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The Psychopath Test – Pass or Fail? September 16, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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4 comments

Okay, I’ll tell you straight off that my personal book shopper told me this book was “all over the place” when she handed it to me on the playground. I tucked it under a stack of fliers to send home, so as not to appear callous and indifferent to my young charges.

The last book she slipped me was Taft 2012, a rolicking fun read. Most of the books she slips me are a bit “off the beam” as my Scottish friend Lesley would say. Author Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney. I was disappointed with the movie as I expected way more  footage of adorable goats. Alas.

The subtitle of The Psychopath Test is “A Journey Through the Madness Industry.” The quote on the front from The New York Times Book Review calls it, “Engagingly Irreverent.” That’s something I’d like to have on my tombstone only I plan to be scattered. Alas.

The premise of the book is….well, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated.

Here goes. Ronson meets Tony who feigned insanity to avoid prison and ended up at Broadmoor in the UK. Tony has found it’s much harder to get out of the nuthouse than the Big House.

Trying to root out whether Tony is in fact a psychopath, Ronson finds himself meeting with those psychology-hating Scientologists. I admit to a certain bias here as the Church of Scientology bought an entire building where my favorite restaurant used to be and promptly evicted all the tenants. No, me/and he thinks these are strange people indeed though I perked up when I read that L. Ron Hubbard loved Coca-cola.

Armed with Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R, which was designed by Candadian psychologist Robert Hare, Ronson sets out to meet famous and notorious personages to see if they meet the criteria. Here a check, there a check….you get the picture.

Along the way he meets some incredibly charming and predatory people. We also learn how the DSM-3 walked out of the primordial soup as a 30-something page booklet that evolved into the 943-page bible for the American Psychiatric Association. At the onset, Ronson cracks open the DSM-IV and promptly diagnoses himself with 12 different mental disorders.

We learn how Big Pharma has an interest in new diagnoses as there’s certainly got to be a pill to swallow for THAT disorder. (No surprise there.) And many of those people at the top of the food chain are indeed psychopaths. (Ditto.)

While Ronson did attend one of Robert Hare’s seminars and interviewed him, he’s inserted Hare as an ongoing character throughout the book and I have to admit I wondered how much of this actually happened. I do have a link to Robert Hare’s Site on Psychopathy (Without Conscience) on my blog and sure enough, “Bob” Hare, as Ronson refers to him, offers a disclaimer to the book “On Ronson.”

A book reviewer on Amazon thought the book had all the makings, but….  Oh, here’s a link to The Most Helpful Positive Review and The Most Helpful Negative Review of the book.

After reading the book, this was one thing that stuck in my mind. Two researchers in the early 1990s undertook a detailed study of the long-term recidivism rates of psychopaths who’d been through a program at Oak Ridge run by Elliot Barker in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It involved a hefty dose of LSD and a lot of hugging it out to learn empathy, something both psychopaths and narcissists lack. Barker’s program was viewed by many as proof that psychopaths can indeed change and develop empathy. Some were released.

Now in regular circumstances, 60 percent of incarcerated psychopaths released into the outside world go on to reoffend. So what did the researchers find about those psychopaths who’d been through Barker’s program and “learned” empathy?  A whopping 80 percent went on to reoffend. Ultimately, the psychopaths only became better at feigning empathy/not learning it.

It’s a cautionary tale for those who think that anyone lacking empathy, whether they be a psychopath or a narcissist, can truly change. But those who’ve had A Close Encounter with a Narcissist already know this.

“Both terrifying and hilarious.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

Ted Bundy’s Third Grade Teacher May 17, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Teaching.
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18 comments

I don’t know who Ted Bundy‘s teacher was, but I can’t help but wonder if she (sorry, but the majority of elementary teachers do have that XX chromosome thing going), noticed anything off about young Ted? Serial killers may take a while to reach their full potential (ouch!), but from those who’ve been studied, it’s clear that there was something off early on. Perhaps the class hamster met an untimely death?  Or maybe, like so many psychopaths, Ted skated by on superficial charm. Think Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver.

