The Psychopath | How To Deal With A Psychopath

I know what some people think: I’ll never deal with psychopaths. This is just more sensational clickbait garbage. Mistake. Experts bet you probably run into a psychopath every day. In fact, a lot of what you think you know about psychopaths is very wrong. Yes, psychopaths are more likely to be in prison than most people – but the vast majority are not. There’s a whole class of people who have no conscience and no empathy, and in all likelihood, you run into at least one of them all the time.

And they probably make your life miserable. They are “subclinical psychopaths.” In biology, you either have TB or you don’t. Black and white. There is no “somehow.” In psychology, there’s a lot of “as if”. People with subclinical psychological disorders are like that. Not bad enough to go to jail, but bad enough to make your life horrible.

Machiavellian manipulators in the workplace who do all sorts of nasty things – but leave no fingerprints. Bad boyfriends and girlfriends who drive you crazy – sometimes quite deliberately.

Think Frank Underwood in House of Cards – but without the murders. And research shows that many US presidents have had psychopathic traits. Which profession has the most psychopaths? The answer is CEOs.

Yes, studies show that there are a disproportionate number of psychopaths in corporate America. (In fact, some psychopathic traits are more common in CEOs than in criminals with mental abnormalities).

But no one in HR tells you that you can work with some truly awful people, let alone how to survive next to them. Corporations say things like, “We don’t tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Insolence, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong to us.” By the way, this is from Enron’s 1998 annual report. Okay, we have a lot to learn. Let’s find out from research and experts what the real situation is with psychopaths and what you can do to protect yourself from these very toxic people.

What is a psychopath?

Psychopath. Sociopath. For our purposes, they are the same. And don’t confuse them with “psychopath”. Psychotic means you see elves and unicorns. Psychopaths see the world quite clearly. Perhaps too clearly. As Ronald Schouten, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains, they don’t let pesky things like conscience or empathy get in their way. Because they have neither.

From Almost Psycho:

Psychopathy is a psychological condition in which an individual exhibits a profound lack of empathy for the feelings of others, a willingness to engage in immoral and antisocial behavior for short-term gain, and extreme self-centeredness. No, they don’t all have a cold, dead eyes and wear a hockey mask. Many are witty and quite expressive. They are narcissistic and impulsive. And because they lack empathy, they view other people as objects to be used.

Just because they lack empathy doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. And many of them get pretty good at faking it. They’re even better at manipulating you to get what they want. Neurological research shows that the emotional centers of their brains don’t respond the way yours do.

From Snakes in Suits: When psychopaths go to work:

In several functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of the brain, Hare and his collaborators found that emotional words and unpleasant pictures did not cause psychopaths to increase the activity of brain (limbic) areas normally associated with processing emotional material.

But this is even worse. As Ronald Schouten reports, when neurologists do PET scans on psychopaths after giving them amphetamines, the nucleus accumbens area in their gray matter produces four times more dopamine.

Translated: rewarding things are much, much more rewarding for them. So, you’re considering doing something bad, and your conscience slams on the brakes. But the psychopath’s brakes are cut off. And the things they want are four times more rewarding to them. So someone has put a brick on their gas pedal too.

Some people might think: I’ve done bad things. And I find some things really rewarding. Oh, my God! I worry that I’m a psychopath!

If you are worried about being a psychopath, then you are not a psychopath – because psychopaths don’t worry.

From “The Psychopath Test”:

anxiety sufferers are the neurological opposite of psychopaths as far as amygdala function is concerned.

So how do we make these people better? We don’t. In fact, treatment makes them worse. Teaching them empathy doesn’t make them more empathic. It just teaches them how to fake it better. They see treatment as “finishing school”. Violent psychopaths who have been counseled are 20% more likely to re-offend.

From The Psychopath Test:

two researchers in the early 1990s undertook a detailed study of the long-term recidivism rates of psychopaths who had gone through Elliott’s program and been released into the community. Its publication would surely have been an extraordinary moment for Elliott, Gary, and Capsule. Under normal circumstances, 60% of criminal psychopaths released commit re-offending. What percentage of their psychopaths have? As it turns out: 80 percent.

(To learn the seven-step morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here).

Okay, but that sounds extreme. And it is. You probably don’t know complete psychopaths who impulsively pursue whatever they want without a conscience to rein them in…But you probably know one or two “subclinical” psychopaths.

Subclinical psychopaths


What happens when you reduce the psychopathy a little, turn off the impulsivity, and add a little conscientiousness so they can graduate law or business school? You get a psychopath who fits the job perfectly. They chase their rewards, ignore morality, and are adept at covering their tracks.

Robert Haire, the criminal psychologist who developed the test used to evaluate psychopaths, explains:

many psychopaths never end up in prison or any other institution. They seem to function reasonably well as lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, mercenaries, policemen, cult leaders, military, businessmen, writers, artists, entertainers, etc.-without breaking the law or at least without getting caught and convicted. These people are just as self-centered, heartless and manipulative as the average psychopathic criminal, but their intellect, family background, social skills and circumstances allow them to create a facade of normalcy and get what they want with relative impunity.

