Source – dragonmother.org
- “….The psychopath usually continues to wear a mask. It’s a necessary convenience disguising his contempt for rules and authority. His mask remains in place only to cover his essential transgressive disposition toward the world and other people. His weakened superego functions to the extent that the “role” is preserved, but only for deception and practical purposes”
The Average Persona – By Michael Tsarion
Understanding the Psychopath
From the moment of birth, when the stone-age baby first confronts its twentieth-century mother, the baby is subjected to forces of outrageous violence, called love – R. D. Laing
One of Carl Jung’s most well-known theories concerns the persona, his term for the “mask” everyone wears in order to function in the world. Jung took it for granted that this mask is a counterfeit self which takes the place of the real or “Imperial Self,” as I call it.
Why this switch occurs, and why we fail to actualize authentic Selfhood, is a long story that can’t be sufficiently delved into here.
However, the ego or false self is largely a response to the superego which directs consciousness at the behest of society. The society or culture we find ourselves in is hugely responsible for our adopted character and “normal” behavior. We act normally, so to speak, because doing so means we can operate with relative ease among others doing the same thing. No superego, no culture.
Freud’s famous schemata of consciousness. It serves as a working metaphor for the psyche’s internal divisions or hemispheres. The id is the deep unconscious, the ego the part of us facing external reality, the superego controlling the settings of the ego in terms of the world. Self-image depends on the so-called ego-ideal, not shown here. It’s an adjunct of the superego. (Click image for more…)
The superego develops slowly between 2 and 7 years of age, in response to the standards and rules first enforced by one’s parents. They in turn act as representatives of the wider community into which they were born and raised. The superego develops in response to systematic “programming” by one’s parents and culture (or Mitwelt). Every part of consciousness comes under its scrutiny and direction.
What we know as schooling carries on the problematic process initiated by primary caregivers.
If the society of the parents was in some way deranged or pathological, then aberrant patterns and tendencies will surely be passed on to the child by way of the superego which, unlike the conscience, compulsively favors the status quo and never raises an objection to authority regardless of how oppressive it is.
The superego is also the ersatz seat of morality, as long as we realize that we speak of society’s preferred standard of morality. If society is unsane, the introjected moral sensibility will not be wholesome. It is accepted only under duress, because one has little choice in the matter.
The “superego” is then no longer a special agency within the “ego” but it is a special need of the individual. It is not the advocate of moral perfection, but expresses the neurotic’s need to keep up appearances of perfection – Karen Horney
For Freud, the superego not only attunes us to society’s norms – by installing a moral sensibility favorable to acculturation – but acts as the agent of repression. It is the means by which unsuitable aspects of our personality are banished from consciousness.
These daily acts of repression are, however, better understood as perpetual acts of psychic oppression. The superego works, in this regard, as the inner tyrant or sergeant major, deciding not only what behavior is taboo, but what kind of thinking is antisocial and transgressive.
A great deal of one’s inner stress and feeling of tension comes as a result of the conflict between superego and conscience. The latter faculty serves the Imperial Self and often operates at loggerheads with the moral sensibility overseen by the superego. In short, this is one manifestation of a deeper existential conflict between Self and World or the One and the Many.
Some people go through periods when this internal struggle dominates their lives, causing a great deal of unrest. Most people, however, decide to fall into lockstep with the directives of the superego in order to lessen anxiety. They choose to conform to the dictates of society, and are often rewarded for doing so.
The persona or mask is also necessary for most people, because it allows them to commit to the many “roles” offered by society; Mommy and Daddy being two of the most ubiquitous, although there is no end to them. Be one or die! says society.
If one can’t bring themselves to operate as genuine Selves in the world, one can always commit to inauthentic roles. Stepping into a role means we are able to forget all about the Self. It need never bother us again. At least that’s the shared hope of millions.
Naturally, a certain sacrifice of libido and desire is inevitable with this act of self-deception. The role, like the mask, canalizes energy and narrows one’s focus. In most cases the role one adopts isn’t one’s own creation. It’s an assigned role, pre-ordained by society. If the mask offered doesn’t quite fit snuggly, the result is “neurotic suffering,” which a little pep talk and medication will quickly put right.
