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Journalism

Warfare, Antisemitism & Totalitarian Narcissism

According to Adorno et al. (2019, p. xxiii), ‘the psyche of a fascist is “authoritarian” in the sense that it attaches itself to figures of strength and disdains those it deems weak. It tends toward conventionalism, rigidity, and stereotypical thinking; it insists on a stark contrast between in-group and out-group, and it jealousy patrols the boundaries between them’. This article will introduce the psychology behind Vladimir Putin’s actions against Ukraine during early 2022. It will also draw from Adorno et al. (1950) in order to teach about the intersection of psychology and politics. Topics such as narcissism, totalitarianism, and antisemitism will be covered with special attention to the current crisis Ukranian Jews are facing as a result of Russia’s declaration of war.

Introduction

Putin invaded Ukraine on the 24th February, 2022. The next day, on the 25th February, Putin threatened the world with potential nuclear warfare. He stated: ‘Whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so, to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history’ (Gollom, 2022). Next, he  placed his nuclear deterrence team on high alert two days later blaming the UK for it (BBC News, 2022)’. Many other news flooded the Internet: 

The news (Singh, 2022; Newman, 2022) also highlighted who supported Russia and who Supported Ukraine: 

  • Venezuelan President Maduro supported Putin. 
  • Ex-president Trump called Putin ‘smart’. 
  • Belarus allowed Russia to attack Ukraine from their territory. 
  • Anonymous— the hacker group— declared cyberwarfare against Russia. 
  • China blamed the US for “escalating” tensions over Ukraine. 
  • Pakistani president Khan supported Putin. 
  • Syria pledged support to Russia. 
  • Myanmar supported Russia.
  • Cuba supported Russia.
  • North Korea supported Russia.
  • Eritrea supported Russia.
  • The European Union and the rest of the world stood with Ukraine. 

Antisemitism & Totalitarian Narcissism 

According to Shaw (2014, p. 55) ‘traumatizing narcissists (including those […] labeled “malignant narcissists”) create totalitarian systems in which their malignant envy and paranoid fears, defended against with delusional omnipotence and bolstered by self-righteous rage and hatred, merge to shape a contemptuous agenda to enslave, control, and annihilate others, if not literally then figuratively. They defend their projects as morally justified, for the greater good. The narcissist is convinced that his selfish, cruel agenda is in fact a generous, compassionate offer of enlightenment and liberation, conducted under his superior auspices for the benefit of the rest of the inferior world. With this kind of traumatizing narcissism, all is self-righteousness and sanctimony, but nothing is sacred, no boundaries are respected’.

It was not long ago that Parker (2018) made an attempt to defend Putin’s government as not antisemitic; however, now that we have seen Putin’s desperate attempt to restore the Soviet Union, and his hatred against the Jewish president of Ukraine, it has never been clearer that if Putin showed any love towards the jews in the past, it was merely a facade and a trick of impression management. ‘The Vladimir Putin government and regime could be reasonably expected to be officially and virulently anti-semitic. Both the major regimes that preceded it, the Soviet Union and the Romanov dynasty, were officially anti-semitic and actively persecuted Jews inside their territory, often singling them about above other minorities for special mistreatment […] In reality, however, the Putin government is not offcially anti-Semitic’ (Parker, 2018). Maybe it was not officially antisemitic in 2017 when Parker published this article, but the same cannot be stated for 2022 when Putin’s overt offensive tactics became transparent. It seems, not much has changed since ‘Cold War theorists of totalitarianism such as Hannah Arendt were promoting the view that Nazism and Soviet Communism were variants of the same ideological and political form’, (Adorno et al., 2019, p. xxxv). It is also clear from Parker’s paper that Putin has been accusing Ukraine of being antisemitic for a while now, an excuse he used to initiate what was to become a grim episode of European warfare.

