It is a signature of humans to set, show, and serve social norms. But psychopaths are antisocial people who brazenly disregard social norms.
What we often know about them is, do psychopaths know they are psychopaths?
Or, are they unwitting victims of their own toxic and destructive nature?
We know, emotional detachment and callousness are a psychopath’s manifest hallmark behaviors. Do these traits also make them too distant to be self-aware?
Or do they actually “unsee” their own malefic actions and motives?
Do Psychopaths Know They Are Psychopaths?
Most psychopaths know they are psychopaths. However, their self-awareness levels vary depending on the individual and their specific experiences, traits, and brain structure. High-functioning psychopaths may be fully aware of their condition and perceive exactly how they differ from the general populace.
- Some psychopaths may realize that their emotions are “blunted” or “turned down” and they cannot feel joys or sorrows as much as others.
- Some may wonder why they do not feel guilty while committing crimes or remorseful after harming others.
- Some others, after learning about their condition from a diagnosis from a professional or reading about psychopathy, may use this knowledge to their advantage or improvement.
So, there is a large variability in how psychopaths understand and perceive their condition.
This can be tied to the complexity of the disorder and the fact that the symptoms and traits present differently in different psychopaths.
“Psychopaths are not all the same, but they share many common characteristics.” – Dr. Paul Babiak
The brain structure of psychopaths also plays a role in their self-awareness.
Research suggests that psychopaths have weak connections among the components of the brain’s emotional systems, which contribute to their inability to feel emotions deeply.
Psychopaths lack emotional empathy and feel emotionally detached from others, but they do experience emotions, albeit in a shallow or muted way compared to others.
[Psychopathy is not formally recognized, and the closest DSM-V diagnosis to it is a youth with conduct disorder with callous-unemotional” (CU) traits. These children are more likely to develop psychopathy.]
Self-Awareness & Self-Reflection in Psychopaths
Most psychopaths know, at least to a certain extent, that they are psychopaths. Does their self-awareness allow psychopaths to self-reflect on their traits and experiences?
Self-Awareness: Ability to Recognize Own Traits
Evidence suggests that psychopaths do have some self-awareness that their actions are wrong.
For instance, psychopaths tend to be sneaky and covert when committing harmful acts, which shows they know that their conduct is unacceptable.
However, while they can predict that what they are doing will have negative consequences, they lack the motivation to give it moral thought.
Psychopaths display a persistent and flagrant disregard for social norms through their callous behavior and have a striking lack of regret for the consequences of that behavior.
Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths do experience emotions like regret and disappointment. This indicates that they are not entirely devoid of emotional responses, but may struggle to accurately predict the outcomes of their decisions (Baskin-Sommers & Stuppy-Sullivan, 2016).
So, we may presume that their insight into their own condition is limited.
Do you know about high-functioning psychopaths, who hide among us but do not show violent tendencies except when under extreme pressure?
Self-Reflection: Ability To Introspect
Do psychopaths hide their true nature once they are self-aware?
Mostly yes, because first, psychopaths are skilled in self-image management and adaptability, and second, they may feel compelled to conceal themselves for fear of social stigmas and possible negative consequences.
[Self-reflection is our ability to examine and evaluate our thoughts, feelings, actions, and experiences. It helps us learn from our past, and make choices based on our beliefs, strengths, and flaws, to boost our growth and well-being.]
Studies show that high-functioning psychopaths and sociopaths, those who also have high IQs, can hide their true personalities (Bate et al., 2014).
While psychopaths might recognize that aspects of their behavior are problematic, their capacity to introspect and self-evaluate could be deficient.
A reason for this deficiency could be their inherent callous and detached nature, which stops them from empathizing with others and understanding the after-effects of their actions.
Psychopaths can, but they won’t try to understand your perspectives and pains.
Psychopaths fail to consider what others are thinking (callousness). But most studies find that, despite this, they can successfully predict the viewpoints of others (intact theory of mind).
This study confirmed this: Psychopathic individuals can take others’ perspectives but lack the inclination to do so.
Not all psychopaths are aggressive, but some may show
Not all psychopaths are aggressive, but some may show physical or verbal aggression, or physical or verbal aggression.
This hints at their difficulty controlling emotional responses. Which may be the cause for their poor self-reflection and an impaired understanding of their own condition.
“A well-crafted persona is the socialized version of the psychopath.” – Martha Stout
Factors Affecting Self-Awareness in Psychopaths
Various factors may influence a psychopath’s self-awareness. These could be environmental influences, societal perceptions, and the severity of their condition.
Severity of Psychopathy
According to American Psychological Association, psychopathy is a nuanced condition, and people with psychopathy have varying degrees and types of the condition.
