There’s a popular view of psychopaths as always operating behind “masks” and “facades;” as somehow engaged in perpetual states of disingenuousness; as “acting” in some form or another 24/7; that there’s nothing “real” about them; that everything about them “all the time” is a put-on, a front, a scam, false.
I dissent here. I don’t totally buy this view of psychopathic and psychopathic-oriented personalities. Even I contribute to this perception—after all, my blog is called “unmasking the psychopath,” implying that psychopaths surround us with “masks” to be ripped off their faces if only we were smart enough to see them.
I don’t see it so simply. Rather, I think psychopaths are usually “themselves” most of the time—not that this is a “good thing,” knowing as we know that psychopaths have chilling qualities not to be joked about, or minimized.
But I take the view that, most of the time, “psychopaths” are not actively “masking” who they are, for the simple reason that it’s just not necessary.
The conditions where “masking” becomes more essential to the psychopath is when he (or she) is in “exploitation” mode, “violation preparation” mode, “targeting/grooming a victim” mode.
This is where some psychopaths, especially clever, socially smooth, glib ones, find it expedient to consciously invoke the best mask or façade they can.
But when not in “active processes” of violating others, psychopaths can be basically “themselves” with diverse personalities—always, of course, missing true compassion and normal consciences.
But much of the time psychopaths are not in situations where it’s necessary to “mask” these deficits, just as much (if not most) of the time none of us is under pressure to actively demonstrate our compassion and conscience.
But when the psychopath is scheming and/or engaged in plots or actions he (or she) knows is exploitative, he will do his best to “disguise”—often (but not always) consulting his “Halloween inventory” of masks to enable his predatory agenda.
When a psychopathic car salesman is scamming me, yes he’s conscious of abusing my evident (to him) vulnerability. He may “turn on” the convincing charm to make the sale, or, if he’s shrewd, he may “turn off” that “salesman’s charm” if he sees I’m the type dissuaded by it. He may be slick enough to know which “style,” or “mask,” maximizes his chances of successfully “targeting me” for what he wants.
But post the sale, when I’m no longer his target, when he’s schmoozing and reveling humorously (if sleazily) over the “sucker” he “played” (me), he’s not necessarily “masking” at all; in fact, he may have shed the “mask” immediately after it became unnecessary—now, he’s being funny with, and genuinely amusing to, his colleagues as he openly exults in his latest coup. He’s being “himself” now, with no masks.
Psychopaths, distinguished by their capacity to be unconscionably exploitative, are in fact selectively exploitative personalities. They are not constantly exploiting others 24/7. And when they’re not, as I say, the “masks” are often unnecessary, for there may be nothing present to “mask.”
The irony is how this reality becomes the psychopath’s greatest, most natural mask—because he is generally “unmasked” when not psychopathically “acting out,” he is therefore most disarming, and least detectable, when “skillfully masked” during his psychopathic escapades.
This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T