Categories
Books Journalism

Book Review: Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work

This is a book I had been reading for a while, and which I have been sharing quotes about. Hare and Babiak’s (2006) Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work attempts to draw the similarities between clinical psychopathy, corporate psychopathy, and the general dark side of business. It also delves on topics such as personal relationships, and every day business contexts. It speaks to both, those who see themselves as psychopathic, and those who do not. It also speaks to victims of narcissistic relationships who have been played by callous and unemotional people, and brings the context back to the faculty of social sciences:

‘Indeed, this diffusion of responsibility is big business; witness the large number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors ready and eager to explain or exculpate criminal behaviour. This is good for criminals in general and for psychopaths in particular’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 277)

Indeed, forensic psychology is a science that begins its investigative journey with the question: ‘what is a psychopath?’, and this is why books such as The Mask of Sanity, Without Conscience, and Snakes in Suits are relevant to wrapping up a general view about the label; and it is precisely because the label ‘psychopath’ is so controversial and so sensationalised that real experts on the topic, or students of the discipline feel like forensic psychology can be quite the depressing career. I mean, what to do with all this understanding about how psychopathy works when mainstream society finds researching the topic an insult itself? In regards to this, Hare and Babiak (2006, p. 278) state:

‘Perhaps this is why so many of those in the helping professions find themselves in big trouble by trying to help a psychopath’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 278)

There are many troubles that can arise from trying to understand psychopathy. First of all, generally speaking, people perceive research which is focused on attempting to comprehend callous or unemotional behaviour as a dark behaviour itself. Second, many people think that when forensic psychologists speak of psychopathy as a scale, the majority of people are exempt from it. Third, most people associate the label ‘psychopathy‘ with criminal behaviour. However, this is not always the case. Hare and Babiak (2006) truly manage to capture this idea that psychopathy can happen in everyday contexts. Moreover, the book provides- so to say- a behavioural anatomy of traits associated with the label, and these traits (according to the authors) are very commonly found in business and organisational settings; as well as corporations. The title of the book (in my opinion) challenges the criminal stereotype often associated with the label, and although the authors do include such a behaviour too; it becomes clear that what is deemed as psychopathic can also appear dressed in a suit with a tie; an allusion to how seemingly ‘normal’ people can be psychopathic or have psychopathic traits.

Critical Note

I think Hare and Babiak (2006) risk sensationalising and stigmatising what is considered helping, validating, or empathic behaviour. Some parts of the book also paint a picture of a therapist’s approach as threatening:

‘The psychopath will try to convince you that he or she accepts you as you are’.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 275)

Yet, the book also states:

‘Some avoid talking to psychologists because they fear they will learn something uncomfortable about themselves. Psychopaths are well aware of these concerns and capitalize on them.

Robert D. Hare & Paul Babiak (2006, p. 271)

Considering that validating behaviour is constructed as potentially psychopathic, it is no wonder that some avoid therapy! The demonisation of helping behaviour is precisely what leads people to become paranoid when someone takes a collectivist approach to social interaction. In reverse, it can also lead to people not helping in order to avoid risking impression management. This can be problematic.

Categories
Books Journal

Investigating the Neuropsychopathology of Tyranny

Lately I have slept better. Taking Zopiclone has helped me sleep through any kind of disturbance. Consequently, my mental health feels more in balance, and I have been able to once again concentrate on my research. I still feel a deep sense of injustice, but the things I research about give me hope for a better future.

As usual, I have been studying a lot. The books I am currently reading are really interesting. One of the chapters I am currently working on (Dixon, 2015) for university speaks about the neuropsychopathology of social cognition, and how prejudice can result from an institutionalised (i.e. culturally conditioned) context, becoming predetermined emotional responses. One of the excerpts that has mostly sounded relevant to my independent research on cultural narcissism is the following:

‘In a series of studies, using similar kinds of photographic stimuli and fMRI technology, Harris and Fiske (e.g. 2006) found that certain social groups do not produce the neurological signature of person perception. Instead, these groups are processed mainly by areas of the brain more associated with the perception of non-human objects; i.e. they are literally treated, neurologically, as though they were not, fully, fellow human beings. This reaction is worrying because the ‘dehumanisation’ of others has been associated with extreme expressions of prejudice (e.g. the willingness to torture, rape or murder other people)’ .

John Dixon (2015, p. 150)

Now, this object-relational evidence of prejudice and how it leads to the neurologically-based, inherent dehumanisation of those who are considered as out-groups (e.g. Here in the UK, those who are protected by the Equality Act 2010) is consistent with the narcissistic approach to relationships. The idea that simply categorising an individual as an outgroup is enough to attribute characteristics to them that are not humane is truly concerning. Now, combining this with the corporate-narcissistic agenda is essential for social change. It links up to the book I am currently reading about corporate psychopathy:

“While individual lapses in judgement may garner attention in many cases, the ability of psychopaths to cover or explain away their individual decisions makes evidence of these lapses difficult to obtain. Rather, it is the long-term impact of their behaviours in a variety of situations and their dealings with a variety of people that shed more light on who they really are”.

