Is There a “Psycho” In a Psychopath?

Are psychopaths psychotic?

It is said that psychopaths aren’t insane, because they have an absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking. Is this correct? Something about it doesn’t seem quite right.

In properly diagnosed psychiatric disorders, psychosis is a descriptive term for the hallucinations, delusions, impaired insight, and sometimes violence, that may occur. Psychosis is generally given to noticeable deficits in normal behavior and more commonly to hallucinations or delusional beliefs, including in the relation between self and others, as in grandiosity and paranoia.

Hmmm… Delusions? Check. Violence? Check. Impaired insight? Check. Grandiosity? Check. Deficits in normal behavior? (they might not always be ‘noticeable,’ but they’re definitely there). Check.

Couldn’t their pathological sense of grandiosity be considered a delusion of grandeur?

“A delusion of grandeur is the fixed, false belief that one possesses superior qualities such as genius, fame, omnipotence, or wealth. It is most often a symptom of schizophrenia, but can also be a symptom found in psychotic or bipolar disorders, as well as dementia (such as Alzheimer’s).” John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

A delusion is a fixed, false belief. It’s “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.”

Consider that psychopaths believe humans are nothing more than objects. Complex objects, but objects all the same. Because of that belief, they feel free to manipulate, use, and discard. Isn’t that delusional?

Ted Bundy, the psychopathic serial killer, said “Sometimes I feel like a vampire.” The psychopath I was involved with told me many times that he was a vampire. That seems delusional to me.

Speaking of Ted Bundy —  who viciously murdered up to 100 people — I have to wonder how he could NOT be insane. Does a sane person kill others for sport, enabled by their absolute disregard of their victim’s value or humanity? Not that I know of.

Because Bundy was an ‘organized’ serial killer — his crimes were not spur-of-the-moment-decisions, but carefully planned and executed — he didn’t fit the standard, accepted definition of psychotic. But can the thoughts that drove his behavior really be considered ‘rational thinking’?

He was intelligent and articulate, had a degree in psychology, and was handsome and clean cut. His outward appearance gave no clue to his ‘deficits in normal behavior,’ but that doesn’t mean those deficits weren’t there. Maybe those deficits in normal behavior weren’t always noticeable,  but they certainly were as he killed all those people. Glaringly noticeable.

Ted Bundy (notice his body language — his grandiose, ‘haughty’ demeanor and air of superiority, even though he was the defendent in a capital murder trial)

“Psychopaths don’t exhibit the manias, hysterias, and neuroses that are present in other types of mental illness. Their main defect, what psychologists call ‘severe emotional detachment’—a total lack of empathy and remorse—is concealed, and harder to describe than the symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This absence of easily readable signs has led to debate among mental-health practitioners about what qualifies as psychopathy and how to diagnose it. Psychopathy isn’t identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s canon; instead, a more general term, ‘antisocial personality disorder,’ known as A.P.D., covers the condition. ” From the article “Suffering Souls,”  about the work of psychopathy researcher Dr. Kent Kiehl.

Kiehl is “frustrated by the lack of respect shown to psychopathy by the mental-health establishment.” Because of it, he says, hardly anyone is funding research into the science.

Dr. Robert Hare also disagrees with psychopathy being classified as antisocial personality disorder. He says, “It’s like having pneumonia versus having a cold. They share some common symptoms, but one is much more virulent.” Hare sees his work as warning society of a devastating and costly mental disorder that it mostly continues to ignore.

In the first edition of “The Mask of Sanity,” Hervey M. Cleckley described his psychopathic patients as “frankly and unquestionably psychotic,” but modified this in later editions. He agreed with other professionals who felt it would stretch the definition of psychosis too far. However at various other points he still suggested that, despite ‘traditional’ classification, the extent of the inner abnormality and associated dysfunction in psychopathy is such that it might be considered as psychosis in many respects.

One psychopath described his mental state to me not as insanity, but as “forming models of reasoning that are different from the norm.” He attributed this to a lack of emotional attachment to common ideas and accepted values. Might that mean a lack of attachment to reality?

What confuses the issue is the assertion that psychopaths do know right from wrong, but they just don’t care. That’s true, but it muddies things up by implying that they can act differently if they only choose to. But then we turn around and agree they have this serious mental disorder called psychopathy that’s responsible for their lack of a conscience and for their inability to feel remorse or to love or care about others. Which is it — are they simply normal people who make bad choices and who could change if they wanted to, or do they have a mental/neurological disorder that makes doing the right thing very difficult or even impossible? How can it be both?

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.”

~ Douglas Hostadter

Maybe psychopathy is simply a psychosis the victim is able to conceal. That doesn’t seem to make sense within the standard definition of psychosis, but it describes the psychopath. In the 1940’s, there was a psychiatrist who classified psychopaths as “non-sane, non-insane.” That doesn’t make sense, either… yet in a way it does.

