Why Psychopathy is Incurable: Nothing Can Fix a Psychopath

Psychopathy, along with borderline personality disorder and malignant narcissism, is an incurable personality disorder. Personality disorders are character deficiencies that are so deeply ingrained in one’s personality that they are, for all practical purposes, unchangeable. Most websites and books on romantic relationships tell readers what steps to take to get them or improve them. By way of contrast, I tell you bluntly and in detail why and how to disengage for good from the psychopathic bond. If there’s one kind of relationship that’s not worth saving, it’s one with a psychopath. You can’t change a psychopath. Consequently, you also can’t improve your relationship with him.

Psychologists call psychopathy “pathological.” They state that psychopaths suffer from a severe “personality disorder,” not just normal human flaws that can be worked on and ameliorated. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. underscores in How to spot a dangerous man before you get involved that “Pathology is forever.” (23) It’s the result of a faulty brain wiring, sometimes coupled with emotional trauma that occurs during childhood development, which can’t be altered in any significant way once the psychopath reaches adulthood.  Brown doesn’t mince words when she describes a psychopath as “an emotional predator” who represents “the pinnacle of poisonous and pathological dating choices.” (179) When involved with such an individual, she cautions, “You will never change his physiology or his bad wiring. You will never love him into safety, sanity, or sanctity.” (21)

Women involved with psychopaths have been conditioned by their partners to assume most of the blame for the problems that occur in the relationship. They’re often deeply in love. They hope that the psychopath will magically improve and grow to love them more meaningfully. Often, they seek therapy, counseling or support groups. They grasp at any straw that can help them salvage the pathological relationship. As time goes on, they focus on the increasingly fewer positive aspects of the relationship. They cherish the memories of how well they were treated in the beginning. They go into denial so that they don’t have to face the deliberate malice of the person they love, to whom they may have devoted their entire lives.

When faced with the vast discrepancy between the psychopath’s nice words and his malicious actions, they feel lost, disoriented and alone. They stubbornly cling to the psychopath and to the fantasy of romantic love he initially created. They believe the psychopath has a good side, which reflects his real positive qualities, and a bad side, which they often take the blame for. Psychopaths don’t have a good side. That supposedly good side—made up mostly of fake charm, manipulation and lies–is only a mask they put on in order to establish dominance over other human beings and use them for their selfish purposes. Because we want to believe there’s some good in every human being, it’s difficult to accept that psychopaths are, at core, evil. Unfortunately, that’s the case. As Liane Leedom puts it, psychopaths are “driven to do evil”. Their compulsion to harm others and their predatory desires are physiologically rooted in their personality structure. This is what I’ll explain next.

Since the early 1940’s, when Hervey Cleckley conducted his study of psychopathy, psychologists have tried to understand the physiological basis for this dangerous personality disorder. During the nineteenth century, psychopathy used to be called “moral insanity.” It could also be called “the malady of lovelessness,” since it’s caused by shallow emotions. Robert Hare shows that the root of the problem lies in the fact that for psychopaths neither side of the brain processes emotion properly. To psychopaths, emotionally charged statements such as “I love you,” “I’m sorry that I hurt you,” “I’ll never do it again,” mean absolutely nothing. They’re just words they use to deceive and manipulate others. Of course, they’re not random words. Psychopaths see that other people attach a special meaning to them. They notice that when they say “I love you,” “I’ll always be faithful to you” or “You’re the woman of my life,” they get a positive reaction. These hollow phrases help them seduce others, establish their trust and use them for their own selfish purposes. Psychopaths lack the capacity, however, to experience, and thus to fully grasp, the meaning behind emotionally charged words. Hare observes:

“Like the color-blind person, the psychopath lacks an important element of experience—in this case, emotional experience—but may have learned the words that others use to describe or mimic experiences that he cannot really understand.” (Without Conscience, 129)

To verify these findings, Hare and his research team conducted experiments on psychopaths versus non-psychopaths. They connected their subjects to an EEG machine, which records the electrical activity of the brain. Then they flashed on a screen strings of letters. Some of them formed real words while others formed only gibberish. They asked their subjects to press a button as soon as they identified a true word. A computer measured the time it took them to make the decision. It also analyzed their brain activity during the performance of this task. They found that non-psychopathic subjects responded quicker to emotionally charged words–such as “death” or “love”–than to non-emotional ones, such as “tree.” By way of contrast, emotionally charged words had no effect whatsoever on psychopaths. Hare elaborates,

