What we can learn from psychopaths about success
Okay, so maybe I wasn’t formally diagnosed as a psychopath by a highly trained psychiatrist but after reading Kevin Dutton’s book, Wisdom of Psychopaths, I couldn’t help but be curious about my own psychopathy. So… I decided to take the psychopath test!
The Levenson Self-Report Psychopath Scale test or LSPR was developed in 1995 used to measure psychopathy in individuals for psychological research. Why do I want to know my psychopathic tendencies you might be asking? Well… it’s for the same reason we all love murder mysteries, horror films, and have a fascination with serial killers. It’s no coincidence that right now of the top 20 most popular podcast, 12 are about murder, true crime, serial killers, and psychopaths in general.
The LSPR measures psychopathy, (a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy for others). It measures on two scales: primary psychopathy (psychopathic emotional affected) and secondary psychopathy (psychopathic lifestyle.) In short, the higher you score on both scales, the more psychopathic you are! Turns out, I scored in the 90th percentile in primary (93.27%). This means I have very low empathy for others. On the secondary I scored 58.86% meaning I live a more psychopathic lifestyle like preferring to be alone and focusing on work rather than social time.
Let me assure you, I only scored high on the test and have no psychopathic tendencies to become criminal! I use my powers for good rather than evil by being what experts in the field call the high functioning psychopath as opposed to the criminally insane psychopath.
I found it very interesting that there are clinical psychopaths among us everywhere. Rather than killing people, they are killing it financially and professionally in their careers. For example, one London stock broker is famous for being incredibly successful. He’s able to predict winning stock picks and has made many people very rich including himself. But he has also lost over a billion dollars at one time. He looks at that very dark day and thinks, “Hum… that was a bad day, I’ll do better tomorrow” and he moves forward from the setback like it never happened. Completely void of emotion and stoic in his pursuits, he sleeps very well no matter his results.
While other brokers are committing suicide after losing billions of dollar of other people’s money, this guy in London feels virtually nothing toward the situation. You have good days and you have bad days, – a day is just a day. What you are really after is the repetitive consistency. If you quit or kill yourself over it, you lose the game right away is his thinking. This London stock broker says you can really see what brokers are made of not at the beginning of the day but at the end of the day. If they look stressed or if they look excited you know that showing these emotions is eventually the nail in their coffin, maybe literally. But if you continually see a broker at the end of a day of trading and he shows no emotion what so ever, good or bad days, you know he’s a winner.
What are the personality traits of a true psychopath whether high functioning or criminally insane? First the LSPR rates a person on the antisocial and low empathy characteristics such as ruthlessness, mental toughness, charisma, focus, persuasiveness, and coolness under pressure. If you score high as I did in these areas, your personality aligns clinically with the criminally insane. Think about it, a serial killer is ruthless, mentally tough, has lots of charisma, singularly focused, very persuasive, and never panics under pressure. Guess what? So does a brain surgeon, a stock broker, a criminal defense attorney, and apparently your favorite fence contractor!
In our modern world today, emotional intelligence, empathy, and strong social skills will get you a long way in your success journey. But not everyone is built that way and I think it’s important to delineate that having low empathy and antisocial skills is still very significant. After all, a successfully functioning society needs people to do the dirty work of life. We need people who are willing to risk greatly, make tough decisions, ask uncomfortable questions, put their futures on the line, and to be somewhat unscrupulous in get what they want. Even Kobe Bryant used to listen to the Halloween movie theme song in his head phones just before a game while envisioning Michael Myers emotionless face.
Not everything needs to be kind and empathetic. Sometimes you need those people that function on the channels of the cold, emotionless, and ruthless side of life who work better in the detached and unflinching.
A brain surgeon from Vancouver explains that his psychopathy and low level empathy is like being in an intoxicating state of mind. Rather than the kind of intoxication that dulls the senses, the psychopathy intoxication actually sharpens your senses. You are basically on a high that makes you incredibly focused and gives you a hyper sense of your will to succeed.
While preparing for a surgery, the surgeon admits he’s nervous. “You are about to work on someone’s brain. You have this person’s life literally in your hands. You have their family’s prayers and hopes in your hands, and you have everyone’s trust in your hands, including the hospitals trust and the future of your career. You better be on top of your game” he says. That’s a lot of stress and an immense amount of pressure. The Doctor continues, “You have to remove all the emotion from it or you’ll make mistakes. When you are looking at a patient’s skull cap and you have to remove it to reveal the most highly misunderstood organ in the human body, you better be in a state of mind that performs at the highest level. The patient needs to become just a thing to you and not a person. Humanizing this with emotions is too much to handle.”
It’s not happing to you now so why worry about it
In Dutton’s book, he writes about his visit to one of the world’s leading psychiatric hospitals that houses some of the world’s most dangerous psychopaths. Dutton wanted to find out how people who are truly criminally insane would handle normal people problems of the every day. Dutton spent some time with 3 men who would make Hannibal Lector look like a kindergarten teacher.
