Entries categorized "Sociopathy Project"

Psychopaths Can't See Your Fear

From the latest issue of Scientific American Mind:  

Marsh relayed a chilling anecdote about a colleague of hers, University College London psychologist Essi Viding, who was going through a task with a psychopathic murderer in which a series of faces with different emotional expressions were laid out before the woman. When the murderer saw the picture of the fearful face, she scratched her head and said: “I don’t know what that expression is called, but I know it’s what people look like right before I stab them.”

 "The problem with psychopaths: a fearful face doesn't deter them."

The Face of a Sociopath

Daniel Hood bound and gagged a teenage girl so that a friend could rape her.  I posted about that here.  I've obtained a picture of Hood.  Now I understand why everyone is willing to let him "move past" the "incident."  I regret my earlier post.  My earlier post assumed that Mr. Hood was black. 

How could anyone not forgive this young man?  He has a nice smile.  Look at those locks of hair!  What a lady killer!  Why would he even need to rape anyone?  He's good looking.  It was probably a false accusation.  Even if it wasn't, the kid deserves a second change.

How could anyone not give such a smiling beautiful white boy a second chance! 

As we all know, real criminals are scary-looking black men.  They wear baggy clothing, and have shaved heads, or wear corn rows.  They can kill you with a look.

Mr. Hood, on the other hand, is is a good-looking white kid.  I apologize for misjudging him.  The University of Tennessee made the right decision.  He was just a kid when he (allegedly) tied up a girl and put tape over her mouth so she could be raped. 

He made a stupid mistake.  Let those among us who have not bound-and-gagged a teenage girl so that we could watch her get raped, cast the first stone!

Face of a Sociopath

University of Tennesse Pays Violent Rapist, Daniel Hood, to Attend College

The University of Tennessee's school colors are orange.  How appropriate, given that they've give an athlete scholarship to the star of a real-life Clockwork Orange:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee has signed a prep football star who at the age of 13 was found by a juvenile court to have helped rape a relative.

Daniel Hood, a 19-year-old defensive end/tight end at Knoxville Catholic, signed a scholarship offer on Tuesday and will join coach Lane Kiffin's first recruiting class in the fall.

"We didn't go about this lightly," Kiffin said in a statement. "We spent a lot of time researching the issue and talking to a lot of people who are well respected in the community. Everyone spoke very highly of Daniel. He's a very bright young man who wants to move past this incident and be a good representative for the team, the university and the community."

Hey, he was only 13, right?  The kid has "move[d] past this incident."  We should cut kids some slack.  No doubt.  What, incidentally, did the "incident" involve? 

According to court records, Hood and another teenager were charged in 2003 with assaulting a 14-year-old girl. The victim's legs and wrists were tied and her eyes and mouth were covered with duct tape before she was raped at the Sullivan County home of Hood's father.

How do you "move past" pure evil?  How do you "move past" sociopathy? 

This isn't a gray area rape case.  It's not like there was a breakdown in communication.  Or that he was just a spazzy teen who went too far because he didn't understand that no-means-no.  He tied the girl up and put tape over her mouth.  Pure evil.

Someone who does that is pure evil.  Such a person cannot be reformed.  Of course, sociopaths like Hood are good manipulators.  I've met many charming criminals.  Even prison psychologists have been duped by psychopaths.

Christians speak of redemption; atheists speak of reform.  I speak of naivety. 

I'm not duped.  I know that a person who ties someone up, tapes her mouth, and rapes her has no soul.  They can smile at me, but I won't smile back.

Rethinking the Psychopathic and Sociopathic Personalities

Published over a decade ago, The Millionaire Next Door forced us to reconsider our conception of a millionaire.  Millionaires were not people you'd see on television, or people who made money through the dot.com era.  They were regular people who, day after day, made mostly sound financial decisions.  They were just like you and me.  The millionaires were not on TV.  They were living next door.

It's time to reconsider our conception of the sociopathic or psychotic personality.  A sociopath or psychopath are not limited to the people you see on television next to photographs of dead children.  They are people who ruin lives in smaller ways - day after day, year after year.  The sociopath is living next door.

People seem to understand that a millionaire is unusual.  Yet, even though 4% of the population is sociopathic or psychotic, people consider antisocial personalities to be unique.