Furthermore, the Russian news reported that the Russian Ministry of Defence wanted to punish Kyiv leaders for ‘humiliation and torture’ and that each of them would ‘be tracked down and inevitably and properly punished’ (TASS, 2022). According to them, this was done to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine. However, what really has been conducted is an attempt at de-jewfication, as Ukraine’s president is Jewish (his grandfather survived the holocaust; Veidlinger, 2022), and so are many people in Ukraine. For instance, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2022) states that there is an enlarged population of 140,000 Jews in Ukraine, and that the largest population centres for the Jewish community are Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odessa, all cities that were targeted early in the invasion: 

Moreover, according to Marsden (2022), ‘against the backdrop of the rising tensions, Ukraine hosted the European Jewish Association’s (EJA) antisemitism conference that centered around the commemoration of Babi Yar in which 33,701 of Kyiv’s Jews were gunned down by the Nazis, the biggest single massacre of Jews during the Holocaust’. On the 1st March 2022, Russia announced ‘high precision strikes’ (Kingsley, 2022) and went on to attack the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre in Ukraine, an action which the Jerusalem Post (2022) described as villains ‘killing Holocaust victims for the second time’. 

It was also stated in the Marsden (2022) news article that Jews in Ukraine were warned in January to evacuate as a Russian invasion was suspected. Also, just as commemorations of the Holocaust were due on the 27th January, 2022; Russia’s threat was looming all over Ukraine, and for Ukranian Jews, this became ‘a mental note to stay vigilant, plan for the worst — and prepare to move fast out of harm’s way amid growing fears of an invasion by the hundreds of thousands of Russian troops that President Vladimir Putin has amassed in recent weeks along the border’ (Liphshiz, 2022). And indeed, the Russian aggression took place, displacing many Jews, as well as many other people and children. ‘Under totalitarian rule, anti-Semitism is no longer a matter of primary hostilities on the part of the people and of truly spontaneous actions. It is an administrative measure which uses existing prejudices and, to an even higher degree, psychological dispositions’ (Adorno et al., 2019, p. XLViii).

Based on all of the above information, it can be hypothesised that there is an antisemitic element in Russia’s attack against Ukraine, including the specific targeting of Jewish infrastructure in Babi Yar. Finally, Adorno et al. (1950, p. 3) state that: ‘(1) that anti-Semitism probably is not a specific or isolated phenomenon but a part of a broader ideological framework, and (2) that an individual’s susceptibility to this ideology depends primarily upon his psychological needs’.

References

Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper [Online]. Available at https://ia801608.us.archive.org/14/items/THEAUTHORITARIANPERSONALITY.Adorno/THE%20AUTHORITARIAN%20PERSONALITY.%20-Adorno.pdf (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (2019) The Authoritarian Personality, London, Verso [Online]. Available at https://www.versobooks.com/books/3016-the-authoritarian-personality (accessed 28 February 2022).

BBC News (2022) ‘Ukraine invasion: Putin puts nuclear forces on high alert’, 27 February [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60547473 (accessed 28 February 2022).  

Blair, A. (2022) ‘Putin unleashes “hunter”kill squad and prepares to use devastating “father of all bombs” to defeat Ukrainian resistance’, The Sun, 25 February [Online]. Available at https://www.the-sun.com/news/4775964/russia-ukraine-news-chechnya-kill-zelenskyy/ (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Collins, K., Mattingly, P., Liptak, K. and Judd, D. (2022) ‘SWIFT: White House and EU nations announce expulsion of “selected Russian banks” from SWIFT’, CNN Politics, 27 February [Online]. Available at https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/26/politics/biden-ukraine-russia-swift/index.html (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Daily Sabah (2022) ‘Russia captures Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, gains air supremacy’, 28 February [Online]. Available at https://www.dailysabah.com/world/europe/russia-captures-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-plant-gains-air-supremacy (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Gollom, M. (2022) ‘Putin implies nuclear attack if West interferes in Ukraine. Why it’s not just an empty threat’, CBC News, 25 February [Online]. Available at https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/putin-ukraine-nato-nuclear-weapons-1.6362890 (accessed 18 February 2022). 

