What do you think of psychopaths

Are you a psychopath or just a bad person?

I've been referred to as a "psycho" throughout my life. One of my ex-boyfriends thought my notorious infidelities were a "strong indication" that I had psychopathic tendencies. Another went pale and turned on his heel when he spotted me in a large crowd. (He also once assumed that I drove him to take drugs.)

We always assume that we have a very clear idea of ​​what psychopaths should look like - be they externally flawless narcissists like Patrick Bateman or crazy serial killers à la Charles Manson. Researchers recently expanded the ranks of potential psychopaths to include influential business leaders and unscrupulous bankers. But what about the normal, law-abiding citizens among us who have nothing to do with stock market crashes and have never been in jail because they wanted to strangle their grandmother? Where is the line between a screwed-up normal and a real psychopath?

Read more:How you can tell you are a narcissist

Dr. James Fallon at the University of California is a neuroscientist and the author of the book The psychopath in me: A scientist's journey of discovery into the dark side of his personality. He knows from personal experience what it feels like to be a psychopath: A few years ago, through an accidental mix-up of brain scans at work, he found that his own brain looked more like that of a psychopathic killer than that of a "normal" person.

Researchers believe that true psychopaths make up just one percent of the population, but Fallon believes that five to seven percent of people are "on the verge of it." Fallon describes himself as a "prosocial" psychopath who would not kill, maim, or in any other way physically harm anyone.

"Most of them go to jail as soon as they come of age."

Fallon explains to me that certain behaviors that are thoughtlessly called "psycho" in relationships have little to do with psychopathy. "A 'psycho' is a confused or crazy person," he says. "Psychopaths are just the opposite. They are very controlled and intelligent." Of course, there are also psychopathic people who can have a 'psycho' effect and get out of control due to the abuse of alcohol and drugs, a low IQ or damage to the brain. "Most of them end up in jail as soon as they come of age, however."

Psychiatrists like Fallon base their research on the findings of leading criminal psychologist David Hare, who examined offenders and identified 20 characteristics by which one can recognize a psychopath. These include, among other things, dexterity and trivial charm, emotional superficiality, promiscuity, impulsiveness and irresponsibility. In addition, there is the unwillingness to take responsibility for one's own actions, to get bored easily and the urge to manipulate others.

More from VICE: Maisie and her battle with paranoid schizophrenia

That sounds pretty too familiar to me. I know firsthand that you have to be pretty bored, promiscuous, impulsive, and irresponsible to cheat on your partner. At the same time, you have to be comparatively charming and smart to a) sleep with others and b) get away with it.

To get an appropriate diagnosis, the first step should be "to contact a psychiatrist who is familiar with it and can make a diagnosis," says Fallon. So stay away from relevant online tests that promise you deeper insights into your psyche.

In addition to various formal examinations and psychiatric analyzes, Fallon chose a fairly straightforward diagnostic method: he asked people what they really thought of him ("old friends, my sisters, my brother - just everyone"). After promising them that he would not get angry, "they confessed to me what they really thought of me". As it turned out, quite a few people thought he was a psychopath.

"They all made sacrifices that nobody knew about. I would never do that."

He also observed the behavior of his peers to see how they would behave in situations where they felt unobserved. "As I have found, most men and women my age are very self-sacrificing [...] They look after friends when they make a mistake or go to funerals. They all made sacrifices that no one knew about. They would I never do. " Instead, Fallon says, he would willingly come up with some windy excuse at any time to skip the funeral and go to a party instead.

The knowledge he has gained from taking a closer look at his behavior towards his wife sounds similarly sobering. "Whenever I was faced with a decision and no trouble was to be expected, then I always made the most selfish decision imaginable - every single time."

Anyone can do this on themselves, says Fallon. Most people engage in simple, selfless behavior in order to be considerate of the feelings of others: They pick up their things from the floor in the shared apartment or try to act like a good roommate. Psychopaths don't do that.

"Psychopaths don't make an extra loop through the limbic system. They don't think about whether their behavior could hurt others," he explains. "They act very quickly, which gives the impression that they are very intelligent. They just don't take the time to think about whether they are hurting others. You are not intelligent just because you are perceived that way - you are just don't give a shit. "

I can't help but wonder if maybe I'm a psychopath after all and tell Fallon about a particularly shameful episode in my life: when one of my ex-boyfriends left me because he saw that I was straight from a one -Night booth for our Valentine's Day date. Fallon laughs and says, "It could be, but you don't have to be a complete psychopath. You can also just have psychopathic traits."

Read more:Researchers know what your favorite food says about your personality

According to him, there are no classic psychopathic behaviors. "[Psychopathy] is all about the context of a situation and your reaction to that context. Your friend gets angry, people get hurt - if you don't care, it has psychopathic traits.

Fallon confirms to me that if you think you are a psychopath, then you probably aren't. Most psychopaths believe they are all right. One of the reasons Fallon was so shocked by his own diagnosis: "I see myself as a normal person, but I am not."

"I have to consciously suppress my natural instincts in order to overcome them."

Suppose I am indeed a psychopath, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life socially isolated or end up in jail. How do I get my tendencies under control?

"I've started to wonder, 'What would a good person do?' In every conversation," says Fallon. "I ask myself this question every day. I have to consciously suppress my natural instincts in order to overcome them." Actually, at such moments he feels even smarter and unbeatable. As if he were the only person who was so in control. At the same time, he knows where these thoughts are coming from and tries to make use of his narcissism.

Interestingly, people with psychopathic traits or prosocial psychopaths like Fallon can be very positively received in our society. Especially people whose psychopathic properties are described as "fearless dominance", for example, can appear very attractive to others. The magazine Psychology Todaydescribed these characteristics as "a tendency to be audacious, which is characterized, among other things, by the fact that [those affected] want to dominate social situations, have a charming demeanor, accept physical risks and are immune to fear".

Read more:Narcissists and psychopaths want to stay friends with their exes

People with these characteristics are considered extremely charismatic and strong in leadership in our society, says Fallon. That is why we would also tend to vote for them or hire them.

As for me, I may have acted irresponsibly and selfishly in relationships at times, but the fact that I have remorse shows that I am not a psychopath. So I'm just a bad person after all. Phew!

Follow Broadly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Photo: Imago | United Archives

Get the best of VICE emailed to you every week!

By subscribing to the VICE newsletter, you consent to receiving electronic communications from VICE, which may contain advertising or sponsored content.