This Is How Normal Life Feels as a Psychopath
Everyday, nonviolent psychopaths say they’re nothing like the psychopath we see on our movie screens
Not so long ago, a woman was sitting on a plane, minding her own business, when the man next to her made several attempts at conversation. Jane, let’s call her, assumed the man was drunk, so she didn’t bother being friendly or making any effort with him. But her unfiltered behavior didn’t go unnoticed, and at the end of the flight, the man politely suggested she might be a psychopath.
That comment resonated enough with Jane that she looked up the term “psychopathy” when she got home. She recognized herself in the descriptions and tried to talk to her sister about it, but her sister seemed hurt and offended. So Jane took it back and said she wasn’t a psychopath and that she didn’t mean it.
That reaction isn’t surprising, says M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath. “What are the implications of someone you know being a sociopath? Maybe that they don’t love you after all, at least not in the way that you thought they did,” Thomas says. “Maybe that they’ve had bad thoughts about you. Maybe that they’ve manipulated you or hurt you in ways that you weren’t even aware of at the time. Maybe you go back through your interactions with them and doubt their intentions or their feelings for you.”
In recent years, the violent, manipulative psychopath has become so pervasive in popular culture that it’s hard to find a Netflix series about anything else. After watching 400 movies made between 1915 and 2010 to identify “realistically” portrayed psychopaths, Belgian psychiatry professor Samuel Leistedt concluded, “It appears that psychopathy in the cinema, despite a real clinical evolution, remains fictional…Most of the psychopathic villains in popular fiction resemble international and universal bogeyman, almost as ‘villain archetypes.’”
Away from our screens, however, psychopathy is not a monolithic disorder with clearly defined behaviors. It’s nuanced and widely misunderstood, according to James Fallon, a neuroscientist who incidentally discovered his own psychopathic traits when examining his PET scan as part of an unrelated research project.