Henley, J. (2022) ‘Russian rocket strikes kill ‘dozens’ in Kharkiv as Kyiv-Moscow talks begin’, The Guardian, 28 February [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/28/russian-rocket-strikes-kill-dozens-in-kharkiv-as-ukraine-russia-talks-begin (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2022) ‘Ukraine’ [Online]. Available at https://www.jpr.org.uk/country?id=344 (accessed 1 March 2022). 

Jerusalem Post (2022) ‘Russians attack Babyn Yar Holocaust massacre site in Kyiv’, 1 March [Online]. Available at https://www.jpost.com/international/article-699034 (accessed 1 March 2022). 

Kingsley, T. (2022) ‘Russia tells Kyiv residents to leave their homes as military warns of strikes against Ukraine capital’, Independent, 1 March [Online]. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/kyiv-ukraine-war-russia-putin-b2025838.html (accessed 1 March 2022). 

Liphshiz, C. (2022) ‘Ukraine’s Jews prepare to commemorate the Holocaust as Russia’s war drums thunder’, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 24 January [Online]. Available at https://www.jta.org/2022/01/24/global/ukraines-jews-prepare-to-commemorate-the-holocaust-as-russias-war-drums-thunder (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Marsden, (2022) ‘Ukraine’s Jews warned to be ready for evacuation if Russia invades’, Jerusalem Post, 26 January [Online]. Available at https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/article-694629 (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Martin-Pavitt, R. (2022) ‘Explosion seen in Ukrainian city of Dnipro as Russia launches “full-scale invasion”’, Independent, 24 February [Online]. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/tv/news/ukraine-dnipro-russia-invasion-putin-b2022468.html (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Newman, J. (2022) ‘Who stands against – or WITH – Putin? Map shows which nations – such as North Korea and Syria – have voiced support for Ukraine invasion, those against… and those trying to avoid taking sides’, Daily Mail, 2 March [Online]. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10568563/Who-stands-against-Putin-Map-shows-nations-support-Ukraine-invasion.html (accessed 2 March 2022).

Parker, B. (2018) ‘Putin’s Chosen People: Theories of Russian Jewish Policy, 2000-2017’, The University of Pennsylvania Journal of Philosophy, Politics & Economics, vol 13:1, article 5 [Online]. Available at  https://repository.upenn.edu/spice/vol13/iss1/5/ (accessed 27 February 2022). 

Pleasance, C., Howard, H., Nicol, M. and Craven, N. (2022) ‘President Zelensky accuses Russia of WAR CRIMES over brutal shelling of Kharkiv which saw 11 civilians killed and schools destroyed as Ukraine’s ambassador to the US claims Putin dropped deadly thermobaric VACUUM BOMB during invasion’, Daily Mail, 28 February [Online]. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10561485/Huge-explosions-rock-Kyiv-hours-dozens-killed-Russian-CLUSTER-BOMBS-attack.html (accessed 1 March 2022). 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (2022) ‘Kyiv Mayor Says 31 Dead In Capital From Russian Attacks, As Two Sides Agree To Hold Talks’, 27 February [Online]. Available at https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-invasion-kharkiv-kyiv-fighting-zelenskiy/31725938.html (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Reuters (2022a) ‘Chernobyl power plant captured by Russian forces — Ukranian official’, 25 February [Online]. Available at https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/chernobyl-power-plant-captured-by-russian-forces-ukrainian-official-2022-02-24/ (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Reuters (2022b) ‘18 people killed in Ukraine’s Odessa in missile attack – regional authorities’, 24 February [Online]. Available at https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/18-people-killed-ukraines-odessa-missile-attack-regional-authorities-2022-02-24/ (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Rowlands, R. and Press Association Staff (2022) ‘Boy, 6, dies as children’s cancer hospital in Kyiv hit by heavy gunfire, doctor says’, Coventry Live, 27 February [Online]. Available at https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/uk-world-news/boy-6-dies-childrens-cancer-23231121 (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Shaw, D. (2014), Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, New York, Routledge [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Traumatic-Narcissism-Relational-Systems-of-Subjugation/Shaw/p/book/9780415510257# (accessed 16 December, 2021).

