I’m not a world-class expert on psychopaths, but I’ve thought about them and read about them a lot. I believe that understanding psychopaths can help us to understand ourselves and to dispell an illusion of some mysterious “evil.” What follows is what I think is usually going on with them. This is how, according to me, psychopaths work.
Most people seem to have an unhealthy relationship with their inner-child, the part of the psyche that is sweet, innocent, playful, and curious. Many of us tend to shame, belittle, ignore, or generally devalue that part of ourselves, at least to some degree. This non-adaptive relationship with our inner-child is usually due to an internalization of some aspect of caregiving that we received in childhood.
People treat children, or anyone else, non-optimally because they’re acting-out what happened to them as children. If you grew up in an environment where children were beaten for “talking back” (for questioning authority) then not only will you tend to internally beat your own inner-child for questioning the authority of what you think of as your self, but you may also tend to (at least want to) beat real-life children who appear to talk back to you. This is the way that intergenerational trauma gets transmitted and sustained.
With the psychopath, it seems that the extent of the childhood trauma was often so great that their inner child had to be locked in a dungeon deep underground. The key to that dungeon has was just thrown away; it was completely destroyed. Then the psychopathic self moved as far away from the dungeon as possible.
While most people can hear the voice of their inner child, as a gentle whisper or as a distant sobbing, the psychopath’s inner child is so far out of earshot that it may as well not exist.
But psychopaths are never free of their inner children. The childlike qualities of curiosity, playfulness, and vulnerability are at the core of our nature. Even though the inner child has been banished, it still exists and it’s actually always close by (we carry it with us everywhere). The wholeness of the self can, in fact, never be truly rejected. No matter where you go, the inner-child will still be there seeking integration.
Because the psychopath is so deeply terrified of this vulnerable inner-child, they will seek out and persecute those that they perceive as vulnerable in the world. Psychopaths target the vulnerable not because they’re easy targets but because they remind them of their true selves, the part of them that they unconsciously want to believe no longer exists.
When a violent psychopath tortures another person, it’s the only way that they can allow themselves to experience the pain, terror, and helplessness of that inner-child. It’s an acting-out that enables them to see and experience themselves as closer to whole.
Even psychopaths are doing the best they can with the options on their life-menus. You might go shopping in a futile attempt to know the wholeness that is continually staring you in the face, while a violent psychopath might instead inflict pain on another person in service of the same futile goal.
The psychopath is just trying to know their inner-child and experience the vulnerability of it. It’s unfortunate that the only way they can do that is by hurting other people.