Psychopathy Traits

There are usually no symptoms to suggest a psychoneurosis in the clinical sense. In fact, the psychopath is nearly always free from minor reactions popularly regarded as "neurotic" or as constituting "nervousness." The chief criteria whereby such diagnoses as hysteria, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety state, or "neurasthenia" might be made do not apply to him. It is highly typical for him not only to escape the abnormal anxiety and tension fundamentally characteristic of this whole diagnostic group but also to show a relative immunity from such anxiety and worry as might be judged normal or appropriate in disturbing situations. Regularly we find in him extraordinary poise rather than jitteriness or worry, a smooth sense of physical well-being instead of uneasy preoccupation with bodily functions. Even under concrete circumstances that would for the ordinary person cause embarrassment, confusion, acute insecurity, or visible agitation, his relative serenity is likely to be noteworthy.
It is true he may become vexed and restless when held in jails or psychiatric hospitals. This impatience seems related to his inability to realize the need or justification for his being restrained. What tension or uneasiness of this sort he may show seems provoked entirely by external circumstances, never by feelings of guilt, remorse, or intrapersonal insecurity. Within himself he appears almost as incapable of anxiety as of profound remorse.
Though the psychopath is likely to give an early impression of being a thoroughly reliable person, it will soon be found that on many occasions he shows no sense of responsibility whatsoever. No matter how binding the obligation, how urgent the circumstances, or how important the matter, this holds true. Furthermore, the question of whether or not he is to be confronted with his failure or his disloyalty and called to account for it appears to have little effect on his attitude.
If such failures occurred uniformly and immediately, others would soon learn not to rely upon psychopaths or to be surprised at their conduct. It is, however, characteristic for them during some periods to show up regularly at work, to meet their financial obligations, to ignore an opportunity to steal. They may apply their excellent abilities in business or in study for a week, for months, or even for a year or more and thereby gain potential security, win a scholarship, be acclaimed top salesman or elected president of a social club or perhaps of a school honor society. Not all checks given by psychopaths bounce; not all promises are uniformly ignored. They do not necessarily land in jail every day (or every month) or seek to cheat someone else during every transaction. If so, it would be much simpler to deal with them. This transiently (but often convincingly) demonstrated ability to succeed in business and in all objective affairs makes failures more disturbing to those about them.

Furthermore, it cannot be predicted how long effective and socially acceptable conduct will prevail or precisely when (or in what manner) dishonest, outlandish, or disastrously irresponsible acts or failures to act will occur. These seem to have little or no relation to objective stress, to cyclic periods, or to major alterations of mood or outlook. What is at stake for the patient, for his family, or for anybody else is not a regularly determining factor. At the crest of success in his work he may forge a small check, indulge in petty thievery, or simply not come to the office. After a period of gracious and apparently happy relations with his family he may pick a quarrel with his wife, cuff her up a bit, drive her from the house, and then throw a glass of iced tea in the face of his 3-year-old son. For the initiation of such outbursts he does not, it seems, need any great anger. Moderate vexation usually suffices.
The psychopath's unreliability and his disregard for obligations and for consequences are manifested in both trivial and serious matters, are masked by demonstrations of conforming behavior, and cannot be accounted for by ordinary motives or incentives. Although it can be confidently predicted that his failures and disloyalties will continue, it is impossible to time them and to take satisfactory precautions against their effect. Here, it might be said, is not even a consistency in inconsistency but an inconsistency in inconsistency.
The psychopath shows a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions. He gives the impression that he is incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves.

Typically he is at ease and unpretentious in making a serious promise or in (falsely) exculpating himself from accusations, whether grave or trivial. His simplest statement in such matters carries special powers of conviction. Overemphasis, obvious glibness, and other traditional signs of the clever liar do not usually show in his words or in his manner. Whether there is reasonable chance for him to get away with the fraud or whether certain and easily foreseen detection is at hand, he is apparently unperturbed and does the same impressive job. Candor and trustworthiness seem implicit in him at such times. During the most solemn perjuries he has no difficulty at all in looking anyone tranquilly in the eyes. Although he will lie about any matter, under any circumstances, and often for no good reason, he may, on the contrary, sometimes own up to his errors (usually when detection is certain) and appear to be facing the consequences with singular honesty, fortitude, and manliness

Not only is the psychopath undependable, but also in more active ways he cheats, deserts, annoys, brawls, fails, and lies without any apparent compunction. He will commit theft, forgery, adultery, fraud, and other deeds for astonishingly small stakes and under much greater risks of being discovered than will the ordinary scoundrel. He will, in fact, commit such deeds in the absence of any apparent goal at all.

