Do Psychopaths Have Emotions?
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Do psychopaths have emotions? This question is commonly asked because of the horrific manner that many with psychopathy treat others. We’d love to explore this with you.
The answer is – yes.
Individuals with psychopathy have emotions, and some of these emotions are quite intense. However, there are certain emotional states and internal experiences that they do not have.
For example, psychopaths tend to be quite incapable of guilt, remorse, empathy, and deep attachment (bonding) to others. The feeling of fear is often muted for this population.
They do not ‘feel’ the emotional state of others (or care) – emotional empathy. Some with this condition might even assume that no such ability exists when in fact many non-psychopathic individuals have this experience on a consistent basis. Although emotional empathy is extremely deficient, some with psychopathy can recognize the emotional state of others (cognitive empathy) and tend to use this information to manipulate their targets.
Research has identified patterns that are common among those with primary psychopathy.
This particular group is “hyporesponsive” to certain emotions. Meaning, they have low arousal to stressful stimuli and minimal fear reactivity (Herpertz, Werth, Lukas, Qunaibi, Schuerkens, Kunert, Freese, Flesch, Mueller-Isberner, Osterheider, and Sass, 2001).
They tend not to experience significant anxiety. Furthermore, they tend to be incapable of detecting or feeling the distress of others, even if they caused harm (Viding and McCrory, 2012).
Primary psychopaths are also often callous, controlling, arrogant, and have a strong tendency toward reactive and instrumental aggression (Blair, 2010). These are forms of aggression that reflect callous planned harmful actions (instrumental) and impulsive, unplanned harmful actions (reactive).
Healthy individuals view deficiencies in the areas of empathy, bonding, remorse, and minimal reaction to arousing situations (fear/ stress/ distress of another) equivalent to ‘lacking emotion’.
This is understandable because those states and emotions are so vital to the human experience. It is extremely difficult to imagine that humans exist without those abilities.
Psychopathy is often associated with experiencing minimal anxiety or fearlessness (Kiehl, 2006). Their emotions can become dysregulated (roller-coaster, up-down, conflicting) – particularly in association with anger.
Their reactions can be extremely disproportionate to minor offenses, criticism, or not getting their way. They rarely tolerate being told what to do, even if the circumstances are appropriate.
Many individuals with psychopathy are callous and feel justified to speak to others in a harsh, abrasive, disrespectful manner. They may be proud of this socially inappropriate way of relating
- “I’m blunt!”
- “I don’t beat around the bush.”
- “That’s your problem if you can’t handle the truth.”
- “Stop being so sensitive.”
- “I’m not going to coddle you!”
- “I can say what I want! Don’t like it, too bad!”
- “Can’t you take a joke!”
Individuals with psychopathy can have completely differing opinions from one day to the next and many non-psychopathic partners find the drastic shifts to be confusing and distressing. For example:
Wednesday he expresses he wants to marry you
Saturday he blames you for not fighting more for the relationship because you did not call to try to make things right – “Where’s your passion for me?! Obviously you never loved me … you won’t even fight for me!“
Sunday, he’s sending “miss you” texts after he slept with an old girlfriend.
It is not uncommon that the emotions of an individual with strong psychopathic traits are dysregulated, often intense, with a tendency to be toward the negative end of the spectrum when they are under-stimulated (e.g., the newness of a partner has worn off).
Non-psychopathic individuals often feel that these individuals lack in emotion because they are consistently self-centered, non-empathic, callous, and cold.
A persistent, predominant pattern of dark personality traits are inconsistent with safe and comfortable interactions.
Individuals with psychopathy gear interactions toward their comfort, satisfaction, pleasure, and entertainment.
Control, power, antagonism, and arrogance are primary pillars of their character. They operate primarily within the dark components of their personality, particularly with individuals who are close to them (e.g., significant other/ children).
• Want the basics of psychopathy? You might find this article helpful, Psychopath Basics Q and A Psychopath Basics
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