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Myth of Fearless Psychopath

Uploaded 7/24/2021, approx. 15 minute read

The psychopath's defiance, contumaciousness, impulsivity and recklessness can be easily described as forms of dysregulation.

Yes, you heard me well, dysregulation, exactly like in borderline personality disorder.

This is one of the reasons we are considering the possibility that borderline personality disorder or emotional dysregulation disorder is actually a form of secondary psychopathy.

Within the psychopath there are dynamics of dysregulation which are very reminiscent to the dynamics of dysregulation in the borderline.

But while in the borderline the dysregulation usually has to do with emotions, emotional dysregulation, moods, mood lability, in the psychopath the dysregulation is externalized, in the borderline is internalized, in the psychopath is externalized.

In other words, the psychopath projects his dysregulation via his behaviors and his behaviors impact others and himself adversely.

That's why psychopaths have very bad reputation. Poor guys.

Good afternoon. My name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited and I'm also a professor of psychology.

And today I'm going to discuss for a change my favorite topics, psychopaths.

What would we have done without psychopaths? We would have had to invent them. We need psychopaths according to many academics. They are good in a variety of professions, military, military commanders, political leaders, surgeons and other medical professions, etc.

So there's a whole branch in academia which is glorifying now and elevating psychopaths to a position of leadership. Yes, it's part of the gradual increase of narcissism and psychopathy in culture, in contemporary culture and society.

But do we really understand psychopaths? Are we getting them? Do we realize what makes them tick?

Many of the things we think we know about psychopaths are wrong and some of them are dead wrong and they are wrong because the scholars and the self-imputed scholars and the self-styled and self-proclaimed experts on psychopathy had studied usually populations of psychopaths in prisons and psychopaths in prison are not a representative sample of psychopaths at large.

Psychopaths at large fulfill many niches. Some of them are pillars of the community. Some of them are productive members of society. They are all over, the psychopath next door.

And so owing to these generations of scholars, starting with Cleckley in the 1940s and before him and his kind of disciple in a way, Robert Hare and so on and so forth, we had created a caricature of the psychopath, a stereotype, an animated cartoon figure which has nothing or very little to do with a garden variety psychopath.

And one of the main issues where we are getting it seriously wrong is the psychopaths alleged fearlessness.

We think of the psychopath as a fearless being, someone who does not experience the emotions of fear, terror, etc.

The psychopath's defiance, the psychopath's contumaciousness, contumaciousness means defiance of authority, hatred of authority, flouting the rules, breaking rules. So, contumaciousness. It's a word that makes me sound very learned and erudite and that's why I'm using it.

So, the psychopath defiance contumaciousness often misperceived. I repeat, misperceived, as fearlessness or nonchalance.

The psychopath appears to be sang-fua, imperturbable, someone who doesn't let events, other people in the environment get to him.

He's impervious. He has this imaginary membrane around him which is impermeable to the stresses and anxieties of daily life. The psychopath's main hallmark is indifference and apathy in the face of adversity.

But this is not fearlessness. This is defiance. This is consummationness.

In reality, there's a lot of trepidation, a lot of anxiety attached to fearlessness and nonchalance and defiance and contumaciousness in the psychopath's behavior.

I have a video on this channel about the anxious psychopath, new discoveries, new studies in the past few years that actually undermine completely the image of the psychopath as someone who never experiences anxiety, is never phobic, is never afraid.

That is absolutely untrue.

So, even scholars, lazy scholars, scholars who don't bother to update themselves, even they get it wrong, this stereotype of the psychopath as fearless.

And we are talking in this presentation at least, we are talking about what Robert Hare calls factor one psychopath, F1 psychopath.

Factor one is a derivative of the test, PCLR, I'm not going into it. It's a kind of psychopath that we are used to think of as a psychopath, without emotions, without empathy, tramples on people on the way to obtaining his goals. So, the primary psychopath.

The truth is, and by now it had been established in quite a few studies, the truth is the psychopaths do experience anxiety and fear. One might even say that they experience their brand of anxiety and fear even more than the rest of us do.

So, how come? How could generations of scholars get it so wrong?

There are several important differences between the psychopath and a neurotypical, normal person. And these important differences camouflage masqueraded the psychopath's inner world, denied access to observers and to scholars and to family members and to colleagues and to anyone and everyone around the psychopath.

First of all, the brain and the physiology of psychopaths are different to normal people.

Skin conductance, perspiration, brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure, these are all markers of fear.

When normal people are afraid, when they have a fear reaction, they sweat. Their conductance in the skin changes. Brain activity is highly specific. Heart rate increases. Blood pressure in tandem also increases.

But not with the psychopath. With the psychopath, these physiological markers of fear are subdued or even absent altogether.