Singh, D. (2022) ‘Russia invasion of Ukraine: who is supporting Putin?’, India Today, 24 February [Online]. Available at https://www.indiatoday.in/world/russia-ukraine-war/story/russia-attack-ukraine-invasion-war-who-supports-putin-1917366-2022-02-24 (accessed 28 February 2022). 

TASS (2022) ‘Kiev regime’s leaders to be inevitably punished – Russian Defense Ministry’, 27 February [Online]. Available at https://tass.com/defense/1412703 (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Tingle, R. (2022) ‘Putin’s “thugs for hire” militia with orders to kill Zelensky: Shadowy Wagner mercenaries who have been flown in from Africa with 23-strong hit list including Ukraine’s president and the Klitschko brothers’, Daily Mail, 28 February [Online]. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10559811/Putins-militia-orders-kill-Zelensky-Blood-thirsty-mercenaries-Wagner-Group-revealed.html (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Tirone (2022) ‘Ukrainian Nuclear Waste Site Hit by Missiles During Russian Assault on Kyiv’, TIME, 28 February [Online]. Available at https://time.com/6152144/ukrainian-nuclear-waste-sites-damaged/ (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Veidlinger, J. (2022) ‘Putin’s claim to rid Ukraine of Nazis is especially absurd given its history’, The Conversation, 26 February [Online]. Available at https://theconversation.com/putins-claim-to-rid-ukraine-of-nazis-is-especially-absurd-given-its-history-177959 (accessed 28 February 2022). 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Acquired Traumatic & Traumatised Narcissism

Adults who experienced domestic abuse when they were children have more potential to suffer from long-term health impacts such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. They might also experience mental health problems which involve low levels of resilience, and higher levels of anxiety and depression, among other health complications. Those who endured severe physical violence as children at times carry their injuries into adulthood in the form of disabilities; intellectual, social, and emotional difficulties can arise, and individuals might perform poorly occupationally as a result of the abuse they’ve been through. Furthermore, their perceptions of a ‘normal’ relationship can also be affected (e.g. women who cannot differentiate between affection and a sexual advance), and the traumas can also lead to shallow object relations, where those who survived are unable to form a meaningful connection with others. Yet, the most concerning aspect of childhood domestic abuse is that in some cases these children can grow to imitate the behaviour of their perpetrators and subjugate others. This is what acquired narcissism is, a relational system where the person exposed to domestic abuse goes on to introject such patterns of behaviours and to abuse other innocent victims, displacing the trauma. This article will focus on this potential consequence of domestic abuse, and what happens when a victim becomes a perpetrator drawing from Shaw (2014).

Some narcissists are born with this predisposition (e.g. psychopaths), whilst others acquire the predisposition through trauma (e.g. sociopaths), getting absorbed in a generational and social cycle of abuse. This is how acquired narcissism works. That is, the individual is not born with it, but rather he acquires it through adverse experiences. Shaw (2014) defined traumatic narcissism as ‘the action of subjugation. In the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system, the narcissist fortifies himself by diminishing the other. The other is then conquered, controlled, or enslaved at worst—and exploited’. In other words, traumatic narcissism can be described as the narcissism that can consciously traumatise other people through behaviours. Similarly, traumatised narcissism happens when someone who has already been narcissistically abused, unconsciously behaves in ways that resemble their perpetrator. Traumatised narcissism— which is also traumatising— can be acquired in adulthood, is often temporary, and recovery depends on the individual’s ability to heal trauma; whereas traumatic narcissism as described by Shaw (2014) is acquired through childhood trauma, is often long-term and constitutes a pathology that is consistent with an individual’s personality and trajectory. Moreover, in some cases victims of narcissistic abuse go on to become traumatised narcissists. In rare cases, adults go on to become traumatic narcissists; especially when they are subjected to adverse epigenetic changes or traumatic brain injury resulting from their circumstances.

