx, Saul Alinsky, and Cloward-Piven come to mind.   Both Marx and Alinsky displayed psychopathic traits and inspired other psychopaths to infiltrate and sometimes forcibly seize governments, followed by characteristic psychopathic inefficiency, incompetence, and corruption in the administration of the state. 
  1. Psychopath Enablers and Supporters – Family and local psychopath enablers are well-identified and can be researched on the internet.  Political psychopath enablers were institutionalized by Antonio Gramsci in his concept of "Corporate Communism," wherein Marxists were to infiltrate and take over cultural institutions: academia, media, legal, courts, and political parties.  
  1. Creativity – Creative psychopaths are often audacious and leave people surprised and off balance, as when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland or when Putin invaded Crimea.  Corporate psychopaths are often credited with being creative even as their organizations suffer massive personnel turnover and financial loss. 
  1. Tough Reputation – Beyond the items on Dr. Hare's PCL-R, psychopaths cultivate a reputation for toughness, but that does not mean that they get good results.  In reality, they are just very nasty personalities who abuse subordinates and may commit crimes.  Rahm Emanuel (now failing as mayor of Chicago) and Rod Blagojevich (now in prison) fall in this category.
  1. Recognizing Psychopathy – Many psychologists have different interpretations of conditions similar to psychopathy.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are virtually the only institutions that unequivocally accept and utilize Dr. Hare's findings on psychopathy in solving crimes and profiling criminals and criminal psychopaths.  The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) specifically recognizes the "bully boss" but ignores the "psychopathic boss."  By whatever label, the two designations are indistinguishable for personnel turnover, financial losses, and criminal behaviors.   
  1. Failure – In practical terms, psychopaths always fail, and psychopathic failure creates misery for families, communities, and nations.  Political psychopaths and their systems fail in the manner that the Soviet Union failed, leaving massive social and economic costs for their supporters and for their opponents.  This is exactly what one might expect from the world's most severe mental disorder.  Long-running psychopathic systems such as militant Islam and Marxism typically endure periods of success alternating with failure, during which massive social and economic losses are endured by everyone, supporters and opponents alike. 
  1. Ending Psychopathic Expression – Dr. Hare and associates are increasingly capable of identifying a psychopath at an early age.  Many conditions are medically or legally sanctioned (eyeglasses may be required for a driver's license), and psychopathy should be in this category, with psychopaths limited in their opportunities to control others.  The Tyee had a novel but quite workable approach to corporate psychopathy: require all corporate executives to have performance insurance, with denial of insurance to those who cannot pass a psychopathy screening exam.  Internationally, the best strategy appears to be to contain psychopathic states and let them die of their own corruption, as the Soviet Union did.

Psychopathy is a common and extremely destructive mental disorder that afflicts not only the psychopath, but whole communities, nations, and the world.  We now have the tools to identify and mitigate psychopathy, if we can develop the will to do so.

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.  mandynamerica.com/blog/