The severity of their traits can play a significant role in determining self-awareness in psychopaths.
Those with more pronounced traits (high-functioning psychopaths) may be better equipped to identify their tendencies and emotional differences compared to others with milder manifestations of psychopathy.
Environmental factors can also impact the self-awareness of psychopaths.
External influences such as upbringing, social interactions, and life experiences can shape an individual’s perception of themselves and others.
These factors can make it challenging for psychopaths to self-identify their condition without the guidance of mental health professionals.
For example, a psychopath raised in a nurturing environment may develop a greater sense of empathy or emotional responsiveness than one raised in an unstable, harsh environment.
This may allow us to recognize their well-hidden differences from others but does not give us a reason to excuse their psychopathic tendencies.
Societal perception plays a significant role in how psychopaths view themselves.
The general public often links psychopathy with extreme instances of dangerous, violent behavior. This stereotype can create a distorted view of the disorder, and lead them to denial about their condition.
Truth is. not all psychopaths are violent or criminal people. Many low-functioning psychopaths live among us as largely normal people.
Furthermore, societal stigmas surrounding mental health and psychopathy in particular may hinder self-awareness in psychopaths. As a result, they may be reluctant to seek professional help or acknowledge their condition out of fear of being labeled or perceived negatively.
Renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Hare, once said, “Not all psychopaths are in prison — some are in the boardroom.” This quote highlights the complexity of psychopathy and how societal perceptions and expectations shape our understanding of this disorder.
In summary, the level of self-awareness in psychopaths is highly dependent on the severity of their psychopathic traits, environmental influences, and societal perceptions. A deeper understanding of these factors can help society better address the needs and experiences of individuals with this complex condition.
Consequences of Self-Awareness In A Psychopath
Psychopaths are self-aware that they are manipulative and unemotional people but do not feel too inclined to disclose their nature to people around them.
- Hare & Neumann (2008) found that psychopathic individuals are not necessarily more intelligent than non-psychopaths.
- Johansson and Kerr (2005) found that higher verbal intelligence scores among these individuals with psychopathic traits were associated with an earlier onset of criminal behavior.
- Beggs & Grace (2008) found that offenders with low intelligence and high psychopathy scores were four times more likely to return to sexual criminal behavior.
- Psychopaths struggle to recognize emotions in others as well as have an inability to feel emotions themselves (Meffert & Gazzola, 2013).
Knowing these can shed light on the potential fallouts of a psychopath’s self-awareness, particularly in terms of treatment and rehabilitation as well as legal implications.
Treatment and Rehabilitation
What marks a psychopath as a psychopath is their deceitful and manipulative nature, lack of empathy, regret, or guilt, and reckless and impulsive behaviors. (Hare, 1996).
Psychopathy, with overlapping features of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) with primarily factor one traits, is a complex condition that requires professional diagnosis and intervention.
Self-awareness in psychopaths can impact their receptiveness to therapy and rehabilitation programs.
This self-awareness, alongside their emotional suffering and desire for love and care, can serve as key factors when tailoring personalized treatment approaches.
However, tailoring therapies to a psychopath’s unique cognitive and emotional profile is challenging as they may manipulate or even put their therapy givers in danger.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and skill-building programs have been explored. Still, treatment success rates vary, and we need more research to develop more effective therapies for psychopaths.
15% to 25% of prison inmates show psychopathic characteristics (Burton & Saleh, 2020).
A psychopath’s self-awareness extends to legal proceedings, where it can impact criminal culpability and sentencing decisions.
Their awareness of their intent, emotions at the time of the crime, decision-making capacity, and lack of remorse may emphasize the difficulty in their reformability while delivering sentences.
Legal systems worldwide are increasingly incorporating psychological assessments into court proceedings to decide the most appropriate sentences or treatment/rehabilitation programs.
Individuals with psychopathy may be recommended for specialized mental health interventions or placed in a more secure prison environment.
Psychopaths have a persistent contempt for rules and laws, and are more likely to revert to their criminal ways without remorse or guilt. Once this is established, judges may sentence these offenders to harsher and longer sentences.
Psychopaths form around 1% of the general population and up to 3% of business managers. – Carolyn Bate
Psychopathy is a serious mental condition with public health implications. Risk factors include altered brain, genetics, neurobiology, parenting, and environment.
Finally, psychopathy is not a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which keeps it underfunded and undertreated.
“Psychopathy is like a language everyone instinctually knows but has not learned.” – Robert D. Hare, a researcher in the field of criminal psychology
• • •
• • •
Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
√ If you liked it, please spread the word.