My short bio: I'm a programmer and author of a few different books. My last book, The Psychopath Code, explains psychopaths. I've tried to keep it pragmatic and clean: what makes a person a psychopath, how this works, and how to deal with it (for the rest of us). The book is a handbook, not a medical text. Oh, and I just rage-quit Twitter.

OK, thanks for the questions, it's been a fun many hours. For those who hate me for writing the book, shrug, have a nice day anyhow!

My Proof: (with link back to this IAmA)

Comments: 754 • Responses: 80  • Date: 

FiveLions12 karma

Can you summarize a psychopath and give examples?

pieterh-10 karma

Most humans are social. That is, from birth they specialize in working with others to survive. All their instincts and learning goes towards succeeding in this.

Psychopaths are predatory. From birth they specialize in taking from others, and escaping without cost.

From birth to perhaps 12-15 years the differences are subtle and hard to spot. From young adulthood on, it is clear. Psychopaths live an essentially parasitical slash predatory lifestyle, and they weave all their talents and abilities around this.

You can see the same model in many social animal species. In my book I use ants, and their parasites, as an example.

Examples of psychopaths are all around us: look for colorful, narcissistic individuals who produce nothing of value and yet manage to get masses of support from others. Donald Trump is an example, as are most of the other politicians in that race.

Ahem_Sure10 karma

I know the most sure fire way to create a psychopath is by hitting a kid on the head with a swing seat, but is it possible with drugs?

pieterh0 karma

Neither are possible, nor would I recommend either.

Psychopaths do not suffer from brain damage. They are individuals with the genes and the culture of predators. It takes real skill and talent to take from others, for a lifetime, without getting into serious trouble.

Most psychopaths, like most social humans, are just OK at it, get caught some of the time, and navigate that line between success and failure like all of us. There's nothing special about it, just a lifetime of abuse and emotional violence and pain.

super_leet_hacker7 karma

Are software patent trolls psychopaths?

pieterh7 karma

A lot of them, I'm sure.

Who_Ordered_Pie7 karma

A psychopath in 5 words if you would my good man?

pieterh22 karma

A professional user of others.

isgrad6 karma

Do you know of any films that accurately portray a psychopath? Better yet, any films that accurately present the psychopath's point of view?

pieterh19 karma

It is rare. For instance, "Gone Girl" tried to do that, and halfway through it just resorted to "stabby stabby" bloodshed.

One that stuck out was Nightcrawler. I think Jake Gyllenhaal really nailed it.

House of Cards is another excellent, spot on portrayal.

bakercub12 karma

Would you say the main character in Nightcrawler is an accurate depiction of an average psychopath in real life or of an extremely dangerous one?

pieterh1 karma

Rather more dramatic than average, yet not extremely dangerous.

Most psychopaths live humdrum lives of petty narcissism and under-the-radar abuse. You'll see their targets on /r/relationship_advice asking for help. They are serial cheats, liars, petty criminals who rarely get caught. That's average.

PMme10DollarPSNcode3 karma

What was your inspiration to write about psychopaths? Was it some sort of firsthand experience?

pieterh8 karma

There was first hand experience, and as I started talking about this subject, I met a boatload of people who told me their stories. Over and over and over, and it was the same story. I do meet a lot of people, and we have shared a lot of beer, and the topic of difficult people just kept coming to the table.

So at a point when I had free time, and some psychopaths to study (don't ask), I decided to do the book.

It turned out not quite like I expected. It wasn't therapy, and wasn't a horror story. Instead it was a journey into the very core of what it means to be human. I learned more about myself, writing that book, than in my whole life up to then.

This is one reason I love writing (for others), as you try to explain difficult things, you find understandings and truths for yourself.

Pieter_U_Da_Man3 karma

This doesn't really relate to psychopaths but I just wanted to say I've been a follower of yours for years since I discovered your state machine language, multi-threaded kernel and web server back in the 90's. The AMQP / ZMQ work you've done is inspiring. How do you do it?

pieterh4 karma

Well, thank you! :)

I don't know how my brain works, but it likes to take huge, complex situations, learn them inside and out, and then and find simple paths through them. I've always done this since I was young. In software, that means writing simple things that solve large problems, well. In writing, this means explaining mind-boggling things in simple words.