Here’s what one anonymous psychopath has to say about it:

“It’s funny because ‘inside’ is much more chaotic than I show. It is an interesting paradox because inside my head I am positively insane but ‘outside’ my head I am perfectly normal (when need be)… There are two people in my head and they both think differently. One controls my thoughts and the other, my actions…. The one who controls my thoughts tries to sway me one way or the other, but ultimately I decide who’s argument has the most merit. In reality, insanity is only characterized by your actions. Having voices in your head doesn’t make you crazy; following their will in a public setting does.”

~ ZKM, Sociopath’s Domain  (Warning: Readers may find this material disturbing)

One thing is certain—psychopathy is a perplexing disorder.


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23 thoughts on “Is There a “Psycho” In a Psychopath?”

  1. AnnettePK

    Really interesting post, and lots of good points. I have always maintained that there is no point in the criminal insanity defense, because the definition of insanity is pretty much what many criminals do. People are punished, that is reap consequences, for their deeds, not their intent. Biblical wisdom says, “out of the heart the mouth speaks” “even a child is known by his deeds,” and a “good tree doesn’t bear bad fruit,” and a “bad tree doesn’t bear good fruit.” In other words, people’s inner motivation is measured accurately by what they do. My ex P was constatntly trying to get me and everyone else to believe he really wanted to do something other than what he was doing. I was confused for awhile, but my thinking cleared up in time. Other people are still deceived by him.

    Whether psychopaths are insane or not depends on one’s definition of insanity. My ex P knew exactly what he was doing and the hurtful destructive effect his choices had on others. Up until the 1900’s, psychopathy was called ‘moral insanity.’ It was recognized that they know what they are doing, but they like the results of their clear choices which is pretty much insane to normal people who love, bond and care about the well being of others.

    An example worth considering is the run of the mill not very sophisticated abuser who smashes up his girlfriend’s car with a baseball bat. He says he was completely out of control, blind with rage, blah blah blah. Well if he was so out of control, how is it that he was able to pick out her car and break every window and flatten the tires, at night when he thought no one would see him. If he was that out of control, he would have smashed up whatever was nearest to him when he went into this so called blind rage, which probably would have been his car…

    Psychopathic behavior probably stems from a variety of causes and different levels of responsibility vs. insanity; but my experience with my ex P was that he knew exactly what he was doing and he put a lot of effort into providing and protecting his ability and opportunity to do the evil that he chose to do, in full knowledge of the consequences to others, and himself. He just doesn’t care about others, and he does not really believe in God, karma, or any negative consequences to him for his behavior. Additionally, he is incredibly subtle and clever in accomplishing evil (despite his cover of pretending not to be very quick or intelligent), that I suspect there is a high level of evil activity from the spiritual world involved.

    1. Admin

      “It was recognized that they know what they are doing, but they like the results of their clear choices”

      Yes, they know right from wrong, but they just don’t care. But if someone isn’t ‘sane,’ can they really make clear choices? In other words, if they didn’t have the disorder of psychopathy, they wouldn’t do the things they do. They wouldn’t make the choices they make.

      They’re punished for their deeds, true. But if more effort were put into what *causes* their deeds and then how to treat them, there wouldn’t be deeds, or victims. Waiting until after the fact, and then locking them up, does nothing for the rest of us.

      Of course that wouldn’t help the victims of ‘sub-criminal’ psychopaths, but it would be worth something.

      An interesting fact: Psychopaths are twice as likely to get out on parole, because they’re great at manipulating the parole board. They’re also more than twice as likely to commit more violent crimes after being released. Punishing the deeds simply isn’t enough.

      1. AnnettePK

        In the case of my ex P, I’m not sure there was any reason for his deeds besides that it was his choice. He has manipulated not the parole board, but other authorities, to avoid consequences for his actions.

        1. Admin

          It’s a shame that these authorities aren’t alert and knowledgeable about manipulators. I hear over and over about how lawyers, guardians, therapists, etc., are duped. When children are involved, it’s the worse.

