What is emotionally absent in the psychopath

What is emotionally absent in the psychopath is most important. More mature feelings that require whole-object relatedness and a capacity for secure attachment are missing.These include anger, fear, guilt, depression, sympathy, gratitude, empathy, remorse, sadness,loneliness and reciprocal joy – emotions that are broad, deep and complex. Instead, the emotional life of the psychopath centers on his internal management of envy (Kernberg,1984) and shame (Kohut, 1968), two affects that often precede intentional destruction of he object in real life. The damaged object diminishes envy since there are no longer any qualities worth possessing; the damaged object diminishes shame since it can no longer threaten as a source of humiliation.


Psychopathic individuals do not struggle with tensions of ego-dystonic aggression, since the impulse to aggress is either immediately acted out, or remains a source of aggressive fueling of the grandiose self-structure without conflict or ambivalence. Rorschach research has counter-intuitively found that antisocial and psychopathic individuals at all ages do not see percepts engaging in aggression as often as normals. They do, however, produce more aggressive objects with which they identify (Gacono & Meloy, 1994).Empirical research has established that psychopaths engage in two modes of violence more frequently than other non psychopathic criminals (Meloy, 2005). Affective violence, characterized by an emotional reaction to an imminent threat, is common among psychopaths,especially in the face of immediate frustration or humiliation. Predatory violence, characterized by a lack of emotion, careful planning and preparation, and the lack of autonomicarousal, is also frequent among psychopaths, and is emblematic of the homicides and sexualhomicides which a few of them commit (Woodworth & Porter, 2002; Porter et al., 2003)

Click to access meloypaper-psychopathy.pdf

Psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.

It is widely understood that psychopaths can’t attach to, or bond with, others.

“The ‘house of psychopath’ is constructed on a foundation of no attachment, underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character. Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. It is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles.” ~ A Psychoanalytic View of the Psychopath, J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D., San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

Now I understand where the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work” really got its title.

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.


What do the experts have to say about the psychopath’s eyes?

Many believe the psychopath is unconsciously projecting an “annihilatory stare,” meaning he or she isn’t seeing the other person as a human being, but coldly assessing them as an object he can use, manipulate or destroy.

The psychopath’s fixated, intense stare is sometimes referred to as scoptophilia: the sexualization of looking; predatory staring. It is visual predation.

Experts also call it a “reptilian stare,” and that might be more than just a colorful description. Dr. Reid Meloy’s Reptilian State Theory hypothesizes that psychopaths are more like reptiles than mammals. The brain structure of the reptile supports the behaviors of establishment and defense of territory, hunting, feeding, mating, dominance, aggression, and imitation.  Psychopaths and reptiles are missing behaviors that are products of the emotion-generating limbic system, which is absent in reptiles and markedly underactive in psychopaths.

What Is a Psychotic Disorder?

Psychotic disorders are a group of serious illnesses that affect the mind. They make it hard for someone to think clearly, make good judgments, respond emotionally, communicate effectively, understand reality, and behave appropriately.

When symptoms are severe, people with psychotic disorders have trouble staying in touch with reality and often are unable to handle daily life. But even severe psychotic disorders usually can be treated.


There are different types of psychotic disorders, including:

Schizophrenia: People with this illness have changes in behavior and other symptoms — such as delusions and hallucinations — that last longer than 6 months. It usually affects them at work or school, as well as their relationships. Know the early warning signs of schizophrenia.

Schizoaffective disorder: People have symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Learn more about the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

Schizophreniform disorder: This includes symptoms of schizophrenia, but the symptoms last for a shorter time: between 1 and 6 months. Find out more on schizophreniform disorder symptoms to look for.

Brief psychotic disorder: People with this illness have a sudden, short period of psychotic behavior, often in response to a very stressful event, such as a death in the family. Recovery is often quick — usually less than a month. Get more information about the different forms of brief psychotic disorder.

Delusional disorder  The key symptom is having a delusion (a false, fixed belief) involving a real-life situation that could be true but isn’t, such as being followed, being plotted against, or having a disease. The delusion lasts for at least 1 month. Read more on the types of delusions.

Shared psychotic disorder (also called folie à deux): This illness happens when one person in a relationship has a delusion and the other person in the relationship adopts it, too. Learn more about shared psychotic disorder and how it develops.

Substance-induced psychotic disorder: This condition is caused by the use of or withdrawal from drugs, such as hallucinogens and crack cocaine, that cause hallucinations, delusions, or confused speech. Find out more on substance-induced psychosis and other causes of secondary psychosis.

Psychotic disorder due to another medical condition: Hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms may happen because of another illness that affects brain function, such as a head injury or brain tumor.

Paraphrenia: This condition has symptoms similar to schizophrenia. It starts late in life, when people are elderly.


The use of deceit and/or manipulation to get what they want.

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for consequences and for the rights of others.

  • People with antisocial personality disorder go after what they want without considering the consequences for themselves or others and without feeling any remorse or guilt.
  • Doctors diagnose antisocial personality disorder based on symptoms, including disregard for consequences and for the rights of others and use of deceit and/or manipulation to get what they want.
  • Antisocial personality disorder is difficult to treat, but cognitive-behavioral therapy, mentalization-based therapy, and certain drugs may help lessen aggression and impulsive behavior.

Personality disorders are long-lasting, pervasive patterns of thinking, perceiving, reacting, and relating that cause the person significant distress and/or impair the person’s ability to function.