Role-play normally demands a great deal of conformity and Self-sacrifice. It leads some to experience a life-crisis, given that confinement within the role must by definition prohibit healthy Self-expression. What this means in real terms is that a war rages within the psyche between neurotic anxiety and legitimate suffering. The latter being the condition of the Imperial Self trying against all the odds to be heard.
Society realizes that this struggle ensues, and that it impedes integration and efficiency. The problem is remedied by the manufacture of yet more roles. Society allows the profusion of subcultures which often appear on the surface to be counter-cultural and transgressive.
As psychic infirmity increases, more and more fringe groups and splinter sects appear the world over. Since the 1960s this has been the fail-safe trend designed to absorb malcontents and dropouts.
I’m not crazy!…I just ate my Burning Man pass…
Freud had an ambivalent attitude toward the all too efficient superego. In a few works – particularly in his masterly Civilization and its Discontents – he expresses his support for and misgivings about it. Should superego functions not exist, man has no chance of being social and civilized he thought. But, paradoxically, with the increase of superego control, man can perish from loss of instinct, crushed by the very civilization erected for his good.
This theory of Freud’s had a profound impact on Otto Rank and Carl Jung, who developed deeper critiques of society’s influence than they might have without Freud’s pessimistic but insightful ruminations.
As a matter of fact, Freud’s daughter, Anna, took her father’s theory a few steps further, developing a far more penetrating critique of society’s role in the etiology of pathological syndromes and complexes. She was followed by other insightful psychologists and sociologists such as Erich Fromm and above all by Karen Horney, the most important neo-Freudian therapist and thinker.
Anna Freud, and the other humanist therapists, redefined Freud’s main source of pathology, stating that it is not a case of one’s ego being flooded by taboo content from the “demonic” id, but from the highly repressive (oppressive) activity of the superego, working at the behest of a toxic society.
This shift among post-Freudians was an affront to society and was summarily downplayed. In America, Freudianism was radically criticized, misrepresented and ridiculed. The few advocates of Anna Freud’s paradigm came under attack themselves, and in no time at all the APA, AMA and other orgs slammed shut the doors on Freudianism. Everyone sighed in relief, especially the founders of Big Pharma.
Erich Fromm and others realized that they had to distance themselves from Freudian paradigms in order to get any message across to the public. They began recasting themselves as “Humanists.” Fromm continued to bravely articulate Anna Freud’s brilliant social critique of pathology.
Of course, they were quite right. The demonization of the id or unconscious was never wholly right-headed. It was never going to stand as the true cause of human pathology. Perceptive thinkers, like Rank, Jung, Horney and others – following Groddeck, Sidis, Janet and Reich, etc – could not exonerate society’s role in creating narrow roles, and in turn the persona by which one abandons Selfhood for the “benefits” of crowd consciousness and conformity.
Karen Horney in particular noted that superego control can, in certain instances, lead to a total breakdown of sanity. It can lead to a feeling of rootlessness and, as Freud predicted, a state of disreality. One’s link to their deep unconscious weakens, leading to an increase in neurotic tendencies. If these persist, a person is in danger of becoming psychotic, schizophrenic or completely insane. But unlike Freud’s general view, the culprit is not one’s own psyche, but society.
When we realize the great import of cultural conditions on neuroses, the biological and physiological conditions…recede into the background – Karen Horney
Karen Horney (1885-1952) was probably the greatest neo-Freudian psychologist. Like Anna Freud, she held that society rather than the uncivilized unconscious was responsible for most pathological conditions. The moment European psychology turned in this direction, it was summarily dismissed in favor of the absurd paradigms of behaviorism and neuroscience.
Breakdown occurs not because man’s instincts are inherently brutish and evil, but because healthy instincts can no longer express themselves. All thanks to the draconian control of the superego. Technically speaking, the ego is prohibited from communicating with the unconscious and forced into absolute alignment with the will of the Mitwelt (society).
