Are You a Psychopath?
Updated: Apr 27
So, were you born a Psychopath? Odds are, probably not. But, just because you may not be, that doesn't stop the fascination to question, or better understand, the monsters we see on the news.
What makes this group so strikingly different than the rest of us? Is it all neurological? Can you spot this behavior early on? And most importantly, can you fix it?
Let's look at the sheet.
"Psychopathy" combines the Greek terms "psyche," the soul, mind, or spirit, with "pathos," suffering or disease. Psychopaths are individuals with diseased minds. Eric Barker, TIME
First, it is important to mention that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in the 5th edition, (DSM-5) doesn't include Psychopathy as a disorder - but society's interest with the illness has made it into a household name. The closest diagnosable disease equivalent to Psychopathy with similar criteria is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).
The DSM-5 categorizes Antisocial Personality Disorder within personality disorder "Cluster B: Dramatic & Erratic Type."
Generally, someone in this Cluster would be described as inconsistent and grandiose. This person would also exhibit rule-breaking habits, exaggerated emotional displays, and have anger outbursts. It sounds like a glorified temper tantrum, right? Unfortunately, ASPD is a little darker than that.
ASPD is more specific with symptoms; at least three of the following criteria must be present since the age of 18:
1. Repeated law breaking.
2. Deceitfulness and lying.
4. Irritability and aggressiveness.
5. Reckless disregard for own safety, and that of others.
6. Irresponsibility as seen in unreliable employment or financial history.
7. Lack of overall remorse.
Now, before you start checking off the list for friends, neighbors, and coworkers, know that only about 1% of the population is considered to be Psychopathic. Even if someone was diagnosed with ASPD, it usually manifests itself into behavior like alcoholism - not the stuff we see on Forensic Files. It's highly unlikely the people you know are fiending to kill in the way that Ted Bundy did.
But, what about those people like Ted Bundy?
While the exact causes of Psychopathy are unknown, both environmental and genetic factors play essential roles in the behavior. Genetic factors are suspected because diagnoses are higher in individuals with a biological parent who exhibits ASPD symptoms. Environmental factors also play a role because a person who is exposed to someone with ASPD is more likely to mimic those actions - monkey see, monkey do. Other psychologists believe that people develop Psychopathy as a result of childhood trauma. That trauma could range anywhere from abuse, neglect, to humiliation which can lead to Conduct Disorder.
Conduct Disorder is the juvenile version of ASPD. Early detection includes similar symptoms, with the additions of bedwetting, arson, and animal cruelty.
These behaviors and experiences can culminate into a Psychopath.
Psychologists often describe Ted Bundy as a "Classic Psychopath." Bundy was an illegitimate child. To hide that fact, he was raised as the adopted son of his grandparents and was told that his mother was his sister - talk about a twisted upbringing and childhood trauma. I wonder what that realization must've been like for Bundy; I would've loved to be a fly on the wall during that dinner conversation. Surely, it flipped his world upside down.
On top of that, other kids tormented Bundy throughout his young adult life because of his speech impediment and poor athleticism. If he didn't already feel like a black sheep because of his home life, he definitely did when the bullying started.
As he got older, Bundy was able to use a "mask of sanity" to fool those around him while utilizing his good looks to lure his victims. Even though he was charming, he was diseased and driven to commit unthinkable acts against 30+ women. As his execution date approached, he declared to a detective,
"I'm the most coldhearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet."
It takes a lot of audacity to say something like that - and mean it.
Can killers be stopped beforehand?
The earlier a parent or doctor detects symptoms in a child, the sooner they can get help and learn to grow out of Conduct Disorder. But, ASPD is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat because therapists are battling neurological and environmental factors. The most infamous Serial Killers: Charles Manson, Jeffery Dahmer, "The Son of Sam", and of course, Ted Bundy, were all Psychopaths with undiagnosed ASPD, among other disorders.
Psychology Today says, "Individuals rarely seek treatment on their own and may initiate therapy only when mandated to do so by a court." In this case, the therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Intervention. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behaviors that are behind people's difficulties, and so transform the way they feel.
Moreover, in recent studies, the antipsychotic medication Clozapine has shown promising results in reducing aggression and impulsivity in men with ASPD.
So, if you still feel curious and want to see where you rank in terms of psychopathic tendencies, take a look at the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. "Created by Canadian psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare in the 1970s, the test asks 20 questions that hone in on your true nature." A score of a 30 or above is said to indicate a Psychopath, with a maximum score of 40. Professionals have described the Hare test as, "the single best predictor of violent behavior currently available," Curiosity reports.
Ted Bundy, a serial killer with a psychology degree, scored a 39. The average score is anywhere between a 4 and 22 - so take it as you may. I finished the test with an 8.
Closing The Case
Psychologists will continue to try and attach definitions to disorders and put behaviors into boxes all in a quest to understand the human brain. It's possible we will never know what exactly flips the switch in the psyche that turns an ordinary person into a violent killer. Everyone's story is different, and while many factors and details may overlap, experiences are unique to oneself. Just because 'John Doe' was bulled as a kid in the same way Ted Bundy was, that doesn't mean he will grow up to be anything like Bundy. We can't all be put into boxes.
Back in 1975, when police arrested Ted Bundy for the Chi Omega murders, he said,
"Society wants to believe it can identify evil people, or bad or harmful people, but it's not practical...There are no stereotypes."
DSM-5 Criteria for the Personality Disorders:
Psychopath Information: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindmelding/201301/what-is-psychopath-0