Path Not Taken

On Friday night, XUP Jr. and I, still basking a bit in the after-glow of a week in Paris together (sorry, I had to mention that one last time) decided to have a mother-daughter night out. She got her hair cut, then we went for dinner and did a bit of browsing downtown. (So, to be clear – the “daughter” part was her getting pampered and the “mother” part was me being allowed to tag along so I could pay).

Anyway, I spent part of my time while waiting for her to get her hair cut, at the salon’s coffee bar enjoying a complimentary espresso and chatting with the swarthy owner. When he went off to “consult” with a client,  I read an article in a recent copy of MacLean’s Magazine (I know, pretty classy joint, eh?) about Ottawa’s alleged serial killer, Colonel Russell Williams.

There wasn’t really a lot of new stuff in the article, but near the end it was speculating on whether psychopaths are particularly drawn to the military or nurtured by the military. The article went on to say:

The incidence of psychopaths in the military is no higher than in the general population, where it’s pegged around one per cent.

 I did a double-take and re-read that statement.

One per cent of the general population are psychopaths? Holy crappola!

Maybe I don’t really know what a psychopath is. I know it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is obviously evil, but what exactly does it mean? 

I looked it up:

Psychopathy is a personality disorder is characterized by an abnormal lack of empathy combined with strongly amoral conduct, masked by an ability to appear outwardly normal. Psychopathy and sociopathy are, today more accurately defines as antisocial/dissocial personality disorder.

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R)  is a diagnostic tool used to rate a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit, violence or other methods that allow them to get with they want. The symptoms of psychopathy include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimizing others.

To diagnose a psychopath, a clinician will use the Hare PCL-R —  among other diagnostic tools. The Hare PCL-R is made up of the following 20-item list that measures central elements of the psychopathic character:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

To score, the test subject is given a score of 1 or 2 depending on whether they fully (2) or just partially (1) match the characteristic.  

So, a full-out psychopath would receive a score of 40, while someone with no psychopathic traits or tendencies would get zero. Anyone with a score of 30 or more qualifies as a psychopath, according to this scale.

A lot of regular people could score up to 5 on this checklist. Many criminals will score around 20.

How did you do?

I don’t know about you, but it gives me the willies to think that one out of every 100 people is a psychopath. So many of them…

To have a person in your life who would score over 30 on this list would make for some serious misery in your life.

And yet, most of us know at least 100 people. For instance, I have 145 Facebook friends. (Yes, I realize that’s a pathetically low number in the FB world, but I sort of actually have to know and feel some friendliness for the people I accept as FB friends). Anyway, odds are pretty good that at least one of my FB friends is a psychopath.

Odds are pretty good, in fact, that at least one of the people you interact with in your every day life is a psychopath. They could be your boss, your doctor, your neighbour, your spouse, a member of your family. If you spend enough time with them, you probably know who they are. And yet, plenty of people live with a psychopath (Colonel Williams’ wife??) and never know — or are able to admit it to themselves.

I see some of you nodding. I’d suggest that if you know someone who scores high on this checklist, you might want to get far away from them.

One of my brothers would score pretty high on this list — not as high as 30, but over 20 for sure. He also scores pretty high on the general “feeling that there’s something not right about him” list. After half a lifetime of trying to keep up with, trying to understand, trying to find excuses for and trying to recover from his behaviour, I quit. I haven’t had contact with him for over 15 years. On one hand it makes me sad because he’s my brother and he could be good fun (if everything was going his way). On the other hand … well … he’s poison.


29 responses to “Path Not Taken

  1. When I first glanced over the markers I was all, “yeah, I’m not going to do THAT.” But after looking at it again and discounting my 30 year old self and answering for modern me, I came out okay. I’m sorry to hear about your brother. There are a lot of toxic siblings out there. I hope the people with nice families appreciate each other, don’t you?

  2. I note that squirrels in general will score very high on that. I mean, superficial charm, cunning and manipulative, lack of long term goals, criminal versatility ……all very squirrel. Hey, I could be the one in 100 for you. Do I get a prize?

  3. Lebowski – I don’t know what that is, but I hope you’ve discovered that you’re neither a psychopath nor a replicant.

    Dr. Monkey – Good for you. It would have been difficult to survive an entire family of psychopaths, I think.

    Geewits – I certainly appreciate my other brothers and I’m glad you didn’t score high on the test. I wonder if younger people would tend to score higher? Children for sure, I would think.