This subjection, indoctrination and acculturation constitutes the real source of human pathology, and apart from a few Humanist and Existentialist psychologists, no one addresses it as a problem. This evasion has led to an anti-psychological age in which neuromythological theories take precedence. Psychological infirmity and breakdown are treated almost entirely by the leviathan of psychiatry. Man as a Self is no longer treated, just his faulty “brain.”
Horney excelled at noting the superego’s role in creating the psychopathic type.
The process is twofold. Firstly, the psychopath simply rejects the standards and rules imposed by the superego. This is because they come from parental imagos. But if the child has experienced the parent’s as grotesque card-carrying liars and hypocrites, why should there by any authentic identification with them? Indeed, the psychopathic child rejects the parents and all their inane ways. He rejects their authority and spurns their presence.
Secondly, the psychopath ducks the superego’s brand of ersatz morality. This does not mean that like a sage his ego is directed by conscience. If only this were the case. Unfortunately, the psychopath sloughs off the moral sensibility that ties him superficially to the Crowd. He now operates outside the law, so to speak, recognizing nothing but the law of the jungle, in which he is the unrestrained apex predator.
The psychopath usually continues to wear a mask. It’s a necessary convenience disguising his contempt for rules and authority. His mask remains in place only to cover his essential transgressive disposition toward the world and other people. His weakened superego functions to the extent that the “role” is preserved, but only for deception and practical purposes.
Horney’s term for this masking is the Idealized Image. She means that one creates an inflated image of what they want or need to be. This image soon overwrites the Imperial Self, working at loggerheads with it.
This counterfeit self-image is made possible by another ego function, called by Freud the Ego-Ideal. It’s a hugely important but oft neglected aspect of consciousness.
The all-important ego-ideal usually orients a child to heroic figures or imagos. Problem is, the parents are often mistaken for heroic characters. When the child finally discovers he’s been duped, he suffers a massive psychic meltdown. At this point, parents sense what is happening and start openly criticizing and condemning the child, in order to make him appear unlovable. This parental disapproval – usually at full throttle during puberty – further undermines the will of the child or teen who feels drowned in guilt for turning his parents against him. This in turn forces the child to fall back into lockstep with the necrophilous will of his parents and inhuman authority figures in general. Under the spell of unhealthy and unworthy unheroic imagos, the child grows to become unheroic, contemptuous, cynical, docile and self-hating. In short, he becomes the “perfect” citizen. In many cases, however, his self-contempt turns him into a dropout and delinquent.
In normal types the ego-ideal usually serves the superego, which introjects the images of parents and peers into one’s head. The voices of these looming authority figures – the real Twin Peaks – is heard inside, arousing either guilt feelings or a sense of self-approval. For materialistic types, this is the dyad of pleasure versus pain meant to underlie consciousness.
Actually, it is due to the dyadic formation of the superego, which introjects the commanding voices of the parents. In Freud’s day, the punishing and prohibitive voice was that of the father, whereas the permissive, forgiving voice was that of the mother. Of course this traditional dynamic changed somewhat after Freud’s death and the passing of the Victorian Age. Nevertheless, the basic dynamic remains, even though in our times the prohibitive voice can be a mother’s, and the permissive one the father’s.
Psychopaths – those without heroes – either don’t hear these voices or don’t bother heeding them. Their superego is practically defunct or barely functioning. The psychopath’s ego-ideal also functions differently than it does in most people. This is because it has rejected parental imagos, which would not have occurred had the parents been authentic human beings. Had they not been liars and hypocrites, their child would not have rejected them and developed into a heartless monster hiding behind a mask.
When genuine affection is absent there is often a great verbal emphasis on how much the parents love the child and how they would sacrifice for him up to the last drop of their blood – R. D. Laing
What’s left of ego-ideal function simply makes it possible for the psychopath to adopt any number of roles without wasting a lot of energy. Behind the role and mask there’s absolutely no conscience, no superego-directed ersatz morality, and no empathy, just the sham of it.