“For most of us, language has the capacity to elicit powerful emotional feelings. For example, the word ‘cancer’ evokes not only a clinical description of a disease and its symptoms but a sense of fear, apprehension, or concern, and perhaps disturbing mental images of what it might be like to have it. But to the psychopath, it’s just a word.” (Without Conscience, 133)

According to both psychological and physiological research, psychopaths function far below the emotional poverty line. They’re much shallower than what we generally call “superficial” people. This has a lot to do with the faulty wiring in their brains. Hare explains that in most people the right side of the brain plays a central role in processing emotion. By way of contrast,

“Recent laboratory evidence indicates that in psychopaths neither side of the brain is proficient in the processes of emotion. Why this is so is still a mystery. But an intriguing implication is that the brain processes that control the psychopath’s emotions are divided and unfocused, resulting in a shallow and colorless emotional life.” (Without Conscience, 134)

The shallowness of their emotions explains why psychopaths are so callous as to use and abuse even those closest to them: their partners, their children, their parents, their lovers and their so-called friends. It also clarifies why they can’t see anything wrong with their mistreatment of others. Even when they rape and murder, psychopaths feel no remorse. Their theatrical apologies and promises to reform are as empty as their vows of love. When they cry in court after having been sentenced to prison for their crimes, they either feign emotion to gain sympathy or cry about the fact they got caught. While research shows that psychopaths are incapable of real emotional bonding with others, this doesn’t imply that they’re out of touch with reality. When they harm others, even when it’s opportunistically and in the heat of the moment, they’re cold-blooded and deliberate about their actions. They’re also aware of the fact that their misdeeds are considered morally wrong by society. But, fundamentally, they don’t care. In fact, breaking the rules (without suffering any consequences) is the name of their game. As Hare clarifies:

“As I mentioned earlier, psychopaths do meet current legal and psychiatric standards for sanity. They understand the rules of society and the conventional meanings of right and wrong. They are capable of controlling their behavior and realize the potential consequences of their acts. The problem is that this knowledge frequently fails to deter them from antisocial behavior.” (Without Conscience, 143)

Whenever any discussion of criminal or deviant behavior takes place, the age-old debate between nature versus nurture tends to come up. The question thus arises: are psychopaths bad because of their social environment or are they born that way? The simple answer to this question is: they’re born that way and they can be made worse by a bad environment. Unfortunately, they can’t be made significantly better by anything at all. Psychological and sociological research shows that, in fact, psychopaths are much less influenced by their environment than non-psychopaths. This conforms with the general finding that psychopaths have rock solid egos, which are more or less immune to negative input. As we’ve seen, although they enjoy affirmation and praise, as all narcissists do, they don’t care when they’re criticized or punished. While a corrupt environment and abuse is unlikely to cause psychopathy, it can lead a psychopath to express his constitutive emotional callousness through violence. (Without Conscience, 175)

Martha Stout seconds Robert Hare’s conclusions that nature–or the physiological incapacity to experience and process emotion properly–has much more to do with psychopathy than nurture. Stout observes, “In fact, there’s evidence that sociopaths are influenced less by their early experience than are nonsociopaths.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134). She elaborates,

“The sociopaths who have been studied reveal a significant aberration in their ability to process emotional information at the level of the cerebral cortex. And from examining heritability studies, we can speculate that the neurobiological underpinnings of the core personality features of sociopathy are as much as 50 percent heritable. The remaining causes, the other 50 percent, are much foggier. Neither childhood maltreatment nor attachment disorder seems to account for the environmental contribution to the loveless, manipulative, and guiltless existence that psychologists call psychopathy.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 134)

In other words, psychopathy constitutes a physiological deficiency that causes shallowness of emotions and all the negative implications which stem from it that we’ve explored so far. This deficiency is genetically inherited only half of the time. The other half of the time it may be caused by accidents, brain damage, drugs or other, unknown causes. The saddest implication of the scientific research on psychopathy is the fact that there’s no cure for it. No medication or treatment has yet been discovered that can give a psychopath the neurological capacity to process emotion properly. Consequently, nothing can turn him into a functioning, caring human being. In other words, nothing can transform a psychopath into a non-psychopath.