For those with acquired traumatic narcissism, narcissistic trauma is often relational or developmental, and relational trauma happens when there is a constant disruption of a child’s sense of feeling loved and safe (Monroe, 2017). There might be a form of physical or emotional neglect and abandonment, a violation of boundaries, and/or abuse. In other words, relational trauma happens when a child’s needs are not met by their caregivers, and where the child ends up feeling betrayed by their parents. All this can affect a child epigenetically, and alter their biological make-up in the long-term. For instance, Shaw (2014, pp. 7-8) states: ‘these people typically experience significant depressive symptoms, which are actually post-traumatic symptoms of cumulative developmental, or relational, trauma—symptoms that are often expressed in the form of painful lifelong longing for love that can never be requited. In development, to be recognized primarily as object—in other words, to be rigidly objectified—is to be cumulatively traumatized in one’s efforts to consolidate the sense of subjectivity’. 

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (n.d.) defines subjectivity as ‘the tendency to interpret data or make judgements in the light of personal feelings, beliefs, or experiences’. Stripping someone off their subjective can lead to problems with intersubjectivity, which Oxford Reference (n.d.) describes as ‘the mutual construction of relationships through shared subjectivity’. Indeed, those with acquired narcissism struggle to maintain stable relationships with others precisely because of their many relational traumas. According to Shaw (2014, p. xv) ‘the traumatizing narcissist seeks to abolish intersubjectivity, and to freeze a complementary dynamic in the relationship, allowing recognition in one direction only—toward himself’.

This is why narcissists are extremely talented at hiding and protecting their vulnerabilities always wary of the world around them, a world that betrayed their trust. They seek to impress others through what seems like a normal demeanour. Yet, covertly, a narcissist will display the following behaviours: 

  1. Passive aggression: they may say things that are not directly offensive but that are still hurtful. 
  2. Introversion: they might be more reclusive but still need narcissistic supply from others. 
  3. Sulky behaviours: they may act in sullen ways when they do not get their way. 
  4. Constant dissatisfaction: they chronically blame the world for their circumstances, and constantly complain. 
  5. Grandiosity: they secretly think they are superior to others, and will only associate with those they deem to be superior. 
  6. Sense of entitlement: they always want to take what they desire, often crossing boundaries. 
  7. Playing as the victim: they always say that the world is doing something to them, and do not take responsibility for the harm they cause. 
  8. Hypersensitivity to criticism: they might rage if criticised and might feel hurt at the slightest comment. 

Morever, Shaw (2014, p. 13) states that ‘the heightened sadistic tendencies of the traumatizing narcissist may be masked in some cases by charisma and seductive charm. She has successfully dissociated the need to depend on idealized others by achieving a complete super-idealization of herself. She is overt in her need for superiority and domination, successful in seducing others into dependence on her, and cruel and exploitative as she arranges to keep the other in a subjugated position’. A common misconception is to think that the narcissist’s grandiose overcompensation is somewhat rooted in high self-esteem. I would argue it is more rooted in egocentrism. The truth is that narcissists are hypersensitive to their own impression management. That is, the facade they show to the world is their vulnerability because deep down they do not love who they are. Overtly, the malignant narcissist will exhibit the following behaviours:

  1. Pathological jealousy: they may experience feelings of envy and anger at the slightest disadvantage.
  2. Psychopathic behaviours: callous, cold-blooded, and instrumental harmful actions.
  3. Persecutory delusions: excessive paranoia based on false beliefs that the world is out to get them.
  4. Cruelty: having no remorse for engaging in sadistic behaviours.
  5. Coercive control: manipulating, threatening or controlling the victim.
  6. Pathological lying: not being able to tell the truth.
  7. Distress-based responses: things that hurt his self-esteem or self-image might trigger his dangerous behaviours.
  8. Sexual promiscuity: having more than one sexual partner.
  9. Hypersensitivity to criticism: always on guard for real or imagined criticism.
  10. Aggression: an inability for self-restraint when raging.