When someone like Bernie Madoff cheats people out of billions of dollars, people are perplexed.  How could anyone have done such a thing?  Perhaps he did not intend to cheat investors.  He just got in over his head.  We project our morality onto the evil:

Good people are rarely suspicious: they cannot imagine others doing the things they themselves are incapable of doing; usually they accept the undramatic solution as the correct one, and let matters rest there.  Then too, the normal are inclined to visualize the [psychopath] as one who's as monstrous in appearance as he is in mind, which is about as far from the truth as one could well get . . . These monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself - just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye, more what the mind thought a rosebud or a peach should be, than the imperfect original from which it had been modeled.

William March, The Bad Seed.  Fortunately, there is accessible literature that is both respected by the experts and accessible to general public.  Good people can learn to fight back.

The first book is The Sociopath Next Door.  Connecticut lawyer Norm Pattis discussed the book in some detail here.  See, also, "The Sociopathy Project."

Another must-read book is Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.  In Without Conscience, Robert Hare (the psychologist who wrote the diagnostic criteria for the psychopathic personality) takes us away from the sensational model of the psychopath. 

Hare's picture of the psychopathy is fascinating.  Psychopaths are often charming and intelligent, but seem like visionaries.  The psychopathic personality has the ability to pull you in.  Hare shares with us stories involving trained psychologists who lost everything after being charmed by a psychopath.

Finally, there is Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.  In Snakes in Suits, Dr. Hare examines psychopathy in the work place.

All three books can be read in a day or two at the beach.  The thoughts they spun and the neural connections they form will last a lifetime.

Describing the Psychopath's Inner Reality

The psychopath is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters.  it is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art.  He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself.  Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humor have no actual meaning no power to move him.  He is, furthermore, lacking in the ability to see that others are moved. 

It is as though he were color-blind, despite his sharp intelligence, to this aspect of human existence.  It cannot be explained to him because there is nothing in his orbit of awareness that can bridge the gap with comparison.  He can repeat the words and say glibly that he understands, and there is no way for him to realize that he does not understand.

From The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So Called Psychopathic PersonalityPricey on Amazon, but available for download here.  

A Skeptic Gets Fleeced

A guy who literally wrote the book on gullibility lost a bunch of money by investing with Bernie Madoff.  Here is his story.

He lists a lot of reasons for why people are gullible.  He omits the most-important one: Ignorance of psychopathy and sociopathy.  Most people are still reeling, "How, Bernie, how?"  Indeed, the author of the book on gullibility has a Ph.D. in psychology, yet he writes:

So should one feel pity or blame towards those who were insufficiently skeptical about Madoff and his scheme? A problem here is that the lie perpetrated by Madoff was not all that obvious or easy to recognize (in fact, it is very likely that Madoff’s operation was legitimate initially but took the Ponzi route when he began to suffer losses that he was too proud to acknowledge).

No.  Bullshit. Madoff was a psychopath.  Look at him, even now.  He smiles before the camera.  He feels no remorse or grief.  He was going to give away the remaining $300,000,000 he had in his fund to his children! 

Just because a guy has a nice smile, good credit report, and a long line of references does not mean he won't slice your throat for his own amusement.  Often, it's people who seem too good who we should watch our backs around.

People have zits.  Show me someone who doesn't, and I'll know that Photoshopping has been done. 

Before trusting someone, I need to know: What is wrong with him?  If I can't point to anything, then I immediately avoid that person.  Or, when I must deal with that person, I use appropriate manipulative tactics (which I would never otherwise use on a good person).

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

We all work and live with other people.  But do we really understand other minds, other personalities, other people?  It seems not.

The people who trusted Bernie Madoff lost billions of dollars.  How could he have done such a thing, they ask themselves.  He was so charming.  Many have even rationalized Madoff's conduct.

Some are theorizing that Madoff didn't initially intend to cheat anyone.  Wall Street writer Henry Blodget speculates:

Our guess is that like that of many once-revered figures, Bernie did not set out to swindle anyone.  In the beginning, he probably produced the returns he said he produced.  Then, somewhere along the line, he probably had a bad month or two that he thought he could quickly offset with a strong one. So he fudged the results and then got back to even.

I suppose that's possible.  Or it could be that Madoff is a psychopath.  Strong word?  Not really.