Anybody who tells you that a psychopath can be significantly improved does NOT understand the nature of pathology and does NOT have your best interests in mind. If you’ve hired such a therapist, you’re paying him or her just to bolster your own unrealistic expectations and confirm your wishful thinking. Sandra L. Brown, M.A. offers the best advice in How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved (a book that I reviewed on this blog): stay away from such men. Rather than persisting in trying to save them, save yourself and those who are capable of empathy and love. Medication and therapy can’t transform an emotional cipher into a caring man.

Moreover, unlike mental retardation and autism, psychopathy and narcissism are NOT harmless deficiencies. On the contrary, they are very dangerous emotional deficiencies. The individuals who suffer from mental deficiencies like autism and mental retardation are often reduced to a debilitating and life-long dependency upon others to function. By way of contrast, individuals suffering from emotional deficiencies–or personality disorders–can have very high intelligence and they use it to cause harm to others. If any trained professional tells you that mental and emotional deficiencies are comparable–in any respect other than that neither can be significantly altered–I strongly advise you to seek another therapist because that person is (at the very least) incompetent. To see the implausibility of such a comparison, just imagine someone suffering from mental deficiencies machinate the kind of carnage caused by psychopathic dictators like Hitler or Stalin; the predatory murders caused by serial killers like Ted Bundy; the senseless murders carried out by someone like Neil Entwistle, or even the more banal evil caused by your garden-variety psychopath, who continually lies to, cheats on, scams, dupes and manipulates those around him. Psychopaths’ capacity for evil actions is only limited by their malicious imaginations and desires. This means that, for all practical purposes, there are no limits.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness


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14 Comments

  1. Hi , new to this site today and extremely grateful for this resource. I am in recovery from a man whom holds many if not all of the traits of a narcissist and Machiavellians, antisocial personality and other traits mentioned here associated with a psychopathic personality. I will examine and obtain as much as I can in the days , weeks and months ahead. Looking forward to the above mentioned reference to Sandra Brown.
    My thought or question is this for the moment; what is the percentage of the person i was with to truly reform his traits ( not just masked) with another relationship. Not with me , for I know I am done having been totally informed , aware and enlightened to know that i know , I do not desire the sickness of this person let alone the remote (more than likely) chance of working with the repair of such a personality. The man is about to be 64, I the longest of his relationships of a on and off every few weeks, of five long , draining mentally, emotionally , financially , spiritually and psychically years. I am 50 encase someone wants to know. Emotionally stable and growing and alive with me once again. I have no desire either to fix him. I also realize , “they” go on as if , ‘all is well’ and maybe I have answered more own question. Would love feedback and resouces.

  2. June, thank you for your comment. I’m glad to read that you’re recovering and finding strength in information
    about personality disorders. In this case, knowledge is power! If I understand your question correctly, you’re asking what are
    the chances the disordered individual you were with will behave better, and have a healthier relationship, with another person?
    If he really is a psychopath or malignant narcissist, the chances are zero. He may be able to hide better
    his true identity or he may be with a more pliable/gullible individual who turns a blind eye to his disorder.
    But individuals with personality disorders repeat the same patterns over and over again, no matter
    who they’re with. That’s because their disorder comes from their own character deficiencies and shallow emotions,
    not from their partners or relationships. Best wishes, Claudia

  3. So, if nothing can be done about psychopathy what should be done with children who have a psychopathic parent and the parents divorce.

    How should the Court address psychopathy? Is there any precedent for loss of custody for psychopathy?

  4. Sam, Robert Hare and Martha Stout both address the issue. The bottom line is that nothing can fundamentally reform an adult psychopath, either in or out of jail. They will always be irredeemably evil and selfish human beings. The experiments with reforming violent psychopathic rapists, child molesters and killers failed miserably during the 1970’s. When they got out of prison, they went out and did it again, encouraged by their success, so to speak. Only non-psychopathic child molesters or sex offenders can be reformed. And they do exist: individuals marked by violence or abuse in their own childhood but still capable of empathy and psychological growth. Psychopaths can’t be reformed and can’t grow a heart or a conscience. This is why psychologists specializing on personality disorders advise NO contact with a psychopathic parent or ex-spouse. When a parent is determined clinically to be a psychopath, I don’t think any kind of joint custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child or children. A psychopath will always harm others, including those closest to him. He may hide the harm for a period of time, but he won’t be able to stop the harming because hurting and using others is what psychopathy is all about. In my opinion, courts should award full custody to the non-psychopathic parent. If both parents have severe personality disorders, however, the child or children would be better off with emotionally healthy foster parents. Claudia

  5. All,

    I have mentioned here before that I have been involved in a high-conflict case with someone with a severe and extreme ‘emotional deficiency.’