Objective stimuli (value of the object, specific conscious need) are, as in compulsive (or impulsive) stealing, inadequate to account for the psychopath's acts. Evidence of any vividly felt urge symbolizing a disguised but specifically channelized, instinctive drive is not readily available in the psychopath's wide range of inappropriate and self-defeating behavior.

The psychopath is always distinguished by egocentricity. This is usually of a degree not seen in ordinary people and often is little short of astonishing. How obviously this quality will be expressed in vanity or self-esteem will vary with the shrewdness of the subject and with his other complexities. Deeper probing will always reveal a selfcenteredness that is apparently unmodifiable and all but complete. This can perhaps be best expressed by stating that it is an incapacity for object love and that this incapacity (in my experience with well-marked psychopaths) appears to be absolute.

In a sense, it is absurd to maintain that the psychopath's incapacity for object love is absolute, that is, to say he is capable of affection for another ill literally no degree. He is plainly capable of casual fondness, of likes and dislikes, and of reactions that, one might say, cause others to matter to him. These affective reactions are, however, always strictly limited in degree.

psychopaths are sometimes skillful in pretending a love for women or simulating parental devotion to their children. What part of this is not pure (and perhaps in an important sense unconscious) simulation has always impressed this observer as that other type of pseudolove sometimes seen in very self-centered people who are not psychopaths, which consists in concern for the other person only (or primarily) insofar as he enhances or seems to enhance the self. Even this latter imitation of adult affectivity has been seldom seen in the full-blown psychopath, although it is seen frequently in those called here partial psychopaths. In nonpsychopaths a familiar example is that of the parent who lavishes money and attention on a child chiefly to bask in the child's success and consciously or unconsciously to feel what an important person he is because of the child's triumphs.

What positive feelings appear during the psychopath's interpersonal relations give a strong impression of being self-love.

The psychopath seldom shows anything that, if the chief facts were known, would pass even in the eyes of lay observers as object love. His absolute indifference to the financial, social, emotional, physical, and other hardships which he brings upon those for whom he professes love confirms the appraisal during psychiatric studies of his true attitude. We must, let it never be forgotten, judge a man by his actions rather than by his words. This old saying is especially significant when it is the man's motivations and real feelings that we are to judge.

In addition to his incapacity for object love, the psychopath always shows general poverty of affect. Although it is true that be sometimes becomes excited and shouts as if in rage or seems to exult in enthusiasm and again weeps in what appear to be bitter tears or speaks eloquent and mournful words about his misfortunes or his follies, the conviction dawns on those who observe him carefully that here we deal with a readiness of expression rather than a strength of feeling.

Vexation, spite, quick and labile flashes of quasi-affection, peevish resentment, shallow moods of self-pity, puerile attitudes of vanity, and absurd and showy poses of indignation are all within his emotional scale and are freely sounded as the circumstances of life play upon him. But mature, wholehearted anger, true or consistent indignation, honest, solid grief, sustaining pride, deep joy, and genuine despair are reactions not likely to be found within this scale

In a special sense the psychopath lacks insight to a degree seldom, if ever, found in any but the most seriously disturbed psychotic patients. In a superficial sense, in that he can say he is in a psychiatric hospital because of his unacceptable and strange conduct, and by all other such criteria, his insight is intact. His insight is of course not affected at all with the type of impairment seen in the schizophrenic patient, who may not recognize the fact that others regard him as mentally ill but may insist that he is the Grand Lama and now in Tibet. Yet in a very important sense, in the sense of realistic evaluation, the psychopath lacks insight more consistently than some schizophrenic patients. He has absolutely no capacity to see himself as others see him. It is perhaps more accurate to say that he has no ability to know how others feel when they see him or to experience subjectively anything comparable about the situation. All of the values, all of the major affect concerning his status, are unappreciated by him.
This is almost astonishing in view of the psychopath's perfect orientation, his ability and willingness to reason or to go through the forms of reasoning, and his perfect freedom from delusions and other signs of an ordinary psychosis

Usually, instead of facing facts that would ordinarily lead to insight, he projects, blaming his troubles on others with the flimsiest of pretext but with elaborate and subtle rationalization. Occasionally, however, he will perfunctorily admit himself to blame for everything and analyze his case from what seems to be almost a psychiatric viewpoint, but we can see that his conclusions have little actual significance for him.

