Am I a psychopath?

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist . Bookmark the permalink.

Jon Ronson wrote a book called The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and received this email from a psychopath.  Read it, it’s short.

A few observations:

He describes himself as unusual, unheard of. When he got tested, the conclusions were “devoid of optimistic prognosis.”  All superlatives.

His therapies failed due to “mistrust, concerned at being manipulated, and uncomfortable with the idea of being ‘managed'”– except when he was taken on by the director of the mental health agency. Only the best will do.

Also: a woman. Ten bucks says she was pretty but old enough not to need to be a sexual conquest.

“and to our mutual surprise, we got along extremely well.” Why would it be mutual surprise, i.e. why would she, the director of a clinic who has seen lots and lots of people exactly like him, be surprised?

And then, finally: “Four years later, with sessions no less frequent than once or twice a week, I came out of therapy unrecognizable from when I went into it.” So a 23 year old felt very different than when he was 19. Hmmm.

“I do not ‘feel’ guilt or remorse, except to the extent that it affects me directly” — what other kind of guilt is there? He means shame, not guilt.

“–but I do feel other emotions, which do not have adequate words of description, but nevertheless cause me to derive satisfaction in developing interpersonal relationships” which makes him not much of a psychopath.

Yet he takes on the label, the brand of ‘psychopath': “We are neither the cartoon evil serial killers, nor the ‘its your boss’ CEO’s…. While we are both of those things, it is a sad caricature of itself. We continue be to characterized that way, by media….”

“I had found myself becoming overwhelmed with a predatorial instinct that I could not shake–I’d sit, watching crowds of people go by, driven to mania by what I saw as their limitless inferiorities.”  I…..I…..I……I……  Nothing here is utilitarian, it is all about a conflict between identities.    Everyone else is their inferiorities.  It is enraging to see your own failings projected onto someone who might also be too fat, or too old, or too ugly, or too good looking–just enough other to make your disgust be about them and not you.

And the Holden Caulfield belief that things are phony “…it is all a sham.”

And, most importantly, he wrote a letter to Jon Ronson telling him he was a psychopath.  “Hey Dad, look at me!”

A heuristic for psychopathy is the lifelike robot. There are no internal boundaries to behavior or identity, complete existential freedom. The chill that many describe feeling in their presence is the feeling of the uncanny, the awareness that though he looks like an ordinary person with boundaries and motivations, anything is possible. He could cough, make a joke, eat you, get ready for work, all with equal probability.  There is no self, just reactions and impulses.  The guy writing the letter isn’t like this, you get a clear sense of who he is.

This sounds much more like narcissism than psychopathy; and a narcissism not so unusual at that age. I’m tempted to write he’ll be fine, grow out of it, but no one can predict the future about people’s behavior because what will determine his future isn’t the kind of person he thinks he is, or actually is, but the choices he makes– his ability to sublimate. Not a particularly popular thing to say nowadays.  But even if he is a psychopath, he doesn’t have to act like one; which, of course, would make him not a psychopath.


Are these guys psychopaths?

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7 Responses to Am I a psychopath?

  1. Guy Fox says:

    Okay, so the guy has talked himself into the identity of the psychopath, just as if he were convinced he were secretly a vampire, a secret agent, or whatever. But how strong can his own powers of suggestion get? Could he talk himself into it so seriously that, from a behavioural point of view, there’d be no difference? E.g. poison the guy who always takes his favourite seat on the train to reinforce the identity? If he’s committed enough to the identity that he’s willing to accept such costs in terms of time and visibility, are the brakes off, or will he find out that he’s not really a psychopath when the rubber hits the road, before it’s too late?

    I mean, for many identities (e.g. conspiracy theorist, Twitter junkie, Acme Brand Fanboy, etc.), all you need to become them is to adopt them more or less convincingly.

    • SNAFU says:

      If actions are good indicators, then his actions point to narcissism. He didn’t kill anyone. Rather, he sought attention and validation. In the end, he did a terrible job as a psychopath. This guy seems like he did something sufficient for him to maintain his identity AND keep him from having to kill people.

      I don’t think the analysis changes if he went Dexter on anyone who asked him for his last stick of gum. Even if the results appear indistinguishable, the causation still differs. Accordingly, the solution/prevention would appear to be different.

  2. barrkel says:

    I didn’t think this guy was a psychopath, the first time I read the letter (it was a month or more ago). Now, given your analysis, I’m even more sure. The guy just seemed really smug, like he’d found a new coat he liked, and was admiring himself and his predatory instinct in the mirror. He reminded me of myself, when I was a teenager, searching for identity, and had found some archetype of some group that I felt I belonged to. He probably watched American Psycho a few too many times at an impressionable age, and wanted to be just like Christian Bale, the way I watched too much Star Trek and wanted to be just like Data. But I was suppressing a whole load of crap, which is why I wanted to be emotionless. I don’t know what’s driving him.

  3. Or says:

    And if it turns out he actually is a psychopath, he’s asking us to change our opinion on psychopaths based on rhetorical flourishes and emotional appeals coming from a…

  4. Guy Fox says:

    The test: if he’s a psychopath (or just properly busy living), reading a discussion about him *actually* being a narcissist would leave him cold, if he’s a narcissist, it’d really piss him off.

  5. jaycatz says:

    Oh dear! This is always the way this discussion goes. The reason being that anyone who is NOT a socio/psychopath is incapable of understanding or empathising with one.

    How do I know? I am a 59 year old retired psychoanalyst AND, you guessed it! A socio/psychopath.

    After a lifetime of work and research, my conclusion is that people just get off on talking about the s/p personality. As if all the ills of society can be laid at our door.

    s/p are 1 % of the population. Most are high iq and high functioning. The lower iq and functioning idividuals are mostly to be found in institutions/prisons. These are the ones that you may be feeling superior to. That’s it really. We either achieve and contribute, or we fail to and get trampled underfoot.

    You will know us. We make you feel uncomfortable. As if we are reading your mind. BUT we are not evil. (Subjective nonsense). Or predatory (a generalization at best).

    So how IS a s/p superior???? JUDGEMENT! Emotions do not influence our judegement. Therefore our judgement is superior and unclouded by emotion.

    By the way. Here is another little s/p secret. Religion is a ‘cure’ for bad behaviour. A s/p is not born with conscience and a moral code. For a s/p this needs to be learned/adopted. Religion does this very well