    Today, I filed a complaint with the APA Ethics Office against Dr. Stanton Samenow for withholding evidence of a traumatic brain injury and evidence of patterns of behavior that are all irrefutably signs of psychopathy. Dr. Samenow also failed to contact 5 witnesses that would confirm and verify my character.

    Dr. Samenow also conducted a ‘Custody Evaluation’ when he was ordered by the Court to conduct a ‘Psychological Evaluation’, which focuses on the parent, rather than the child, and involves much more psychological testing.

    My case has been a perfect storm of psychopathy. However, the evidence, witnesses and patterns of behavior are all undeniable and irrefutable. Dr. Stanton Samenow recognized the ‘red flags’ and deliberately conducted the lesser evaluation and withheld evidence that could be considered patterns of behavior identified by the PCL-R. He used his knowledge of Psychopathy to hide it from the Court.

    I ask that all of you please call the APA Ethics Office and politely ask that they thoroughly investigate the allegations of my complaint.

    The Phone Number for the APA Ethics Office is 202-336-5930

    With your help, I will bring a SEVERE Psychopathology before the Court and have it properly considered. With a ruling from the APA, I will be the evidence I need to ask the Court to have my ex-wife psychologically and neurologically evaluated. If psychopathy is identified as a factor, my case could set a precedent in the assessment and management of psychopathy in Domestic Relations cases.

    Chris Mackney

  6. Chris, I’m so sorry to hear about this breach of justice. I hope that the readers of this blog will call in support of your case. Claudia

  7. Thanks, Claudia.

    The most beneficial part of your board is the ‘Emotional Validation’ that it provides.

    Thank you for believing me.

  8. Chris,

    I will give this matter IMMEDIATE attention. Are there other ways of contact as well? Please, if you don’t mind, would you forward me your email address and I can ask further questions of you to be as thorough as I can in addressing this issue with said entity.

    Having said that, Chris, are you aware of the youtube video the daughter of a judge in Texas put up of her brutal beating by him? I hope this will set a precedence as well. Clearly, he is a psychopath. I’m curious as to WHY this judge is hiding so much information, and wonder if this man might also have a personality disorder, given how much hiding of evidence he has done, as well as foregoing any of it. Good luck, Chris, and I know everyone here, including myself will help as much as we possibly can. Kel

  9. Chris,

    We believe you and IN you too! Your children deserve a good, healthy parent to lead the way through their childhood. I had a psychopath for a father and narcissist for a mother, so this feels very personal for me. Your children deserve you! Hang in there! Kel

  10. Chris, you’re welcome. If you don’t mind, I’ve given Kelli your email since she wants to communicate with you about further details relating to your case. Claudia

  11. Claudia and Kelli,

    Thanks sooooo much for your support. You can give Kelli or anyone else my email address. I have nothing to hide and will provide complete transparency and full disclosure.

    If anyone wishes to read the complaint or his fraudulent report I would be happy to provide it.

    I wish I could say that I believe Dr. Samenow was ‘fooled’ by psychopathy, but he is an expert in Criminal Psychology. He wrote a book titled ‘The Myth of the Out of Character Crime’. He knows that severe personality disorders are identified by patterns of behavior. He was told about the behaviors, the patterns, a traumatic brain injury, given material evidence and witnesses and he simply chose not to include them in his report.

    If enough people call they can not sweep the allegations under the rug.

  12. Chris, I’ve given Kelli your email and she’ll contact you to get more details about your case. Can you please post your future comments pertaining to this case to the most recent blog entry, on Working Together to Share Information about Psychopathy, since that’s the one most people read and we want to feature this information front and center. Claudia

  13. Chris your story is I Imagine quite typical of men who have fallen foul to women who have a personality disorder. Court systems have an indogenous bias towards women in such cases. I live in the UK, and the governing body for medics and Doctors is the British Medical Association. I dont know what the equivelent is over there; but may I suggest lodging a formal complaint to the equivalent governing body. Michael


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