People with antisocial personality disorder may commit unlawful, deceitful, exploitative, and reckless acts for personal profit or pleasure and without remorse. They may

  • Justify or rationalize their behavior (for example, they may think that “losers deserved to lose”)
  • Blame the victim for being foolish or helpless
  • Be indifferent to the exploitative and harmful effects of their actions on others
  • Callously disregard the rights and feelings of others and the law

Estimates of how common antisocial personality disorder is vary between 0.2% (1 in 500) to a little over 3% of the general population in the United States. It is 6 times more common among men. The disorder is less common in older age groups, suggesting that people can learn over time to change their behavior.

Other disorders are also often present. These disorders include

Most people with antisocial personality disorder also have a substance use disorder.


Measurement of psychopathic personality traits

Measurement of psychopathic personality traits

Psychopathic personality traits were assessed using the Psychopathic Personality Inventory. 19The PPI is a 187-item self-report questionnaire with a total score and 8 sub-scales designed to measure psychopathic personality traits in a dimensional manner.

These include:

  1. (a) Machiavellian egocentricity which is characterised by ‘looking out for one’s own interests before others’;
  2. (b) social potency, or the ‘ability to be charming and influence others’;
  3. (c) coldheartedness is the ‘propensity towards callousness, guiltlessness, and unsentimentality’;
  4. (d) carefree non-planfulness, is the ‘non-planning component of impulsivity’;
  5. (e) fearlessness, is the ‘absence of anxiety and harm concerning eagerness to take risks’;
  6. (f) blame externalisation, is the ‘tendency to view others as source of problems’;
  7. (g) impulsive non-conformity, is the ‘reckless lack of concern for social mores’;
  8. (h) stress immunity, is the ‘absence of marked reactions to otherwise anxiety provoking events’ (pp. 500–2). 19

Each item consists of a statement to which participants must indicate how accurately it applies to them using a 4-point scale ranging from 1 ‘false’ to 4 ‘true’. The PPI has been shown to have good convergent and discriminant validity in both community and criminal samples.19,2327 In particular, it shows good criterion related validity when compared with structured, collaboratively rated clinical assessments of psychopathy such as the PCL–R. 18,24 The PPI scores for the sample are shown in Table 1. The mean total PPI score for the sample was lower than that reported by Lilienfeld et al (S. Lilienfeld, personal communication, 2008), for a large sample of substance misusing male prisoners (see online supplement for details). However, individuals in the present sample did show total scores at or above the criminal mean and the fearlessness, social potency, coldheartedness and stress immunity scores for the present sample were remarkably similar to those reported for the criminal population. Additional figures demonstrating the sample distribution of scores on each sub-scale can be found in the online Fig. DS1. 

The British Journal of Psychiatry , Volume 194 , Issue 3 , March 2009 , pp. 229 – 235DOI: https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.108.053199

Table 1 The Psychopathic Personality Inventory scores for the sample

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Psychopathic traits and deception

Mean response times were greater for the lie than truth condition. Lie responses resulted in enhanced activation of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. The PPI sub-scales, coldheartedness, fearlessness, Machiavellian egocentricity, social potency and stress immunity were found to be correlated with activation patterns in the brain circuitry implicated in both deception and related processes such as behavioural restraint and social cognition.

The British Journal of Psychiatry , Volume 194 , Issue 3 , March 2009 , pp. 229 – 235DOI: https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.108.053199

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Excessive and even sophisticated acts of deception

New research provides evidence that individuals with psychopathic personality traits tend to be more successful at convincing others that they are remorseful and gaining their trust. The study has been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“People who show characteristics of a psychopathic personality have been described as exhibiting very contradictory qualities,” said study author Kristopher J. Brazil (@brazkris), a PhD candidate at Brock University.

“On the one hand, they are usually described as having a personality pathology — and rightfully so, since they routinely perpetuate self- and other-damaging behaviors. Words like ‘maladaptive,’ ‘disordered,’ and ‘dysfunctional’ are often used to describe those with psychopathic traits, implying that there is something wrong with them.”

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High psychopathy is characterized by untruthfulness and manipulativeness.

High psychopathy is characterized by untruthfulness and manipulativeness. However, existing evidence on higher propensity or capacity to lie among non-incarcerated high-psychopathic individuals is equivocal. Of particular importance, no research has investigated whether greater psychopathic tendency is associated with better ‘trainability’ of lying. An understanding of whether the neurobehavioral processes of lying are modifiable through practice offers significant theoretical and practical implications. By employing a longitudinal design involving university students with varying degrees of psychopathic traits, we successfully demonstrate that the performance speed of lying about face familiarity significantly improved following two sessions of practice, which occurred only among those with higher, but not lower, levels of psychopathic traits. Furthermore, this behavioural improvement associated with higher psychopathic tendency was predicted by a reduction in lying-related neural signals and by functional connectivity changes in the frontoparietal and cerebellum networks. Our findings provide novel and pivotal evidence suggesting that psychopathic traits are the key modulating factors of the plasticity of both behavioural and neural processes underpinning lying. These findings broadly support conceptualization of high-functioning individuals with higher psychopathic traits as having preserved, or arguably superior, functioning in neural networks implicated in cognitive executive processing, but deficiencies in affective neural processes, from a neuroplasticity perspective.

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