The patient seems to have little or no ability to feel the significance of his situation, to experience the real emotions of regret or shame or determination to improve, or to realize that this is lacking. His clever statements have been hardly more than verbal reflexes; even his facial expressions are without the underlying content they imply. This is not insight but an excellent mimicry of insight. No sincere intention can spring from his conclusions because no affective conviction is there to move him.

What I regard as the psychopath's lack of insight shows up frequently and very impressively in his apparent assumption that the legal penalties for a crime he has committed do not, or should not, apply to him. This astonishing defect in realization often seems genuine, as the patient protests in surprise against the idea that prison might be anticipated for him, as for others under similar circumstances. He frequently reacts to such an idea as if to something unexpected and totally inappropriate.

Some observers believe that what the psychopath expresses about himself and his situation constitutes insight and merits such a term. I cannot agree with this opinion. The chief and most valid connotations of the word disappear in such an application. Profoundly psychotic patients whose gross lack of insight would be admitted by all sometimes express opinions which, if fully meant and appreciated, would indicate an insight that is plainly not there.

patient on a closed ward, a man badly disabled for years by obvious schizophrenia, often shouted out to the passerby, "Simple case of dementia praecox, Doc, simple case of dementia praecox," pointing to himself several times. Despite the chance diagnostic accuracy of what he said, this patient, like the one just mentioned, had little grasp of his situation and almost no real appreciation of his disorder and its meaning. Another manic patient not only spoke words that correctly indicated a good deal about his situation but even hammered out with a metal object he had obtained these letters in deep gashes in the wood door: "Bug house nutty."

A major point about the psychopath and his relation to alcohol can be found in the shocking, fantastic, uninviting, or relatively inexplicable behavior which emerges when he drinks - sometimes when he drinks only a little. It is very likely that the effects of alcohol facilitate such acts and other manifestations of the disorder. This does not mean, however, that alcohol is fundamentally causal. Good criteria for differentiation between psychopaths and others who drink, moderately or excessively, can be found in what tendencies emerge after similar amounts have been consumed.
A peculiar sort of vulgarity, domineering rudeness, petty bickering or buffoonish quasi-maulings of wife, mistress, or children, and quick shifts between maudlin and vainglorious moods, although sometimes found in ordinary alcoholics with other serious patterns of disorder, are pathognomonic of the psychopath and in him alone reach full and precocious flower. Even in the first stages of a spree, perhaps after taking only two or three highballs, he may show signs of petty truculence or sullenness but seldom of real gaiety or conviviality. Evidence of any pleasurable reaction is characteristically minimal, as are indications that he is seeking relief from anxiety, despair, worry, responsibility, or tension.
Alcohol, as a sort of catalyst, sometimes contributes a good deal to the long and varied series of outlandish pranks and inanely coarse scenes with which nearly every drinking psychopath's story is starred.

The alcohol probably does not of itself create such behavior. Alcohol is not likely to bring out any impulse that is not already potential in a personality, nor is it likely to cast behavior into patterns for which there is not already significant subsurface predilection. The alcohol merely facilitates expression by narcotizing inhibitory processes.136 In cases of this sort very little narcotizing may be needed. The oil which lubricates the engine of an automobile neither furnishes the energy for its progress nor directs it.

All the curious conduct reported in patients who drank and who were presented here occurred in the absence of delirium tremens, alcoholic hallucinosis, or any other of the well-known psychoses due directly to intoxication. Of course, such psychotic conditions may occur in psychopaths and in neurotic drinkers. It is important to keep such symptoms separate, since they are clearly due to another type of mental disorder.

