Psychopathic success is both troubling and unerringly common. We see powerful men abuse their power more times than we can count. Lately, we have the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and we’ll be watching the inevitable fall from grace of other media moguls in the coming months too). If there’s one thing I hear in relation to psychopathic success, it’s some variant of: “I can’t believe he’s got away with it for so long!”
So how is it psychopaths get power in the first place, then keep it? Even when their predatory behaviour is such an “open secret” – as in the case of the great orange oompa loompa who vacillates between denying and flaunting his vile antics?
In my opinion, there’s never been a more chilling and perfect rendition of a psychopath than the Channel 4 drama series, “Born To Kill.” In the opening scene, we see Sam, a teenager living with his single mum (who works as a nurse), rehearsing empathy in front of his bedroom mirror. He says: “…’Cos smiling is attractive. Smiling… it draws people in… Kids smile at least 400 times a day, adults, 20. So thinking about it, you should smile at least once an hour!”
He then goes on to carefully practice the story of his father, killed in Afghanistan, carefully designed to emotionally manipulate people so he can set them up as targets (the father, Psychopath Senior, is really in prison). We see him setting up scenarios in advance, without yet knowing what his agenda really is.
Then, the next scene is at breakfast with his mum, a nurse. He asks her how her day was and she tells him: “Mr Franklyn’s still hanging in there.” He says: “he was a boxer when he was young.” She exclaims: “I didn’t know that!” (Typical Empath – I tell you why in a moment…)
It turns out he has a fascination with both death and power and we later discover that he loves to visit his mum’s elderly patients at the hospital. He ruthlessly destroys anyone who stands in his way, no matter how minor the obstruction. He lies, he steals and… well, he kills.
Here in the first 1.5 minutes of this riveting series is the secret reason why psychopaths succeed where Empaths don’t:
They have a breathtaking ability to coolly and detachedly observe WHAT IS.
This power of observation allows psychopaths to blend into their social surroundings like chameleons as they practice the expressions and mannerisms others respond well to.
They are calm and cool under pressure, fearless and always on the lookout for opportunities to get what they want. Having no conscience, no remorse and no empathy, they’re not concerned about whether or not others like them, only how useful others are and the extent to which they can be manipulated.
In contrast, cool, detached observation of what is isn’t something Empaths do well. Typically (and paradoxically), the Empath is self-focused and overly concerned about what others think of her. In a hostile workplace, she becomes progressively more defensive (and understandably so) as she seeks to protect herself from potentially threatening situations. This excessive focus on self is often accompanied by high stress and anxiety, which narrows her attention even more. As a result, there’s a lot of useful information she misses that a psychopath picks up on.
So a self-focused Empath is perfect prey for the psychopath who can easily slip under the radar, especially if he gives the Empath the approval she craves. It’s also relatively easy for a well-rehearsed psychopath to destroy an Empath with not a second thought in a bid to get what he wants.
Let’s take the hypothetical example of a visit to the boss’s office on your first day at work.
The Empath asks herself: “How can I get him to like me?”
The Empath focuses her laser-like attention on him as they talk, paying attention to his emotional cues – like whether he makes eye contact with her and smiles. She smiles and laughs with him to convey her warmth and friendliness. She talks about things she thinks are interesting to him, like the ideas she has about how to increase efficiency or productivity in her role.
She listens to him and defers agreeably (even when she doesn’t agree). She likely pays him a compliment or three. Then, when she leaves, she thanks him for his time and offers to shake his hand. Before leaving, she asks: “would you like the door open or closed?”
A psychopath, on the other hand, asks: “How can I use him to my advantage?”
The psychopath has the warm, smiling expression on his face that he practiced in front of the mirror earlier. Then, he looks around the room for clues. He notices the framed family holiday portrait on the desk. He makes a mental note of the book titles on the shelf. He sees the golf bag casually propped up in a corner.
He considers whether the boss seems stressed or confident and if his desk is cluttered or tidy. Then, he risks saying something he thinks the boss wants to hear, to gauge his reaction.
He stays in the meeting only long enough to piece together the information he needs about what his next most effective move should be.
From these examples, we can deduce two important things. Firstly, the psychopath has his own agenda, which revolves around self-gratification. What specifically will gratify him, we don’t know, in much the same way we don’t understand at first why Sam wants to spend his precious time hanging around his mum’s elderly patients. It’s only later we learn that it’s an apprenticeship in death and dying.
Nevertheless, we must understand that the psychopath doesn’t see the world the way we do – and the way he does see the world is shocking and incomprehensible to us.
Secondly, there is much to be gained from learning the skill of cool, detached observation of what is. If we are to survive and even thrive in a hostile workplace, we need to detach more, stop taking things so personally and stop doubting and judging ourselves.
In fact, Kevin Dutton has written a whole book about it, called: “The Wisdom Of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies And Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.” He says:
“Psychopathy is like a medicine for modern times… Let’s take a look at those dials for a moment: ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness (living in the moment), and action. Who wouldn’t, at certain points in their lives, benefit from kicking one or two of them up a notch?”
Increasing mindfulness is a good place to start. Take the next step by downloading my FREE guide: “The Silence of Mindfulness: A Simple Guide to Inner Peace and Emotional Well-Being.”
Then, when you’ve downloaded and read your free guide, I invite you to receive the support and help you need from your fellow empaths in my Facebook group: “Empaths At Work”
Let’s continue the conversation there – I’m looking forward to meeting you and giving you the encouragement you need to deal with the work stress from dealing with psychopaths and workplace bullies on a daily basis.