One of the “every day” dilemmas Dutton presented to these men was an example of kicking out a tenant that never paid his rent. Most people do not like conflict and dread kicking out a renter or even firing someone from a job because most people have more empathy and better social skills. The answers Dutton got from the three men were surprising. While you would think that someone who killed his girlfriend for no reason or one who shot a convenience store clerk because she looked like his mother would say, “cut his throat and burry the body, that will take care of the situation.” But that is not the answers he got.
One of the men approached kicking out a tenant like this, “Wait until he is home and hire someone to posse as an asbestos inspector. Have him dress in Tyvek and knock on the door and ask for the owner. When he says they are not here, tell him to give the owner a message that the place is being condemned for asbestos contamination. The guy will have his shit packed and be out of there that afternoon!”
Another man said, “When he is gone, go in and take all of his shit and put it on the yard. Have a yard sale and take the money as back-rent.”
While these answers sound unscrupulous and against the law, they are not killing anyone. They may not be committing murder but they still do not mind making someone’s life a living hell! Here’s the most striking part of their answers, they didn’t care or even think of the consequences of these actions. All of us have little evil thoughts of how we would like to get back at someone but we hold back because we are able to reason with ourselves in knowing the consequences of drastic retaliation. But these men’s instincts are to act first and be-damned with the consequences.
Dutton asked other stress questions like not having enough money to pay bills and lots of other “what if’s.” As the questions continued, the overall theme of the answers came down to this – If it’s not happening to you now, why are you worrying about it? The way these men would think to everyday problems is that most people worry about what might happen. The uncertainty of the future is consuming and people’s minds are rattled by the “But what if…” The psychopath only thinks about what is happening in the moment. Consequences do not play a part in their decision making process. If you are going to be a serial killer, you need to find a way to put the word “serial” in front of your moniker. If you are going to be the best stock broker, you need to find a way to do it every single day the markets are open. You can’t think about the consequences or you will hesitate. The results are all that matter.
Think of it this way. If you were trapped under a heavy object but not injured, you just couldn’t move, most people would panic. You are not hurt but your panic stems from the thought of what might happen. A psychopath looks at the situation free of consequence. He thinks, “I’m not hurt, I just can’t move, nothing bad is happening to me right now so, why worry about it? Someone will eventually get me out. I will just relax and take the time as an excuse for not having to do anything for a while.”
Where does psychopathy come from?
In the jungles of India, monkeys have developed over time the ability to teach their offspring not to play with Cobra snakes. As you can imagine, the curiosity of a young monkey and the level of intelligence they possess, they would have no problem picking up a Cobra and playing with it. Even though they are taught this by their mothers, some toddler monkey still play with cobras and die from the interaction. Researchers have wondered why some toddler monkeys still get killed by cobras. They have examined the brains of these monkeys and found something very striking. The amygdala (the part of the brain were empathy comes from) has the same characteristics as human psychopaths.
In a lot of psychopaths, the amygdala can be deformed or have lesions. Most of the monkeys that died of cobra bites also had lesions on their amygdala. The amygdala also has plasticity. Think of it like a hair part. If most people’s hair parted in one direction, a psychopath’s hair parts in another. It won’t look all that different, it just has a different function.
This can come from childhood experiences such as a child raise in a crime family or you can be born with it like a birth defect. Amygdala “shaping” can also happen to a child that was raise in a family of success. If a child see his father making shewed business deals and that his father has no concern for the people he has to step on to achieve success, the child’s amygdala will also be shaped in that way for his own business dealings.
My own psychopathy
I always knew I was a little different than everyone else. I grew up in a very good and normal family but my ambitions did not generally alien with other people I was raise around. Even as a child and teenager, I had friends but I mostly preferred being alone.
When I see other people struggling, my instincts are to look at what actions led to the struggle. I do not blame people for their struggles but I look at it as – what was the root cause? I am an end-game kind of person. I want to know the end-game of any action. I hate the words, “Customary” or phrases like, “this is the way we have always done it.” I want to know what the end-game is. Are you planning for success or just going through the motions to participate?
I would much rather have your respect than your friendship. I would rather you fear me than like me and I do not want to waste time just catching up. I cannot stand the advice from people who have create nothing more than a mere existence of their lives and people who always follow the rules. I never let people have responsibility over the outcomes of my life. I would never want anyone to have that much control over me. If one of my employees makes a mistake, I never let them take the blame. I say, “It was my fault. I should have trained you better or bought you the right tools.” Or if they mess up really bad I will say, “It was my fault for hiring you!” After all, I own the company, everything is my fault, including the success!
This is very easy for me because I am a realist. I can work all of my own struggle backwards and find what action I took in the past that lead to my struggles or failures today. Best of all, I know how to prevent them from happening again. Actually anyone can do this but very few are willing to do it. I do not believe in bad luck, I also do not believe in good luck. You make your own luck good or bad! Not only do I have very little empathy for others, I have even less empathy for myself!
I had to see if I identified with the high functioning psychopath. I just see the world way too different than everyone else. I am finding that people with low empathy and antisocial personalities really do have immense value in the world. How else are you going to have the greatest technology and health care in the world if we do not have the high functioning psychopaths? We are always going to have the criminally insane but we will also have the industrial insane doing their work to make thing better for people.