HOW TO SPONT A CON AND "SYMPTOMS"
© 1993 by Robert D. Hare, PhD. Reprinted by permission of The Guilford Press.
Book "WIthout Conscience"
Psychopaths are often witty and articulate. They can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a quick and clever comeback, and can tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often very likable and charming.
Typically, psychopaths attempt to appear experts in sociology, psychiatry, medicine, psychology, philosophy, poetry, literature, art or law. A signpost to this trait is often a smooth lack of concern at being found out that they are not.
Psychopaths have a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement. They see themselves as the center of the universe, as superior beings who are justified in living according to their own rules.
Psychopaths are seldom embarrassed about their legal, financial or personal problems. Rather, they see them as temporary setbacks, the results of bad luck, unfaithful friends or an unfair and incompetent system.
Psychopaths feel that their abilities will enable them to become anything they want to be. Given the right circumstances—opportunity, luck, willing victims—their grandiosity can pay off spectacularly. For example, the psychopathic entrepreneur "thinks big," but it's usually with someone else's money.
Psychopaths show a stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others. Often they are completely forthright about the matter, calmly stating that they have no sense of guilt, are not sorry for the pain and destruction they have caused, and that there is no reason for them to be concerned.
Psychopaths' lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalize their behavior and to shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment to family, friends, associates and others who have played by the rules. Usually they have handy excuses for their behavior, and in some cases they deny that it happened at all.
The feelings of other people are of no concern to psychopaths. Psychopaths view people as little more than objects to be used for their own gratification. The weak and the vulnerable—whom they mock, rather than pity—are favorite targets.
Psychopaths display a general lack of empathy. They are indifferent to the rights and suffering of family members and strangers alike. If they do maintain ties with their spouses or children it is only because they see their family members as possessions, much like their stereos or automobiles.
Because of their inability to appreciate the feelings of others, some psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling. For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
However, except in movies and books, very few psychopaths commit crimes of this sort. Their callousness typically emerges in less dramatic, though still devastating, ways: parasitically bleeding other people of their possessions, savings and dignity; aggressively doing and taking what they want; shamefully neglecting the physical and emotional welfare of their families; engaging in an unending series of casual, impersonal and trivial sexual relationships; and so forth.
Lying, deceiving and manipulation are natural talents for psychopaths. Given their glibness and the facility with which they lie, it is not surprising that psychopaths successfully cheat, bilk, defraud, con and manipulate people and have not the slightest compunction about doing so. They are often forthright in describing themselves as con men, hustlers or fraud artists. Their statements often reveal their belief that the world is made up of "givers and takers," predators and prey, and that it would be very foolish not to exploit the weaknesses of others.
Some of their operations are elaborate and well thought out, whereas others are quite simple: stringing along several women at the same time, or convincing family members and friends that money is needed "to bail me out of a jam." Whatever the scheme, it is carried off in a cool, self-assured, brazen manner.
Psychopaths seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings. While at times they appear cold and unemotional, they are prone to dramatic, shallow and short-lived displays of feeling. Careful observers are left with the impression that they are play-acting and that little is going on below the surface.
Laboratory experiments using biomedical recorders have shown that psychopaths lack the physiological responses normally associated with fear. The significance of this finding is that, for most people, the fear produced by threats of pain or punishment is an unpleasant emotion and a powerful motivator of behavior. Not so with psychopaths; they merrily plunge on, perhaps knowing what might happen but not really caring.
Psychopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences. "I did it because I felt like it," is a common response.
More than displays of temper, impulsive acts often result from an aim that plays a central role in most of the psychopath's behavior: to achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief. So, family members, employers and co-workers typically find themselves standing around asking themselves what happened—jobs are quit, relationships broken off, plans changed, houses ransacked, people hurt, often for what appears to be little more than a whim.
Psychopaths tend to live day-to-day and to change their plans frequently. They give little serious thought to the future and worry about it even less.
In psychopaths, inhibitory controls are weak, and the slightest provocation is sufficient to overcome them. As a result, psychopaths are short-tempered or hot-headed and tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline and criticism with sudden violence, threats and verbal abuse. They take offense easily and become angry and aggressive over trivialities, and often in a context that appears inappropriate to others. But their outbursts, extreme as they may be, are generally short-lived, and they quickly resume acting as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
Although psychopaths have a "hair trigger" and readily initiate aggressive displays, their ensuing behavior is not out of control. On the contrary, when psychopaths "blow their stack" it is as if they are having a temper tantrum; they know exactly what they are doing. Their aggressive displays are "cold;" they lack the intense emotional arousal experienced by others when they lose their temper.
It's not unusual for psychopaths to inflict serious physical or emotional damage on others, sometimes routinely, and yet refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem controlling their tempers. In most cases, they see their aggressive displays as natural responses to provocation.
Psychopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement—they long to live in the fast lane or "on the edge," where the action is. In many cases the action involves breaking the rules.
Some psychopaths use a wide variety of drugs as part of their general search for something new and exciting, and they often move from place to place and job to job searching for a fresh buzz. Many psychopaths describe "doing crime" for excitement or thrills.