Since little energy is exhausted in moral gymnastics, the average psychopath finds it easy to adopt a similar mask as those around him. He operates excellently in the role he assigns himself. He excels at mirroring those he meets, and efficaciously emulates their traits. He learns to “walk in rhythm” with them, becoming “invisible” by doing so. Then, with a sick sly grin, he strikes.
Although his life is certainly a pretence, he doesn’t see it this way. As far as he’s concerned, everyone plays the same role game. He’s no more innocent or guilty than anyone else, and certainly doesn’t allow anyone to criticize his way of life. Who stands to criticize him? Those who’ve accepted toxic parents and the pseudo-love they offer? He hasn’t done so and feels superior for it. He may have no conscience, but he certainly doesn’t depend on anyone’s approval. That’s for normal bozos to get hung up about.
In this sense, the psychopathic type cannot necessarily be considered neurotic. He is not disturbed by the lack of approval of those around him. As a human chameleon, if he finds something lacking in his persona, he simply fixes it, as easily as one shines their shoes or straightens their tie.
As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, narcissism is not to be conflated and confused with Self-love. The former is actually a compensation for deep psychophobia or self-loathing. Indeed, because the narcissistic psychopath has no heroes, he doesn’t have to look up to anyone. Everyone is below him, and he works to make sure things stay that way. His compliments don’t come across as sincere and he rarely offers them. As times goes by all nicety goes out the window never to return. People find themselves used like door mats.
Neurotics are riddled with anxiety, but not the psychopath. He stands before the world without bullet holes. He’s untouched by the tribulations of the world, and doesn’t suffer from depression, misery or despair. With his parent’s help, he learned not to care for himself (as a Self), so why care about anyone or anything else? If there is a dominant emotion within him it’s more likely to be highly repressed rage, against himself and the world. He is not overly troubled by it though, and quickly learns to suppress it by way of hyper-extroversion, busyness and entanglement in worldly affairs. His greatest ally is the constant hustle and bustle of city life. He spends very little time alone.
The psychopath knows his mask isn’t welded to his face, and can be removed and changed at will. Unlike people around him, he’s not victimized by it. He’s the master, not society. This feeling of mastery is also experienced as liberating to the psychopathic type. He’s free of society’s silly norms, prohibitions and demands.
What chumps do I maketh of thee…
He’s free from having to genuinely feel, emote or experience despair. He’s free from having to sustain meaningful relationships with others. He’ll act appropriately as long as he needs something from another person, but as soon as things get complicated, he’s able to coldly ditch his contacts and move on to pastures new. His choices and behavior in this regard are usually worked out in advance. The psychopath goes nowhere and does nothing without a map, part of which is designed by way of the unwholesome idealized image he has of himself.
While still under parental control, it is as if the psychopath’s contract goes like this: I know you want me to live according to your perverted will and irrational expectations. Okay, I’ll do that, but only to a degree. You adore roles, so I’ll play a role-game with you, just to get along. But I will be master of the game. Behind the mask I’ll retain my own identity and work it to get my way come what may.
He even justifies violent outbursts as being a rational reaction to years of parental oppression – their endless demands that he conform to expectations and adopt a suitable mask.
It is a situation that ultimately works for self-righteous psychopathic types. They need only mirror parental tendencies and roles to hide their intentions and get their way. And after all, as far as they are concerned the parent is just another role-player, nothing to admire or bow before. The fifth-commandment is chucked to the ground and trampled underfoot.
In this way the psychopath doesn’t see himself as deviant or criminal. He didn’t write the rules, he just refuses to play by them. His “morality” lies in his will to flaunt the rules as laid down by an unsane schizogenic society. The role-playing other is just a plastic manikin to be pushed around. It’s not a matter of real selves interacting and doing things.
Even the psychiatrist in the white coat, working to cure the psychopath, is just a doll operating at the behest of an inhuman hierarchy. So let’s play, thinks the psychopath. You do your thing, and I’ll play along. I’m great at mirroring and I have your number. Whatever I know you want to hear you’ll hear – that I’m hearing voices in my head or have an atom bomb in my stomach – When’s lunch?
