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Characteristics Of A Psychopath And The Common Myths About Them

Characteristics Of A Psychopath And The Common Myths About Them
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Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Dexter Morgan in Dexter, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. They are all psychopaths.

Psychopaths are usually depicted as serial killers or villains in the entertainment industry. They are antisocial yet powerful, often display threats and put others at peril. How much of this impression is true under the definition of a psychopath?

Here are six characteristics of a psychopath:

  1. Lack of empathy: Psychopaths are callous and coldhearted. They lack the ability to understand and identify other’s emotions.
  2. Egocentric: They are extremely selfish. They live a “parasitic lifestyle”, meaning they habitually rely and exploit on others to maximize their own benefits.
  3. Shallow emotional investment: Without the ability to form emotional relationships, psychopaths only build artificial relationships to manipulate people to benefit themselves.
  4. Superficially charming: Despite an emotional deficiency, psychopaths are great actors. They can bring out the charm and trustworthiness to be likeable, to gain more relationships for further manipulation.
  5. Lack of morals and social consciences: Psychopaths rarely feel any guilt or remorse regarding their behaviors.
  6. Highly calculated: Their actions are well-planned, especially those with huge consequences, like a criminal activity. They tend to act in a way to minimize the risk they will encounter and ensure to not get caught, with multiple contingency plans in mind.

In short, “psychopath” is defined as an amoral person who is amoral with impaired remorse and empathy, and egotistical traits.

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Wait, so how often would I bump into a psychopath?

A research on psychopathic traits[1] results in a surprising yet daunting finding — 5 percent of the general population may possess psychopathic tendencies. Maybe your heart is pounding right now and you want to double check if someone’s lurking around with a machete or chainsaw.

Calm down, let me finish.

Contrary to popular beliefs, psychopaths aren’t always violent.

Yes, there are psychopaths who are criminals, killers, and madmen, like Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. A psychopathic behavior doesn’t revolve around violence, but focuses on how psychopaths use their apathetic, manipulative, and selfish nature to get what they want.

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It’s time to debunk other myths and misconceptions of psychopaths.

I’m sure some of you are linking people you know while reading the traits of a psychopath earlier in the article. And you are probably eager to learn how to clearly spot a psychopath.

Psychopaths do not occur on a binary level. As much as everyone wants a rubric to separate psychopaths from the population, there are no concrete parameters to measure psychopathy, different than some antisocial behavorial personality like autism. The spectrum of psychopathic tendencies ranges from minor to severe.

There are no any brain imaging or biological test to diagnose a person as a psychopath. The most common device to identify psychopathic tendencies is the psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R). The test provides a 20-item list to evaluate the test subject, and will generate a maximum of 40 points with a cutoff at 30 (in the United States) to determine whether a person is psychopathic or not.

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Psychopaths and sociopaths are different.

Sherlock Holmes once said, “I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!” Both disorders are defined as antisocial and often amoral, but what are the differences between them?

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic causes. Researchers believe psychopathy is a genetic predisposition, as psychopaths lack parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. On the other hand, sociopaths tend to be stemmed and made by their environment, like childhood trauma, physical or mental abuse.

Well-planned vs. impulsive actions. As mentioned above, psychopaths plan their criminal actions cautiously to avoid bearing the consequences; but sociopaths often act upon their impulse and pay little attention to the risk or impacts of their actions.

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Charming vs. erratic. Psychopaths have the ability to mold themselves to gain trust and relationships. They are able to obtain a long-term job or even a family life, because these are all pieces and pawns for them to move around in the giant chess game. For sociopaths, they lack what their psychopathic counterparts have because of their impulsive and unpredictable actions.

Socially unconscious vs. conscious. As cruel as it sounds, psychopaths are not guilty of what they do. For example, their emotionless selves allow them to intentionally harm someone without holding any remorse. But for sociopaths, they are familiar with societal norms and they are just relatively less socially conscious than the general public. They know they shouldn’t harm someone but it’s not enough to stop their deviant behaviors.

There are female psychopaths too, but they express their psychopathic tendencies differently.

Most of the psychopathic characters you see on TV or movies are male. In reality, the ratio of psychopathic men and women is 20:1. So where are all the female psychopaths?

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After numerous studies and experiments, researchers have found female psychopaths are just as dangerous as sociopaths. The main reason behind such discrepancy in gender ratio is because female psychopaths are harder to identify.

A research[2] suggests men and women with this disorder do not differ in the existence of psychopathic characteristics and traits, but the expression of these personality traits. Female psychopaths display manipulative, deceitful, impulsive characteristics in a way which is typically associated with other mental illnesses. For example, a woman with explosive outbursts, or constantly wants to be the center of attention, you may not immediately associate her actions as psychopathic.

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Frank Yung

Writer. Storyteller. Foodie.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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