An entire chapter of my book, The Human Whisperer, is devoted to learning how to identify and deal with psychopaths. This is an important topic because psychopaths are encountered more often than most people realize. Most of us are neither criminologists nor behavioral psychologists, but that’s OK. Because your objective isn’t to find clinical or legal definitions of psychopathy.
Rather, you need to arm yourself with a basic understanding of what psychopathic behavior looks like. You need to understand how they think, and how that thinking differs from a normal person’s thought process. If you can identify it, you can learn which people to avoid to give you the greatest chance at a happier, healthier, and more productive life. (Most psychopaths, obviously, are not murderers, or even criminals, but they are in a position to do harm, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Learning to identify them will keep you, and your loved ones, better off.)
The recent O.J. Simpson “Lost Confession” video footage provides a great opportunity to demonstrate ideas that can be difficult to convey through words alone. Watching this interview, I was struck at how O.J. ticks all the boxes of a true psychopath. The following list of psychopathic attributes is not exhaustive, but it does cover the features easiest to identify once you know what to look for.
Even innocent people are saddened by situations, even ones they did not cause. Throughout the entire interview, O.J. never demonstrated any remorse about the people that were killed, which is to be expected. It’s not that psychopaths are suppressing feelings of guilt and remorse. Those feelings just don’t exist. They are so self-focused that what happens to others is of no consequence, but what happens to them is the only thing to consider.
This first clip demonstrates this behavior perfectly when O.J. says, “Ron and Nicole were physically dead, and it's almost like they killed me. Who I was, was attacked and murdered also.” Two people were brutally murdered, but his primary consideration is how it affects him.
Nothing is a psychopath’s fault. Someone looked at them the wrong way, or said the wrong thing, or did the wrong thing, that’s what caused them to snap. There is never a desire to stand up and say, “I have no one to blame. I did it. It’s my fault.”
O.J. says, “I'm yelling at her because of what's going on, it's like ‘I told you, didn't I tell you?!? Didn't I say to you?!?’ Directly blaming her for his actions that night. This is a common defense for a psychopath: If not for what you did, then I wouldn’t have had to do what I did.
Psychopaths need to exert control over other people and will use all manner of psychological warfare to do it. They will lie, intimidate, guilt trip, shame, and be directly hostile in order to bend others to their will. If a psychopath loses the ability to dominate someone, even in death, it aggravates a psychopaths volatile temper.
Psychopaths typically possess a volatile anger. For many psychopaths, it can be generally controlled and only unleashed in private surroundings. Anger by itself doesn’t make one a psychopath, but most psychopaths have deep-seated anger issues that accompany the other characteristics.
In O.J.’s case, his anger was still present even twelve years after the murders. He claims that if you’re angry with a person, that doesn’t stop just because they die. This isn’t true at all. If a loved one dies, you think about the things you wish you would have said or done while they were still alive. You don’t continue to harbor ill-will and anger toward them for the rest of your life--unless you’re a true psychopath.
The following clip shows all four of these traits in action. Consider the transcript:
[Anger] If you're angry with somebody about whatever's going on your life, when they die, it's not like that anger disappears, right? [Blaming others] Because of the 9-1-1 call and I'm yelling at her because of what's going on, it's like "I told you, didn't I tell you?!? Didn't I say to you?!?" [Need to manipulate/Lack of remorse] Because of these feelings, it's like I'm not going to be able to say to this person. I'm never going to be able to change this person. I'm never going to have an effect on this person again.”
- Possess a grandiose sense of self-importance
Psychopaths see the world as though they are the star of the play, and everyone else is playing the part of an extra. This is so well demonstrated when O.J. talks about the hardest part of the whole situation was that people could believe that he did this. In spite of all the evidence, his sense of self-importance is so high that he can’t reconcile the fact that people believe that he, O.J. Simpson could have done this.
O.J.: That was hard for me to accept that it was so easy for people to believe that [I had committed this crime].
What about the laughter? Many people have brought up the laughter as a sign of lack of remorse, but in my experience, this isn’t usually the case. The laughter is more often a sign of relieving stress when telling a lie. In his book, If I Did It, he says that he went to the house with a guy named “Charlie.” It’s pretty obvious to most people that “Charlie” is actually O.J. himself, or a self-created alter-ego. In either event, it isn’t actually another person. Listen to this quick snippet where he laughs at the mention of Charlie. Then go back and rewatch the interview and listen to the laughter with an ear toward deception and not a lack of remorse (although it does show up in a few places), and see what other insights you can glean from the interview.
interviewer: Charlie pulls up...
O.J.: Charlie [laughs] came by…
For more information, pick up a copy of the book, The Human Whisperer. Watch it again in full and see how often these attributes manifest themselves over the course of his interview. It’s a chilling look into the eyes of a true psychopath.
The best defense against any psychopath is to understand, at least on a rudimentary level, how they think. Hopefully, this quick overview will give you some guidance as to what to watch out for when you’re dealing with friends, co-workers, family members, or anyone that is in a position to cause you harm.