And so, we confuse the cart and the horse. We say because the psychopath's body does not react to what we consider to be fear or something frightening, it means the psychopath is not afraid.

That's of course nonsense. The psychopath's brain and body are different to ours.

But he does experience anxiety and he does experience fear. He only experiences differently to us. He doesn't have the same equipment. He doesn't have the same machinery. Inevitably, he produces different output.

Measuring the psychopath's brain activity when he is exposed to frightening stimuli, frightening photos, sudden sounds, etc., is wrong because his brain is not constructed similarly to the psychologist who is studying him.

The assumption that all human bodies are identical is counterfactual. It's absolutely not true. Massive differences between men and women and massive differences within men and within women.

Psychopathy or psychopaths stand apart. They have a totally different brain, totally different body.

In other words, to detect, to spot fear and fear reactions, fear affects related to fear, cognitions related to fear, to spot fear in a psychopath, we need to design completely different tests. Tests which would be specific to the psychopath's highly idiosyncratic body and to his awry brain.

The second problem is that things and behaviors that normal people find repulsive, shocking, frightening. These behaviors, these things, these circumstances, these events, other people, they elicit no emotional reaction from the psychopath.

In other words, the psychopath can find himself in situations with people in specific circumstances undergoing a series of events that would normally traumatize, shock, frighten people, normal people. Things and events that people would find highly repulsive, disgusting, horrible, but the psychopath doesn't.

The psychopath's perception of risk, the psychopath's disgust response, are fundamentally different to normal people.

He misperceives risk.

Well, you would consider risk and be afraid. He doesn't perceive risk, so he's not afraid.

But when he does perceive risk, he is afraid.

That's a critical point.

The psychopath disagrees with normal people as to what is frightening, as to what is repulsive, as to what is shocking, as to what is disgusting. He disagrees because he's built differently. He has a different brain. He has a different body and physiology and biochemistry and neurology.

So he's a different, he's a variant, variant of concern of human being.

And so inevitably, he doesn't react like you and others. He reacts differently.

But when he does perceive threat, when he does experience something as risky, he reacts like you. He becomes afraid. He becomes anxious.

Then the psychopath is impulsive. He is reckless.

But when you ask the psychopath, are you impulsive and reckless, he would deny it. He would deny his recklessness because the psychopath perceives his behavior actually as cautious and informed and wise and measured and thoughtful. He just disagrees with you. He misevaluates situations and people.

Or maybe you do.

Most psychopaths are actually paranoid. They're hypervigilant and they are conspiracist, prone to believe in conspiracy theories.

That's one of the reasons that most psychopaths perceive themselves as victims.

They live in a constant state of irrational terror, afraid of and worried about things which you consider innocuous and random.

To the psychopath, nothing is random and definitely nothing is innocuous. Everything is sinister. Everything has a subtext. There are things going behind the scenes which are much more important than even the scenes.

Psychopath is on the verge of paranoia all the time and very often crosses this verge.

So it's not true to say that psychopaths are fearless. It's just that their fear reaction, their paranoia, their hypervigilance, their suspiciousness, their arousal, the technical clinical term is arousal, not sexual arousal, but excitatory state, neurological excitatory state. These are reserved for situations and circumstances and people and events that you would consider as totally normal.

And what you consider as totally normal, the psychopath would consider very, very dark and frightening.

Finally, psychopaths misinterpret both internal cues and external cues and in this sense they're very similar to people with autism spectrum disorder.

Indeed, there's a whole school which suggests that high functioning autistic people are actually psychopaths.

At any rate, psychopaths misinterpret internal cues and external cues.

When they feel something, they don't know what it is. They can't give it a name. When they witness something or interact with people or find themselves in some circumstance or environment or within a train of events, they're not sure what's happening.

Consequently, psychopaths mislabel and misattribute.

This is called the error of misattribution.

They mislabel and misattribute their inner dynamics. They feel something. They say, well, this must be love or this must be fear or this must be envy. They try desperately to slap labels on the dim stirrings within them. They're very primitive.

Psychopathy is a low organization personality. It's very primitive and very chaotic. It's very kaleidoscopic. It's difficult.

The psychopath is driven by urges and all kinds of impulses. He's like a ball, a pinball in a pinball machine. He's being pushed from the inside and from the outside, totally reactive, acting on a whim, whimsical.

For example, when the psychopath is actually very afraid, he's likely to say that he's very excited. He confuses fear with excitement. He confuses sexual arousal with deeper emotions and he confuses deeper emotions with sexual arousal.

Psychopaths are mirror humans. The few emotions they do possess, all of them are raw, primitive and negative. And these few emotions are inverted 180 degrees. They are mirror humans.

Amazingly, psychopaths are convinced that this inversion is actually normal and common.