The individual with acquired narcissism is essentially looking for the love that he or she did not receive in childhood. According to Shaw (2014, p. 10) ‘patients described as pathologically narcissistic are often those whose self-esteem is terribly fragile; who easily feel insulted, attacked, and humiliated […] someone who in development has suffered severe damage to their self-esteem system, and whose self-esteem regulation is therefore inconsistent and precarious, subject to the internal persecution of the split-off protector self’. Furthermore, according to Mahendran (2015, p. 179) there are five main cognitive biases used by narcissists in order to maintain their self-esteem: (1) misremembering, which is a particular way in which people tend to remember past events in ways that are self-serving; (2) self-serving attribution, which consists in attributing blame to external events for failures, and attributing credit to the self for successes; (3) false consensus effect, which consists in assuming that other people will make the same choices one does, and behave in similar ways to one; (4) sour grapes effect, which consists in devaluing unattainable goals and rewards; and (5) unrealistic optimism which consists in attributing a positive expectation or outcome to something, even if the evidence and standards contradict it. 

In conclusion, acquired narcissism can be severely detrimental and is often a result of domestic abuse. Acquired narcissism can be conscious or unconscious, temporary (traumatised narcissism) or long-term (traumatic narcissism), and has many biases reinforcing an unstable sense of image.

References

American Psychological Association (n.d.) ‘Subjectivity’, APA Dictionary of Psychology [Online]. Available at https://dictionary.apa.org/subjectivity (accessed 17 December 2021). 

Mahendran, K. (2015) ‘Self-esteem’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University. 

Monroe, H. S. (2017) ‘How Relational Trauma Affects Teen Mental Health, Relationships, and Self-Esteem’, Newport Academy, 1 September [Online]. Available at https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/relational-trauma/ (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Oxford Reference (n.d.) ‘Intersubjectivity’ [Online]. Available at https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100008603 (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Shaw, D. (2014), Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, New York, Routledge [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Traumatic-Narcissism-Relational-Systems-of-Subjugation/Shaw/p/book/9780415510257# (accessed 16 December, 2021). 

Categories
Journalism Videos

Introducing the Youtube series: All racists are narcissists

Hello everyone!

Lately I have been focusing my time towards doing some research and I will be publishing the findings on my Youtube channel. In these series of episodes I will be describing the key terminology related to matter, and then I will touch on psychological theory, and neuropsychological research about racism and narcissism. So if you are interested in understanding the psychology of these phenomena, please tune in!

And thank you for subscribing.

Betshy P. Sanchez Marrugo
Categories
Opinion Science

Forensic profiling: What Are The Subtypes of Psychopathy?

Psychopathy is a much debated topic in psychology. A lot of people are wondering nowadays what the difference is between a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sociopath. Because these terms tend to overlap with each other in meaning, there are models created in forensic psychology to illustrate the varied manifestations of this condition, which is often diagnosed in psychiatry as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). This essay will focus on the word “psychopath” as a concept and will try to explain how those with psychopathic behaviours can be detected. After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Understand what the existing subtypes of psychopathy are.
  • Understand the difference between primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy (sociopathy).
  • Understand the current debate in forensic psychology about the topic.
  • Spot the narcissistic side of psychopaths.

Because this is such a complex topic which is beyond the scope of one single post, I will in the future expand on these maladaptations which are permeating the status quo. For instance, the local newspaper has been increasingly reporting fairly recent fire incidents in Plymouth which are suspected arson incidents (Preston-Ellis, 2020). As a student of forensic psychology, I think this is truly a worrisome situation, as arson has been for a long time a hallmark of psychopathy; and to see that such symptoms are becoming an epidemic poses numerous serious questions about public health.

