Are human predators narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths or anti-social personalities, or do they suffer from Machiavellianism? Which of these terms best describes the predator and why do we use “predator” instead of “narcissist” – or any of the other terms?
The answer is simple: all of the other terms are diagnoses, used by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists to describe disorders. It is for highly qualified professionals to make those diagnoses. Here at Open Minds, it is our task to warn people about predatory behaviors, rather than to diagnose anyone.
The clinical terms have also become complicated; “predator” is straightforward. The Oxford Dictionary tells us that a predator is “a person who ruthlessly exploits others”, and that is definitely what we are talking about.
In the same dictionary, “narcissism” describes “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves”. Of course, many performers are narcissists, but that doesn’t mean that they are in any way predatory. In the psychiatric literature, we find “malignant narcissists” who are divided into “grandiose” or “vulnerable” types.
In the latest iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association – DSM 5 – the psychopath and sociopath have disappeared. Instead, we are left with the “anti-social personality disorder” and the “narcissistic personality disorder” (“borderline personalities” can also be predatory).
There is an extensive and at times contradictory literature about psychopaths of varying disorders. Robert Hare’s checklists are used for diagnosis by clinicians, but there is no clear differentiation between any of the types: if you score 30 points out of 40, you are a “psychopath”, but that leaves a grey area, because the normal male will score below 4, so anyone between 4 and 30 is on the psychopathy spectrum.
Hare and his co-author Paul Babiak address this problem in Snakes in Suits, where they say: “Think of psychopathy as a multidimensional continuum, much like blood pressure, which can range from dangerously low to dangerously high … in between these two extremes there is a range of pressures, some considered normal and others reflecting varying degrees of concern, but not yet pathological.”
Our concern is to recognize predatory behaviors. So, if someone is domineering, manipulative, and convinces others to act against their own best interests, that person is a predator – whether they rank high on the Psychopathy Scale or not.
The problem is compounded by the addition of “apaths” and even “weaponized empaths“. “Apath” is a term used by Jane and Tim McGregor in their book, The Empathy Trap: “An apath is the type of person most likely to do the sociopath’s bidding. Being apathetic in this situation means showing a lack of concern or being indifferent to the targeted person.”
The McGregor’s estimate that over 60% of people are “apaths” who can be bent to the will of a sociopath (or psychopath) to attack people with high levels of empathy, or “empaths”.
The term “weaponized empathy” is being used by Internet pundits to define the use of empathy to bring people to commit potentially anti-social acts. Lurid images of harmed babies have long been the stock in trade of propagandists – in 1914, fervor against the Kaiser was roused by reports that German soldiers were amputating Belgian babies’ hands; PR agency Hill and Knowlton fooled a Congressional Committee and the world into believing that Saddam Hussein’s forces had tipped babies from incubators in Kuwait City. Such images rouse our empathy for the supposed victims, and lower our empathy for the supposed perpetrator.
An unscrupulous leadership lacking in empathy – or a charismatic leader with a complete lack of feeling – can manipulate the empathy of otherwise good, altruistic people to excuse and even commit atrocities for a supposed greater good.
So, we use the term “predator” to mean anyone who behaves in a predatory way – no matter what their psychiatric condition. The measures used to estimate psychopathy are measures of predatory behavior, so give a valuable guide to assessing that behavior. We have no concern for the diagnosis, only the safety of those of us who are preyed upon. Predators walk among us, and we need to understand their characteristics for our own safety and the safety of our society.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read any of the books discussed here? Do you have a story about a predator that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!