The mind of a psychopath

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S33882, Adolf Hitler retouchedQuite a number of psychopaths have made a name for themselves. Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin. Ted Bundy is another, more recent, example, as is Hannibal Lecter, featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. What about Jeronimus Cornelisz, erstwhile under merchant on the merchantship Batavia, who for a few short months in 1629,  strode his tiny island like a colossus, or a God, dealing out death and destruction on a whim. What makes a person a psychopath? How do you pick them from the rest of humanity?

In my novel To Die a Dry Death, I had to try to get into Jeronimus Cornelsiz’s head and understand – or at least explain – his behaviour. So – to try to understand.

To quote from a handout produced by Oregon Counseling;

The psychopath is one of the most fascinating and distressing problems of human experience.  For the most part, a psychopath never remains attached to anyone or anything. They live a “predatory” lifestyle. They feel little or no regret, and little or no remorse – except when they are caught. They need relationships, but see people as obstacles to overcome and be eliminated.   If not,  they see people in terms of how they can be used. They use people for stimulation, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (money, property, etc..).

A psychopath can have high verbal intelligence, but they typically lack “emotional intelligence”. They can be expert in manipulating others by playing to their emotions. There is a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories (i.e., how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may have felt and why). The lack of emotional intelligence is the first good sign you may be dealing with a psychopath.  A history of criminal behavior in which they do not seem to learn from their experience, but merely think about ways to not get caught is the second best sign.

The following is a list of items based on the research of Robert Hare, Ph.D. which is derived from the “The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, .1991, Toronto: Multi-Health  Systems.” These are the most highly researched and recognized characteristics of psychopathic personality and behavior.

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • need for stimulation/prone to boredom
  • conning/manipulative
  • shallow emotional response
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • lack of realistic long term goals
  • irresponsibility
  • many short term relationships
  • revocation of conditional release
  • grandiose sense of self worth
  • pathological lying
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • callous/lack of empathy
  • poor behavioral controls
  • early behavioral problems
  • impulsivity
  • failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
  • juvenile delinquency
  • criminal versatility

Michael G. Conner, Psy.D Has this to say.

A psychopath is usually a subtle manipulator. They do this by playing to the emotions of others. They typically have high verbal intelligence, but they lack what is commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence”. There is always a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories. In particular they have difficulty describing how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may feel and why. In many cases you almost have to explain it to them. Close friends and parents will often end up explaining to the psychopath how they feel and how others feel who have been hurt by him or her.

They can do this over and over with no significant change in the person’s choices and behavior. They don’t understand or appreciate the impact that their behavior has on others. They do appreciate what it means when they are caught breaking rules or the law even though they seem to end up in trouble again. They desperately avoid incarceration and loss of freedom but continue to act as if they can get away with breaking the rules. They don’t learn from these consequences. They seem to react with feelings and regret when they are caught. But their regret is not so much for other people as it is for the consequences that their behavior has had on them, their freedom, their resources and their so called “friends.”

They can be very sad for their self. A psychopath is always in it for their self even when it seems like they are caring for and helping others. The definition of their “friends” are people who support the psychopath and protect them from the consequence of their own antisocial behavior. Shallow friendships, low emotional intelligence, using people, antisocial attitudes and  failure to learn from the repeated consequences of their choices and actions help identify the psychopath.

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Armed with a description like this, it wasn’t so hard to get into Cornelisz’s head. In some ways it was more difficult to sort out Lucretia, who had to deal with this man at a very intimate level, always conscious that the slightest mistake may have cost her her life.

It still stops me in my tracks to think that this one man was effectively responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people. Put that into perspective. There were about one hundred and eighty people on Batavia’s Graveyard when Pelsaert and Jacobsz  headed for Java. Cornelisz’s thugs killed over half of them. Yet Cornelisz never accepted responsibility, never showed any remorse, always kept coming back to the fact that he himself never killed anybody.

But you know what? The most frightening thing of all was how easy it was for him to recruit people more than willing to carry out his orders.

Ah, the frailty of the human psyche.

6 thoughts on “The mind of a psychopath

  1. Toby Neal (@tobywneal)

    Very good summary.
    I have featured several of these in my books, both male and female. In a twist, in my newest book, I explore the issue more deeply and leave the reader wondering about the nature and origin of psychopathy. (UNSOUND)
    These aberrant individuals are the wolves among us…and often they wear sheeps’ clothing.In working with them in therapy, a totally different approach is needed, one emphasizing cost benefit analysis for social norm compliance.
    *sigh*

  2. nancyrae4

    The scary thing about psychopaths is their normal appearance. In spite of their low emotional intelligence and other symptoms they, like a devil, assume a pleasing shape. Ted Bundy was such a man. His clean cut face cost a lot of innocent young women their lives….

  3. juliabarrett

    Psychopaths scare the shit or shite out of me. And that’s all I have to say about that. Scary to get into the mind of a psychopath, isn’t it.

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