For whatever reason the psychopath may drink, it is true that, in contrast with others who use alcohol to excess, he hits upon conduct and creates situations so bizarre, so untimely, and so preposterous that their motivation appears inscrutable. Many of his exploits seem directly calculated to place him in a disgraceful or ignominious position. He often chooses pranks and seeks out situations that would have no appeal for the ordinary person, whether the ordinary person be drunk or sober. The observer sometimes wonders if a truly astonishing ingenuity, or an actively perverse inventiveness is directing him, so consistently does he bring off scenes not only uncongenial but even unimaginable to the average man.

Suicidal tendencies have been stressed by some observers as prevalent. This opinion, in all likelihood, must have come from the observation of patients fundamentally different from our group, but who, as we have mentioned, were traditionally classified under the same term. It was only after a good many years of experience with actual psychopaths that I encountered my first authentic instance of suicide in a patient who could be called typical.
Instead of a predilection for ending their own lives, psychopaths, on the contrary, show much more evidence of a specific and characteristic immunity from such an act. This immunity, it must be granted, is, like most other immunities, relative.

As might be expected, in view of their incapacity for object love, the sexual aims of psychopaths do not seem to include any important personality relations or any recognizable desire or ability to explore or possess or significantly ravish the partner in a shared experience. Their positive activities are consistently and parsimoniously limited to literal physical contact and relatively free of the enormous emotional concomitants and the complex potentialities that make adult love relations an experience so thrilling and indescribable. Consequently they seem to regard sexual activity very casually, sometimes apparently finding it less shocking and enthralling than a sensitive normal man would find even the glance of his beloved.
None of the psychopaths personally observed have impressed me as having particularly strong sex cravings even in this uncomplicated and poverty stricken sense. Indeed, they have nearly all seemed definitely less moved to obtain genital pleasure than the ordinary run of people. The impression one gets is that their amativeness is little more than a simple itch and that even the itch is seldom, if ever, particularly intense.

The familiar record of sexual promiscuity found in both male and female psychopaths seems much more closely related to their almost total lack of self-imposed restraint than to any particularly strong passions or drives. Psychopaths sometimes seem by preference to seek sexual relations in sordid surroundings with persons of low intellectual or social status. Often, however, the convenience by which what is little more than a whim can be gratified may play a greater part in this than specific preference. Another and more serious kind of sordidness also seems to constitute real inducement.
Entanglements which go out of their way to mock ordinary human sensibility or what might be called basic decency are prevalent in their sexual careers. To casually "make" or "lay" the best friend's wife and to involve a husband's uncle or one of his business associates in a particularly messy triangular or quadrilateral situation are typical acts. Such opportunities, when available, seem not to repel but specifically to attract the psychopath. Neither distinct appeal of the sex object nor any formulated serious malignity toward those cuckolded or otherwise outraged seems to be a major factor in such choices. There is more to suggest a mildly prankish impulse such as might lead the ordinary man to violate small pedantic technicalities or dead and preposterous bits of formality as a demonstration of their triviality.

Sexual exploits often seem chosen almost purposively to put the subject himself, as well as others, in positions of sharp indignity and distastefulness. The male psychopath who goes through legal matrimony with the whore he has picked up for the evening furnishes a clear example. And so does the well-born woman who submits to several men in rapid succession, none of whom takes the least trouble to conceal his contempt for her. I have seen psychopaths who seriously attempted to seduce sisters, mothers-in-law, and even their actual mothers. One boasted to his wife in glowing detail of his erotic feats with her mother and with his own. His excellent talents at lying lead me to doubt the truth of his claims. I have little doubt, however, that he would have hesitated to carry out all that he boasted of if the ladies had allowed him to proceed.

Beneath his outwardly gracious manner toward women and his general suavity and social charms, the male psychopath (or part psychopath) nearly always shows an underlying predilection for obscenity, an astonishingly ambivalent attitude in which the amorous and excretory functions seem to be confused. He sometimes gives the impression that an impulse to smear his partner symbolically, and even to wallow in sordidness himself, is more fundamental than a directly erotic aim, itself hardly more to him than a sort of concomitant and slightly glorified back scratching.

The psychopath shows a striking inability to follow any sort of life plan consistently, whether it be one regarded as good or evil. He does not maintain an effort toward any far goal at all. This is entirely applicable to the full psychopath. On the contrary, he seems to go out of his way to make a failure of life.
By some incomprehensible and untempting piece of folly or buffoonery, he eventually cuts short any activity in which he is succeeding, no matter whether it is crime or honest endeavor.