“Our default understanding of humanity is gonna be that everybody has some good in them. The research that Dr Robert Hare and Dr Martha Stout have done have really turned that around to say that 4% of human beings don’t have a conscience, they have no remorse for their behavior, and they actually look for opportunities to cause harm to others”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here.
This is a question many of us will have asked at some point, especially if it is a belief that is being challenged by our current relationships. Is it true that all people are basically good? Do we all have some goodness in us somewhere?
Whilst we would like this to be true, the reality of the situation is that there are some people in world, on the psychopathic and sociopathic end of the spectrum, who have no goodness in them at all. Their personalities are characterized by a glibness and smooth charm that conceals a mindset totally lacking in any understanding of morals, empathy or conscience, and these toxic personalities cannot be implored to reform of change by any means.
They actively seek to cause harm to others, and do so with full conscious intent and awareness. This has been verified time and again by experts who have studied them and case stories of unfortunate people who get caught up with them.
The predictable patterns of toxic and destructive behavior they engage in is difficult to interpret in any other way than to see them as deeply disturbed people with no good in them whatsoever.
A crucial mistake the rest of humanity tends to make here is to judge others by our own values. Because we would never dream of doing things a psychopath does, we assume no one else would dream of doing these things either.
We are assuming our own mindset and emotional traits like empathy and conscience, automatically also applies to everyone else. Because we feel bad when we do something really bad to others (empathy kicks in), we assume the same thing must happen for everyone else.
Sadly, the research has shown that there is a small subset of the population who lack these emotional fail-safes the rest of us have, and so do not have any limits on the things they will do to others. Destroying the lives of other people is just fun and games to them.
This is why this dangerous myth that all people are basically good needs discarding, however much we would like it to be true, since psychopaths prey precisely on overly innocent and trusting people who buy into this assumption about other people wholeheartedly. They love to use other people’s kind nature against them.
This is why humanity in general needs to sharpen up to the existence of these malevolent types of people, since they are predatory characters and will go for the easiest, most gullible and easily influenced targets. Let’s look at the nature of psychopathic people in more detail, and how we can better protect against them.
Psychopaths & Sociopaths Have No Good in Them
“(Psychopaths) are individuals who are extremely egotistical, self centered, lacking remorse for what they have done, knowing exactly what they are doing. And what they’re doing is manipulating and deceiving other people for their own ends”
Dr Robert Hare
The most common personality type we can point to to emphasize the point that unfortunately not all people are good is the psychopathic or sociopathic personality. These definitions are partially covered under the Cluster B and Antisocial Personality Disorder definitions.
Let’s lay out a very brief outline sketch of the psychopathic or sociopathic personality, as it relates to the point we are making here:
- Psychopaths are characterized by a glib, shallow, charming, but self centred and manipulative personality.
- They are compulsive liars and will use deception whenever necessary.
- They see others not as human beings but as objects to be manipulated for their own ends. Their entire mindset and worldview is predatory.
- Any ostensibly good or kind acts they do are not out of inherent kindness or generosity, but are manipulative tactics which have a self serving agenda to them.
- They have a total lack of empathy, remorse, conscience and guilt for their actions.
- Psychopaths commit continual physical and/or emotional abuse on others, causing an enormous amount of subjective internal distress towards other people they come into contact with in work and personal relationships.
- They do so in full, conscious, deliberate awareness of what they are doing, and the distress they are causing others.
- Since they repeatedly and knowingly cause harm to others, there is an aspect of free will and choice involved with them which implies moral deviancy as a crucial component of the disorder.
- All attempts to treat and reform psychopaths and implore them to change have failed, in clinical and personal environments, often in fact making them worse and more deceptive.
- Hence, psychopaths can be seen as malevolent, evil people devoid of goodness, whose interaction with the world and others is entirely self serving and manipulative.
- The works by Dr Robert Hare (Without Conscience) and Dr Martha Stout (The Sociopath Next Door) cited in the above quote, which back up this viewpoint, can both be found in our books section.
One of the most difficult things for victims caught up in relationships with psychopaths and sociopaths for the first time, without realizing all of the above points yet, is diagnosing what is happening to them.
They can’t quite put their finger on it, but they know something is seriously wrong with the person they are tangled up with, but without the tools to spot and diagnose severe personality disorders, they just struggle on through, in the hope things will somehow improve.
Underlying this is a lack of knowledge of psychopathy, but also this belief that all people are basically good, hence the constant forgiveness and second chances that often characterize these relationships. There is also an exasperation there, as the victim struggles to find some good in the other person.
“There must be some good in them somewhere, some humanity. If I try harder, they’ll be a good person” is often the mental trap the victim gets caught in. With psychopaths, there is no goodness and no prospect of change, and it often takes a lot of suffering and distress before a person realizes this and gets away, or else the psychopath drops them first and moves onto someone else.
How Toxic Relationships Can Collapse Your Safe World Theory
Moving out into the world with a strong belief that all people are basically good, and then encountering one of these more poisonous personality types close up in a work or personal relationship, can bring us crashing back down the earth with a bang. We realize we may have to re-evaluate our belief that everyone is good.
This can be a very traumatic experience for us, since beliefs like these can be psychological pillars or cornerstones which hold up the entire way we see the world. When these start getting undermined, the entire way we see the world, and our relationships with others, starts to get undermined.