When dealing with psychopaths, it means that from the beginning we should give up any hope for development or any expectations we might have that some kind of inner development on the part of the patient will improve their situation – Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig
If the great R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz had been taken seriously, we’d know by now that the vast majority of psychiatric patients, particularly schizophrenics, are consummate psychopathic malingers out to exploit medical institutions for their own pragmatic purposes.
Dr. Ronald David Laing (
1927-1989), author of TheDivided Self: A Study of Sanity and Madness, was a lifelong critic of psychiatry. He said that schizophrenics have erected fifty foot thick walls of concrete between their masks and true selves. Top therapists know that schizophrenics and psychopaths differ only because the former decide to drop their mask-play partially or completely. Regardless, the psychopath is the schizo’s evil twin.
In any case, the mask or persona, as defined by top psychologists, is merely the device used to great effect by people in absolute anxiety over the problem of Selfhood. The idealized image is a construct generated and favored by self-hating autophobes, who as Jung said, will do anything, no matter how absurd, than face themselves.
This chain reaction of evasion and self-deception is started off by semi-pathological parents who prefer living in and supporting an anti-psychological world:
…in schizophrenogenic families sham and confusion infest every aspect of life, so that the people in it draw a crooked breath, so to speak – Jules Henry
Lidz and Fleck found not a single well-integrated family in their study of schizophrenic homes. They remarked that the “extent and pervasiveness of the family pathology were unexpected” – Alexander Lowen
…parents of schizophrenics often become emotionally disturbed as their children begin to improve – John Modrow
I have never known a schizophrenic who could say he was loved – R. D. Laing
Necrophilous parents get the children they deserve. They breed psychopathology and are the sole motivators of children who instead of playing the parent’s idiotic role-game, decide to play another game of their own device, which gets them what they desire without nonsense like care, concern, love, morality or genuine feeling getting in the way.
Super-charged and polished baby…
The toxic parental culture leads the child to lose all feeling, not only toward the parent, but towards himself. He no longer has empathy for the unempathic self-absorbed parent, but throws out the baby with the bathwater. Retracting empathy, he finds himself incapable of feeling what he feels.
In this dire condition he’s bound to have difficulty playing his social role. What can he do?
Well, he can decide to simply drop out altogether and go feral. He can live under a bridge, panhandle and commit crimes until he falls foul of the establishment. He’ll then find himself institutionalized and medicated. Or he can simply supercharge and polish his mask to come across as exceptionally agreeable, affectionate, sensible and charming.
I feel just fine…how about you?
Hence the curious effervescence of most psychopaths one runs into, those who seem so pleasant, present, endearing, buoyant and easy-going.
Bioenergetically, they have no problem directing libido into the custom-made roles, narrow as they are. Throughout their lives they characteristically appear young and relatively untouched.
This is because they have “liberated” themselves from the constraints and harangues of feeling. Where there is no feeling, there’s no despair or legitimate suffering. And where there is no deep feeling (centroversion) there’s no need to experience the onslaught of existential crises besetting and worrying most normal people throughout their lives.
The psychopath shows a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions – Hervey Checkley M.D.
It started way back in infancy, when as a child the psychopath’s spirit was broken. At some point he discovered he was expecting love from the loveless. His solution was to turn angrily on himself and on feeling. If I shut my eyes the tiger wont see me. If I cease feeling and asking people for anything I’ll not be hurt. True, it’s an infantile decision, but justified when made by a vulnerable infant.
In short, the psychopath has no relationship with emotion and no relationship with meaning. Without the straight-jacket of their roles, he’d either manically run amok like a rampaging Berserker, or withdraw into himself as paranoids and schizophrenics are wont to do, pushing away not only the presence and stimuli of the external world, but his own psychic functions and processes. So chronically alienated from life does the schizophrenic become that his own inner Self-conversation becomes threatening and demonic.
Lean closer and you’ll hear him whisper: I’d be just fine if it weren’t for reality.