It does take time.

22masterkyle2 karma

My friend thinks he's a psychopath but I don't see it. Should I be concerned?

pieterh9 karma

Maybe your friend just wants a hug.

Many of us question our motives and purpose in life. That is normal. You can tell him or her, "if you care about whether you are a psychopath, you probably aren't," and then back that up with, "even if you were, I'd still be your friend."

tinycabbage2 karma

What sort of advice can I offer other people in my life that are in some sort of relationship (romantic or otherwise) with a sociopath? What support is most meaningful?

pieterh3 karma

Well, to be honest, most of what you say will fall on deaf ears. The person is hypnotized by a siren's song, like an addict looking for their next kick. I've covered this in my book, and perhaps you can help them by repeated doses of "the pain you're feeling is not normal and it's not your fault." There are moments when abused people call for help. Be there when they do, and know enough to offer them useful tools.

In the end we save ourselves, or we don't.

ProfessorManimals2 karma

Do you believe the average person could successfully manipulate a psychopath and if so would that ultimately put themselves in danger of inappropriate retaliation?

pieterh1 karma

Yes, the average person can learn to manipulate a psychopath. It is just a matter of knowledge, time, and willpower. I explain this in my book in detail, since it is essentially the best way to break out of a relationship with such a person.

It does raise the stakes and yet it's like asking, could the average person trap a poisonous snake they were living with? Clearly the goal is the snake in a box, and out the door.

I've collected a lot of techniques for this in the book (free online yadayada). Use with caution, I'm not responsible for the results.

tedv2 karma

Do you think the lack of empathy is what makes someone a sociopath? In other words, are there people without empathy who are not sociopaths?

pieterh2 karma

Lacking empathy is a significant defining trait but empathy can be switched off for many reasons. Autism, depression, etc.

thinkdale2 karma

Are you Peter Hitchens in disguise? Also, is Peter Hitchens a psychopath?

pieterh4 karma

Maybe I'm his secret Flemish twin.

And the answer to your second question is almost certainly "no."

theflamingskull2 karma

What do you think of all of the posts in /r/casualama by supposed 15 year old psycho/sociopaths?

pieterh8 karma

I don't read them. I do read /r/relationship_advice and note the regular cry from help from people who are obviously in the thrall of a psychopath. I also read /r/sociopath and note that most people there are indeed psychopaths (different name, same thing), with a minority of "gosh this is cool" 15 year olds.

Most psychopaths are not aware of their nature, all they feel is that alienation that is common among many of us. Almost by definition anyone who asks, "am I a psychopath" is not.

J4CKR4BB1TSL1MS2 karma

Are psychopaths like Patrick Bateman and other famous movie/book characters an accurate representation of actual psychos? What are the main differences or things that always seem to be portrayed wrongly?

pieterh9 karma

Inaccurate. These are caricatures that appeal to our fear of monsters. There are (arguably) 12 million subclinical psychopaths in the USA, yet the FBI estimates between 35-50 serial killers active at any time. So clearly the movies are not showing reality.

There is no blood. There is no screaming. Psychopath is almost always invisible unless you look at it over time.

Let me explain. In normal relationships we make mistakes and we forgive, because it's better than punishing people for errors, and being alone.

That creates a space for psychopaths, who can rely on forgiveness over and over and over. (It's more complex than that, this is a simplification.) If you look at any one event, it's innocent. If you add them up, it's troublesome.

It's as if we go for a coffee and you pay. Next time, I'll pay. Yet if after ten years you're still paying, then something is wrong.

This grey zone of deniable offense is where most psychopaths live and operate. Only clumsy, careless, or damaged psychopaths go too far and get into the hands of police or psychiatrists.

PDAisAok2 karma

In your opinion, do any of the currently running candidates for POTUS depict psychopathic characteristics?

pieterh17 karma

Trump is a classic narcissist, textbook cult leader. Produces nothing of value, gathers vast crowds of followers.