People gasp when I refer to someone as a sociopath or psychopath.  "You can't be right, Mike.  So-and-so has never killed anyone."  That people associate sociopathy and psychopathy with criminal acts reveals the ignorance we have of abnormal psychology.  One need not kill, rape, or maim anyone to be a psychopath - indeed, most don't.  Instead, they make our lives miserable in more mundane ways.

In Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (Amazon.com link) the authors examine the psychopaths we encounter daily.  Not in prisons or courtrooms - but in the home and office.

Calling someone a psychopath refers to his mental state.  Some psychopaths will kill, though most won't.  Some will rob, though most won't.  Psychopaths tend to be more mundane, making your life miserable at work, stealing credit for your projects, cheating on you, taking away business opportunities.  Most psychopathics aren't criminals.  Rather, they walk the streets with you and me.

A psychopath lacks an emotional core.  They don't feel empathy, or remorse, or shame.  If they tortured you, they'd be repulsed at seeing blood stains on their clothing.  "How will I remove this spot," would be a greater concern than your screams.  A psychopathic co-worker would be gladly steal credit for you work. 

In Snakes in Suits, the authors give advice on how one can spot a psychopath.  Using narrative, they show a psychopathy in the office - from hiring to firing.  Their narrative is is illustrative and thus effective.

While educating the reader on how to spot a psychopathy, amazingly, the authors stress that one must never label another person a psychopath. But why? 

They gives no reason other than we lack qualifications to do so.  While I may not have a Ph.D., I read Snakes in Suits for practical advice?  I'll read Plato if I want something abstract.  Like most educated people, the authors have knowledge but lack wisdom.   

Failing to label someone a psychopath could ruin your life.  What's the worst that would happen if, in your own mind, you falsely labeled someone a psychopath?  You might miss out on a good friend?  I suppose that's a loss.  But how likely is that loss? 

The psychopath's chief tool is charm.  How many truly charming people do you know who are also good people?  Not many, I suspect.  Most philander, float from job to job - producing little but somehow making out like bandits.

Charm is usually not a virtue in itself, but is a cover. The most charming people I've known were also the worst people I've ever known.  If you're a good person, do you need to be charming?  Of course not.  Your goodness will show through in your actions.  Unlike a charming person, a genuinely good person builds a record of reliability and good deeds.

Most good, legitimate people have quirks, real quirks.  They can be charming at times, but they aren't Frank Sinatras.  Someone who is too charming is someone to avoid.

Wisdom would thus counsel one to not go around telling everyone you've spot a psychopath, but to liberally use the label for your own benefit.  Life is a probability game.  Falsely labeling someone a psychopathy will not harm you as much as failing to label someone a psychopathy. 

Despite the book's flaws, Snakes in Suits is higly recommended.  It's readable and enlightening.  People too often focus on abnormal psychology within the context of murderers and rapists.  Most of us won't be raped or murdered.  But we will nonetheless encounter psychpaths.  Snakes in Suits will help you see reality for what it is.  As the metaphoric title suggests, look deeper than the suit if you want to spot the snake.

How to Spot a Sociopath, Part 2

Here is an excellent checklist to use when wondering if someone is a sociopath:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
    They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self
    Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."
  • Pathological Lying
    Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
    A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions
    When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation
    Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
    Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
    Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
    Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
    Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
    Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial VersatilityChanges their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

The DSM-IV criteria are listed here.  It helpfully notes that you need to look for more than one feature in determining whether someone is a sociopath.  One-in-twenty-five people are sociopaths, so there are a lot of them out there. 

A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following: 

(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
(5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work; behavior or honor financial obligations;
(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

How to Spot a Sociopath

I finally got around to reading The Sociopath Next Door.  I wish I had read this years ago.  It's a must-read, and I encourage you to pick up a copy.  In The Sociopath Next Door, the author states what she believes is "the most reliable sign" that someone is a sociopath:

[T]he best clue is, of all things, the pity play....

[G]ood people will let pathetic individuals get by with murder, so to speak, and therefore any socipath wishing to continue with his game, whatever is happens to be, should play repeatedly for ... pity.


Sociopaths have no regard whatsoever for the social contract, but they do know how to use it to their advantage.  And all in all, I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.

