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.
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