As we continue to look at, investigate, try to understand and prevent tragedies like the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I thought it would be a good ideal to look at the three categories of people the usually commit mass murder:
- Those who are delusionally insane
- Those who are deeply and suicidally depressed
In rare occasions there are combinations of the three or substance users or in extremely rare cases, brain tumors that cause mental and behavioral changes such as in the case of Charles Whitman.
When it comes to psychopaths however, they are the easiest to explain, and yet often go the most unnoticed.
Psychopathy is a type of personality disorder.
Many people think that they can identify a psychopath by the way they look and act, but that is not usually the case. Most psychopaths are very charming and very good at hiding their psychopathic tendencies until pushed or cornered.
Psychopaths seem to be born with an inability to empathize or feel sorry for other people. They have a complete disregard for other peoples feelings and suffering and can commit horrible crimes, or tell painful lies without so much as batting an eye.
Most psychopaths don’t know that doing something is wrong because they seem to lack the gene that makes us feel bad, or guilty, when we do something wrong such as lying or hitting someone for no reason.
They often have to be taught and reminded over and over again that something is bad or wrong, and then they have to remind themselves that it is bad or wrong, because they can do it and not feel bad about it at all.
They just don’t seem to be able to feel or care about other people or living things and may go on to torture animals in childhood if they are the sadistic type of psychopath and enjoys seeing/thinking of torturing other living things.
Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters seemed to fall into the category of a psychopath (also called sociopath). He once wrote that humans were as disposable as fungus in a petri dish.
His journal was littered with remarks about how much he hated people and wanted to kill everyone (I have a letter from a teenager I suspect may be a psychopath or budding one I will share later).
However, most psychopaths hide their hate or careless disregard for others and are usually witty, endearing and charming.
Psychopaths with high IQs often become criminal master minds, politicians, successful business people, etc. while ones with poor intellect and education tend to end up in jail more.
Levi King is a psychopath who went on a killing spree in 2005 that ended with him killing five people in two different states including three people in one family and the family dog (he thought he had killed the whole family, but one little girl managed to survive by playing dead). He reported killing these people because it relieved tension he had been feeling and gave him a sense of peace for the first time in his life.
As a child, Levi King once set his sister’s bedroom on fire because he was mad at her. As a teenager he even shot his cat to the point that it was literally blown to pieces. He also had broken into a home and sat it on fire just because he could.
As a child, he had all the signs and symptoms of a budding psychopath.
At the age of 15 he dropped out of school, started having run ins with the law and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 20. He was 23 when he committed the murders and expresses no remorse whatsoever. He is currently serving a life sentence.
Like all psychopaths, Levi King is unable to relate or feel for other people, although he is intelligent and charming enough to hide that flaw just like Ted Bundy was so successful at doing.
General Characteristics of a Psychopath
- self-center and self-important. Almost anything they do for anyone is only because they see a benefit for themselves it.
- need stimulation and are easily bored.
- deceptive behavior and lying
- conning and manipulative
- little remorse or guilt
- shallow emotional response
- callous with a lack of empathy
- living off others/ predatory attitude
- poor self-control
- promiscuous sexual behavior
- early behavioral problems
- lack of realistic long term goals
- blaming other for their actions
- short term relationships
- juvenile delinquency
- short term relationships
- breaking parole or probation rules
- varied criminal activity
Signs Your Child May Be A Psychopath
- Setting fires
- Severe cruelty to animals such as killing and torturing them
- Persistently hurts, bullies or violates the rights of others by stealing or vandalizing their property.
- Continuously breaks major rules such as running away or breaking curfew despite knowing the consequences.
- Shows no guilt when confronted for doing wrong (i.e., pushing another student down the stairs).
- Shows a persistent callous disregard for other people’s feelings, not just siblings (i.e., pushing another student down and being unmoved by their crying or distress).
- Persistently doesn’t care about how well they do in school, even when they know there are clear expectations and they are capable of doing better.
- They appear cold and unmoved, only showing emotions to intimidate or manipulate others.
- Blame others for their mistakes instead of taking responsibility.
- Fearless, doing new and reckless/dangerous activities.
- They are unmoved by threats of punishment.
- They are highly motivated by reward and what they will get out of doing something, even if that act will hurt others (i.e., stealing, lying)
A combination of many of these signs alone are not enough to be worried about, but if there are enough signs and you are alarmed by your child’s behavior, I would recommend having them seen by a mental health professional as they could be signs of something else, such as childhood trauma and PTSD.
As always, if you believe your child has behavioral problems, have them evaluated by a qualified professional instead of attempting to self-diagnose them which can have damaging effects on your child.
*EDIT: Just yesterday (9/25/13) I interviewed a 7th grader who has been making his own explosives, threatening to blow up himself and/or other people, blowing up random things, tortuing his mother’s cat, kicking and hitting other students and teachers at his school so much that he has gotten kicked out of school several times and his family is currently looking for a new place to stay because they got kicked out of their apartment complex for his behavior and the fact that he has killed several ducks around the lake at the apartment complex. His mother brought him in because she was scared of him and he had recently attacked his 4 year old sister for taking too long in the bathroom. When I asked him if he had any remorse for attacking his sister, hitting other people, having his family kicked out of their complex or killing the ducks, he flatly answered “no”. Nothing seemed to affect him, even the threat of hospitalization and jail. Without intense therapy at the least, I see this kid growing up to be not only a menace to society, but potentially a psychopath. He stated clearly that he doesn’t care about other people or their feelings and he has exhibited that on several occassions.
Below is a short documentary done in 1992 about Beth Thomas, a child who suffered from sexual abuse and reactive attachment disorder (I’ll write about that in another post soon) and seems to show early signs of psychopathology.
Psychopaths are all around us in one form of another. Read: The Psychopath Next Door by Martha Stout and Dr. Hare’s book, “Without Conscience” for more detailed information about psychopaths.