Almost a Psychopath
They’re our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family members. We interact with them daily, even as they manipulate, lie, cheat, and steal, all without showing empathy or remorse. They’re not quite psychopaths, but they’re not quite right, either. Something about them is just a little bit off — and they can make our lives a living hell. In a new book, excerpted here, two local experts take us inside the world of these hidden predators.
Ronald Schouten and James Silver have come across plenty of psychopaths in their careers. Schouten, after all, is a former attorney who these days practices forensic psychiatry and teaches at Harvard Medical School, while Silver is a one-time federal prosecutor who’s now a criminal defense attorney in Boston. But what the two men have encountered even more often are borderline cases — not really psychopaths, not really normal. And these kinds of people can be particularly dangerous because, as Schouten and Silver write in their new book, Almost a Psychopath, they can be so hard to spot.
So who are these almost psychopaths, anyway? Compared with the full-fledged variety, they’re “capable of living more easily among the general population and maintaining relationships, with less frequent harm to those with whom they are involved,” Schouten and Silver write. “The almost psychopath uses others for personal gain but is careful not to irretrievably push those people away. And if he or she does overstep, the almost psychopath effortlessly generates a string of excuses, apologies, and promises in an effort to preserve the relationship and future opportunities for personal satisfaction.”
Scary, right? Well, don’t worry. We’ve got everything you need to protect yourself. Ahead, we excerpt five case studies from Schouten and Silver’s book, documenting a range of almost-psychopathic behaviors. We also talk to the authors about how to avoid becoming a victim, and what you can do if the almost psychopath you’re dealing with happens to be a loved one. Oh, and if you’re worried that you might be an almost psychopath yourself — relax. The fact that the prospect concerns you at all is a sign that you’re not.
Help! I Have an Almost Psychopath an My Life
Recognizing an Almost Psychopath is the first step. The next is getting help.
Ten Signs You’re Dealing with an Almost Psychopath
How to spot the Almost Psychopaths among us.
CASE STUDY #1
The Troubled Child
Sammy was not really a “bad” child, at least not at first. But his parents did find him challenging, even in infancy. When angry — and it didn’t take much — he would thrash around, bang his head against the floor, and attempt to bite his parents. Two babysitters quit because they could not tolerate his rages. Sammy’s pediatrician explained that children are born with different temperaments, that they lie along a continuum, and that Sammy would likely grow out of the more problematic behaviors. And as he got older there were extended periods when Sammy seemed perfectly happy, content to sit with his parents and listen to a story. Sammy’s dad was comforted by the thought that his own older brother had been like Sammy and had turned out okay. Perhaps the pediatrician was right.
Sammy’s behavior did change. While he was never particularly cuddly, by age four he had learned that his chances of getting what he wanted increased if he crawled into his parents’ laps or wrapped his arms around their necks. They were so happy to see some semblance of warmth and attachment that they quickly gave into his requests. After all, shouldn’t they reinforce that behavior? Sammy was a quick learner, but it wasn’t clear who was training whom.
Preschool was no picnic for Sammy or for his classmates. Once he decided he wanted a toy, he would grab it. The child who resisted was met with a tug or a slap or, in some instances, a bite. By the time Sammy was in first grade, a school psychologist was called in to assess him. When he met with the psychologist, Sammy was pleasant and cooperative, playing the assessment games like an average six-year-old; however, he got bored easily. The psychologist detected a fair amount of aggression in his storytelling and play with action figures. Testing revealed an above-average IQ but with indications of attention and concentration problems.