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Do you personally know a psychopath at work or been forced to work with one? I have, more than once.
First of all; psychopaths give mental illness a bad rap, and the media doesn’t help. Hollywood often portrays psychopaths as serial killers. What many don’t realize is that most of them walk amongst us, in everyday life.
The social stigma often gives rise to the form of prejudice that sees people with mental health challenges as a liability for society even their immediate community. Quite often mental illness gets characterized as a moral illness.
When there really are real-life psychopaths that also have mental health issues what often happens is that we tend to focus more on the latter and forget about the former. The person that just did a mass shooting may have had mental illness but chances are they were that kind of person to begin with and their mental illness just pushed him over the edge.
Well, there certainly are personality disorders that can predispose a person to be manipulative or deceitful, it still comprises a very small subset of people with mental health challenges. There is no clear-cut way to answer if it falls under the category of mental illness and is marked off as a sociological anomaly, and somehow mental illness got thrown into the entire box. Now, the reasoning goes, somehow there is a moral failing involved or lack of character that causes their illness.
According to sociologist Martha Stout in “The Sociopath Next Door”, psychopaths often work their way up in organizations quite successfully and often land in positions of leadership. According to a 2010 study in Behavioral Sciences & the Law, about 3% of business leaders scored in the psychopathic range, compared to 1% in the general population.
What actually kills relationships and communities can be undetectable quite often because many people that happen to be covert narcissistic, manipulative, and self-interested. psychopaths are hard to spot. They are often charming, witty, and make great impressions. They often advance up the corporate ladder. Many find themselves in Wall Street and politics. They cause untold damage within organizations, families, and communities. The Enron‘s of the world attest to that fact. In this case, one person’s psychopathy in the position of leadership destroyed thousands of lives and livelihoods in the process.
Among other traits of grandiosity, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, and callousness toward those to whom they cause suffering. Psychopaths have little regard for safety, especially other people’s. They often lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. This behavior can be especially toxic.
The mental health fallout of such people is often underemphasized, in terms of the total loss they can cause the workplace and individuals within that space. Left undiagnosed and untreated these malignancies can wreak havoc and destroy individual lives.
I had an experience at a company I worked for, where one person nearly led to the demise of the entire organization and more than one suicide attempt.
“Think of the Dark Triad of Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism as the Bermuda Triangle – it’s perilous to get near it!”
~From Beware of the Malevolent Dark Triad
We don’t have to wait until it gets as bad as it did in Enron in 2003, or in Wall Street preceding the mortgage bust in 2008, to realize the large-scale damage a psychopathic individual can cause an entire company or team. One person’s ill-intentioned actions can disrupt, even destroy entire lives. The larger the company, the larger the fallout. It takes a strong cultural immune system to prevent one person’s wayward actions from negatively impacting an entire community or agency. The greater the trust level across the length and breadth of the organization, much greater it provides the protective “bulwark” against the intentions of even a small psychopathic minority.
This is why the quality of culture is very important towards the mental well-being of the workforce and it affects far more than just productivity. it can make the difference between life and death.
Let me ask you again: Can you spot a psychopath in your workplace?
I wrote a separate blog article goes into depth on what traits are found in psychopaths.
Martha Stout in “The Sociopath Next Door”