  2. Harper

    This website has really helped me at a time when I couldn’t get answers from the mental health community. I was relegated to believing that I had been raised by a demon. This does not get one very far on the ” credibility ” scale from my years of experience. But when out of Divine intervention or whatever reason this website started posting on my computer I was finally given answers. First and foremost to the name of what it was a person like my father was referred to in the psychological world. That I hadn’t asked for the abuse or been “born bad.” I am the child of a psychopath. My mother is his accomplis. My life in their home and any where around them is agonizing. To know I am not alone and that it is so specific has changed my worldview. I am 40 now but started therapy at 14. Had I not, I most surely would be a psychopath as well. My little brother and sister are. They have all lived together while I left home at 16. I am a practicing Buddist(as much as a white woman in America can be). I stay away from them but I pray for my mother, brother, and sister. They are like carbon copies. Not the real thing. They do as he asks in order to please him and to win his affection. I know and tried to tell mom years ago, he does not have the capacity for affection for anyone or anything. She chose his “love” and their marriage over my warnings and suspicions. As did my younger brother and sister. My father beseeched me and told the whole family I was mentally ill and a junkie and was trying to ruin his credibility because I was crazy. He also used to molest me when I was a child. He feels nothing. He enjoys feeling nothing, I believe. I also believe he enjoys acting. He’s cheated on my mother numerous times over their 45 year marriage. She acts like this is not true. He killed one of our family dogs in the 80’s. At this point in my life all I do is pray for the safety of the family members of mine he fools. Dupes. Because God sees all. He has a very high position in the community we live in. He is educated. He is wealthy. He is well spoken. He is a chameleon. But I have been subject to his changing colors for so long He does not fool me. Unfortunately as well he is so smart that whatever things he’s doing that may ACTUALLY get him into trouble he is keeping under ” the cloak of darkness” so to speak. But I don’t care to think that far ahead. Only what I know. What I’ve experienced. What I’ve seen. He is so cocky that he does things that are repulsive to civilized people. I believe it’s just to challenge the world as if to ask ” What are YOU going to do?”That’s my dad.

    1. Admin

      I’m so glad to hear the site has helped you. I’m also happy to hear that you trust what you know, what you’ve seen, and what you’ve experienced — because the main goal of these manipulators is to distort our perception to make us lose trust in those very things, and in ourselves.

      Thank you for your comment. All the best to you.

    2. AnnettePK

      My ex challenged me in the same way. When caught in a horrendous harmful lie, he would shout at me, “Yeah, I lied. What are you going to do about it?!?!?!”

      1. Admin

        He sounds horrible. They’re all horrible, whatever their problem is.

  3. JGB

    I think it may be a mental disorder & I think they may be delusional about their own self-importance, but I don’t know if it’s psychosis. If anything, people on the more psychotic spectrum of mental illness can make likely targets for psychopaths…and their illness a convenient scapegoat.

    1. Admin

      Good points. But I still can’t help but wonder if they suffer from a psychosis that just doesn’t fit into the usual definition/picture. The things they do and the way they think is just so far outside of normal. Maybe someday there will be different ‘types’ of psychosis recognized, such as ‘overt’ and ‘covert’ ?

  4. janes

    perfect example of Psycho in Psychopath true story of Ted Bundy’s wikipedia page:(( has a very long and accurate discription.

    1. Admin

      Janes, it is the perfect example (and perfectly horrific. My house is like a fortress because of him).

      When schizophrenics do something terrible (most don’t) when they’re actively psychotic — and then they’re medicated afterward and they are told what they did — they’re absolutely horrified, incredulous, and remorseful. I imagine a psychopath having the same experience. Take Ted Bundy (please!) as an example — imagine if he could have been be medicated and he regained rational thought. As a rational person, he would be HORRIFIED about what he did.

      Therein lies the sickness.

  5. janes

    AGREED, ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIC :((((((((((((( !
    in that wiki page the things he said were just like he read your books & other books & siting to us from them :(((((
    a perfect & HORRIFIC , real life Pschopath story TED BUNDY & the others like him!

    1. Admin

      Don’t you think that if a medication could have restored Bundy to normalcy — like what happens with a schizophrenic — that he would have been horrified at what he did? Imagine it for a moment. He’s given some drug that controls his psychopathy — Wouldn’t he be totally different?

      There was a schizophrenic in Canada who became actively psychotic on a Greyhound bus. A young guy was asleep in the seat next to him. He suddenly attacked the sleeping guy, ripped out his eyeballs, ate them, and then did the same to his heart. When he was institutionalized and medicated, and restored to normalcy, he was nearly destroyed by hearing what he had done. His psychiatrist said that’s the hardest thing he has to deal with — telling people what they had done when they were psychotic and then having to deal with their reactions, which are so agonizingly heart-wrenching.

      I imagine psychopaths would do the same thing, if there were something to restore them to rational thinking.

      I think it might never happen because of the things I explained in the article, especially what Keihl and Hare said. People would rather ignore the real problem, blame and hate the psychopath, and treat it with a ‘downstream approach’ — let them destroy lives, and then put them in prison afterward. Pretty stupid.

      Many people say “They’re psychopaths — but but they can choose to do things differently if they really wanted to, just like any of us can!”…They’re psychopaths, but yet somehow they’re normal, too? That’s what I hear more than anything. “My ex was a psychopath. BUT he CHOSE to do what he did. He could change if he wanted to!”