The flip side of this yearning for excitement is an inability to tolerate routine or monotony. Psychopaths are easily bored. You are not likely to find them engaged in occupations or activities that are dull, repetitive or that require intense concentration over long periods.
Obligations and commitments mean nothing to psychopaths. Their good intentions—"I'll never cheat on you again"—are promises written on the wind.
Truly horrendous credit histories, for example, reveal the lightly taken debt, the shrugged-off loan, the empty pledge to contribute to a child's support. The irresponsibility and unreliability of psychopaths extend to every part of their lives. Their performance on the job is erratic, with frequent absences, misuse of company resources, violations of company policy, and general untrustworthiness. They do not honor formal or implied commitments to people, organizations or principles.
Indifference to the welfare of children—their own as well as those of a man or woman they happen to be living with at the time—is a common theme among psychopaths. Psychopaths see children as an inconvenience. Typically, they leave children on their own for extended periods or in the care of unreliable sitters.
Psychopaths are frequently successful in talking their way out of trouble—"I've learned my lesson;" "You have my word that it won't happen again;" "It was simply a big misunderstanding;" "Trust me." They are almost as successful in convincing the criminal justice system of their good intentions and their trustworthiness. Although they frequently manage to obtain probation, a suspended sentence or early release from prison, they simply ignore the conditions imposed by the courts.
Most psychopaths begin to exhibit serious behavioral problems at an early age. These might include persistent lying, cheating, theft, fire setting, truancy, class disruption, substance abuse, vandalism, violence, bullying, running away and precocious sexuality. Because many children exhibit some of these behaviors at one time or another, especially children raised in violent neighborhoods or in disrupted or abusive families, it is important to emphasize that the psychopaths's history of such behaviors is more extensive and serious than that of most others, even when compared with those of siblings and friends raised in similar settings.
Early cruelty to animals is usually a sign of serious emotional or behavioral problems. Cruelty to other children—including siblings—is often part of the young psychopaths's inability to experience the sort of empathy that checks normal people's impulses to inflict pain, even when enraged.
Psychopaths consider the rules and expectations of society inconvenient and unreasonable, impediments to their inclinations and wishes. They make their own rules, both as children and as adults.
Many of the antisocial acts of psychopaths lead to criminal convictions. Even within prison populations psychopaths stand out, largely because their antisocial and illegal activities are more varied and frequent than are those of other criminals.
Not all psychopaths end up in jail. Many of the things they do escape detection or prosecution, or are on the "shady side of the law." For them, antisocial behavior may consist of phony stock promotions, questionable business and professional practices, spouse or child abuse, and so forth. Many others do things that, although not illegal, are unethical, immoral or harmful to others: philandering, cheating on a spouse, financial or emotional neglect of family members, irresponsible use of company resources or funds, to name but a few. The problem with behaviors of this sort is that they are difficult to document and evaluate without the active cooperation of family, friends, acquaintances and business associates.
Psychopaths are not the only ones who lead socially deviant lifestyles. For example, many criminals have some of the characteristics described above, but because they are capable of feeling guilt, remorse, empathy and strong emotions, they are not considered psychopaths. A diagnosis of psychopathy is made only when there is solid evidence that the individual matches the complete profile—that is, has most of the above symptoms.
There is only one way to protect yourself from sociopaths: You must know what they are, and put your guard up when you start seeing the symptoms.
Sociopaths are prolific con artists. Here are some typical con artist tricks. For even more information about how con artists work, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Frauds, Scams, and Cons, by Duane Swierczynski.
If you've just met someone who is overwhelming you with praise, attention and concern, be careful. Be particularly careful if you're lonely and looking for love—con artists know exactly how to play that tune.
Credentials—exaggerated and fabricated
Con artists may "prove" themselves by namedropping or volunteering detailed resumes or credentials. If you're at all suspicious, check their references.
Building your trust
Con artists will sometimes honor their commitments in the beginning so that you begin to trust them. They'll pay back initial loans, or appear to be unselfishly helping other people. Their objective is to get you to drop your guard.
The story doesn't quite add up
The con artist's story may have small inconsistencies or unexplained loose ends. If you ask questions, the con will glibly provide an explanation—which may also not add up. Or, he or she will sidestep the issue by accusing you of paranoia or mistrust.
"I need an answer now."
A crisis needs to be averted, an opportunity will disappear—whatever the reason, a con artist will want an answer right away. If you have time to think, research or ask advice, you may realize that con artist's plan is a ploy. The con will want your money before you figure it out.
Intense eye contact
Typically, when people talk to each other, they look each other in the eyes and then briefly look away. Sociopathic con artists often exhibit a "predatory stare"—unblinking, fixated and emotionless. It's not a sign of empathy—it's an effort to assert control.
Con artists will slowly and subtly separate you from people who may question their plans. They may intercept phone calls from your friends. They may refuse to associate with your family. They'll tell you, "It's you and me against the world, baby." Soon, you're alone with them, snared in their net.