It’s hard to believe that I haven’t covered this topic in over 500 posts up to the point. It is a question that I receive from time to time and a question that many neurotypicals have staunch opinions on. Is psychopathy a mental illness, or is it – as some would say – merely a defect in personality or character? To answer this we must consider the types of mental illness as well as the role neurology plays in personality. I hope that it is clear to the reader that the answer to this question should be ‘yes.’
Without retreading all of the particulars of what I term “psychopath erasure“, I want to tackle one of the common perceptions of psychopathic-identifying (or assessed) individuals. Some speak of the psychopathic condition as being a fictitious one and that the efforts of psychopathic individuals are merely one of reclamation. To these individuals, the use of the term “psychopath” by antisocial individuals is seen as a way to fight the often oppressive use of the word in society. To them, the word does not hold actual significance beyond the personal meaning given by the psychopathic individual. This is wrong.
I’ve cited numerous examples of the neurological differences (and behavioral differences) that exist between psychopaths and mere ASPD individuals. In my opinion, we are not “taking the word back” so much as we are seeking to be validated for the differences we possess. ASPD does not sum up the elegance of our brains, the tenacity of our actions, or the magnitude of the thoughts we are with. The analogy would be the discovering of a new species on this planet and then refusing to give it proper taxonomy because a similar – but still different – species already exists. Essentially, psychopaths are erased.
Psychopathy is a real and separate disorder from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Innumerable academic studies have concluded that psychopathy is distinct and real via confirmatory factor analysis – a statistical technique. Neurological studies confirm differences in the paralimbic system between psychopaths and those only exhibiting ASPD. The paralimbic system is much more “atrophied” in those with psychopathy. Yet, many refuse to acknowledge psychopathy as real. Some perceive the disorders existence as being pure oppression by criminological circles. Others cite the DSM, the “Bible” of psychiatry and proclaim that it must not be real. In all cases, a pandemic of psychopath erasure is in play.
Numerous studies by academics including Robert Hare and Kent Kiehl have confirmed neurological differences in those called psychopaths versus those simply diagnosed as ASPD. Anticipatory anxiety is nearly non-existent. The areas of the brain controlling empathy and emotion are atrophied. The corpus callosum – the construct connecting the hemispheres of the brain – is thicker. Etc. etc. These distinct – and statistically significant – differences create the framework for differentiating psychopathy from ASPD. Yet, many cover their eyes and ears and proclaim psychopathy is not real. Rather than honoring our individuality, they attempt to place us in the same group as vanilla ASPD individuals. This would be akin to referring to humans only as primates rather than a distinct species simply because the baseline is the same between us and apes. Does that truly make sense?