What is Psychopathy? – Introduction

I have been writing about my experiences regarding psychopathy ever since my psychotherapist administered the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist – Revisednearly one year ago.  In that time I have given many specifics but have never tackled the big picture.  Over much of this month, I will be engaging in an arc to better define, with examples, what psychopathy actually is according to the primary diagnostic.

Psychopathy is a more nuanced classification of antisocial disorder.   The definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder according to the DSM-IV is relatively simplistic, requiring candidates to only meet three of seven diagnostic criteria regarding irresponsibility, irritability, reckless disregard for the safety of oneself and others, criminal behavior, impulsivity, constant deception, and a lack of remorse.  The primary diagnostic for psychopathy requires that a weighted sum of twenty traits (each scored 0-2 due to presence and pervasiveness) exceed a soft cutoff of 30 – some regions use 25.  Most ASPD individuals are not psychopathic whereas nearly all psychopaths are ASPD.

Over the next month I will go into detail regarding each of the traits that make up this modern definition of psychopathy.  Unlike most caricatures painted in the media, most psychopaths are neither killers nor rapists.  However, we certainly are not “good” people.  One does not receive a diagnosis of psychopathy without a significantly sordid past.

If I had to sum up the condition in an extremely brief manner, it would be as follows.  Psychopathy is a personality disorder marked by extreme self-grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and antisocial behaviors and thoughts.  Manipulation, deceit, parasitism, sexual underhandedness, and more are much more fully defined and pervasive than compared to a “simple” diagnosis of ASPD.

It is believed that 1-3% of the human population is psychopathic.  Odds are, you know one in your own life.  The jury is out as to whether the condition is more genetic or environmental in nature as young children have a degree of neuroplasticity that can be affected by poor upbringings.  Psychopaths have an extremely high recidivism rate compared to the population as a whole (60-75% of psychopaths caught up in the legal system will return to their cell) and that is why psychopathy is primarily, though not exclusively, studied in criminological circles.  However, as you will see, the psychopathic condition does not require one to end up behind bars and the condition manifests itself in many different fashions.

I am a diagnosed psychopath.  Over the next few weeks you will hear of the condition straight from the horse’s mouth.  It was not a condition that I sought out, but my therapist noticed it in me long before I ever did.  We can be blind and destructive, malicious and terrifying, but we need not always be.  However, in order to properly describe the condition in a sea of misinformation, I must be brutally honest and transparent.  I have lived the condition and engaged in massive research on my own, and it is time to summarize that for my readers.

Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Use of this image should not imply endorsement by the image author, Wikimedia Commons user PMRMaeyaert.

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