When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person's forehead as you will ever be given.  A person whose behavior includes both of these features is not necessarily a mass murderer, or even violent at all, but is still probably not someone you should closely befriend, take on as your business partner, ask to take care of your children, or marry.

The Sociopath Next Door at 107-109.  That observation is spot-on.  Anyone who has represented criminals knows that most of them beg for your pity.  "I am being railroaded!"  Even child molesters say this.

Watch "To Catch a Predator."  Every person who went to a house to have sex with a twelve-year old girl starts crying: "My life is over."  While, in many important ways, that's true, it's not like it is "over" for no reason.  Yet, almost to a person, the first thing these would-be child perverts do it beg for pity.

The best "tell" I've discovered is shamelessness.  In a sense, this is tied to pity.  How can a person who just beat up his wife beg for pity?  How can a person who ate himself into obesity sue a fast food restaurant?  Have you no shame, at long last?

When my dog does something really bad, he bows his head in shame.  Once, he hid from me.  He didn't even feel worthy of being with the family.  No dog craps on your carpet and then smiles and licks your hand.  Lots of people do much worse and then are so lacking in shame that they return to do it again.  Avoid these people.

Incidentally, the author notes that a lack of shame is something that characterizes a sociopath.  When imagining a sociopath:

Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

Id. at 1.  So if you know someone who has no shame and who always has a sob story for you, run away.

Lawyer, Protect Thyself

Did the Connecticut Supreme Court recently hold ajar a door that might permit lawyers who win grievances filed against them to sue losing grievants? I certainly hope so. There is no reason why the bar needs to bend and spread before the altar of rage.

A tantalizing footnote in Rioux v. Barry suggests that the Supreme Court is prepared to reconsider the absolute immunity grievants now enjoy. There simply is no reason why a legal system premised on holding people accountable for their actions grants blanket immunity to those who take aim at a lawyer's license.

I am aware of the argument that claims for vexatious litigation arising from failed grievances might chill people from filing claims against lawyers. That could undermine confidence in the legal profession.Perhaps. But last I checked, lawyers ranked near the bottom of those in whom the public places its trust. Absolute immunity hasn't improved our image.

The vast majority of what we do as lawyers, at least insofar as litigation is concerned, is sort out the consequences of other people's mental health issues. We are singularly unprepared for our role as gladiator-therapists. It is small wonder that many litigants turn on their lawyers. Litigation is a zero-sum game. There will always be unhappy litigants.

Below are several reforms to the grievance process that will assure that lawyers are policed and that grievants don't abuse the process of filing cost-free actions against others:

• The process of filing a grievance should not be free. There should be a flat fee that can be waived on an affidavit of indigency. I am not suggesting a prohibitive fee. We make plaintiffs post a $500 bond in the federal courts. Why not do likewise for complaints to the Statewide Grievance Committee?

The presence of a bond would give a grievant a financial stake in the process. Rather than simply spouting off steam, a grievant would be required to conduct a minimal cost-benefit analysis about the value of their time. The way things now stand, many grievants file meritless claims that merely cost their former lawyers time and expense to answer.

• Second, when a grievant loses a claim, the lawyer ought to be permitted to move for a finding that the grievance was frivolous. A claim in which probable cause was found by a reviewing committee should not be granted such a finding. But when clients grieve their lawyers merely because they are angry about the raw deal life has dealt them, there is no reason why such a finding ought not to enter.

• If a claim is found frivolous, give the lawyer a choice: He can either move to have the grievant's bond remitted to him, or he can elect to file a vexatious litigation claim. No lawyer should be able to do both. Indigent clients relieved of the requirement to file bond would be exempt from suit, unless the lawyer proved in the course of the underlying proceeding that the grievant lied about his or her assets.

The vast majority of grievances are dismissed because they lack merit. Yet each grievance must be answered on pain of further disciplinary proceedings. We submit to all this without even so much the power to request an independent medical examination of the grievant when there is reason to believe they are driven by sociopathy.

Public confidence in the profession will not be undermined by requiring that those filing grievances be accountable for their acts. With sensible reform, we can have a system that works. As things now stand, lawyers are sitting ducks without means to recoup lost time and expense. The result is higher legal fees for all, and a decision by most lawyers to avoid clients who look like too much trouble. •

Reprinted with permission of The Connecticut Law Tribune.