A Psychoanalytic View of the Psychopath

We are just beginning to understand the brain of the psychopath (Patrick, 2006). His mind is another matter. Recent neuroimaging research has begun to functionally map the abnormalities of the psychopath’s brain (Kiehl et al., 2001, 2003), and such findings help us to biologically ground the clinical and forensic extremes of his behavior. But a theory of the psychopath’s mind is also important (Meloy, 1988). It guides empirical research. It puts flesh on the bone of empirical findings. It specifies the motivation and meaning of the psychopath’s behavior. And most importantly, it helps us understand his discrete experience of the world, and thus shapes our realistic perception of the risks he poses to himself and others.

Freud understood the psychopath, but devoted little time and thought to investigating his mind. He wrote in 1928, “two traits are essential in a criminal: boundless egoism and a strong destructive urge. Common to both of these, and a necessary condition for their expression, is absence of love, lack of an emotional appreciation of (human) objects” (p. 178). We define the psychopath’s personality nearly eighty years later in essentially the same twofold manner: his pathological narcissism and his cruel aggression. There is also a general recognition that both of these characteristics are fueled by an absence of emotional attachment to others: the bond that keeps most people from physically violating those whom they love.

http://www.yorku.ca/rweisman/courses/sosc6890/pdf/meloypaper-psychopathy.pdf

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