Confronting the problem of psychopathy isn’t reserved just for criminologists, psychotherapists or journalists who cover crime stories on the news. Because it often occurs in our daily lives, it also appears on popular reality shows. In one of the recent episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Khloe wonders out loud if Scott, her sister’s boyfriend, is a psychopath. She laughingly dismisses the idea, as the whole Kardashian family struggles to accept Scott. After all, he’s the father of Kourtney’s baby, Mason Dash, and Kourtney herself seems to really love him. And yet, much of the tension in the Kardashian family revolves around Scott’s bad behavior, usually followed by repeated apologies and reconciliations. He lies without any apparent compunction to Kourtney and others, cheats on her, picks fights with family members but magically smooths things over whenever it suits him (which is usually when he’s about to be thrown out for good). One of the most memorable scenes of the show is when Scott gets very drunk, attacks a waiter and aggressively shoves money into his mouth. True, people do strange things when intoxicated. But in my eyes, Scott’s behavior seemed more about asserting dominance than about being inebriated.
Another bad sign is the fact that Scott teases Kourtney about her weight gain after she gives birth to their baby so much so that she develops a complex about it. In one episode, she literally faints from not eating enough and excessive exercise. Psychopaths usually begin a relationship with flattery and sweetness, to reel you in. But as the relationship unfolds, they normally switch to criticism to get you to focus on your (real or perceived) flaws, so that you feel weaker and more insecure. This strategy also has the added benefit (for the psychopaths) of distracting you from what they’re doing wrong. That way, rather than focusing on the glaring flaws of the toxic relationship and on the personality disorder of your partner, you focus instead on how to improve yourself to please the psychopath in your life.
Of course, even therapists administering the Hare Psychopathy Test can’t diagnose this personality disorder from afar, much less the rest of us watching it on T.V. Which brings me to the main point of this post. For most of us, the purpose of gathering information about psychopathy is NOT to become a trained specialist in the field and make a clinical diagnosis. It is to recognize dangerous personality traits and protect ourselves and our loved ones from people who manifest those characteristics and behavior. Making a clinical diagnosis of personality disorders is, of course, only up to experts. But identifying potentially dangerous traits isn’t just for experts because any of us can be adversely affected when we allow disordered individuals into our lives. Knowledge is the most essential form of self-defense. Widespread information about physical and emotional abuse has saved millions of people from domestic violence. Spreading information about psychopathy may help save millions of additional lives from harm.
Khloe Kardashian recognized dangerous personality traits in Scott Disick but eventually dismissed her doubts because she was comparing him to Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers. Although psychopaths tend to share common symptoms–glibness and charm, extreme egocentricity, grandiose sense of self, deceitfulness, manipulativeness, impulsiveness, an underlying need to control others, shallow emotions, lack of empathy, lack of remorse for harm inflicted on others, hypersexuality, the need for constant stimulation, etc–mercifully for the rest of society only a small percentage of them become violent criminals. That still doesn’t make a “sub-criminal” psychopath good boyfriend or spouse material. Scott Disick may or may not be a psychopath. But given his behavior so far, I predict that the intrigue of Keeping up with the Kardashians will continue to revolve around keeping up with the problems he causes in their lives.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness