How managerial psychopaths use emotions to manipulate others

Published on November 29, 2010 by Key Sun, Ph.D. in The Justice and Responsibility League

A persistent myth about psychopaths involves the belief that they are callous, emotional void criminals (particularly serial killers). The mass media (e.g., television shows, films, and books) often reinforces this inaccurate image. For example, a recent ABC program, “Secrets of Your Mind,” presented a story of an incarcerated terrifying serial killer/psychopath who was diagnosed as having brain abnormalities in regulating his emotions.

Two facts contradict the false belief. First, a number (possibly most) of psychopaths are found in managerial or power positions rather than in prison/jail .From the perspective of evolutionary biology, psychopaths flourish in society because most of them actually have the skill to avoid prison. Both criminal and managerial psychopaths are detrimental to others’ well beings. However, unlike the violent criminals who rely on physical aggression to maintain their control over individuals, managerial psychopaths are inclined to employ verbal brutality,deception and emotional abuse and ploys to ruin people’s lives.econd, psychopaths do not lack emotions. Emotions can be divided into self-serving and pro-other ones. Although they lack pro-other or social emotions, they have plenty of self-serving and/or maladaptive emotions. Psychopaths in power positions are good at harming and controlling others in part because they know how to use emotions to manipulate others at the expense of others’ well beings.

Research and observations show that managerial psychopaths possess many self-serving and/or maladaptive emotions, such as: Arrogance, grandiosity, pleasure, anger, rage, hostility, contempt, overweening, envy, jealousy, greed, suspiciousness, impatience, and irritability. Because of their superficial charm, people often misperceive their impulsivity and unscrupulousness as being courageous and determined, and mistake their self-inflation and self-admiration as signs of self confidence.

On the other hand, research and observations also reveal that psychopaths are severely deficient in pro-other emotions, such as: Love, compassion, gratefulness, peacefulness, pleasantness, sympathy, guilt, remorse, empathy, and general moral emotions (e.g., shame, anxiety, and fear). Certainly, they pretend to mimic the emotions, but theirs are very shallow and artificial.

One question remains to be answered: Why do emotionally intelligent, nice people often become the victims of the psychopaths, who have abusive tempers and exhibit glibness, irresponsibility, and deception with an excessive need for control and interference corresponding to their sense of incompetency? In my observations, this is because managerial psychopaths use emotions, including your emotions, to advance their interests.

Let me use a midlevel manager as an example. He used three typical tricks to defeat his victims:

First, he constantly told lies to another as long as it helped maintain his control over the person. The victim, who attempted to communicate with the manager always met frustrations because the boss always denied what he did or justified his actions by saying “What’s wrong with it?”

Second, although the manager had no guilty feelings, he managed to make his abused victim feel inadequate by repeating “It is Ok” (right after his violent emotional outburst against the person who disagreed with him). Basically, he made the victim feel that the victim’s normal emotional reaction to the abuse was overreacting. As the result, the victim felt guilty.

Third, he was good at using another’s empathy. Although anger was his primary temper for controlling others, he was excelled in shifting his emotional expressions from extreme angry to extreme sadness, automatically or voluntarily. Suddenly, he appeared to be a helpless and sad person, needing immediately to be babied by others, arousing his victims’ empathy right away (This shift is part of his performance, different from the emotional instability as observed in borderline personality disorders).

How to deal with them? I agree with Martha Stout’s suggestion that the best method to deal with psychopaths is to detach from them or the situations in which they operate.

However, I do not share the consensus that there is neither a cure nor any effective treatment for psychopathy, which has a strong genetic component. I think that the late British psychologist Hans Eysenck’s research on conditionability and conscience sheds a light on psychopathy (even though he has not examined psychopathy per se). Eysenck contended that people who are impulsive, lack (or have not learned) the sense of guilt or conscience have low conditionability, which was influenced by the process of classical conditioning, particularly during childhood. Although the limbic system regulates the effectiveness of classical conditioning, more frequent and intensive conditioning processes can improve the innate low conditionability.

In short, psychopaths represent a much more complicated category than the offenders portrayed in the media. They thrive not because they lack emotions in general, but because they use emotions (in addition to other tricks) to control others.



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9 Responses to How managerial psychopaths use emotions to manipulate others

  1. “They thrive not because they lack emotions in general, but because they use emotions (in addition to other tricks) to control others.”
    Very interesting and informative – thank you, I enjoyed reading.

  2. Pingback: Test for Psychopathy « My journey of healing from psychological abuse

  3. lifebegins45 says:

    Thank you for this article. I can absolutely identify with this. My X uses this tactic with EVERYONE around him to manipulate them to believe “whatever” he wants them to. He used it against me throughout the duration of our relationship. He included brain-washing techniques and absolute reprogramming attempts, when he realized he lost control. I didn’t get out before serious damage was done. I am one of the rare ones…I broke up with him, but it took quite some time before I could. thanks again

  4. bella says:

    great article. i’ve ever read this topic in bahasa in different way and i found that my boss has these character. he is very smart to make people adore at him eventhought he’s lie, and some people know that he’s actually lie. he is also easily hurt others with abuse words in front of people and without feeling guilty about putting others down. thank you for this explanation for complete my understanding.

  5. cweinblatt says:

    I love it! I obtained my undergraduate degree in Psychology (1974, University of Toledo). The first half of my career was in counseling. The second half was in university administration, where I created and managed a division dedicated to serving the organizational needs of companies. Our premier service was leadership development. We pioneered an analytical and psychological interpretation of what makes an effective leader. Only a handful of large and medium-sized organizations comprehended the basis of our delivery technique. Now, many dozens of service providers use this approach. I’m glad that someone has been able to crash through that ceiling. Keep up the great work!

    Charles S. Weinblatt
    Author, Jacob’s Courage

  6. Pingback: I cry “Uncle” « My journey of healing from psychological abuse

  7. amerraja says:

    Excellent piece.

  8. No Tweet Button? HMMMM!!! great article…

  9. Nadan says:

    This is a great article. I’m an ODT (outdoor training) trainer. I meet a lot of managers that behave in this manner. When at play it is very easy to detect this characteristics. Being very smart this managers adapt to the office and company’s environment. They can’t do it well when playing a game they are unfamiliar with.

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