This post has persistently been the most popular thing I have written. Accordingly, I have put it in the more prominent spot in the top menu.
A question posed on Quora got me thinking. “Why would people pretend to be a psychopath?” The question was answered by one of the most respected people on Quora on the subject of psychopathy, Athena Walker. Her own credentials as a psychopath are impeccable and her answers usually very intelligent. She deservedly gets many “upvotes.” I agree with most of what she says but not everything. For example, she denies that psychopaths are grandiose or narcissistic. I know I am those things and I think most of us are.
I have included below Athena’s answer as well as my own response (and the responses of others). While writing my response, I realized this is a big enough issue to warrant full treatment in a blog post so here it is. First, the Quora exerpt:
From Your Quora Digest ·
The question of self-identity is always a sensitive one. As I said above, many self-identified psychopaths have never been psychiatrically diagnosed. Many don’t want to be. A label can impact one’s future prospects in our society. Yet it is clear to me that some of them are “real.” I don’t need a shrink to tell me. I think we “know” each other just like gays have gaydar enabling them to recognize others of their own kind. Speaking for myself, I have the ASPD diagnosis. I don’t really consider ASPD identical to psychopathy. This has been a much debated point by the top experts in the field.
People don’t even have consensus about the meaning of commonly used words. The difference between “psychopath” and “sociopath,” for example. Most use the former to mean an inborn condition of the nervous system and the latter to be acquired by environment. Some consider psychopaths more cool and self-contained and sociopaths more impulsive and out of control. Others say the reverse. Without a consensus, it’s deuces wild. Under the circumstances, calling anyone a “fake” strikes me as presumptuous. Having been properly diagnosed by a professional doesn’t even end the discussion. For example, even Athena Walker, who is diagnosed, has been questioned:
Everything she writes strikes me as exaggerated and untrue. I doubt a real psychopath would care enough to answer questions in depth.
That’s the dumbest reason to call someone a fake. Answering questions in depth can be fun. What do you do for fun? Call people fake?
Athena is right about the public image of a psychopath being larger than life. Either we are the epitome of evil or we are brilliant and all-powerful. Perhaps both. Perhaps our grandiosity and the public’s inflated view is what accounts for the presence both of wannabes and the tendency to be skeptical of any claims of psychopaths. Maybe we were better off when we were in the closet. But then it would left to Hollywood and the psychiatric profession to define us. And I’m sick of that.