And how many such people live around? Complete psychopaths are already about 1% of the population. So that’s 3 million in the US alone. And the subclinical psychopaths? According to Schouten, they’re more like 5-15%.

From Almost Psychopath:

Studies that look at the prevalence of subclinical psychopathy among students in the U.S. and Sweden show rates in the range of 5 to 15%… 5 to 15% of the population means that for every twenty people, up to three of them could fall into the range of almost psychopaths.

(To learn how to deal with a narcissist, click here.)

So subclinical psychopaths don’t chop people up with an ax. But they relentlessly pursue what they want without regard for others. How do they do it? If they break hearts and infect corporations, how do they not get caught?

How do psychopaths get what they want?


Hare says that whether subclinical psychopaths destroy your love life or your workplace, they usually follow a three-step process. They assess the usefulness, weaknesses, and defense mechanisms of those around them, They manipulate others to bond with them and get what they want, They abandon their goals and move on, Or in a corporate environment, they often move up.

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work:

First, they assess people’s worth for their needs and determine their psychological strengths and weaknesses. Second, they manipulate people (now potential victims) by delivering carefully prepared messages, constantly using their feedback to build and maintain control. This approach is not only effective for dealing with most people but also allows psychopaths to quickly and effectively circumvent and get out of any difficulties if confronted or challenged. Third, they leave the drained and confused victims when they get bored or otherwise finished with them.

If they invade your personal space, they turn on that false empathy and charm. They listen to hear what you think of themselves and reinforce it. The message? I like you just the way you are. Then pretend to share similar qualities. The message? I’m just like you. It’s not much different in the office. They get to know everyone and use that fake empathy to make a good first impression and quickly figure out who has the power.

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work:

Once they get a job at a company, psychopaths try to get to know as many people at the company as possible by spreading positive first impressions and gathering as much information as possible. As they meet and greet members of the organization, they study their colleagues’ organizational roles and almost instinctively assess their short- and long-term usefulness or value. A person’s value is based on the place he or she occupies in the organizational hierarchy (sometimes called position power), on his or her technical ability (expert power), on access to information (knowledge power), and on whether he or she controls personnel, money, and other assets (resource power).

It turns out that, for them, this is pretty easy. Their thrill-seeking nature is mistaken for valuable employee attributes, such as “high energy” and being “action-oriented.” And their lack of feelings? Oh, in the business world that’s called “ability to make tough decisions.” Or someone who is “cool under fire”. You know, the stuff leaders are made of. And then they set about making sure they look good, that their rivals look bad and that all the evidence is well hidden.

From Snakes in Suits: When psychopaths go to work:

Specifically, their game plans involve manipulating communication networks to enhance their own reputations, malign others, and create conflict and rivalry among members of the organization, thus preventing them from sharing information that could expose the deception. They also spread misinformation in the interests of protecting their affair and advancing their own careers. Because they are extremely clever and secretive, they are able to conceal their connection to the disinformation by leading others to believe that they are innocent of the manipulation.

If they have invaded your personal life, they use this involvement to start getting what they want from you. In the workplace, they are quick to distinguish between “pawns” and “patrons.” Pawns are the co-workers and subordinates they manipulate like chess pieces. The patrons are the upper management they cozy up to in order to help them climb the corporate ladder.

Maybe someone is catching on to their schemes after all. But has the whistleblower taken the time to make sure senior management likes and trusts him? Because the psychopath did. Guess who senior management trusts?

From Snakes in Suits: When psychopaths go to work:

We think the breakdown begins to occur when the psychopath’s web of deceit and manipulation becomes overwhelming and too many people have glimpsed his dark side. Eventually, someone tries to do something about it. A former pawn may challenge or confront the individual, and perhaps even try to bring the situation to the attention of superiors. Unfortunately, by this time the psychopath is well-positioned through already established networks of influence with others in the power hierarchy. The tables are turned because the credibility of the complaining employee has already been “managed” and undermined.

Now is not the time to stop reading. As Yoda said, “If you stop your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path like Vader – you will become an agent of evil.”

So if psychopaths are so good at covering their tracks, how do we find them?

How to recognize a psychopath


Now don’t fall into the trap of playing amateur psychoanalyst, calling anyone who has ever been mean to you a psychopath. But according to research, this is an area where you can actually trust your intuition.

Okay, so you’re sure that the new person in your life or the colleague in the office is a manipulator and playing puppet master. How do experts recommend you deal with them?

1) Don’t.End.

Oh, if only it were that easy… All the resources I reviewed had the same basic suggestion: just get away from them. If it’s about your personal life, it’s doable. In the office, it may be impossible.

Companies can avoid hiring subclinical psychopaths in the first place by using several rounds of structured interviews. Flexible interview procedures allow charming predators too much space to use their power of influence. And check references. Psychopaths lie on their resumes. A lot.

