The Mask of Sanity

The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So Called Psychopathic Personality

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.
And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.
Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.
You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.
In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.
You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered.
How will you live your life?What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)?
The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people – whether they have a conscience or not – favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dull-witted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites. […]
Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all.
If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other people’s hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. […]
Crazy and frightening – and real, in about 4 percent of the population….
The prevalence rate for anorexic eating disorders is estimated a 3.43 percent, deemed to be nearly epidemic, and yet this figure is a fraction lower than the rate for antisocial personality. The high-profile disorders classed as schizophrenia occur in only about 1 percent of [the population] – a mere quarter of the rate of antisocial personality – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the rate of colon cancer in the United States, considered “alarmingly high,” is about 40 per 100,000 – one hundred times lower than the rate of antisocial personality.
The high incidence of sociopathy in human society has a profound effect on the rest of us who must live on this planet, too, even those of us who have not been clinically traumatized. The individuals who constitute this 4 percent drain our relationships, our bank accounts, our accomplishments, our self-esteem, our very peace on earth.
Yet surprisingly, many people know nothing about this disorder, or if they do, they think only in terms of violent psychopathy – murderers, serial killers, mass murderers – people who have conspicuously broken the law many times over, and who, if caught, will be imprisoned, maybe even put to death by our legal system.
We are not commonly aware of, nor do we usually identify, the larger number of nonviolent sociopaths among us, people who often are not blatant lawbreakers, and against whom our formal legal system provides little defense.
. . .
For those of you who are seeking understanding of psychopathy, Hervey Cleckley’s book The Mask of Sanity, the absolutely essential study of the psychopath who is not necessarily of the criminal type. This book is no longer available. has it scanned and their team of researchers spent two weeks going over the text carefully to eliminate text conversion errors. You may download the entire book FREE as a PDF. (Read A Sample Chapter of The Mask of Sanity)
“Likeable,” “Charming,” “Intelligent,” “Alert,” “Impressive,” “Confidence-inspiring,” and “A great success with the ladies”: These are the sorts of descriptions repeatedly used by Cleckley in his famous case-studies of psychopaths. They are also, of course, “irresponsible,” “self-destructive,” and the like. These descriptions highlight the great frustrations and puzzles that surround the study of psychopathy.
Psychopaths seem to have in abundance the very traits most desired by normal persons. The untroubled self-confidence of the psychopath seems almost like an impossible dream and is generally what “normal” people seek to acquire when they attend assertiveness training classes. In many instances, the magnetic attraction of the psychopath for members of the opposite sex seems almost supernatural.
Cleckley’s seminal hypothesis concerning the psychopath is that he suffers from a very real mental illness indeed: a profound and incurable affective deficit. If he really feels anything at all, they are emotions of only the shallowest kind. He does bizarre and self-destructive things because consequences that would fill the ordinary man with shame, self-loathing, and embarrassment simply do not affect the psychopath at all. What to others would be a disaster is to him merely a fleeting inconvenience.
Cleckley also gives grounds for the view that psychopathy is quite common in the community at large. He has collected some cases of psychopaths who generally function normally in the community as businessmen, doctors, and even psychiatrists. Some researchers see criminal psychopathy – often referred to as anti-social personality disorder – as an extreme of a “normal” personality dimension (or dimensions).
…What is so shocking is the number of such individuals that must exist, based on these reports. This is not just an occasional event, it seems to be almost a pandemic!
Our research team and egroup have been engaged for some time in researching and analyzing these interactions and the characteristics and the dynamics and the personalities.
Our research has led us to identify them with “Psychopaths.” They can also be Narcissists since Narcissism seems to be merely a “facet” of the psychopath or a “milder” manifestation. You could say that the Narcissist is a “garden variety psychopath” who, because of his or her “social programming,” has less likelihood of running afoul of the law. In this way, they are very efficient “survival machines,” living out their lives doing untold damage to their families, friends and business associates.
It is only when a person takes a long and careful look at the full-blown psychopath – a sort of exaggerated Narcissist – that they are able to see the caricature of the traits that then make it easier for them to identify the “garden variety” psychopath – and/or the Narcissist.
Our world seems to have been invaded by individuals whose approach to life and love is so drastically different from what has been the established norm for a very long time that we are ill- prepared to deal with their tactics of what Robert Canup calls “plausible lie.” As he demonstrates, this philosophy of the “plausible lie” has overtaken the legal and administrative domains of our world, turning them into machines in which human beings with real emotions are destroyed.
