Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan
Sometimes individuals display unusual behaviours, which are at times staged depending on the audience. The primary behavior known by those closest to such individuals are often confused, and the question is why?
Based on my research studies, these type of occurrences are high in intimate relationships or even in families and therein lies the challenge often encountered by many who live and/or co-exist with someone over prolonged periods and is still unable to understand their behavioural patterns. Today’s piece focuses on psychopathy together with some aspects of sociopathy and their impact on the human psyche.
Delving into insights
Current research has coined psychopathy as a serious disorder linked to particular genetic traits that produce strange individuals while sociopathy is referred to less dangerous individuals who are seen more as products of their environment. Other researchers made a distinction between primary psychopaths whose behaviour may be influenced by genetic factors and secondary psychopaths whose behaviours are influenced by-products of their environments.
The current approach in defining sociopathy and its related concepts, references a criteria listing...the first of which was developed by American psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley. Though several lists are available, the most commonly used is the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) invented by Canadian researcher in the field of criminal psychology—Robert Hare. An alternative version —Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) was developed in 1996 by US-based psychologists Scott Liienfield and Brian Andrews and is used globally by psychologists and psychiatrists to categorise and diagnose mental illness to which psychopathy is associated.
Contained in these various lists are some core behavioural tendencies which are often misinterpreted and referenced to other things. In the PCL, psychopaths are described as callous and lacking empathy which is associated with dissocial personality disorder. PCL also states that there are several lines of evidence that point to the biological connection responsible for the uncaring nature of a psychopath; the brains of psychopaths have been discovered to have weak connections to the components of the brain’s emotional systems, hence their inability to feel and respond to deep emotions.
The PCL research also identified shallow emotions as a core psychopathic tendency. According to Cleckley “the psychopaths I came into contact with showed general poverty in major affective reactions and lack of remorse or shame”. They are also described as emotionally shallow and showing a lack of guilt…they also lack fear as opposed to the expected reactions of normal humans who find themselves in unusual situations with the potential to produce painful outcomes.
Irresponsibility and unreliability are also at their core. The PCL also mentions blame externalisation as having to do with blaming others for situations that were created by their actions; they’d accept blame if backed into a corner but don’t expect these admissions to be accompanied by any level of shame or remorse.
Because of their psychological differences, psychopaths are challenged at times in understanding metaphors and abstract words and so may use insincere words much to the offence of those at the receiving end. Exuding rays of overconfidence also sit on their heads as in the PCL. Cleckley spoke frequently of the boastfulness of his patients. He also spoke of his psychopathic patients showing pathologic egocentricity and an incapacity for love which lands closely to being selfish. According to the PCL, psychopaths lack vision for creating realistic and long-term goals while the PPI describes them as offering a “carefree nonplanness”. Research further revealed that they possess a very low tolerance towards frustration as well as a low threshold for discharge of aggression such as violent tendencies.
Tracing psychopathic development
Though it remains unclear exactly how such a personality develops, some of the studies have unearthed some childhood circumstances with the potential to increase its likelihood. Some of these include negative parenting that focuses on punishment devoid of any type of reward or pure inconsistency in parenting strategies—lack of love and acceptance in a parent-child relationship; having an anti-social or psychopathic parent is indeed a terrible experience for any child; having parents who are substance abusers; parental separation affects most kids terribly to the extent that they become completely distant from life; and children who are continuously subjected to various types of abuse and more particularly sexual abuse or rape. However, the research was clear in stating that a few children who experience these challenges may or may not display psychopathic tendencies as other neurocognitive factors must also be present.
Can psychopathy be treated?
For decades researchers have been conducting studies aimed at finding remedial treatment for psychopathic behaviour but thus far, these studies have shown that such behaviours do not change in response to psychoanalysis, group therapy, client-centred therapy or even drug therapy. One study has shown that psychopathic treatment can be hopeful if treatment starts from early childhood.
Adriana Sandrine Isaac-Rattan is president of the International Women's Resource.