Clinton is a careful predator. She is patient and has waited for her chance. She never loses her temper. She's removed all competition long ago. She is a liar who never apologizes.

Sanders seems honest, with a good historical record. This is a white flag.

Kasich hasn't shown himself really. So no judgement there.

Cruz has just been tossed around like wet salad by Trump, so if he is a psychopath is he outclassed.

crazeyawesome4 karma

white flag like surrender?

pieterh9 karma

No, as in not a red flag. If you see someone doing something that clearly depends on empathy (like helping a stranger), and no-one is watching, that's a white flag.

alanblue20002 karma

You have repeatedly stated that most navigate a grey area limited by legal consequences. What are limitations beyond this for psychopaths whom have breached this barrier either through ignorance, skill or risk-reward?

pieterh4 karma

I've seen psychopaths get off repeatedly, in courts and police stations. It is... magical. They shrug and smile and explain and next thing you know, they're back on the streets. The police are not always fooled, they do eventually catch on, yet it can take years.

Beyond that, psychopaths learn to minimize the damage, move on, and get smarter. If they're imprisoned they'll behave and be out as reformed model prisoners. If they're fined they'll change their names and leave the state or country.

There is also social consequence, which mostly weighs heavier, and so psychopaths spend a lot of time destroying people who might talk about them.

I'm not sure if that answered your question?

unsubstantiation2 karma

Can a psychopath care for non-important others for strategic reasons? Or to put it another would a psychopath be likely to have their own code and or rules which they follow that would be furthering their own interests while still havbing psychopathic roots.

pieterh6 karma

For sure, yes.

It is always about survival. Psychopaths cannot survive alone, and they eventually need to reproduce. So they will care for people who can help them with that. It will usually be neglectful, clumsy care. They will never ask "how do you feel?"

unsubstantiation3 karma

That's where I'm really going with this. Whats stopping a psychopath from saying "how do you feel" with the goal of getting someone to open up to them/be more trusting. More so as I understand psychopaths are supposed to be skilled at charming others to their side. Would you consider a psychopath who displayed such actions to be less psychopathic and more "normal"?

pieterh5 karma

Ah, of course they'll say that, yet only at moments in the relationship. Over time the pattern will tend to abuse, or at least neglect. Psychopaths can be shockingly lovely, and keep that pretense up for years with specific people, if it serves them.

There's no "normal" here, only social behavior and psychopathic behavior, both of which are deeply complex and at times look like each other.

fantasticfore2 karma

Can you for the record state that not all psychopaths are bad? We often hear about psychopaths who are criminals or evil in someways but some of the best psychopaths who are contributing members of society are not any of the sort... often they are soldiers, surgeons or even a community leader.

pieterh2 karma

I'll state for the record that not all psychopaths are bad.

This is clear in two distinct ways. First, individual psychopaths, though they persistently try to be bad, often end up doing good. It's ironic. In my professional life, for instance, every time I've built a structure worth money, a psychopath or two has come along and messed things up. Sounds bad, except that's always freed me to do new things. Over and over... and without that, I'd be stuck managing those old structures and not free to write books and chat about them on Reddit.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say, and it also works the other way around.

On balance, psychopaths do make people miserable.

Yet even that isn't objectively "bad." I've written in my book about human evolution and how we are driven by the eternal fight between social and psychopathic behaviors. Without the one, we'd not have the other. Psychopaths are an essential part of the human story, past, present and future.

cheradenine_Zakalwie2 karma

You said in a previous comment that if you ask "am I a psychopath " you probably aren't. Doesn't this mean that the LSRP test is pointless? If you do it you are asking the question by default ( I got 3.3/3.1, I'm not entirely sure what that means)

pieterh2 karma

Well, people take tests for many reasons. So it depends a lot on the motives of the subject. If you take it because everyone in your class has taken it, that is not the same as taking it because you're afraid you might be the abuser in your relationship.

qwortec1 karma

Have you ever run across discussion of the experience psychopaths have under psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, etc.?

