““Dexter” and the Truth About Psychopaths” Comments, Page 2

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37 Comments (14 Discussion Threads) on ““Dexter” and the Truth About Psychopaths”

  1. Interesting article. I have been dx’d with severe ADHD (combined). When I saw Dexter for the first time I was confused and had a sence of fear… or something! That is me! I’m watching myself. I have read a lot about psychopaths now and I am one. No doubt. I feel nothing… well… apparantly I was afraid of myself, or rather seeing all my secrets and cover ups broadcasted on tv, then I must have some feelings crawling around. But I won’t tell my shrink face to face. I can’t, because I see her weak spots… I’m not a serial killer as Dexter.

    Your messages about childhood and how psychopathy develops, you should look into family genes. My father is a sadistic psychopath and if I hadn’t been moved away from home at age 12 I would have killed him, I already had beaten him up.

    Any of you know if psychopaths ever realize they are psychopaths before someone tells them (HA-HA…as If that would be accepted as valid information), or like me realize it by myself just because some strange tingeling making me confused and excited?

    1. real psychopaths stay in the closet if they by some miracle achieve inner awareness- which frankly is not likely. I think you’re more histrionic than anything else.

  2. I wrestled with the notion of psychopathy as I watched the first season. Is Dexter’s adherence to Harry’s code a purely pragmatic position, or does the code represent an ego ideal of sorts, something absent from the internal organization of the psychopath? As I’ve pondered the question, I’ve become more comfortable with seeing Dexter as an as-if personality. His detachment seems related not to lack of conscience and ego ideal but a lack of object cathexes. He does not seem preoccupied with power in relationships. He does not take pleasure in putting one over on others. He doesn’t want people to feel duped. He wants to hide who he really is. He wants to escape notice rather than flaunt his crimes.

  3. Since my own research into psychopathy to understand my now. ex husband I find it strange the writers haven’t become more familiarized with what is known about origins of the disorder.
    Dr. Simon I agree with you on the points you bring out, but isn’t that deceptive of the program to infer that bad childhood events, trauma, and such are to blame? That in my opinion is really harmful to the general public and only serves the psychopath well.

    1. It’s important to remember that the program is a work of fiction meant for entertainment and not an informational program based on science. As such, creative liberties are always taken and must be accepted. My main point in the article is that although it’s a good thing that people are learning more and more about psychopathy from various sources, it’s unfortunate that the erroneous notion that environment influences lie at the root of all disturbed characters’ behavior has once again been reinforced to some degree by the story line.

  4. Hi George

    What can I say the person and his so called partner ( stockhausen syndrome, definitely the Patti hurst type , he abuses her and it fullfilss her script message;have been a way for a while, and I am so relieved, the whole atmosphere on the block has changed .

    I do take your’e point about biological determinants, but I would prefer to see them as pre- dispositions.

    M Klein in her object relations theory sates that the schizoid defense is “natural”( a child being defensive and wary alot of the time stressed, looking for signs of rejection etc), take this further and the “autistic” defense , the “pyschopathic” defense are natural, thses are simply more exaggerated variants of the normal ego defensive mechanisms we employ when sitautions seem to confirm old patterns which were relate back to events from the past, may be even in the womb.

    For most people under extreme stress or on being deliberately desensitized this is what happens “we” adopt these extreme ego defenses , just to survive ( Bruno Bettleheims classic work the Empty Fortress on how children from Dachau and Auschwitz became “autistic” in their behavior seemed to demonstrate this real time), fortunately for most of us these stressors are not long term and not that sever, so we can revert back to more normal “open and feeling responses”, capable of a truly empathic encounter ( which is something of a psycho therapeutic Holy grail!), when back in less stressfull surroundings.

    So called psychopaths cannot do this! Am I right in this assumption?

    I feel even the so called “biological” determinants can be altered by diet, stress reduction programmes, exercise , etc I personally can attest to the benefits of Yoga ( body-work) and meditation , and to the support those around us who are truly sympathetic , I have just been tested for Gluten wheat sensitivity by a very switched on G.P, so there is hope for all of us isn’t there?

    The problem with the reductionist biological angle then is it justifies “labelling” and it can be used to force people to receive in- humane treatments i.e. we do NOT want to go back to the days Of Malcolm Seargant and start down the road of leucotomies etc , people caught in these positions, as I have described do need help , but how to help them without coercion .

    Is this possible?

    They are often very good at occupying that murky ground between mental health and criminality and as you say camouflaging their intent.

    I Only hope to God my next door neighbor gets the help he needs!

    and it is good to see people so witched on….. Thanks George

  5. There are a lot of terms being bantered around here in the comments section. While it’s great to see people really thinking about this piece on psychopathy and how the Dexter show fits or not, it’s a bit frustrating to read that many people have such resistance to the notion of a biological component to psychopathy. It’s important to consider all factors. Psychopathy is not a stress reaction or a defence mechanism and it’s not something people get over. Environmental influences may or may not be in the mix of a psychopath’s history (google Dana Sue Gray). There are murderous psychopaths who have had better childhoods than many of my clients. I do not believe environment is either at the root of or a determining factor in psychopathy.

  6. I think just the contrary. This show never suggested that Dexter is a sociopath as a result of his early childhood trauma. It’s only when he remembers his painful past does he start to feel again, becomes passionate with Rita and emotionally involved in her life. I have only seen season one, but it seems that Dexter may be a serial killer with a moral code and conscious; perhaps he isn’t even a sociopath at all. As an underlying thread throughout the show reminds us, where does our “pretend” image of ourselves end and the real us begin? It’s possible Dexter cares about others more than he realizes or is willing to admit to us.

