Could You Be Living or Working with a Psychopath?

Due to the fact that I deal with clients on a daily basis who are charged with violent crimes, it's only normal for me to occasionally find myself interacting with a psychopath. I will never forget listening to a particular client discuss in cold and detached detail how he had been routinely raping his 13-year-old daughter for years, as well as the careful, calculative plans he was making for her murder just prior to his arrest. I had no doubt that I was dealing with a true psychopath. This wasn't the first person like him I had met and he hasn't been the last. I have had and will continue to have exchanges with psychopaths through my career in criminal defense. I used to think of them as the sick monsters behind bars. However, I recently read the book Without a Conscience by Robert Hare, and it completely changed my perspective on psychopathy. As it turns out, most psychopaths aren't monsters behind bars. They are monsters who live in our neighborhoods, go to our schools, and work in our hometowns, existing and thriving from the misfortune of others, largely undetected but no less dangerous than their incarcerated counterparts. 

Ted Bundy
You Probably Know a Psychopath

Most of us think of psychopaths as the famous serial killers we have read about. Ted Bundy, perhaps the most famous serial killer in the United States, raped and murdered more than thirty women during the 1970's. However, this book brought my attention to the fact that most psychopaths are not violent criminals. (Yet.) The reason for the misconception is due to the fact that the ones we usually read about are captured serial killers and the only psychopaths we are typically able to study are those in prison. Hare estimates that as many as 2-3 out of every 100 people could be psychopaths. This means that it is very likely that you already have or will encounter at least one psychopath in your lifetime. Hare further goes on to explain how it's not simply a matter of whether or not someone is a psychopath, but rather where they fall on a diagnostic scale he has developed which is now used in many prisons around the world by parole boards when evaluating offenders for potential recidivism.

Jeffrey Dahmer
What Exactly is a Psychopath?

The word "psychopath" is defined as "a person suffering from a chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior." Although many people tend to think of psychopaths as "insane," they are considered by most experts to be legally and psychiatricly sane. Some key characteristics include:

1) Glib & Superficial: Often a psychopath will be clever, entertaining, and witty. They can be experts at portraying themselves in a favorable light.

2) Egocentric & Grandiose: Psychopaths tend to have a grossly inflated view of self-importance. They are narcissists who feel justified in living life according to their own rules. 

3) Lack of Guilt: Psychopaths display an astounding lack of concern for how their actions affect others.

4) Lack of Empathy: Psychopaths completely lack the capability to relate to the emotions of other people, because they do not experience emotions the way normal people do.

5) Deceitful and Manipulative: Most psychopaths are naturals at lying and cheating. Since they don't experience emotions like anxiety, lying is incredibly easy for them and people often don't suspect them of it due to their display of confidence.

6) Shallow Emotions: Psychopaths do experience some degree of emotions, but they are unlike those experienced by a normal person. They are easily compared to the emotions of a toddler, displaying "primitive responses to immediate needs."

How Do Psychopaths Live?

Hare gives a list of identifying traits of the lifestyle of a psychopath. Most of them are not in prison and have never been in trouble with the law. There is an entire chapter on "White Collar Psychopaths" that I found especially concerning. Here are some lifestyle signs to look for:

1) Impulsive Behavior: Psychopaths are all about instant gratification. They do what they want when they want.

2) Poor Behavior Controls : Psychopaths will be extra-sensitive to any insults and will often lash out inappropriately.

3) Need for Excitement: Psychopaths will enjoy living on the edge. A lot of the psychopaths who committed horrendous crimes described doing them "for fun." Psychopaths who do not commit violent crimes commonly go on periodic binges of drinking, using drugs, or prostitutes.

4) Lack of Responsibility: Obligations and commitments mean nothing to psychopaths. The are unreliable and failure to properly care for their own children is a common occurrence. Furthermore, they will consistently blame any mistakes they make or bad things that happen to them on others. Seldom will they ever admit fault.

5) Early Behavior Problems: Most psychopaths exhibit serious behavior problems at a young age. Common examples include cruelty to animals, obsession with fire, and premature sexual experimentation. 

6) Adult Anti-Social Behavior: Psychopaths see the world as their oyster. They play by their own rules no matter who suffers for it.

Richard Ramirez

Can Psychopaths be Helped?

The book goes on to explain in a way that non-experts can easily understand the way the mind of the psychopath functions. I found Hare's writing to be engaging and easy to understand. After reading the portion of the book about the nature and potential causes of psychopathy, I arrived at a very unsettling conclusion: There is little if anything that can be done to rehabilitate them. Basically, because of the nature of the disorder, nothing can be done to "fix them," at least not through the methods by which psychotherapy has traditionally been administered. Consider a child with Down Syndrome. Is there any amount of psychotherapy that can cure them of Down Syndrome? Of course not. There are ways to help them live with the condition, but it is a genetic disorder that is permanently part of the person's biological makeup. Psychopathy is the same according to Hare. At the end of the book, he does propose a new and unconventional treatment plan that I found interesting to say the least. It's still very new, so I will be interested in seeing if it has any success in the long-term.

How Can You Protect Yourself from Psychopaths?

The final part of the book talks about ways to protect yourself from psychopaths. Knowing what to look for is very important. In addition to the characteristics I listed earlier, almost everyone who has suffered at the hands of a psychopath describes their cold, emotionless stare. If you scroll up through the pictures of these psychopathic serial killers, you will notice the same chilling stare looking back at your from each of them. To me, they all seem to be almost smirking in the creepiest possible way. Psychopaths commonly use their intense stare to control people. It is important to be aware of this. There are other ways you can protect yourself which Hare also describes in detail. 


I don't normally read non-fiction, but the true-crime genre has captivated my interest since I was a little girl. My TV at home basically never leaves the Investigation Discovery channel. I read this entire book in less than 24 hours. That's how good I thought it was. It's a quick and easy read, sure to entertain you while at the same time giving you valuable insights into the potentially dangerous predators who may be living and working among us.

Click on the book to find it on Amazon.

1 comment

  1. "The cold, blank stare" reminds me of Rumsfeld. He always has cold, dead, very dark eyes. I am also pretty sure Cheney is a psychopath; I think he relishes in trading human lives for money and power.