Are psychopaths bad because they are sad?

Jason Brien.

     Dr Willem Martens, the director of the W. Khan Institute of Theoretical Psychiatry and Neuroscience, suggests that contrary to popular belief, the psychopath experiences emotional pain in the same that ‘normal’ people do.  Dr Marten believes that the current diagnostic criteria for psychopathy is responsible for the view that psychopaths are cold, heartless and devoid of emotions.  

     Additionally, Hollywood and other forms of media have taken great delight in portraying psychopaths as ‘evil’, ‘violent’ and ‘depraved’ killers. They have enjoyed frightening the public with horrific stories about psychopaths and their predilections (whether real or not). Dr Martens acknowledges that the psychopaths personality and behavioural manifestations ‘repel’ rather than ‘invite’ people to them but this does not mean that they do not possess a desire to be loved and cared for or that they don’t feel the emotional pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness.

     The life histories of psychopaths is often marked by chaos which is caused by a lack of parental moral and ethical guidance, lack of parental care, love and attention, parental substance abuse, antisocial behaviour, poor interpersonal relationships, school disruptions, history of unemployment, divorce and social rejection and adversity. The psychopath often lacks warm, stable and loving interpersonal relationships.  

     The psychopaths outside appearance is one of arrogance and haughtiness but their interiors are stained by feelings of inferiority and awareness that they are stigmatised by their own behaviours. The psychopath is aware of how they are perceived by others. They are aware of their manipulative and exploitative personalities. They are also aware that they cannot control their impulses and behavioural manifestations no matter how hard they try. Infamous serial killers throughout history have described this lack of control as being possessed by evil, possessed by the devil or being possessed by factor X.

     Dr Martens suggests that social isolation/rejection, loneliness and the associated emotional pain precedes criminal behaviour and heinous acts of violence. When the psychopath feels and believes that society has given up on them, coupled with their inability to control their impulses and behaviours without help, they develop a ‘me vs the world mentality’. Why should the psychopath care if they break into your house, assault you and rape you? You never cared about what happened to them so why should they care about what happens to you? This faulty belief system leads to entitlement and the complete disregard of social rules, laws and personal boundaries. 

     On the extreme end of the scales, serial killers such as Jeffery Dhamer and Dennis Nilson stated that their intense feelings of isolation and loneliness drove their desire to kill. For Dhamer and Nilson, killing a person prevented them from leaving them thus fulfilling their need for company. Likewise, Ted Bundy continually returned to his victims bodies to lay with them and often applied makeup and perfume to the corpses to keep them ‘fresh’. Collecting trophies from victims and even cannibalism can be motivated by a desire to keep the victim with them at all times.

     Whilst there is no proven method to clinically treat psychopathy, society still has a responsibility to recognise the humanity of psychopaths. Society does not have to accept nor tolerate the antisocial antics of psychopaths. However, if society wants psychopaths to alter their antisocial traits, we must first recognise that psychopaths lack the ability to control these impulses and behavioural manifestations and recognise and accept that they desire love, care and attention just like anyone else. Until we recognise their humanity and vulnerability, they are unlikely to seek help and support and so their destructive cycle will continue.