I'm curious because the lack of empathy seems like it would greatly affect any introspective, outside looking in on your life type thing.

pieterh2 karma

"No" to your question. The psychopaths I know do not use drugs except as a social lubricant to get others to lower their guard.

Indeed, the lack of empathy goes along with a general lack of self-awareness and curiosity.

JadedPenguin1 karma

Do you have any experience with parents of psychopaths? I imagine they might feel that somehow it's a failure on their side, not being able to instill the proper values in their offspring. And aside from that, they might feel a failure just because parents would want a loving bond with their children, and in the case of psychopaths I can imagine that being difficult. If so, what do you tell them, and do you ever feel what you are saying actually helps them?

pieterh4 karma

Most psychopaths spend their whole lives hidden except from those close to them. So parents of psychopaths will speak of their very difficult child, or lament the fact he's in jail again, or be so relieved they left home. Or, praise the child lavishly and denounce anyone who criticizes them.

Remember that psychopaths' natural families tend to consist of a psychopath parent and an enabler. Neither are going to feel or tell the truth about anything that happens.

86maxwellsmart1 karma

How can you detect a sub-clinical psychopath in, for example, a job interview?

pieterh5 karma


This is one reason snapshot analyses are useless. No matter what you define as your goal, people will learn that, and study towards it. Psychopaths will be the first to get there, often.

To detect a psychopath you must study over time, you must look at history and above all you must look at other people who might be affected. You simply won't see psychopathy in the person in front of you, most of the time. You will however see its ravages in their colleagues, friends, children, spouses, and parents.

Lampshade_express1 karma

From what I understand, there are way too many schools of thought on the psychopath vs. sociopath thing. One being that the only difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is that a psychopath commits criminal acts, and a sociopath blends into society. (So all psychopaths are sociopaths, but not all sociopaths are psychopaths.) And then other professionals (by professionals Im referring to psychiatric, police, lawyers, etc) will say they are both the exact same thing, and the terms are interchangeable. And then others will say that "psychopaths" don't exist, because the word isn't in the DSM. What are your thoughts?

pieterh-1 karma

People often argue over details because they have little else to play with.

Psychopaths (whatever we call them) exist, are identifiable with time and effort, and are highly predictable. That is interesting. The name we use is not.

I'd like to see more research into the impact of psychopaths on families, and mental health (depression, and suicides, especially). I'd like to see more work on identifying at-risk children and coaching their families. I'd like to see more knowledge of such behaviors being used to solve cases of abuse, or accusations of abuse. These are difficult and important areas. Terminology is not.

BucketsMcGaughey1 karma

If I gave you a clean sheet of paper to design a psychopath-proof political system, what would it look like?

pieterh1 karma

I'd immediately populate it with psychopaths as to establish a balance of power.

Look, society has done pretty well so far. We can complain and moan yet we're doing that from the comfort of our homes and via broadband internet. The world has its bad spots, yes. We're making a mess of the planet, yes. Yet overall, it's pretty good compared to pretty much anywhere in the past.

Meaning, sometimes you have to go with the flow. Evolution gave us psychopaths and we fight them at every turn and that makes our human world go round.

Madclown88-6 karma

I just wanted to know if you think members of the Black Lives Matter movement are Psychopaths or just stupid?

pieterh6 karma

I wrote about that in my "Why I Rage Quit Twitter" article. Bear in mind this is my opinion, from a safe distance.

The movement is a cult, and at its heart are several psychopaths who have correctly judged that US campuses are easy targets. We see the same in the UK.

These psychopaths mostly stay hidden behind other people, who they recruit and indoctrinate. Cult techniques are well known: you move isolate your targets, bombard them with illogical thinking, separate them from friends and family, force them into artificial, disjointed living arrangements, force them to dress, speak, and act the same. This makes them lose their individuality and over time they'll give you what you want, whether it's time, money, sex.

Psychopaths do this instinctively and naturally with anyone they can, so you may see little clouds of hangers-on circling them (once you notice).

Most of the people doing the shouting are being used. They do sincerely believe what they are saying, yet they are paying a heavy price (many will not finish with a useful degree).