Tomorrow’s post features our first psychopathic female and I realized I have been remiss…. I meant to write this post in September and forgot. As I typed up tomorrow’s post, I remembered it and realized that for any of the psychopathic women on the my list to be “understood” we, as a group, needed to understand psychopathology better. Which means it’s time to tackle the very sticky subject of psychopathology as a mental illness. I commented in September in one of my posts that not all psychopaths are serial killers, but all serial killers are psychopaths. This is mostly true (I would argue that some killers like Debbie Furnato aren’t psychopaths in the sense we think of them).
Now, because some psychopaths are very high functioning and hold jobs as presidents in Fortune 500 companies, it’s hard to claim that psychopathology is a mental illness in the same way that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are. And unlike either of those conditions, there’s not a medication that makes the symptoms better or less frequent. If you are a psychopath, you are a psychopath for life and the variations we see in it are related to the severity of the psychopathic personality traits, which can and do fluctuate over time.
One of the things that drives me up the wall is when people say “psychopaths don’t feel”. This is fundamentally NOT true. Psychopaths can and do feel. They can feel happy, they can feel sad, they can feel anger, they can feel trepidation, they can even feel love. What they don’t do is feel deeply and “how deeply” they experience an emotion can depend on their mood when the emotion happens. The idea that psychopaths don’t feel is based on testimony from Ted Bundy. However, after dealing with Malachi for the majority of my life and talking to psychiatrists about having a psychopathic friend, I know Ted Bundy lied. This doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t surprise you either, Ted was a compulsive liar (like most psychopaths) and he liked the attention he got from the doctors while providing them information on why someone would be like him.
Most of us humans walk around all day with some kind of emotion happening in us. It could be mild annoyance because person X hasn’t read that email you sent six hours ago and are waiting on their response to move forward or it may be general contentment because the day is just blandly going well – you woke up feeling rested, managed to get coffee in your body before someone talked to you, and you ate breakfast, then you caught all green lights on the way to work and nothing bad happened as soon as you walked in the door. Studies show this general contentment feeling is what produces resting bitch face… you aren’t feeling a strong emotion, so you aren’t showing a strong emotion. Some people’s general contentment is a happier emotion than others, so they smile when they feel it. But for the majority of us, we have resting bitch face.
With psychopaths, that feeling of general contentment doesn’t exist. Malachi says he really does go long periods of time where he doesn’t feel anything at all. He’s not annoyed, he’s not content, he’s just existing. And from my personal experience with him, I know that sometimes, it is really hard for him to feel strong emotions. He might feel happiness, but he doesn’t experience ecstasy or elation. What might cause you to feel ecstatic and overjoyed would only make him feel “happy and content.” Now, because he’s a high functioning psychopath, he can fake ecstacy and elation as well as a few others, because he’s learned to take social cues on when he’s supposed to feel those sorts of emotions. He says it’s exhausting to fake them though, so with his close friends and family, he doesn’t bother anymore. He reserves that for when he’s in public and knows he’s expected to express them.
I will say though, Malachi is high functioning and it does work a little different than low functioning psychopathology. First, most low functioning psychopaths don’t know how or when to fake those “strong emotions” which further isolates them and makes them seem “unfeeling, cold, and emotionless”. Second, Malachi admits it’s a lot easier to feel rage than happiness. I imagine this is especially true of low functioning psychopaths who often feed on their anger and hate, because they know they are supposed to feel something, but don’t understand what that is or how and rage just naturally comes easily to psychopaths. Of course, this is true of non-psychopaths too. It is easier to get extremely annoyed at the driver in the car behind you riding your bumper than feel gratitude towards the driver that lets you cut in front of them in traffic.
I have heard arguments that psychopathology isn’t a mental illness. Sometimes, I agree. It isn’t like most mental illnesses. There aren’t good days and bad days. The only treatment available for it is talk therapy, which sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t. One of the things Malachi and I have discussed at some length, is that there are times he just has to “know” things. This conversation was of particular interest to me after I got a call from him saying “I shot myself in the foot this morning and need a ride to the ER. It hurts more than I thought it would and while I expected to be able to drive myself, it turns out I can’t.” Once at the hospital, he spun a story about it being an accident and I didn’t object to the story, but I knew… Malachi had mentioned more than once that he needed to know what it felt like to be shot. Eventually, this worked to my advantage, as Ace’s descriptions of being shot, stabbed, and stun gunned, all come from Malachi’s first hand experience with them. When he decides he needs to know something, he will even self-mutilate to find out. I thought this very strange when it happened the first time. Since then, I’ve talked to a couple different psychiatrists and psychologists who have said it isn’t. Psychopaths have incredibly low impulse control and with a high functioning psychopath who has a thirst to “know” the world to the best of their ability, they would actually expect this kind of behavior. And so, when Malachi bought his first stun gun and called me and said “I need you to use this stun gun on me.” I didn’t argue. We agreed on a time and I made plans to meet him and I did stun gun him. Although, at my insistence, I stun gunned his thigh not his lower abdomen. To help fuel your nightmares, the first hit with it, did nothing. I watched the muscle of his thigh contract. He gave a grunt and then the muscle relaxed. He was standing when I did it and he didn’t collapse, it was very anti-climatic. He later bought a different stun gun and figured out how to modify it. He told me all about the modifications later, after he’d asked me to do it again with this different one. I expected a repeat performance. Instead, he collapsed onto the floor, grunting, making guttural groans, and flopping like a fish. Once it passed, he jumped to his feet, grabbed my hand and using my hand stun gunned himself a second time. That time he wet himself and seemed satisfied. He flopped longer the second time and I was really worried, but he stood up and said “Well, that should stop a bear if I need it too.” Took back the stun gun and we didn’t talk about it again for weeks.
It is important to remember these types of moments as we discuss psychopathic killers, because sometimes it will seem like a switch was flipped and they went from being “normal” to being depraved killers. I have a feeling that if Malachi ever decided he needed to know what it felt like to kill someone, he’d just do it without much thought beyond planning how not to get caught. Thankfully, as a high functioning psychopath, he’s unlikely to decide he needs to experience murdering someone and he does understand that even our friendship has it’s limit and murder is beyond it.
This is especially true of tomorrow’s post which deals with Gwendolyn Graham. She will not only be the first female “Angel of Mercy” killer tackled by this blog series, but the first female psychopath and it does appear that one day, a switch flipped and she woke up one morning and decided to start killing people.