Psychopaths believe that you're a psychopath. They believe that they're totally normal and they think everyone is like them. And they're pretty shocked to discover that they're not.

For example, most psychopaths react with indignation when the law catches up with them and places them behind bars because they don't understand what they had done wrong. They behave as anyone else would, isn't it?

Psychopaths love or they like others who are useful to them and only for as long as they benefit from these people one way or another.

They conflate love, attachment and bonding with usefulness and the receipt of services or goods.

Psychopaths use the disposition and flow of material goods to gauge such sentiments.

So as long as they receive attention in case they are narcissistic, as long as they receive sex, money, access to power, contacts, other benefits, help, advice, succor. As long as they receive something, they feel that they are loved or at the very least that they are liked, that they belong.

The minute they stop receiving something from someone, they perceive it as rejection, as not being liked anymore or not being loved anymore.

Psychopaths do experience shame. It's another myth that they don't experience shame, regret and remorse. They experience shame, regret, remorse and even guilt.

But they experience these emotions only when they are exposed as weak, as desperate, as helpless. They hate to be perceived this way.

When there is incontrovertible evidence that they are less what they pretend to be, that they are not as strong, not as resilient, that they don't have any other options, that they are actually impotent, not omnipotent.

When they are exposed this way, they do experience profound shame, like the narcissist. Profound shame and guilt and remorse and regret.

They get angry when they cannot secure a goal. Even if the goal is self-destructive and humiliating, it's still a goal and they want to accomplish it.

They lash out at people who would not or who cannot collaborate in whatever it is they set their minds to do or to be done to them.

So they set a goal, the goal could be totally self-destructive, totally degrading to themselves, but they expect people to collaborate and these people fail to collaborate, fail to perform, they get very angry.

They do regret and they do feel guilt for having failed or for having been caught red-handed. They hate to be caught.

But they never feel guilty or ashamed for having hurt and having harmed other people.

They rationalize, they justify their misdeeds by contorting language to its breaking point, by creating a full, instant ersatz morality, their own law.

It's my way or the highway and I abide only by my own rules.

Psychopaths fearlessly risk their lives, limbs and fortune, habitually and with total strangers, but are paranoid, anxious and hypervigilant with their nearest and dearest.

That's a very shocking feature of psychopaths.

They would do the most crazy things with people they had just met. They would go with these people to very dangerous and risky environments and there do very dangerous and risky things.

But with their immediate family, colleagues, lovers, I mean with people who provide intimacy, they feel unsafe, they feel insecure, they feel paranoid and anxious and hypervigilant. Nearest and dearest are a threat. Intimacy and commitment are perceived as threats. A total stranger is not a threat because he or she can always be discarded.

But the psychopath places herself or himself recklessly in situations which can end and very often do end very badly.

A psychopath never says no. A psychopath only shrugs and says why not before he or she engages in the most unspeakable or degrading acts.

Never no. Always why not? Why not? Do you want to do this? Yeah, why not?

Even if it's self-despoiling, self-destructive, utterly humiliating, the psychopath is very likely to say why not? Let's do it.

Without shame, without guilt and without remorse of the classical, of the typical variety, there's nothing to rein the psychopath in, nothing to control his impulses, nothing to make him stop and think what it is that I'm doing, nothing to inhibit him.

Psychopaths are primitive, whim-driven, stochastic, bug-ridden, often intoxicated machines. Psychopaths are even worse when they're in pursuit of a goal, a weather whimsical and outlandish.

When you encounter a psychopath, you come face to face with the undead.

Psychopaths look still alive.

Many of them are charming and witty and erudite and professors of psychology.

And some of them, a tiny minority, are charming, witty and erudite and handsome professors of psychology.

There are two of these, I think.

But psychopaths had actually died in their teenage years. They had died. They're dead inside and out. They're zombies. They're the undead. They age fast. They're progeria, terrifying to behold.

The psychopath inhabits an eternal present. Theirs is an eternal present, a dawnless night of the soulless.

Psychopaths treat their bodies and their lives as a corpse would, as if they were dead, like decomposing trash.

Psychopaths are black holes. Nothing escapes, not even the psychopath. He implodes upon himself, the psychopath, and then consumes himself in an orgy, vaginarian orgy, of self-destruction.

It is nothing short of horrifying to hear the winds of the psychopath's insanity howling in the deserted hallways of his or her vacated mind.

Cleckley wrote a whole book, and it's clear that he had been traumatized by his encounters with psychopaths. The book is called The Mask of Sanity.

Behind the mask, behind the bandages, the mummies, the Egyptian mummies of the psychopaths, the psychopath rots and disintegrates in slow motion, unglued by a lack of scruples and morality, a void of empathy and emotions, a howling abyss where a human being should have been and is no longer.

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