From soap opera to science: towards gaining access to the psychopaths who live amongst us

In recent research, Dr. Christine Kirkman of the Health & Social Studies Department at the University of Bolton in the UK, interviewed 20 women who had been in relationships with psychopathic men. This article describes the men and the type of abuse women partners and their children often face. The women sustained all manner of abuse- physical, psychological/emotional, social and financial. Analysis of narrative data revealed three salient traits on the part of psychopathic men: 1) “superficial charm and good intelligence…used by the male to convince the woman, her associates, family and friends that he was trustworthy,” 2) pathological lying, and 3) the antisocial pursuit of power.

The men also used children as pawns to pawns “to victimize their mother(s).” The psychopaths also psychologically abused the children by:
“(1) Lying to them;
(2) Ignoring them;
(3) Failing to provide for them;
(4) Bullying and terrifying them;
(5) Breaking promises to them;
(6) Destroying their toys.”

This paper appears in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice Volume 78, Issue 3, pages 379–396, September 2005. The full abstract is below:

This idiographic and essentially exploratory study examined the unique experiences of 20 women who had been victimized within the context of heterosexual relationships with a male partner who was rated as having the characteristics associated with psychopathy.

An integrated approach, using questionnaires, and biographical and narrative data, was utilized. The experimental group consisted of 20 women who had partnered males rated by the women on the Hare P-SCAN (Hare & Herve, 1999) as having many or most of the features of psychopathy. As this was the first reported use of the Hare P-SCAN to provide partner ratings, norms for scorings on this assessment tool were obtained from ratings provided by a control group of a random sample of 100 women who had completed the Hare P-SCAN and provided ratings for their last male partner. Four two-tailed independent samples t tests were conducted to test for significant differences in scorings between the two groups. Following screening, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the experimental group, that is, 20 women who had partnered males with psychopathic traits.

The four independent samples t test showed that significant differences occurred between the ratings of male partners by women in the experimental group and ratings provided by the control group. Narrative data, generated from written accounts and interviews with women in the experimental group, was successful in clarifying the manner in which males with the personality traits which define psychopathy managed the heterosexual relationship and the nature and patterns of the abusive behaviours which occurred in this context.

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