I’VE often fancied myself as an amateur psychiatrist. For a long time I’ve had a fascination with the dark side of the human mind.
Of course, I have zero formal training and would be extremely dangerous if I had the power to diagnose people. There are a number of people I’d happily have sectioned but unfortunately their mental competency – and my complete lack of medical qualifications – stands in the way.
Most of us are happy to describe unpleasant people as ‘scum’ and strange people as ‘weird’ and have done with it. But not me. I love matching recognised mental maladies to oddballs and live wires. It provides a neat way of accounting for their strange, selfish and downright antisocial behaviour.
Lately, my interest as a have-a-go psychiatrist has been piqued by a book I’ve been reading. It’s called The Psychopath Test by acclaimed and idiosyncratic journalist Jon Ronson. The book, where Ronson dives into what he calls ‘the madness industry’, takes its name from a 20-point test devised by psychologist Bob Hare.
The criteria of the test, which is largely regarded as the industry standard, are as follows:
1) Glibness/Superficial charm
2) Grandiose sense of self-worth
3) Pathological lying
5) Lack of remorse or guilt
6) Emotionally shallow
7) Callous/lack of empathy
8) Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
9) Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
10) Parasitic lifestyle
11) Lack of realistic, long-term goals
14) Poor behavioural controls
15) Early behavioural problems
16) Juvenile delinquency
17) Revocation of conditional release
18) Criminal versatility
19) Many short-term marital relationships
20) Promiscuous sexual behaviour
If you tick many or most of those boxes it’s time to worry. Or not. Apparently, if you’re worried about being a psychopath, you’re almost certainly not one.
Since starting this book I’ve found myself trying to work out if any of my friends and acquaintances, past and present, are psychopaths.
Once I had a friend who, other than me, had no other mates.
This was hardly surprising as he was incapable of speaking anything other than self-obsessed, ill-informed twaddle. He would change his appearance and apparent interests frequently and wildly.
For example, one month he looked like a member of Marilyn Manson and the next he resembled a football yob. And while he’d occasionally throw a wobbler over the slightest thing, he was more loser than psychopath.
Another former friend came closer. He was obnoxious, immoral and promiscuous whether or not he had a girlfriend at the time. His opening gambit in a bid to chat up my girlfriend at the time was: “Sorry about Dave.” He too would fly off the handle with little provocation.
Apparently an ex of his had to involve the police because, in her words, he’d become a ‘psycho’ following their break-up.
She wasn’t quite correct, however, as it turned out he was an unhappy soul with a low, rather than grandiose, sense of self-worth.
So, rather disappointingly, I’ve failed to find a single psychopath among my current and former friends and acquaintances. And apparently one person in every 100 is a psychopath, so either I’ve been lucky or I should leave the diagnoses to the professionals.