Both popular and scientific definitions of psychopathy are far from neutral and could be seen to promote stereotyping. For example, the psychopath is often described as a social predator or cold-blooded beast. Such metaphors might influence how individuals with psychopathic traits experience emotions and social relations, and how they think about their criminal acts. We argue that the mental and contextual embedding of psychopathic behaviours is frequently neglected. Building on a detailed qualitative investigation of the affective, interpersonal and antisocial life of a male adolescent with clear psychopathic traits this paper aims to describe how he positions himself in relation to others. Based on our case materials we suggest that his antisocial behaviour and his emotional and interpersonal functioning bear witness to specific defensive processes, as well as to a psychotic structure.
This paper argues that the diagnosis of psychopathy, promoted by the author of the PCL-R Robert Hare, contains many implicit assumptions. It is not the logic pertaining to the decipherment of the subject’s urge to a criminal act that is central within this account, but a calculation of danger and the nomination of evil. Hence, in our opinion scientific research that is rooted in the work of Robert Hare should always question these implicit assumptions. Therefore the author offers a close reading of Hare’s work, in which he discerns a political factor in its incessant attempt to reduce the anxiety related to the Other. In contrast with Hare, an important aspect of Freud and Lacan is highlighted concerning the issues of crime and guilt. Finally, recent attempts to recuperate the concept of psychopathy in psychoanalytic theory are criticized.
Psychopathy as a concept has always been subjected to reductionist thinking, causing it to be heavily contested within psychiatry and psychoanalysis. On the basis of research involving prisoners and the insights of the Belgian psychiatrist-psychoanalyst Léon Cassiers, the author describes recurring patterns in the relation of the psychopath towards the Other and towards language. Fundamental to psychopathy is the defence mechanism of the Retraction of the Law in which an initial Bejahung is followed by a retraction. The aim of this retraction is to escape the lack and the division by the signifier. A case study of an impostor is used to illustrate the theory.