    LGS – I don’t think critters count. They’re all psychopaths. But I’ll send you a bag of nuts for your prize anyway.

    Linda – Yikes! Really? 30 and over or just having a lot of these characteristics?

  4. You would think that the incidence of psycho’s should be LOWER in the military. Considering the responsibility and power some of the senior officers have. (Being in charge of weapons and such).

    In the general population, a psycho is a psycho…they have no choice, they’re born that way.

    But the military is something you have to join.

    Shouldn’t they be screening the psychos out?

  5. I’m not all that surprised. (We used to joke that my last boss was a psychopath — turns out we weren’t far off the mark.)

  6. wow. reading that list i can honestly say that a couple of people from my old place of work fit that bill quite well. rather off putting.

    it takes a very strong person to distance themselves from friends and/0r family that are toxic. i wish i was one of them. but how do you say good bye to a friend you have had since birth and both families are more family than friend?

  7. I’m not sure who among my friends/ family may be a psychopath so just to be safe I think I’ll move into a little cabin in the woods and live alone.
    Better safe than sorry..

  8. Friar – The scary thing about psychopaths is that you can do all sorts of tests on them and they can appear perfectly normal. Obviously this Williams character has been through screenings and evaluations galore and passed with flying colours. I’m not sure how exactly the checklist is administered – maybe an evaluation of past behaviour or something.

    Nat – Your last boss just sounds crazy. I think there’s a difference between a psychopath and a lunatic.

    Smothermother – That’s a tough one for sure, but for your own sanity if this person is damaging you and/or your family you have to get them out of your life. You wouldn’t hesitate to rid yourself of someone who was coming around and physically beating on you or your kids every time you saw them, right? So why not be just as firm with someone who is mentally beating you up all the time?

    Glen – That seems like a wise choice. Don’t forget to dress warmly. I understand hooded sweatshirts are very comfortable when living alone in the woods.

  9. I am sure that several people I know are psycho paths, which actually gives me some security because I am sure I’ll never sign up to head off in the woods with them or ask them to babysit. It’s the one’s that fly under the radar that you have to worry about.

  10. Anyway, odds are pretty good that at least one of my FB friends is a psychopath.

    Who, me???

    Luckily, all psychopaths don’t turn into serial killers…

  11. Psychopaths are also often very smart and can give the ‘right’ answers on tests to avoid being diagnosed. ‘Columbine’, the book about the two boys who went berserk in their school, has a lot of discussion of this. One of the boys was a classic, the author argues, but was able to fool doctors, teachers, his parole officer, etc, etc. The book is worth reading, even though it is such a horror story.

  12. 1 in 100 does seem really high. I can only think of a couple of people I’ve met who really seem to fit the description, and thankfully neither of them is all that close to me.

  13. The scary thing I’ve recently found out is that they are very good at compartmentalizing their lives so they might be “off” in some aspects of their life but in others – like at work or superficial social arenas like a volunteer organization – no one would know. The entire “but she seemed so nice” comments from neighbours and workmates….meanwhile there are bodies buried in the basement.

  14. Christine – Unfortunately, one of the primary characteristics of a psychopath is that they ARE able to fly under the radar so well.

    Jazz – I hope it’s not you. Why? Do you think it’s you? But ya, most psychopaths just live quietly among us destroying lives in quietly destructive ways.

    Julie – Creepy, eh?

    Anonymous – Absolutely. That’s what makes them psychopaths and not just regular anti-social or disturbed people.

    MaryLynn – I wonder how they arrived at that figure? And I wonder if there are more now that there were in past generations?

    Mudmama – That is exactly the scary thing and the very thing that defines them and sets them apart from other mentally disturbed people. Like Williams, they can be very successful professionally and seem like regular – even charming people socially. I’m pretty though that they can’t completely hide their nature from those really close to them – spouses/offspring/siblings/parents. Especially since many times these people bear the brunt of their real natures. Then again there have been serial killers whose wives claim to have never known there was anything wrong with their husbands.

  15. The Ex scores at least 18. Could be more since I don’t know about his childhood or if he’s gotten married a few times or had run-ins with the law since we split.

    But yeah, I didn’t need the list. It was all gut instinct (which I should have listened to sooner). It’s scary that so many people who new him thought I was nuts for thinking HE was off. It comes back to the charm and how he kept things superficial and was a good manipulator.

  16. Society in general, especially a capitalistic one, encourages a lot of the characteristics of psychopathic behaviour. I remember the documentary “The Corporation” comparing corporations to psychopaths.

