Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not a Psychopath

I loved this book, The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson, a "madcap journey" indeed. I learned a lot, and it was funny. Just like the author, and probably all medical/psychology students, I was self-diagnosing, but I am not a psychopath. Neither is he.

It does seem possible that lots of tyrants and heads of companies would pass the psychopath test. Next up: All the Devils Are Here.

But I want everyone in my house to read this one before I take it back to the library.

I appreciate how the author takes up the issue of diagnosis and over-diagnosis, seeing both sides. Quoting Allen Francis: "There's a societal push for conformity in all ways....There's less tolerance of difference."

This always surprises me, given the age of Political Correctness, the tolerance we are relentlessly encouraged to bestow, all the celebration of "diversity," and the real compassion and kindness and respect for human rights I see so often around me. I guess the point here is that difference is tolerated in terms of "political identity" but not if your way of being human breaks the conventions too much.

On the other hand, as Francis continues, "And so maybe for some people having a label is better. It can confer a sense of hope and direction. 'Previously I was laughed at, I was picked on, no one liked me, but now I can talk to fellow bipolar sufferers on the Internet and no longer feel alone.'"

Yes, if there is a name for what is wrong with you and a legitimate reason for your behavior, you are, perhaps, more accepted, can find your own, can fit into the larger community, thus labeled, can be treated and accommodated. Although I don't see labels as stopping bullies from bullying. Oops, I just labeled bullies, who are sometimes psychopaths.

But Francis immediately says that the diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder is not good. It's a label for life, and it is probably a mistake. And probably an excuse to give medications. And even the originator of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, about which there is always plenty of controversy), Robert Spitzer, does not like to speculate on the mistakes that may arise from it, in which ordinary behaviors may have been labeled mental disorders.

I read an article recently on how there is no sympathy for the parents of psychopaths. Other people who have children with various disorders get plenty of sympathy, but not these. And psychopaths have a problem with the amygdala. It's not the parents' fault, though, of course, they might aggravate the situation or not deal with the problem.

But it's the psychopaths themselves that are and have the problem. Looks like we all need to spot them, guard ourselves against them, and not continue to let them bully the world or individuals in it. But we'll have to do this with the empathy we feel...and they don't. Ouch.


Collagemama said...

I read the NYTimes story last weekend about diagnosing children as psychopaths. I think this is the link if it works:
I'm not a psychologist, but I'm pretty sure I've had three students over the years who would fit the Callous/Unemotional diagnosis. I've had several students who were bipolar, and that was not the same at all.

Kathleen said...

Thanks. I will read this. I do wonder what it's like for teachers (as well as parents) handling students with very troublesome disorders, the kind that are hard to spot.

And I didn't mean to suggest that the doctors in the book mistake one for the other. But there was a clear sense that a diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder (and having that particular disorder in the DSM) was a mistake, as the condition usually emerges in late adolescence, etc. But what is deemed "true" in science and medicine changes, so who knows?

If you are a born psychopath, though, you'd be one in preschool...aauugh.

Kathleen said...

That's a great article, and it does contain the sentence, "No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath." But I am certainly sympathetic to the mother of Michael, the boy in the article, and glad that studies are being done to help these kids, these parents, and all of us, who are sure to be affected by the behaviors of psychopaths (aka sociopaths) on down the road.

Time to read (or see the film of) We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Collagemama said...

I felt really bad for those parents of Michael, and understood about there not being much joy for them. I worry for his siblings.

It seems there's a tendency to try the medications for one diagnosis on another just in case it might work. There also seems to be a diagnosis flavor of the day. It has to be horrible for children who are sequentially labelled and treated for multiple disorders. And for their parents!

Kathleen said...

I felt the same way--sympathetic and worried for that family.

Likewise, on diagnosis, drugs, and diagnosis by way of trying drugs. Sigh... On the one hand, everyone's trying something, and something might work!--might help! On the hand, now the emotional family wamily roller coaster is now a medical wedical roller coaster....

But I admire the taking-of-responsibility in all this. It's true that it becomes harder to sympathize or empathize with people who know of serious problems (in themselves or their children) and don't DO anything about them.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Yes, I almost forgot about this book. It was on my list of things to read awhile ago when it came now I must put this on my amazon wishlist or something so I don't forget.

Very fascinating. I think I would really enjoy this.


Hannah Stephenson said...

This book looks excellent (and what a fantastic cover).

I'd read that NYTimes made me so sad for all involved.

Pearl said...

Beautiful cover.

I'd seen the story go by but hadn't read it.

Putting them all in a room together would be like enrichment camp in strategies, wouldn't it?

I wonder if there aren't more amygdala-broken psychopaths but its a matter of character. Some learn to use their manipulation to gain benefits but aren't born mean. The calculated delay doesn't seem only human. I've seen horses and cats do similar disproportional revenge tactics too.

Kathleen said...

That's fascinating, Pearl, about animals!

I think the psychopathy problem is a "callous-lack of empathy" issue more than innate meanness.