But if you have to deal with them as an individual and can’t get away with it, don’t play their games. They’re better at it than you are. They’ve done it before. Harvard psychologist Martha Stout says you may think you’re acting like a hero, but you’re actually walking into an ambush.

From The Sociopath Next Door:

Don’t get in the game. Intrigue is the tool of the sociopath. Resist the temptation to compete with the seductive sociopath, outwit him, psychoanalyze him, or even joke with him. Besides bringing yourself down to his level, you will distract yourself from what is really important, which is to protect yourself.

Even if you win, guess what? Now you’re using manipulative games. Stanford professor Bob Sutton, author of the book Good Boss, Bad Boss, tells all his students: When you get a job, take a good look at the people you’re going to work with – because chances are you’re going to become like them, and they’re not going to become like you. You cannot change them. If it doesn’t fit who you are, it won’t work.

But what’s the attitude that most people get wrong when dealing with a possible psychopath?

2) Accept that some people are just bad news


Maybe you believe that all people have something good about them. Or that every person can be fixed. Or that they would be better if, That’s not going to happen here. Sorry.

From The Sociopath Next Door:

The first rule involves the bitter pill of accepting that some people literally have no conscience, Don’t try to redeem the incorrigible. You can’t change them. What you can do is get to know their ways and get to know yourself better. Find out where your vulnerabilities lie. Because psychopaths are experts at finding them. Fix your weaknesses before they take advantage of them.

From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work:

As one psychopath says, “I love do-gooders because they do me so much good.” Often, the subclinical psychopath tells so many lies that it can be difficult to see clearly. How do you keep your head clear?

3) Pay attention to actions, not words


This is another point on which all sources agree. Don’t listen to excuses, rationalizations, or outright lies. Don’t listen to what they say they will do. Pay attention to what they do. Martha Stout of Harvard recommends using the “Rule of Three” to distinguish honest mistakes from manipulative behavior.

From The Sociopath Next Door:

One lie, one broken promise, or one neglected responsibility can turn out to be a misunderstanding instead. Two can involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deception is the basis of unscrupulous behavior. Okay, you’re already aware of them. But they are a vindictive group. How do you protect yourself from revenge in the workplace?

4) Build your reputation and relationships


Psychopaths in the workplace are always recruiting unsuspecting “patrons” from upper management who unwittingly provide them with cover when rumors of their questionable behavior begin to spread. And they will also use these connections to spread misinformation and lies about anyone who gets in their way or poses a threat. And that could include you.

So be sure to build your own relationships and maintain your reputation as a hard-working person. Be impeccable. Don’t complain. That way, when you complain – your superiors listen.

From Snakes in Suits: When psychopaths go to work:

To protect yourself, make sure you invest energy in managing your own reputation, build open and honest relationships with your co-workers and boss, work to the best of your ability, and follow applicable policies and procedures.

And if you encounter a possible psychopath in your personal life, relationships are just as important. Friends can often be more objective than you. When a few confidants say “He/she is no good,” you might want to listen. Okay, you’ve tried everything, but you still need to work with them. What’s the best way to do that?

5) Win-Win Agreements


Psychopaths have aggressive personalities. They want to win. If you can make it easy and enticing for them to work with you, rather than trying to undermine you, you may be able to keep their ruthlessness in check. From the book In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People:

When negotiating with an aggressive person, try to offer as many win-win scenarios as possible. This is extremely important and requires creativity and a particular attitude. But in my experience, this is probably the single most effective tool for personal empowerment because it uses the aggressive person’s determination to win constructively.

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Let’s round it up and learn the most important things you need to remember for the long run, lest a psychopath really ruins your life.

Summary
Here’s how to deal with the psychopath:

Don’t Runaway. Are you sure you can’t escape?
Accept that some people are just bad news: A tiger is not a good pet. And you’re not going to change that fact. Pay attention to actions, not words: No excuses. No lies. Use the “Rule of Three.” Build your reputation and relationships: You need good protection and good advice. Win-win agreements: Make it easier to advance than to destroy. When you’re in the middle of a deadly duel with a ruthless human monster, being cynical is like having ESP. The tortured perspective can keep you one step ahead of them. But in the long run, it can be toxic. Don’t give up on all people just because you’ve dealt with a really bad one.

Mother nature has a sense of humor. On the one hand, you have psychopaths who have zero empathy. On the other hand, you have people with Williams syndrome. They have too much empathy. They trust everybody. They love everybody:

children and adults with Williams syndrome love people and are literally pathologically trusting. They have no social fear. Researchers suggest this is probably due to a problem in their limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotions. It seems that the regulation of one of the chemicals (oxytocin) that signals when to trust and when not to is disrupted. This means that it is biologically impossible for children like Isabel not to trust.

Some people are too good, others too bad. And most of us are somewhere in between. Don’t let a bad experience with one person ruin the party.

From “The Sociopath Neighbor”:

Don’t let one person with no conscience, or even a string of such people, convince you that humanity is a failure. Most human beings have a conscience. Most human beings are capable of love.

To have a happy life and a productive career, you may have to give up some people.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up people.

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