Gillespie and Mitchell (2018, p. 85) describe psychopaths as “outwardly normal, but nonetheless extremely callous and unable to express remorse or guilt, to the point where they seemed to be devoid of human emotion”. Moreover, they have contributed to the contentious debate of whether psychopaths are capable of feeling anxiety at all. The first subtypes of antisocial personality disorder that emerged were primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy. Secondary psychopathy is less prototypical, and its manifestations can be confused with other personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Primary psychopaths are unable to feel fear or anxiety (Gillespie and Mitchell, 2018), and their brains have serious neurodevelopmental deficits; whereas secondary psychopaths are perceived as being capable of having social anxiety traits and depression. There is much neuropsychological research about primary psychopathy emphasising the role of the brain in such lack of ability to experience the primary emotions that all animals with a limbic system can experience. For instance, Durães and Borralho (2017, p. S681) stated:

“Defects in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex have been implicated in the pathological basis of psychopathy. The most affected areas are the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) and the associated anterior cingulated cortex. Alterations in connectivity between the amygdala and the VMPC with other areas of the brain have been demonstrated and seem to be responsible for the non-empathetic, unemotional, and amoral features of psychopaths”

According to Duggan and Howard (2015), there are four types of psychopaths. This has been illustrated in a model containing all subtypal characteristics. Even though this model covers a wide range of traits, it is still a contentious topic, and the psychopathy debate requires clearer and more consistent transnosological definitions in order to elucidate the construct for the layperson. Not all mental health professionals think similarly, and whether psychopaths can be socially anxious and vulnerable continues to fuel the cycle of enquiry.

Types of Psychopaths
Psychopathy subtypes

Zooming into the above information and adopting an interpersonal context for analysis, here are a few signs that could alert you of the possibility of knowing a psychopath in your life. Some of these traits might already be familiar to you, especially if you read online psychology magazines such as Psychology Today (n.d) which often cover these types of topics. Because ALL psychopaths are narcissistic, we will focus on this consistent trait across models to interpret their behaviours:  

  • This person will mistake your kindness for weakness. He or she will think that you are kind because they tricked you into being nice. A false belief that leads them to react explosively once you say “no” to a whim. This is a narcissistic injury for the malignant person. 
  • The malicious person will also deliberately prey on those they perceive to have greater advantage over, especially if they are also severely addicted to a substance. The addictive personality will manifest in the most dysfunctional, and antisocial way when intoxicated. 
  • Secondary psychopaths have the capacity to feel anxiety and fear, unlike the primary psychopath  (see Ted Bundy for the iconic primary prototype). They are essentially what people call “sociopaths”, and they can experience states of narcissistic melancholia when they go through inconvenient circumstances, or when things do not go their way. They tend to have a weak superego, and are unable to understand how their anger management problems were formed, interpreting these types of behaviours as normal.

Relevant Questions & Answers

Do all psychopaths commit crimes?

No, the reality is that there are many psychopaths who choose careers where they can develop their moral side. These psychopaths do not become dysfunctional, especially if they were raised in a relatively healthy environment. It is dysfunctional psychopaths that often make it to the criminal justice system, and who specialise in criminal careers. Controlled psychopaths, however, can succeed and thrive.

Why do they treat people like that?

These extreme personalities depend on all types of self-justifications, and their grandiose narcissistic side is actively concerned with trying to deceive the other person because they cannot use reason to assess their irrational behaviour, and cannot pinpoint their own inconsistencies. Especially in the case of the grandiose secondary psychopath, as this person tends to consider themselves “good”, “educated”, and “evolved”; but because they cannot tap into the social constructionism of these terms, and because they think that everyone else is stupid, they are less willing to receive knowledge and information that challenges whatever they have determined themselves to believe, regardless of the evidence (e.g. doing class A drugs because this person is “immune”, when as a matter of fact they are not immune, and they simply have not done their research about substance tolerance). They are extremely sensitive to any situation which reveals their mental problems (because this person does not even know that their issues are obviously wrong), and they don’t like changing because they think they are superior, and fine as they are. 

