(some spoilers for ‘Safe Haven’)
“People always do things for their self best interest”. The professor continued, “every decision everyone makes is driven by self interest”. I glanced around at the other students faces, some agreeing, some disinterested, and some texting. The professor continued to lecture on as I tentatively raised my hand.
“Yes?” she said with slight interest and uncertainty. I took a breath.
“Aren’t there people who do things that are not in their best self interest, even though they know they are not in their best self interest?”
“No, everyone does things only for themselves.”
“But, there are certain situations where people will hurt others or themselves, and it’s not for their benefit”.
“Okay, well I’m talking about normal people, not psychopaths”.
At this the class started laughing. I saw this happen time and time again through multiple classes. When teachers would say psychopath, the class would start chuckling much to my confusion, concern, and annoyance.
After watching ‘Safe Haven’, I wasn’t sure how to progress with such a sensitive topic. But after reading about the recent events with Oscar Pistorius, I figured not saying anything isn’t helping either.
When people think of psychopaths they think crazy and out of their mind. Which is true, but they also think the crazy is visible on the outside. It’s not. Though, ‘Safe Haven’ had some good points, the man in it was not a psychopath. He was sloppy. Psychopaths are not. Often, the first time anyone questions their saintness is when the cops are bringing out body bags. Psychopaths are those with stellar reputations, top awards, and seen as having a great life.
Reality, however, is not talked about. People believe that the four women who die every day from domestic abuse, knew what was coming. That it was in some way obvious, and therefore the woman’s fault. “There are shelters for that stuff” one of my brilliant professor stated, “there are no excuses why any women is in an abusive relationship”.
So, where is the line? At what point are they supposed to ‘know’ and leave? You don’t meet these people and they just start screaming at you. They wouldn’t be in the relationship if they knew what was coming when they met them. A lot of women draw the line of ‘if he hits me’. However, there are many situations where the first strike ends a life. Psychopaths cover their tracks, they often don’t leave marks on the person, or their partner would have some evidence against them. Other women don’t even know their being hurt. Their distraught to a point where they don’t feel it.
‘Oh, you would just know’, people say. You can spot them, but not through any method that people think. Match their words to their actions. They lie. Typically, the only person who sees their true colors, is the spouse. Kids can be brought into it too, if their younger, or if they stand up for the abused. To everyone else, they are amazing people, talented, extraordinary, just the nicest man you’ll ever meet. This is the other problem with ‘Safe Haven’. He never turned anyone against her. In reality, that’s their specialty.
Medicated, Intoxication, delusional, crazy, evil, cruel, uncaring, hateful, spiteful, stupid, sick, slut, judgmental, self righteous, controlling, bad parent, bad spouse, manipulative, abusive… Sociopaths will use whatever works to turn everyone against their partner, and if necessary, their kids too. In real life, these people can get others to hate the person they want destroyed. People will do illegal and unethical things to help them. Then, having already broken the law for the person, they’ll do anything to prove that they were right.
The women, who are the only ones dealing with the persons true self, will have everyone they know treating them like the words mentioned above. Often, their spouses will move the family to a new state, so they are instantly disliked by all new people they meet. Then, yes, they start to look a little crazy. People can’t handle that kind of pressure.
In real life, the neighbor wouldn’t have helped her. She would have handed her over to him. In real life, she wouldn’t have been able to get a job. She would have had to go through a service/shelter. If she had managed to get it, once he found where she worked, he would have gotten her fired, but without her knowing he was involved. In real life, when she confronted him, he would have shot her. Which is why the ending troubles me, because it lets women think they can go home and confront their abuser. That’s how you end up with a Pistorius situation.
One of the biggest dangers is people’s false definition of psychopath. According to wikipedia:
“Psychopathy – is a personality disorder that has been variously characterized by shallow emotions (including reduced fear, a lack of empathy, and stress tolerance), coldheartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, criminality, antisocial behavior, a lack of remorse, and a parasitic lifestyle. However, there is no consensus about the symptom criteria and there are ongoing debates regarding issues such as essential features, causes, and the possibility of treatment”
By being charming and manipulative, people can’t imagine the things they are willing and able to do. They think they know them, or they ignore the problems they see. If a person is telling you their spouse/child is anything like the aforementioned list of words, there’s your first clue. If there saying negative things about their family, no matter how sincere/concerned they sound, that’s dangerous behavior. Look for proof, for what you’ve personally seen. Have you ever seen his wife flirting with another man, or you just think she’s cheating because she knows what Victoria Secret is.
“A lot of times people are horrified at acts “normal” people perform. Peck explains that people who do evil simply have a persona of seeming normal, but it is an act (Johnson). They can even be seen as righteous. I think many people will not believe a “normal” person is capable of committing evil. People want evil to look ugly. They don’t want a disturbed person to have an unsuspecting wife, a normal job, and barbecue with neighbors. However, Peck says truly evil people are more likely to live in your neighborhood than in a prison (Johnson).
I believe one of the most dangerous weapons a deceiver has is that people will not accept the fact that they have been manipulated and conned. They would rather keep performing evil than acknowledge that they were misled/followed someone evil. I think most people would rather die believing they are in the right, than have to change if they accept they were wrong. This perspective also explains that the people performing evil deceive themselves as well as their followers. These people believe they are justified in their actions. Often times when people “snap” those all around them say they don’t understand, they were the nicest person, and they never saw it coming. However, there are normally signs everywhere that people either ignore, or purposefully misinterpret in order to hold onto their false beliefs.
Knowing this can be helpful to prevent evil, because you understand that normal looking people are not necessarily normal people. A well rounded resume does not mean the person is stable. This can help people to stop classifying evil people as big scary and menacing, well known evil dictators, or those locked in prison. In order for people to stop corruption and deception they have to have a realistic view of evil. It’s typically people with good reputations and that seem easygoing on the surface. Truly evil people are good at what they do, and they are good at deceiving. They can be charming and seemingly sincere. Those are the truly corruptible, such as Hitler. Kellerman states that Hitler’s followers, “were mesmerized by his charisma and ideas long before realizing rewards such as money and power” (Kellerman). However, today’s “Hitler’s” are nearly invisible to those studying past tyrants. If Hitler had been born in today’s society he would not be crazily walking around attacking people. He would be leading and persuading people to do what he wanted. He might work into politics, be a CEO, or marry a person with power and connections. In today’s society he would most likely have a wife, kids, a dog, and seem passionate and idealistic. I believe those who look at him with horror today, would support him if he had been born in this generation. They would not see through his facade, his “righteous image” (Johnson), because people do not understand the true face of evil. As long as people are ignorant of it, they will be controlled by it. The way to prevent this type of evil is to look past the surface. People have to hold others to the standards of high ethical leaders. They need to judge a person’s character for traits such as honesty, accountability, integrity, compassion, faithfulness, and humility. Until leaders/followers actions and intent are scrutinized, not just their words, people will continue to be deceived by this face of evil.”
“I had no intention to kill my girlfriend,” stated Pistorius. Interesting he didn’t say he had no intention to shoot her, just not to kill her. No matter the results of Pistorius’s case, I believe psychopaths are no laughing matter.
Johnson, C. E. (2011). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow (4th ed., pp. 121-140). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE
Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad Leadership: What it is, How it Happens, Why it Matters (p. 27). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.