A Halloween Special: Real-Life Monsters

Facts About Psychopaths

Psychopaths (from the Greek root psyche and pathos meaning “sick mind” or “suffering soul”) have always been with us, among us and, some might argue, in us. But what if they are of our own making? What if we are the parent of a psychopath–think, Leopold and Loeb (and the senseless murder of Bobby Franks), or Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold’s partner in the Columbine massacre? The uneasy truth is that it is possible we may not know our own children, that our children may be unknowable to us, may not want to be known, and sadly — may be the stranger we fear.

Even scarier is that many so-called psychopaths in fact display no signs or symptoms in early childhood— think Ted Bundy, who hid, as he did in adulthood, behind a “well-cultivated mask of normalcy.”

Truth: 1 in 100 people are psychopaths who blend into Life like cold-blooded chameleons. A good 15-20 percent of the prison population, at least 70 percent of repeat violent offenders and the significant majority of serial killers and sex offenders are psychopaths. But we already suspected this. Did you know that though they rarely seek out treatment they are also 3 times as likely to be released or paroled faster than their non-psychopathic counterparts?

The prospect of a child psychopath is almost unbearable and the parent’s loss, catastrophic. Dylan Klebold’s mother writes in her book, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,” that her grief came in waves as she mourned the loss of her dead son, the dead children he murdered, and the pain of knowing she never really knew him. When asked what she would say to her son now, she wrote, “I would ask him to forgive me for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head.”

The brains of psychopaths are atypical; hallmark traits and behaviors that make them chillingly unique include (from the Youth Version of the Psychopathy Checklist):

  • Glibness
  • Superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Stimulation Seeking
  • Lack of remorse
  • Emotional shallowness
  • Poor Anger Control
  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • Unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions
  • A tendency to boredom
  • A parasitic lifestyle
  • A lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Behavioral problems in early life
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Lack goals
  • Unstable Interpersonal Relationships
  • Criminal Versatility

But frighteningly, children with these traits also display a “perfect mask of genuine sanity, a flawless surface.” And so, we may never know until it’s too late who our children really are.

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