‘Wally’ Cleaver: [at the bottom of the staircase, calling out to his mother upstairs] Hey, Mom!
June Cleaver: Yes, Wally.
‘Wally’ Cleaver: Could Eddie spend the night here?
June Cleaver: Not while your father’s away.
‘Eddie’ Haskell: [dejected] Boy. Everybody around here is wise to me. I might just have to move to a new town and start all over.

Historically, the Big Three predictors of aberrant behavior are bed wetting, cruelty to animals, and fire starting. Personally, I’d add laughing when other children are hurt and inappropriate remarks showing callowness and a lack of empathy. Yet while most people associate psychopaths with serial killers, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Feb 19, 2011 issue of New Scientist, a crackerjack science magazine, featured an interview with Kent Keihl, whose studied the origin in the brain of psychopathic behavior. Kent also grew up down the street from Ted Bundy which only stoked his interest in how two people in the same zip code take such different trajectories in life.

I couldn’t help but fixate on his comment, “There are probably many psychopaths out there who are not necessarily violent, but are leading very disruptive lives in the sense that they are getting involved in shady business deals, moving from job to job, or relationship to relationship, always using resources everywhere they go but never contributing. Such people inevitably leave a path of confusion, and often destruction behind them. ” (Bold face mine.)

Robert Hare, the Godfather of Psychopathy, wrote Sharks in Suits detailing how psychopaths have been able to thrive on Wall Street and as CEOs.  Think Bernie Madoff and the path of destruction he left behind. And he didn’t even need duct tape!

I found Can You Call a 9 Year Old a Psychopath?  featured last Sunday in The New York Times Magazine to be a fascinating read. The Huffington Post did a follow-up piece 9-Year-Old Psychopaths – Dr. Alan Ravitz on How to Diagnose Children as Psychopaths.

Okay, I teach 9-year-olds. Have I had any students who I thought were psychopaths?  I can think of one, maybe two. But only time will tell. As teachers, we’re forever hopeful that we can make a difference. But still, I document everything so when America’s Most Wanted comes knocking, I’m ready.

The thinking has always been that it is irresponsible to diagnose/label a developing child as a psychopath. So children exhibiting symptoms that would be considered psychopathic traits in the adult population are diagnosed instead with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or with Conduct Disorder (CD). Rhoda, the character from the cult movie The Bad Seed , probably would have had CD. While not all of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are psychopaths, all psychopaths have strong narcissistic traits. But this does not factor in as children are inherently narcissistic, so narcissism is a given. Bottom Line – Psychopathy, Anti-Social Personality (Sociopathy) and Narcissism are like close kin all dancing around that same May Pole of Lack of Empathy.

Some children diagnosed with these disorders eventually “grow out of them” and become functioning adults. The psychiatric community has always erred on the side of caution, as there’s much we don’t know about the developing human brain and/or the genetic predisposition for psychopathy. It’s the old nature vs. nurture, or possibly a N&N cocktail of circumstances. Just like drinking, you can’t become a psychopath until you’re 18.

That said, I’ve got stories. I’ve had students whose parents thought I was the teacher who could turn their child around. And I tried mightly – but the Mississippi flows south. I have a friend who carries a mug that says Miracle Worker, but as teachers, we can only do so much. We’d all like to think that we can be The One who makes a difference, but more often than not the die is cast. I take no joy in saying this.

When I tell people I teach third grade, their response is often, “Oh, they’s so cute at that age. They don’t have all the problems that come with older kids.” What rock have they been hiding under? We have students who have had IEPs (Individual Education Plans) since Kindergarten to deal with a variety of emotional issues (frequently a result of abuse), but sometimes not.

I’ve had students who laughed when another child was hurt (and not the nervous laugh), or go out of their way to inflict physical or emotional pain on their peers. I’ve also had students who were bald faced liars and master manipulators – at 7 years of age. I even had a student who so terrified his babysitter that he made her pay him $5 day to go to school! And I’ve had parents in denial while others were at wit’s end as to how to deal with their child’s behavior.

I’ve seen some scary s*it, so I remain vigilant – and I document everything. I’ve also never had a class hamster – just in case.


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