What is a good person in their opinion?

For the malignant personality, a good person is anyone who does not offend, insult, or accidentally outsmart…  them. As long as you are soothing their narcissistic needs, you are lovely. You must always do the right thing, and the right thing to do for the malicious person is to please their demands. Not meeting such expectations can trigger the worst in them.

Do they change?

Rarely. As a matter of fact, that’s how you can recognise the malignant personality. They hate to have to change, and expect the world to adjust to them instead. They think they deserve all the entitlement they get, and are often willing to use coercion rather than hard work for many purposes. Truth is too painful for the narcissist, so they prefer to think everyone else is abnormal, even though that’s not how truth and democracy works mathematically, so they avoid changing and often severely damage those who try to help. 

How about their childhood… Should I care?

Whilst it is true that dark personalities are created in truly traumatic childhoods, some do even become worse than their parents. Secondary psychopaths are at times constantly re-living their childhoods, and can show signs of regressive behaviour, suggesting that there might be a relationship between specific childhood fixations and reaction formation being displaced towards those who are more vulnerable than them, just like their childhood felt. 

How can these individuals function socially?

It would require daily socialisation and intensive community support. In most cases, it is a personality disorder, not a mental disorder. This means that progress for the sociopath would entail first developing environmental and social skills. These individuals can be highly inconsistent (on one side they might claim to love Earth, but on the other side they might litter their own homes, not recycle,  and live in truly filthy and abnormal conditions). Furthermore, if a psychopath becomes dysfunctional and notorious, then this might be a result of their childhood experiences, their circumstances, or their mental health. As stated above, there are many psychopaths who lead normal, functional, and even moral lives. They are able to learn how normality works, and are intelligent enough to know that breaking the law is a subtle prediction for bad consequences. The dysfunctional psychopaths are a minority.

What’s the UK GOV doing to provide forensic rehabilitation for psychopaths?

When malignant personalities go as far as causing criminal harm, the court might order them to attend psychotherapy. Apart from that, not much is done to protect these people (and their victims) from making decisions that are harmful to themselves or others. Truth is that it is often when something goes terribly wrong that these personalities come to the attention of the authorities. Until then, there is rarely any concern, as the GOV tends to prioritise public safety over individual wellbeing and crisis prevention; as well as security over treatment. So this is a really unfortunate situation in the UK.

Disclaimer: Please note that there are many other conditions which may cause a person to behave in ways that are antisocial, such as psychosis. If you or someone you know is acting in an abnormal way, and have been diagnosed with a mental disorder; it is most likely that they are having a crisis, and need professional intervention. Call 999 if anyone is at risk of hurting themselves or others. 

References

Duggan, C. and Howard, R. (2015) ‘Personality Disorders: Assessment and Treatment’, in Chrighton, D.A. and Towl, G.J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 265-288.

Durães and Borralho (2017) ‘Can psychopathy be treated?’, European Psychiatry,  Elsevier,  pp. S681–S681 [Online]. Available at https://pmt-eu.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/gvehrt/TN_sciversesciencedirect_elsevierS0924-9338(17)31194-X  (Accessed 18 May 2019).

Gillespie, S. M. and Mitchell, I.J. (2018) ‘Psychopathy’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 85-100. 

Preston-Ellis, R. (2020) ‘Plymouth rocked by two weeks of devastating fires- a timeline’, Plymouth Herald, 6 February [Online]. Available at  https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/plymouth-rocked-two-weeks-devastating-3814187 (Accessed 10 February 2020).

Psychology Today (n.d) [Online]. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb (Accessed 10 February 2020).