Stigma and Prejudices Around Psychopathy

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On your whiteboards, write or draw the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “psychopath”. More often than not, society’s initial reaction to the term “psychopath” is negative. In today’s culture, the term “psychopath” has become synonymous with crazy serial killers or practically any other mental illness. Valuing for roughly 4% of the population, they are known to lack compassion, exhibit apathy for social rules or basic etiquette and may be violent- unable to perceive any remorse or guilt. In other words, being cold, calculating and callous, stopping at nothing to obtain what they want; being impervious to the outcomes and penalties. According to the National Health Society, they all have one identical disorder: ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder.’ ‘ASPD’ for short. Hello, I’m Shaz, and I’m going to tell you why they are a necessary part of our society. However, before we can go into any detail, we need to stabilise the basis of what correctly defines a “psychopath and what is the difference between “primary” and “secondary” psychopathy? Both of these terms individually correspond to what we refer to as “psychopaths” and “sociopaths”. Robert Hare, one of the prevailing specialists in psychopathy, created a checklist of common traits: factor 1 traits characterising psychopaths, while factor 2 traits commonly associated with “ASPD”. ‘Secondary’ psychopathy, or ‘sociopaths’, can be a mixture of these factors. These can further be broken down into “low”- and “high”- functioning. The latter being more adept and intelligible compared to their counterparts.

Furthermore, sociopathy is created by events in their lives that change their communication in the world. Psychopathy is a bit more intricate, but in it’s simplest terms: they don’t have the brain wiring for emotions such as compassion, anxiety, empathy, guilt, or other feelings. Psychopaths wander unnoticed; that’s because not even experts know how to recognise them- it’s not like they’re walking down the hallways with an axe and blood smeared over their faces. Based on the statistics, there are at-least two psychopaths in year ten. Moreover, the likelihood is that you have bumped into several walking to your classes. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should be afraid.The ‘approved’ examination for psychopathy literally requires the testee to be imprisoned and the next-best test is a lengthy questionnaire that needs qualified professionals. Likewise, not all psychopaths want to skin you alive. When it bubbles down to the basics, they don’t mind what happens to us. We are all cogs in a machine- a machine they control to fulfil what they desire. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this clockwork will accomplish something dangerous, psychopaths are people too; they don’t like the idea of prison either. The attribute that sets psychopaths apart from neurotypicals like ourselves is that they are incapable of feeling dejected about their actions. So, if that means forcing someone to work 12 hours a day for some pay raise, they yield no second thought to it. You may be able to see why some people would value these traits- and in some cases, you would too.

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Let’s do some role play: imagine you are walking to school and suddenly there is a giant explosion and fire everywhere. Shouting, screaming and screeching- emotions come flooding to you, and you don’t know what to feel or how to feel. Then, suddenly you see Ms Trotman in the near range battling the smoke, trying to find the strength to say “help.. me…” What are you going to do? Are you going to desperately envision a scenario where you can save her without dying in the process? Conversely, are you going to be like Aryan and run straight into the blazing inferno, without any second thought? The likelihood is that if you chose the latter, you are a hero; possibly even a psychopath! Not trying to say you shouldn’t save Ms Trotman, but when it advances to defining something as complex as someone’s neural network, labels can cause both good and harm as most mental disorders are on a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum, you will discover a monster, while on the other end you would encounter something indistinguishable from a regular person- someone like you and me [but maybe not Aryan]. However, the concept I want to outline is, there is a lot of grey area in between these two localities. It would hardly be comforting for you to hear that your child is psychopathic, but, that child might have just enough empathy that, when combined with their psychopathic inability to care, turns them into Batman.

Who drives the most significant societal innovations? Not neurotypical humans. The ruthlessness of top CEOs doing whatever it takes to push their company ahead of the competition is what has moulded the world in which we live in today and will continue to influence the future. Being able to stay composed under pressure and being able to use logical reasoning is a huge advantage in almost every life circumstance. What would a manager achieve, when he cracks under some time pressure? What would a surgeon be like when he can’t concentrate while operating because he fears to do something wrong? There are roles that the psychopathic mind can take on that neurotypicals cannot do as well, or at all. Lacking in fear, psychopaths don’t freeze; performing tasks that to others, are outside of their reach, and do it not only competently, but with great ability. Surgeons, nurses, special forces, firefighters and hostage negotiations are just examples of places where the psychopathic mindset is not only desired but needed.

Let me pose an enigma, what if this isn’t a disorder but an adaptation? It seems that, as long as the overall incidence of psychopathy remains low, it proves evolutionarily advantageous possibly acting as a “safeguard” for the continuation of the species. When it comes to endurance, a psychopath is much more likely to survive than a neurotypical. Survival isn’t just physical- it’s much mental; if your mind is gone, you can’t physically take care of yourself. We are certainly going to have doubts, emotions and ‘needs’ (for instance friendship). These factors are going to drop in need of rationality and perseverance. In a survival of the fittest situation, you could readily bottom out psychologically. For instance, shell shock is an occurrence of PTSD which has affected many soldiers for many years; the mental strain of this inevitably led to their demise, unlike the psychopaths in the same situation, who didn’t suffer this emotional strain. In conclusion, psychopaths shouldn’t be ridiculed, torn apart and mislabelled by those who don’t know anything about them. Not all psychopaths in the real world are diabolical, destructive, demented. Psychopaths are people too, like you; like me. You never know when the choice of a psychopath will save your life.

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