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.
The psychologist assured Sammy’s parents that he was quite bright but may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as some social learning skills deficits. She suggested that they talk with their pediatrician about medication to help him focus and recommended a therapeutic playgroup. The idea of giving a stimulant (the standard medication for ADHD) to a child who was already irritable did not make sense to them. And when they spoke to their pediatrician, she supported them in taking a go-slow approach, suggesting that they try the playgroup first.
The playgroup was helpful. Sammy learned new social skills and found that he would get rewarded for taking turns and letting others have their way. His attention and hyperactivity did not improve, and he continued to have discipline problems at school. But Sammy was smart, and his grades were more than good enough to get him promoted on schedule.
Soon enough, it was time to start high school. Sammy — Sam as he insisted they start calling him — began having more trouble with his studies, and the pediatrician reluctantly suggested that Sam try a stimulant medication to address his ADHD. It helped Sam focus a bit more in his classes and when he did his homework, but he hated taking it. And even if it helped, there were other distractions: girls, parties, and, eventually, experimenting with alcohol and drugs.
In his sophomore year, Sam’s parents took him to see another psychologist. Sam denied using alcohol or drugs. He complained about his parents, and they agreed to try to be “less controlling” and more open-minded if he would agree to behave better at home and in school. The psychologist recommended group therapy with other adolescents, but Sam refused to go. Feeling powerless to force him to attend, Sam’s parents went along with his refusal.
Sam shaped up his behavior a bit at home, his grades improved slightly, and his parents gave him more leeway. He took advantage of this and stayed out later at night with his friends, drinking, smoking pot, and engaging in generally obnoxious behavior. Sam broke his curfew with increasing frequency, making up all sorts of excuses about why he was late. He was more argumentative at home and in school, almost coming to blows with a teacher on one occasion. His suspension from school for that incident was followed by another for throwing a cinderblock out a third-floor window onto a teacher’s car. That was followed by a call from school that Sam had been caught selling his ADHD medication to other students. Now the police were involved, and Sam had been expelled.
A family services evaluation revealed that Sam had taken his ADHD medication only occasionally, saving up the pills to sell to students who used them to get high. Sam spent the money he made to buy other drugs at times, but mostly alcohol. Sam got probation from the court, was assigned a family services officer, and was to begin studying for his general equivalency diploma. These were the most severe consequences he had ever experienced for his behavior, and for once, Sam seemed truly shaken. His parents set a strict curfew, denying him access to the car or taking away his cell phone for any infraction. Sam looked for a job, and eventually decided to join the army. No longer taking medication, and drug and alcohol free, Sam responded well to the discipline and structure of military service, where he found some others who were similar to him. Sam stuck with it and, like his uncle, did okay.
CASE STUDY #2
The Vile Physician
Dr. Harrison was an esteemed pediatric specialist who received referrals from all of the general pediatricians in town. A clinical faculty member at one of the city’s medical schools, he was respected as a teacher and researcher.
Over time, however, troubling rumors began to surface that Dr. Harrison’s examinations of his young patients were not quite what they were supposed to be. Operating under the old maxim that “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire,” a concerned schoolteacher reported the gossip to the state medical board. Once he was officially under investigation, Dr. Harrison gave up his medical license and retired. Several years later, after his premature death, the first of what became a long series of former patients came forth and reported what had happened: for years Dr. Harrison had been conducting unnecessary physical examinations and sexually abusing these children. He did all of this under the guise of ?a research study, getting consent for multiple examinations of the children. The furthest thought from the minds of parents — or colleagues — was that this beloved physician, who appeared to be completely devoted to bettering the lives of the young, was actually abusing both children and his position of trust. Dr. Harrison was, in short, brilliant — in a conning and manipulative manner. He deceived the parents, the hospital, and his colleagues, all in order to satisfy his sexual desires.