I finished Kent Kiehl’s The Psychopath Whisperer last night and am nearly finished with James Fallon’s The Psychopath Inside as I write this. Their views on psychopaths and their “complexity” differ greater than night and day. As I read Kiehl’s book, I felt an existential crisis trying to reconcile my own complexity with the simplicity of the criminal psychopaths that he studied. His psychopaths did not show comorbidity with any other disorders (so we are led to believe) and were cookie cutter copies of one another. I, meanwhile, am Bipolar and Borderline in addition to psychopathic. Did the PCL-R get my diagnosis wrong? Was I really not psychopathic? Given his focus on criminal psychopaths and the way that the information was presented, it certainly seemed possible. Was all of my work this past year for nothing?
I brought my concerns to my therapist last night. We noted that there is still little research on the 23% of adult psychopaths that are not incarcerated. Also we noted that the focus of Kiehl’s book was with psychopathy and the studies presented had little interest in comorbid disorders anyway. There is simply too many unknowns. The PCL-R had assessed me as psychopathic and ASPD (and Borderline for that matter) did not explain as much complexity as psychopathy certainly did. There needed to be more research.
Fallon’s book, in which he recounts his own research along with the key insight that his brain is deficient in the limbic system in the same way that psychopaths are, seemed to paint a picture that was much more complex. Fallon suffered from OCD and panic attacks yet still lacked the normal activity in the limbic system that is consistent with psychopathy. He seemed to be proof, and he explained through various studies and musings on neuroscience, that psychopaths were infinitely more diverse than the accounts we hear of in books like Kiehl’s and Hare’s as well as is portrayed in the media. With night, there must be day.
I have more research to do on my own, but I am once again at peace with the diagnosis. Psychopathy need not live in a bubble and the ways in which the disorder can manifest is varied. There are 23% of us not in prison and we have our own stories and our own nuances. Looking at brain scans alone does not predict PCL-R scores as Fallon shows. There has to be something more behind the curtain and that something does not exist in a vacuum.
That said, I do recommend both books for reading. The successful psychopath owes it to herself to know as much about her condition and what it means for her and her freedom. Blind faith is not a sufficient substitute.