We start to get mistrustful, suspicious, paranoid, hypervigilant in the aftermath of toxic relationships. We don’t know who to trust anymore. We may think everyone is bad and out to get us. We realize the world is not a safe and cosy place. Our entire safe world theory is undermined and we have to start over.
This can be a very difficult process to go through for people who are damaged by these psychopathic personality types. However, it is better to learn this lesson and come out the other side more resilient and prepared for the world as it really is, than be an unsuspecting person who has yet to learn this lesson.
It is also totally possible to realize all the harsh realities we have pointed out about toxic people existing, and yet still survive and thrive in the world. It just requires more awareness and a shift in mindset. See further below for more on this.
Most People Are Good But Passive
A great documentary about psychopaths and society
As a counterpart to this, we should point out that the vast majority of people (96% by reversing our stats) do not display these extreme personality disordered traits of psychopathy or sociopathy. They do have some kind of empathy and conscience.
Of course there are plenty of other personality disorders and mental health issues among the population. But there is a distinct difference between being psychologically troubled or neurotic in some way, and having the malevolence and intent to cause harm that characterizes psychopaths and sociopaths.
The reality is that most people are basically good on some level, having some kind of conscience and morality. It is also true however that they tend to be very passive and also easily influenced by glib, charming characters such as the psychopath. It can take a lot to get them riled, but if you push them far enough, they will stand up for some kind of goodness and morality.
The psychopathic character however, looks down upon the world with a detached coolness and arrogance, laughing at how easy it is to take in others using the same sequence of manipulative tactics over and over again. They are confident they have most people covered, hence the brazenness of much of their manipulation and scheming in the workplace especially.
From personal experience, the number of people who truly spot and see through a psychopath’s front act are very few. Most people tend to fall for it and see the psychopath as just another person, even charming and entertaining, the life and soul of the party.
They don’t look past the surface and see the abnormal traits and behaviors, or they overlook them with a mindset something like “Ah, well, that’s just what he’s like. Tim’s Tim”.
The psychopath is well aware of this shallowness of much of the general population and uses it to their advantage. They often play off these apathetic onlookers against the more observant, intelligent people who can see through them in a dynamic known as the sociopath-empath-apath triad.
This is common in workplace scenarios especially. The psychopath/sociopath will do something inappropriate, and the empath or high quality person will confront them on their behavior.
The psychopath will then blame shift and project responsibility back onto the empath, co-opting the apathetic onlooker or apaths, who are often taken in by their glib charm and either side with the psychopath or else don’t back up the empath.
The empath is then left furious that the situation has somehow been turned back on them, whilst the psychopath walks away with no consequences, often smirking at how easy it is to manipulate other people against anyone they see as a threat.
Psychopaths and sociopaths use this tactic time and time again, because they know how often it works. Hence the passivity of most people, even if they are basically good at the core and not psychopaths themselves, is what allows these more malevolent personality types to get away with as much as they do.
Thriving In The World Whilst Knowing Not All People Are Good
“There comes a time when when you really just don’t think about that encounter (with a toxic person) anymore. All you’re doing is living with the tools that you gained from it”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
It is true that whilst encountering severely abnormal personalities like psychopaths in relationships can knock us completely out of balance, sometimes for a long time, it is also possible to recover and in fact be stronger and more resilient than you were before. See our definitive resource guide for recovering from toxic relationships for more help on this.
Whilst having our “safe world theory” that all people are basically good shattered can be a brutal experience while it happens and immediately afterwards, it is possible to overcome these traumas and thrive in the world, whilst also knowing it is not the safe place we may have thought it was before, and that bad people such as psychopaths and sociopaths do exist.
In simple terms, knowing that these malevolent types of people do exist (around 4% of the population), but also knowing how to spot them, can arm you with all the tools you need to see red flags you may have missed before, and avoid or escape these individuals more quickly if and when you do encounter them.
Here are some general pointers, insights and tools survivors of toxic personalities like psychopaths come away with from their experiences, which make them a stronger, more well protected person:
- We are on the lookout for for psychopathic traits like glibness, shallowness, insincerity, manipulativeness, dishonesty, blame shifting, covert smearing and troublemaking, gas-lighting and so on.
- More importantly, we don’t simply overlook or ignore these red flags like we may have before. We act on them and either avoid situations/relationships or get out as soon as possible once we see they are toxic.
- We are not taken in by superficiality, glib charm and smoothness.
- We slow down and watch a person’s behavior and character more carefully over time before deciding whether they are worthy of trust.
- We are more guarded as to who we let into our personal circle, watching for real qualities like empathy, sincerity and integrity. We actively look for these and other positive human qualities more closely than we did before.
- We have zero tolerance for manipulative, dishonest, scheming people. Instead of tolerating, overlooking or excusing their behavior, we simply choose not to be around these people.
- We value people who value us, and not just shallow people who only value the feelings and buzz they get by being around us.
- We have stronger boundaries, very quickly confronting toxic behavior and ending any relationship where poor treatment and manipulative behavior continues. We don’t tolerate being treated badly anymore.
- See also our Recovery From Toxic Relationships Resource Guide for links to books and video that will arm you with all the knowledge you need to spot and avoid toxic personalities in the future.