    Like you mentioned, it can be measured on a spectrum and some people will be more dangerous than others. Some of those characteristics may not be bad in themselves, it depends on the context and how/where they are expressed. I think there are lots of psychopaths out there, but they don’t necessarily get caught (or are smart enough to work within the law).

  17. So you stole the magazine from the salon. That’s the only way I can figure you could directly quote the article.
    Who’s the psychopath now?

  18. I, too, have a small number of friends on FB. Stats don’t come in numerical order so if you line up all your FB friends there might not be a psycho in the bunch. However, I find that stat very unsettling. As for the military, maybe we need psychos at the front lines.

  19. Tiana – That’s what makes these people so creepy. Only the ones they’re really hurting know how horrible they are.

    Em – I think I remember that documentary. It pretty much said you have to have a psychopathic personality in order to succeed in corporate America. I guess becoming Donald Trump is better than killing people. Maybe…

    Bob – Oh, Bob. If you click the link to the article I provided above you’ll notice that magazines magically appear on the internet these days, too. I don’t want to spill any secrets, but you can also find newspapers and even books online.

    Stefania – Ya, I know stats don’t work that simply. You and I might not have any psycho acquaintances and someone else might have 5. It really is an unsettling statistic nevertheless, isn’t it? Psychos would probably not put themselves at the front lines. They’re too interested in self-preservation. What we have at the front lines instead are very young people whose brains, biologically, have not yet developed far enough for them to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Humans under 25 are not really equipped to give informed consent to putting themselves on the firing line. They get all wrapped up in the adventure and drama and patriotism of “serving their country” without actualizing the fact that they are likely to end up dead or maimed (forever) because of it. Studies are actually being conducted to see if it’s ethical to allow under 25-year-olds to even enlist because of this. That’s a whole other rant of mine, though.

  20. They have to allow really young people to enlist, after a certain age they come to their senses and realize war and being shot at sucks and won’t enlist.

  21. Psychopaths in our midst.
    If it is true 1% of the population would qualify as having psychopathic tendencies serious enough to be medically labeled a psychopath, that would explain a great deal of what I see everyday in the society I am living.

    Just imagine the impact of psychopathic behaviour on politeness. One rude moment breeds another, and so on and so on (callousness and lack of empathy).

    Now you know I am going to tie that back to a popular complaint in the City of Ottawa. Maybe the problem with City Bus Drivers is that a full 1% of them are, clinically speaking, psychopaths. It would explain a great deal, n’est pas?

    I have not been blogging long enough to properly know the rules of etiquette, so I hope I am not out of line by suggesting your readers check out my most recent blog entry connected to the state of OC Transpo and customer diservice. I think there is a tie in to the psychopathic theme. A work place with a few psychopaths in a confined space might get toxic rather quickly.

  22. I dated someone who, according to the list, is a psychopath. I quicky did the test and came up with 28. Scary… Although he was never physically abusive towards me, he was a bully towards the end and especially AFTER I ended the relationship. I still panic a little bit when I hear someone walk behind me…

    I hope I have learned my lesson and stop all contact if I ever meet another one like him. I hope there is none of them on my much smaller Facebook friends list (63 and two are the same person… long story… ).

  23. I know quite a few women who’ve been in abusive relationships, and almost invariably their partners would have high scores on this chart. In several cases, the women themselves have had their children taken away by the courts because the ex partners are so clearly rational and even charming, whereas the women are often desperate and lacking self esteem after years of emotional abuse.

    It does make me wonder about the gender balance of that 1%.

  24. Cedar – Ya, I think they know exactly what they’re doing.

    Stefania – Pregnant can be dealt with and/or only puts a bit of a damper on her youth and then gets better.

    OC Driver – Don’t worry. People will find your blog eventually. Just go around and read and comment on lots of local blogs and people will click your link to see what you’re all about. It takes a bit of work to build up a readership and a lot of work to maintain it.

    Sylvie – Yikes! The problem is, if you’re with a true psychopath you’ll never know until you’re well into the relationship. They’re very good at being whoever you want them to be for as long as it takes them to get what they want. I’m glad you got away.

    Gokalie – I’ve read a variety of different statistics all of which say there are significantly more male psychopaths than female. At least significantly more males have been identified as such. There is speculation that perhaps the females are just far stealthier. I’ve heard some pretty damn horrible stories about some people’s mothers for instance which easily match and even outshine anything I’ve heard about horrible abusive men.