      How can we say someone has a deadly serious mental disorder, and then say they could change if they wanted to? Does that make sense?

      It’s like telling someone with depression to “just snap out of it.”

      There’s a lot of confusion, and I thank the ‘mental health community’ for that. I side with Hare, Meloy, Keihl, etc., the rational, reasonable scientists who have been trying to convey the truth about this disorder. I share their frustration.

  6. Grace

    Just look at that picture of Bundy. He’s so proud of himself for killing 100 people, and planning it out so well! Wow! What an accomplishment, his expression in the picture is CLASSIC psychopath. You can read numerous examples like that in Without Conscience by Robert Hare,PhD. In that book Hare gives an example of a psychopathic killer who doesn’t like the picture they used of him in the paper, so he sent them a ‘better’ picture of him to use. Really?
    Your so proud of yourself for all those murders? I think their insane. Their emotions are so shallow that killing a person is like taking the trash out .(maybe a little more exciting.) More research is definitely needed to protect the unsuspecting victims.

    1. Admin

      Yeah, I was appalled when I read that that psychopath was only concerned about a getting good picture of himself in the paper. That says it all.

      I feel that photo of Bundy really sums him up so well. To me, he’s saying, “How dare you waste my time like this. I’ve got more important things to do. I’m above it all, and above all of you morons. So what, I killed 50 or 100 women. Get over it and stop this nonsense.”

      He said it best himself: ““I’m as cold a motherf****r as you’ve ever put your f***ing eyes on. I don’t give a shit about those people.”

      No one sane would say that. Yes, more research is needed.

  7. janes

    Grace agreed
    Admin agreed & LOL about the second paragraph, i think you forgot to say that “he feels that Victims deserved it”.
    after all the things i ve been reading & Ted Bundy wikipedia page, to Ps WHEN THEY TARGET US THEY FEEL THAT THEY OWN US FOREVER. i didnt give my ownership to any of the Ps i got involved with in the past!
    Everything about him seemed very fimiliar & true based on my personal experiences except for the killings. I used to know someone who is on his way to become like him & maybe he already has some skeletons in his closet :((
    thanks to the link on your site GRAY ROCK seems like best start. no more shiny objects.

    1. Admin

      I’ve come to the conclusion that no one will ever figure these people out. The sane/insane dichotomy is too confusing. I think I’ll hang up my hat, and write about food instead. My next article will be a recipe for cupcakes, and we’ll all be happier!

      1. AnnettePK

        I concluded some time ago that I don’t really want to be able to understand P’s and their choices. Normal folks naturally connect to one another with understanding of others’ feelings, needs, and emotional experience. It’s just not possible to connect to a Psychopath.
        I think the 19th century label ‘moral insanity’ is descriptive. Psychopaths are not delusional – they know what they are doing, they know it harms others, they just don’t care, or in the case of my ex P, he got pleasure/satisfaction/gratification from the power rust of harming and duping others. Whether it is a choice on some level, or whether it is a physical defect, or some combination, isn’t fully understood at this time. Physical differences in the brain and brain activity could be due to genetic make up as well as exercise. Consider how much easier it is to lie once the first lie is told, or how people can ‘get used to’ harming others in war. To some extent, children are taught compassion – we start off in life slugging our sibling over a toy because we don’t know any better. A runner has well developed leg muscles – because he runs; not that he runs because he happens to have big leg muscles. Compassion and kindness and morality are character traits that are developed by a lifetime of making the ‘right’ decisions until ethical behavior becomes a habit and one learns to value others even more.
        There is a Biblical religious concept of the ‘unpardonable sin.’ Any wrong doing is ‘unpardonable’ because the perpetrator doesn’t regret his harmful behavior. In the Biblical paradigm any ‘sin’ is pardonable as long as the perpetrator regrets it and stops doing it. My ex Psychopath does not want to stop lying, cheating, child porn, and hurting others, even though he has all the information he needs to understand that it harms others. Pretty much unredeemable, however one defines redeemable.

        1. Admin

          Moral Insanity sounds about right.

          Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between psychosis and poor choices. Whatever the cause, the effect on us is the same. I just hope the researchers out there will figure it out, so they can take the next step and do something about it.

  8. Grace

    Please keep writing Admin, you seem to be one of the people at the fore front of recognizing and describing this mental illness. I hope your sending your articles to reputable sources. All your articles should be included in the latest, most up to date information regarding psychopaths. As of now, not much is being done, except a lot of damage to unsuspecting victims. It’s nice to see a few educated people taking a stand for basic human rights.

    1. Admin

      Thank you so much, Grace. I will keep writing for as long as I feel inspired to do so, and I promise it won’t be about cupcakes.

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