Readers sometimes ask me:
What makes psychopaths sometimes behave so undignified? Why the sudden undignified actions when they obviously know how to behave with Dignity? It makes no sense!
When psychopaths behave undignified it is because that dignity to us, like most other social notions, really does not stick deep. At least not in the same way that it does with normal people.
To non-psychopaths there’re a lot of subtle aspects attached to the notion of dignity, to what dignity is and to what it means to have dignity and to behave dignified. To psychopaths the only meaning we can really give to the word dignity is in the dignity of the winner, of the one who is in control. Everything else are secondary elements that we apply only if we can’t get what we we’re after otherwise.
We know society in general places very high value in dignity, and we know that what society places value in, society rewards. Dignity is something that generates great societal rewards and therefore it is highly coveted not only by psychopaths but by almost everybody.
Psychopaths often claim that dignity means a lot to us, and in a way this is true, but it doesn’t mean a lot to us in the same way that it does to most people. Dignity, as most people understand it, to a psychopath will never be more than a slightly odd notion that psychopaths see normal people put a lot of value in, and we see this as a result of all the emotions that define you, but which do not define us.
The only reason why we try to give the impression that we place profound value in dignity is that we are aware of the enormous value that our surroundings place in it, and this is also the reason why many of us can become almost obsessed with our personal dignity as well as that of those we consider ‘part of us’ (or ‘ours’), our family, circle of friends, co-workers, etc., that is the people around us who’s level of dignity reflect our own,
It is not until certain kinds of situations arises that it becomes apparent that we really don’t have dignity in the ‘true’ sense of the word. The situations I’m talking about are such where needs that are fundamental to psychopaths are not being met. I will try to explain…
We, psychopaths, act dignified for as long as it pays, which means for as long as it gives us what we want. What we want and what we need are not that different, but do often tend rather to be more or less the same thing. If I need something, I naturally also want it. If I want something, it often seems to me that I need it too. The moment we can gain more by behaving undignified, or basically fulfill a wish that we interpret as a need if only at the moment, we’ll do so without the slightest sense of shame.
I say this with certainty, for I have been in such situations and have done such kinds of undignified, seemingly illogical things again and again throughout my life.
But why do we behave undignified even at times where it seems we would gain so much more by behaving well, dignified? The answer is not simple, there is a constellation of several aspects that result in our infamous ability to ‘slip’ in this manner.
One aspect is our need for stimulation (Item 3 on the PCL-R. – I write about it here). We derive stimulation from strong and often extreme experiences. Sticking to routine is very demanding for a psychopathic individual, and those who seem to cope with ease seem so because their life circumstances give them enough needed opportunities to deviate without it being discovered.
But with social success comes growing attention from one’s surroundings, and growing expectations to one’s behavior remaining the same, even when it’s accepted that you don’t behave like most other people (like when you’re an artist, to name an example).
Another aspect is our lacking sense of shame (strictly speaking Item 7 on the PCL-R, but several more plays a role, such as lack of remorse, callousness, i.e.). We do not feel devastated by being viewed as wrong, deviant, evil, odd, boastful, self obsessed, vain, etc. We do not experience feelings such as shame or embarrassment. All these things are merely things we generally avoid simply because they make our surroundings less likely to be willing co-actors in our plans and plays which we create for the sake of stimulation and gratification, and which are again closely intertwined with our need/wish for power and control, as well as (to some of us) for satisfying our curiosity.
Undignified behavior from someone who was successful for a period, maybe several years, can be a sign that his situation has become too much of a routine, and the undignified action can be simply a symptom of boredom and irritation, and perhaps a way to get some curiosity satisfied while they’re at it.
Clinicians say we don’t have a true understanding of the consequences of our actions, that this is what makes us behave so strange and reckless from time to time. I’m not sure this is true, I personally think my predictions of possible consequences of my actions are rather precise, I think it will be more correct to say that we don’t place the same sense of importance in the same things as normal people do.
I hate to use serial killers as examples, but they’re often the most readily available, and in this case I have one in Richard Ramirez who, when he was arrested and a journalist shouted a question at him immediately after he had been condemned to death:
Richard, don’t you regret anything, now that you got the death penalty and may be killed yourself because of it!
Big deal, death always came with the territory!
Our dignity lies in how effective we are at getting what we want, how well we execute our plans and how efficiently we deal with obstacles. For as long as we get what we want it matters NADA if others think the worst about us.