The “good” psychopath
What do you think of when you hear the word “psychopath?” A cold-blooded killer who could befriend you one moment and slit your throat the next? What if there were more to this? Are there different “degrees” of psychopaths that range from the previous example to the CEO in your company, the successful stockbroker, entrepreneur or special operations units in the military? Is there such a thing as a “good” psychopath? Numerous studies say there is! And you probably know some! Contrary to popular belief, not all psychopaths are bad. Some are actually good! The key difference, of course, is empathy and the ability to dial up and down your emotions when required – things Navy SEALs and other “spec-op” units do on a regular basis. Psychologists use the term to refer to a much broader group of individuals who have a distinct cluster of personality traits.
What’s so special about SEALS? Hmmm, let’s see: Go without food or sleep for days. Jump out of a plane at 35,000 feet. Lock out of a submerged submarine. Trade gunfire with bad guys in the mountains of Afghanistan while outnumbered. This is not what SEALs call a nightmare. It’s what they call a typical weekday. Elite military units screen for the hardest and toughest individuals they can find. And they put them through punishing training. But the instructors are also looking for some unique characteristics, such as a “fire-in-the-gut” mentality, a never-give-up mindset and the ability to compartmentalize pain and discomfort. SEALs also learn to use breathing to control their emotions. They call it arousal control and here’s why. You’re not trying to eliminate your emotions; you just want to put a leash on them. Now let’s look at some of the key characteristics of a good psychopath.
It’s how you combine things
Good psychopaths will display some reduced empathy for others and lack of conscience, but also include ruthlessness, fearlessness, impulsivity, self-confidence, focus and coolness under pressure. Try to think of these as a dial on a recording studio mixing desk. None of these is necessarily bad by itself. It’s how you combine them and dial them up or down that matters. Bad psychopaths can’t combine these traits well. Their dials seem to be set at dangerously high levels and pretty much either stuck there.
Varying degrees of empathy
“Good psychopaths add varying degrees of empathy to these traits and are able to adjust the settings according to different social contexts. The same traits can actually be very constructive and there are various jobs and professions which, by their very nature, demand that some of these mixing-desk dials are cranked up a little higher than normal. For example, there’s no point having the visionary thinking and instinctive feel for the market necessary to be a top businessman if you lack the ruthlessness to fire people who aren’t pulling their weight, or the nerve to take a calculated risk when appropriate,” according to SAS veteran Andy McNab.
Everyone has some of these traits
In reality, we all have some of these traits to varying degrees. That’s right, he believes there’s a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. In other words, he believes that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, stating that psychopaths tend to be “fearless, confident, charming, ruthless and focused―qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century.” Dutton says that “functional psychopaths” (not their murderous counterparts) use their “detached, unflinching and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society.”
Take the test
And we all know people who we might classify as good psychopaths. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, “The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success,” by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNabb, is a great place to start (http://www.thegoodpsychopath.com/). Each chapter has a short quiz at the end. Keep track of your results to see where you score on the good psychopath spectrum and enter them in the survey at www.thegoodpsychopath.com. Much to my surprise (but not according to my wife and sons), I scored extremely high (98 of 100)! Could it be that I have many of the core traits of a psychopath but thanks to my upbringing, didn’t become a violent criminal? Who knows? I might be a good psychopath! No way, not me or…..?