“Both extremely high and extremely low levels of psychopathy may be maladaptive. High levels are maladaptive for the trouble into which clinical psychopaths often get themselves. Low levels of psychopathy are maladaptive—this stems from the common observation of the role of anxiety in psychopathy: psychopaths do not seem to show any anxiety. The debilitating function of high levels of anxiety hardly needs to be stressed. In a normal, non-institutionalized population, therefore, their (psychopath’s) immunity from anxiety may give psychopaths an advantage.”
Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths
My learning binge this week involves the nature of psychopaths. While my learning attempts are typically short-lived and often superficial, this one will continue to gnaw at me as I seek to learn more. Psychopaths have never really piqued my interest until I came across the book “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” (2012, by Kevin Dutton).
The common public perception of psychopaths is that they are execrable prison-deserving slop, whose recidivism rate is higher than any other criminal. While this is usually true, let’s take a moment to glorify psychopaths and relish their positive strengths. Remember, nothing in this world is entirely black and white. As thinkers in the modern world, we must seek to investigate the gray.
Some of us tend to fall on the extreme opposite side of the psychopathic scale. We are the humans who lack psychopathic traits and have a hard time even contemplating the mind of a psychopath. We are the people who writhe with daily levels of fluctuating anxiety. We feel the guilt and shame to even the slightest of our trespasses and we often over-apologize. We heartily empathize with others, understanding their human frailties as similar to our own and we have a difficult time maligning others for our own personal gain. We do not readily discern the vulnerabilities of others, even when the manifestations are dangling right in front of our faces. After reading this book, I’m starting to wonder if having a higher psychopathic score might actually prove beneficial in certain areas of a person’s life.
Psychopaths tend to be unique in their inability to experience anxiety. This translates to a superb ability to be more present-focused and less distracted than those scoring lower on the PCL-R (Psychopathic Checklist-Revised). While many of us low on the psychopathic scale have minds stuck in the past or reeling towards the future, psychopaths have a present mindfulness that is enviable. Psychopaths have a fascinating aptitude to spot the vulnerability in others (research in this area is delineated in the book). Less self-conscious and not worried about their own performance—and usually scoring higher on the narcissistic scale—these individuals spot the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in others much faster than those scoring lower on the psychopathic scale. With this ability, psychopaths are better equipped to exploit other people, to take advantage of them and possibly murder them if the convenient time or desire arises.
True, many psychopaths go down the path of creative killing or raping sprees that often brings them into a prison cell. Still, others pursue the much softer, less-offensive path. These individuals end up with careers like company CEO, stock trader or politician. Notice how these careers require mental toughness, ruthlessness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action—characteristics that come naturally to psychopaths. Psychopaths are adept at controlling their emotions when the pressure is on. Whether this is because they have this natural discipline within or because they feel emotions less intensely, is still being researched.
This book was a mind-bending read! It will widen your perspective on psychopaths and start to make you see the broad continuum of personality (and personality disorders). Indeed, we are all a smidgen psychopathic, some of us more so than others.