The recent movie, “The Matrix,” touched a deep chord in society because it exemplified this mechanistic trap in which so many people find their lives enmeshed, and from which they are unable to extricate themselves because they believe that everyone around them who “looks human” is, in fact, just like them – emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise.
Take, for example, the “legal argument” as explicated by Robert Canup in his work on the “Socially Adept Psychopath.” The legal argument seems to be at the foundation of our society. This amounts to little more than con-artistry: the one who is the slickest at using the structure for convincing a group of people of something, is the one who is believed. Because this “legal argument” system has been slowly installed as part of our culture, when it invades our personal lives, we normally do not recognize it immediately.
Human beings have been accustomed to assume that other human beings are – at the very least – trying to “do right” and “be good” and fair and honest. And so, very often, we do not take the time to use due diligence in order to determine if a person who has entered our life is, in fact, a “good person.” And when a conflict ensues, we automatically fall into the cultural assumption that in any conflict, one side is partly right one way, and the other is partly right the other, and that we can form opinions about which side is mostly right or wrong. Because of our exposure to the “legal argument” norms, when any dispute arises, we automatically think that the truth will lie somewhere between two extremes. In this case, application of a little mathematical logic to the problem of the legal argument might be helpful.
Let us assume that in a dispute, one side is innocent, honest, and tells the truth. It is obvious that lying does an innocent person no good; what lie can he tell? If he is innocent, the only lie he can tell is to falsely confess “I did it.” But lying is nothing but good for the liar. He can declare that “I didn’t do it,” and accuse another of doing it, all the while the innocent person he has accused is saying “I didn’t do it,” and is actually telling the truth.
The truth – when twisted by good liars, can always make an innocent person look bad – especially if the innocent person is honest and admits his mistakes.
The basic assumption that the truth lies between the testimony of the two sides always shifts the advantage to the lying side and away from the side telling the truth. Under most circumstances, this shift put together with the fact that the truth is going to also be twisted in such a way as to bring detriment to the innocent person, results in the advantage always resting in the hands of liars – psychopaths. Even the simple act of giving testimony under oath is useless. If a person is a liar, swearing an oath means nothing to that person. However, swearing an oath acts strongly on a serious, truthful witness. Again, the advantage is placed on the side of the liar. [Robert Canup]
This highlights one of the unique things about the psychopath: their seeming inability to conceive of the abstract idea of “the future.”
It has often been noted that psychopaths have a distinct advantage over human beings with conscience and feelings because the psychopath does not have conscience and feelings. What seems to be so is that conscience and feelings are related to the abstract concepts of “future” and “others.” It is “spatio-temporal.” We can feel fear, sympathy, empathy, sadness, and so on because we can IMAGINE in an abstract way, the future based on our own experiences in the past, or even just “concepts of experiences” in myriad variations. We can “predict” how others will react because we are able to “see ourselves” in them even though they are “out there” and the situation is somewhat different externally, though similar in dynamic. In other words, we can not only identify with others spatially – so to say – but also temporally – in time.
The psychopath does not seem to have this capacity.
They are unable to “imagine” in the sense of being able to really connect to images in a direct “self connecting to another self” sort of way.
Oh, indeed, they can imitate feelings, but the only real feelings they seem to have – the thing that drives them and causes them to act out different dramas for effect – is a sort of “predatorial hunger” for what they want. That is to say, they “feel” need/want as love, and not having their needs/wants met is described as “not being loved” by them. What is more, this “need/want” perspective posits that only the “hunger” of the psychopath is valid, and anything and everything “out there,” outside of the psychopath, is not real except insofar as it has the capability of being assimilated to the psychopath as a sort of “food.” “Can it be used or can it provide something?” is the only issue about which the psychopath seems to be concerned. All else – all activity – is subsumed to this drive.
In short, the psychopath – and the narcissist to a lesser extent – is a predator. If we think about the interactions of predators with their prey in the animal kingdom, we can come to some idea of what is behind the “mask of sanity” of the psychopath. Just as an animal predator will adopt all kinds of stealthy functions in order to stalk their prey, cut them out of the herd, get close to them and reduce their resistance, so does the psychopath construct all kinds of elaborate camoflage composed of words and appearances – lies and manipulations – in order to “assimilate” their prey.
This leads us to an important question: what does the psychopath REALLY get from their victims? It’s easy to see what they are after when they lie and manipulate for money or material goods or power. But in many instances, such as love relationships or faked friendships, it is not so easy to see what the psychopath is after. Without wandering too far afield into spiritual speculations – a problem Cleckley also faced – we can only say that it seems to be that the psychopath ENJOYS making others suffer. Just as normal humans enjoy seeing other people happy, or doing things that make other people smile, the psychopath enjoys the exact opposite.

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