When Bad is Good: “Psychopathic” Traits in All of Us

Image: A portrait of an older man with white short hair, glasses and a black suit. The quote says, “If I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange.” – Dr. Robert Hare

I am reading a book called “The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success” by Kevin Dutton. This may sound strange to some, that individuals with psychopathy might have something to offer us but many researchers are finding that there are substantial advantages to having some of these traits. Of course, we’re not talking about these traits as a whole because the combination can lead to some individuals acting in very violent ways. Others have just the right balance that they end up running large, successful companies, occupy high ranks within the military and acting as protectors in the FBI and related agencies.

I’m thinking about these “psychopathic” traits in a very simple form when I write this post. I’m thinking of all the times that I cared more about myself than others and when I made logical decisions rather than emotional ones. Having some of these traits, under no circumstances, means that I or you are psychopaths. It just means we should not condemn everything about these people because many of their behaviours are what have got humankind to where we are right now.

It has always bothered me that society seems to require us to always be empathetic. Many of us have probably experienced this requirement when we are told that self-care is selfish, when we need to stop thinking badly of people who have died and when we’re supposed to go above and beyond to keep our interpersonal relationships together.

It has been to my advantage to stop caring about the feelings of someone I am in a relationship with, to completely shut off the emotion and look at the benefits to my life and only my life. Some people have been bothered at my ability to cut people out of my life when they no longer benefit my life and maybe I do go about it in a harsh way but it’s the way that causes me the least amount of pain. It has been difficult but necessary when I have had to think logical about a client’s mental capacity and safety when discussing next steps in their treatment. The tough decisions do not always have the most desirable outcomes in terms of emotions and they need to make logical sense when it comes to cost and benefit.

The above image describes what I am trying to say very well. A doctor needs to be charming, ruthless, focused, fearless and be empathetic. In order to be an effective doctor, the right levels of each are needed. When you work with people you need to be charming (people need to like you). Working in medicine will mean that you have to push for procedures that come with high risk, you need to stay on track when you are performing surgeries and you need to just do things that you think are best based off of your education and experience (ruthless, focused and fearless). Finally, doctors do need to be empathetic as working people requires you to be and you also need to be able to push feelings aside, make tough decision, share sad news and cope appropriately with death. That is why each character trait knob is set at different levels. This is not a bad person. This is a person that is fit for their job.

Again, I am thinking in the most basic sense of what we know as “psychopathic” traits. We all have a little bit and should all have a little bit as many of these traits can keep us moving forward, allow us to make smart decisions and keep us safe.

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13 thoughts on “When Bad is Good: “Psychopathic” Traits in All of Us

  1. Interesting take on being a psychopath. I think we can learn something from everyone and everything. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the benefits though. Good post.

    • A man (diagnosed psychopath) the author spoke to in the book had a great analogy the I think better explains what I was trying to get at. He said something along the lines of being a psychopath is like having a really nice car that is just too fast for the road. They have these awesome qualities that we want people to have, especially in certain professionals, but when turned on high they have horrible consequences. It’s finding the balance, adjust and turn some of these qualities off and on that is most important.

  2. I think I actually get what you are trying to convey. If we don’t look after our own health and it is not our number one priority, we are not going to be of much help to anyone. I think it is important we cut ties with toxic people who bring us down.

    • I think it says something about our society when not caring about something or someone other than yourself, even for the briefest moment, is seen as bad. It’s exhausting to always to be caring and can even be counterproductive. Developing the ability to turn off the empathy or dial it down is crucial. This is how we will learn to say no without guilt, look at a problem more logically to get the best outcome and put our needs first because in the end, we are the only ones that who have to live with ourselves!

    • Oh yes! I get that all the time! I’m on chapter 7 of the book and it hasn’t mentioned psychopathic women at all. One sentence mentions the rise in female crime as a potential sign that society is becoming more psychopathic but that’s it. These traits are apparently found more in men and then we act all shocked when a woman does something we would think only men would do (I’m thinking of female serial killers here or even on a more basic level, women who don’t want to have children…so many men leave their children…women can do the same).

      • For instance, if a woman rapes men and molests children, she gets slut-shamed and is thought of deserving execution because of her gender. Men of course, can easily rape women in return when women begin raping them due to their physical size and strength and if women whistle and holler at men in public, same thing.

        But anyway, there are men’s rights activists blaming female crime on feminism. Women who leave their children and don’t want to have children are shamed and even abused by their spouses in which they are forced to have children. It’s common that bad girls are treated with hostility and abuse by the opposite gender while good girls are treated with benevolence, kindness, and respect instead.

      • Women are expected by society to be empathetic and make others feel comfortable and at ease, especially men due to the fact that society is still patriarchal, or masculinist.

  3. Empathy is a hard one for me, I have trouble feeling it. I don’t want bad things to happen to anyone, but its hard for me to feel empathy when something doesn’t directly affect me.

    • I think that is common. I know many who feel the same. People with the psychopath label tend to never to feel empathy from what I am reading. Many do not see a point. When something does directly affect you though do you find the empathy gets turned on high?

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