Robert Hare and Paul Babiak (2006, p. 248).

Based on the above, I begin wondering just how deep the neuropsychopathology of tyranny is. That is, what are the common excuses the general corporate narcissist uses to justify violations of human rights? Has the corporate narcissist been made through institutionalised behavioural conditioning which is partially reinforced by unconscious dogmatic-authoritarian beliefs? I suppose this is where forensic psychology as a science collaborates with occupational psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology to uncover these answers.

References

Dixon, J. (2015) ‘Why don’t we like one another? The psychology of prejudice and intergroup relations’, in Capdevila, R., Dixon, J., and Briggs, G. (eds) Investigating Psychology 2: From Social to Cognitive, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 133-178.

Hare, D. R. and Babiak, P. (2006) Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, New York, HarperCollins.

Categories
Books Opinion Review

Book Review: Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer

Because simply watching the docuseries on Netflix is not enough, I decided to read the book by Michaud and Aynesworth (2019) which contains the transcripts from conversations with Theodore Robert Bundy, also known as the All-American Boy (Loftus and Ketcham, 1991).

This book provides real insight into Bundy’s psychological discourse, and it can be observed that his superego mainly served as a reminder not to get caught. He could not control his impulses, and this is why he left such a high death toll. His moral degeneracy can be appreciated in his described thinking process, where he expresses how he felt it was not difficult at all to maintain such secret life hidden away from the consciousness of those who were part of his personal circle: “I became expert at projecting something very different. That I was very busy. It is clear now, I think, that a huge part of my life was hidden from everyone – secret, as it were. It didn’t take much effort” (p. 16). One thing that can be noticed throughout the conversations is that Ted Bundy had a form of self-serving bias which was compounded by his belief about what he called the psychological “condition”. He expressed his states of narcissistic melancholia mixed with helplessness in relation to what can be described as his criminogenic, sadistic needs and the satisficing of these. He expressed that at times he would lay with the corpses he created until these were putrid.

What I find particularly difficult to comprehend when it comes to studying Ted Bundy as a prototypical psychopath is that at times some of the statements he made about his experience posited that he had the capacity to feel fear, which goes beyond the scope of primary psychopathy: “I thought I was going to die every night the first few days I was in jail back in October of 1975. I was scared to death! Daily. I thought they were going to kill me” (p. 23). Was he saying the truth? I don’t know. However, some of his other statements did reveal his malignant personality, such as when speaking about the way in which he perceived his victims as objects: “Except he is not killing a person. He is killing an image” (p. 65). Whose image? is the question I have. Psychodynamic theorists would of course instantly say that perhaps he wanted to recreate the image of the woman who he had the most contempt against, his own mother.

Bundy truly believed that this “condition”- as he called it- was to blame for all of his behaviour; nevertheless, unable to meet the M’Naghtan rules, he was not found to be eligible to claim criminal insanity and even prominent expert witnesses and forensic psychologists such as Elizabeth Loftus (1991) describe having been disturbed by his sophisticated mannerisms and inappropriate body language and responses to contexts. In other words, Bundy had a theory of mind (ToM) deficit, and a surplus of self-esteem. Moreover, his construct of reality was based on self-justifications and false beliefs. The way in which he described his “disease” in third person was as follows: “what’s happening is that we’re building up the condition and what may have been a predisposition for violence becomes a disposition. And as the condition develops and its purposes or its characteristics become more well defined, it begins to demand more of the attention and time of the individual” (p. 71). Such cluster of personality traits and behaviour is classed in the DSM-5 as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

What’s interesting is that Bundy describes having been influenced by his peers’ concepts of the attractive woman when choosing his victims. This was perhaps the case because as a malignant narcissist, his desire to have complete control over such beautiful images meant that he needed to kill them in order to control everything about their interaction. According to Bundy he murdered his victims because he wanted to leave no living witness of his sexual atrocities. As the moral imbecile that he was, he even washed some of his victims’ hair and did their make up in order to have sex with their corpses until the rotting nature of death made it impossible to do so. This shows the utter perversion of this individual, and this is synthesised by his own words: “A certain amount of the need of that malignant condition had been satisfied through the sexual release. That driving force would recede somewhat, allowing the normal individual’s mental mechanisms to again begin to take hold” (p. 90).

What makes this a great book is that it is made up of transcripts mainly and this allows the reader to see the pathetically perverse side of Bundy that is so easily forgotten when watching his charming ways on camera right until the evening before he was finally executed in 1989. It truly feels like talking with this serial killer. A truly recommended reading for anyone interested in this particular case study or in understanding antisocial personality disorder more deeply.

References

Michaud, S.G. and Aynesworth, H. (2019) Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, London, Mirror Books.

Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K. (1991) Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, New York, St. Martin’s Press, pp. 61-91.