Which means almost a psychopath

"Psychopaths are not automatically serial killers"

Ms. Benecke, what are psychopaths and how do they come about?

Lydia Benecke: Psychopathy is not a clinical diagnosis that stands on its own, but corresponds in content to a mixture of several personality disorders that are strongly pronounced in one person at the same time. In extreme cases that are rare, but received a lot of media attention, those affected can become active as serial killers. Many other people with high psychopathic scores also never commit a homicide, so the widespread assumption that psychopaths are automatically serial killers is by no means generalized. What psychopaths have in common is that they usually show little or no empathy, social responsibility, conscience or fear and at the same time place their own needs above everything else.

For example, if a psychopathic, wealthy husband wants to divorce his wife but does not see how to bear the high costs, it might be much easier for him than other men to decide whether to murder his wife. The lack of emotional inhibitions with a strong egocentricity at the same time obviously increases the likelihood of a person affected in a certain situation to behave unusually antisocial. That is why many psychopaths are also active as cheats in various fields.

How is the diagnosis “psychopath” made?

There is no diagnosis in the clinical sense, so psychopathy is not defined using the clinical diagnosis manual ICD (the World Health Organization) or DSM (the American Psychiatric Association). Rather, it is a concept with which originally particularly conspicuous, chronically antisocial acting, barely or not at all benefiting from treatment and at risk of relapse should be reliably identified. That was the basic idea of ​​the Canadian criminal psychologist Robert Hare when he developed the psychopathy checklist. It contains 20 criteria, for example selfish behavior that exploits others or a chronically unstable, antisocial lifestyle. With a maximum of 40 points to be achieved, from 30 points in men and from 23 points in women the assessment of a strongly pronounced psychopathy is made.

Does psychopathy also have a genetic basis?

Today we know that there is a genetic disposition, but social influences also play a role in all cases - emotional abuse during childhood or adolescence is always added as a trigger.

So psychopaths have always experienced childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse or physical violence?

This is often the case, but emotional abuse can also be more subtle, such as showering a child with gifts but at the same time being severely neglected by the parents. Then the parents say to each other, for example: "The child had everything", but fail to recognize that during his childhood he sat almost all alone in his children's room filled with toys and was often accommodated in paid group camps because the parents simply wanted their rest and went with them didn't know what to do with the child - so there was never an emotional bond between the child and the parents.

Other parents are emotionally very unstable, sometimes super nice and affectionate to the children, shortly afterwards repulsive or aggressive for no apparent reason and that again and again in unpredictable changes for the child. Other parents, on the other hand, abuse their child as a substitute partner, want to be comforted and cared for by him, so they totally revert the parent-child role. But of course not everyone who experiences this automatically becomes a psychopath - some lead healthy, normal lives, even if they experienced bad things in their childhood.

It is similar to smoking: it has been shown to increase the likelihood of various diseases, but one person will get a stroke, the other a heart attack, the next lung cancer and then there is always the small number of people who are 100 years old despite many years of chain smoking become. But there is probably no psychopath who was not exposed to abuse in childhood, sometimes this is very obvious and sometimes only just recognizable with a detailed biography analysis.

Can you explain that on a case?

A famous example is Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the "Cannibal of Milwaukee", who killed 17 people. At first it was believed that he had had a lovely childhood, until it was found that his mother was experiencing severe, chronic mood swings and extreme, depressive episodes, although despite these conditions she practically looked after her son at home because the unhappy father was himself buried in his work at a university and was virtually permanently absent from the family. So although Dahmer lived in a beautiful house with married parents who were respected in the neighborhood, the chronic instability of the mother and the absence of the father triggered the serious disturbances in his personality that favored his development into a serial killer.

Are Psychopaths Responsible for What They Do?

We always say: an explanation is not an excuse. If a person knows that he is not allowed to do something, can control himself and consciously decides to defy interpersonal and legal rules, he is entirely responsible for his actions - even if he has the personality traits that made it easier for him To make an anti-social decision, of course, has not chosen. Likewise, there are very many crimes that are not committed by people with a high psychopathic score. Psychopathic perpetrators are a special, well-researched group of perpetrators that have received a lot of media attention, but they only represent a small percentage of all offenders.

Finally, let's talk about the difference between male and female psychopaths.

Psychopaths are generally less prone to physical and sexual crimes than men; they are more likely to commit fraud and emotional cruelty - the latter is not punishable. They often instrumentalize their social environment and in this they mainly look for their victims. In doing so, they often cause significant emotional, social, financial and sometimes physical damage to their relatives, partners, friends, acquaintances and work colleagues. The causes of these gender differences are both biological and social factors and their interplay. For example, girls' social intelligence develops earlier and more pronounced than boys, but the male sex hormone testosterone also plays a role in the fact that women commit less physical violent crimes than men, across time and culture.

The interview was conducted by Jörn Hildebrandt.

Lydia Benecke was already captivated by psychological issues in her school days. Her books made it onto the bestseller lists. Since 2009 she has appeared as a psychological expert on television programs.

The criminal psychologist and author Lydia Benecke will give insights into the “psychology of female evil” under the title “Psychopathinnen” on Friday, January 25th, 8 pm, in the Kulturbahnhof Vegesack, Hermann-Fortmann-Straße 32. The event is already sold out.