    1. Some good points, Kate. Of course we have to remember that the character in the series is a work of fiction, and by my reading his character as well as the characters of the other principals in the series has been altered quite a bit since the first season.

      The more we learn in personality and character research, the more we recognize that people don’t fit into neat pigeon holes descriptively, and don’t have easily predictable backgrounds and predisposing influences. Human life is multi-dimensional and even well-recognized traits exist along spectra. Everyone is truly unique.

      I realized well into the current season that “Dexter” is neither your average serial killer nor psychopath. The main point of the article, however, is to encourage folks not to blindly attribute traditional explanations for how people get to be the way they are, inasmuch as the more we learn, the more we realize how little we really understand and the greater reasons there are for questioning past assumptions.

  7. Dear Dr Simon,

    Being not a psychopath yourself you seem to understand the inner workings of their mind very well. I would on this basis like to congratulate you for such a feat; especially considering what you say is so in line with the common text-book orientated conception. Indeed, you may as well have copy and pasted your notion of a psychopath. I would like, however, to direct you to a study that suggests psychopaths are capable of emotion.

    It is time you ‘psychologists’ dropped your handed-down conceptions and engaged in some critical thinking. What ‘actually’ is a psychopath? Can you really claim knowledge as concerns your conception of what a psychopath is? Can you define a psychopath without arbitrary indicators? Is psychopathy even a ‘disorder’?

    1. While I appreciate your comments, and the validity of some of your criticism, it appears that you might be basing your opinion of my views on this topic from limited information – perhaps even from just this one article. I have written extensively on the topic, including additional articles on this very blog, some of which might find are not only in line with the research you cite but also which might reveal to you some of my own “critical thinking” on the topic. I am both in agreement and at variance with my peers on a number of issues with respect to this condition (which is still not considered an “official” disorder), and my critical outlook comes from many years of direct experience with this population. I hope you will avail yourself of all my writings (including my books) on the topic, so that you might more accurately know my true views.

  8. I think you’re overlooking a very important distinction when you use the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably.

    While both are characterized by antisocial personality disorder, one CAN be a sociopath without being a psychopath.

    The difference lies essentially in the the existence, or lack thereof, any type of conscience, ie whether or not they have a code of ethics or morality that they react to and allow to guide their actions.

    For example, a sociopath may understand that stealing your wallet is wrong at a fundamental level, and they may feel guilty for doing it afterward. He/she doesn’t truly empathize with the victim of his or her crime, but there is a negative emotional response to it. Some sociopaths recognize this characteristic in themselves, and routinely struggle against their baser desires, if only to avoid feeling guilty or ashamed of their behavior.

    A psychopath, by constrast, lacks a conscience entirely. If he steals your wallet, he lacks the ability to feel guilt for the act, though he can mimic the behaviors of others (shock or outrage at the theft, etc) to avoid detection, or even fake remose if he is caught-however, unlike a sociopath, who has a conscience, no matter how weak, the psychopath only parrots these emotions as tools in their arsenal to manipulate situations for their own benefit.

    Based on multiple case studies by Anne Rule and the original Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI (since expanded and renamed the Behavioral Analysis Unit), while we can say that all serial killers are psychopaths, we cannot say all sociopaths are serial killers, so the distinction is a very important one, even if we don’t quite have all of the biological vs environmental cause/effect quite figured out yet.

    1. You are so very largely correct, Tracey, that I almost hate to further clarify and correct. You are correct in that the difference between what we have always called the antisocial or dysocial personality and the psychopath (or alternately sometimes called sociopath) is the difference between the hot-headed, rebellious, social norms violator (by definition, the antisocial or dysocial) and the heartless, conscience-devoid and empathy-lacking predator (called psychopathic by Cleckley because of the nature of their irrational mental processes that appeared to border on a type of “moral insanity” and called by others as sociopathic by those who chose to focus on the social predatory aspects of the pattern). Robert Hare has returned us to a more popular use of the psychopath term, largely because his research has clearly shown the brains of these folks don’t work like normal brains, especially in the empathy capacity department, although it’s not yet clear whether the “bad wiring” is there from birth or predisposed from birth. Antisociality can be a part of the predator’s modus operandi (Hare calls this the non-essential factor 2. But the defining factor is the malignant narcissism rooted in no empathy or conscience. That’s how folks like Madoff and Peterson can appear benign and even upstanding but also be so heartless and exploitative.

      I’ve studied this for over 40 years. And I know there’s a lot of misinformation out there both in the popular books and even in the more recent literature. If you do a full historical review, I think you’ll find what I’ve said here accurate. It’s too bad that even clinicians and researchers have been so loose with terms over the years. Really, the social sciences are the worst when it comes to specificity and accuracy of language. One of my pet peeves!!

  9. I agree 100% psychopaths will readily “confide” or hint they have suffered some trauma or injustice, the ex-wife who committed suicide, childhood neglect or abuse.

    It’s a manipulation which they all seem to use to facilitate lowering our guard. Given time they create a trauma bond with anybody close, partners, children & family

    Psychopaths are born, I believe it’s identified on maternal DNA and dopamine is four times the average levels. They must exercise power over a victim to get the high they need to relieve the inner boredom.
    Most lead double lives, the Jeckyll & hyde traits. .

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