I’ve heard a lot of loose talk about schizophrenia and (much more) psychopathy. They are not the same thing. They aren’t even all that similar except that they are both pathologies and people suffering from both can be dangerous but in completely different ways. Schizophrenia is a broad term, but in general it causes people to experience things that others don’t. Or perhaps more bluntly: schizophrenics often hear and see and believe things that are simply not real. It is a heartbreaking disease. Schizophrenics tend to live in an uncertain world that is often malevolent.
This is all very different from psychopathy. Psychopaths see the world the way the rest of us do. They just don’t respond to it the way the rest of us do. We’ve all known people with more and less empathy. Psychopaths are people with very little or no empathy. That doesn’t mean they are violent or antisocial. In fact, being a psychopath is very good in certain professions. Globally, about 1% of people are psychopaths, but 4% of corporate CEOs are. And you can well imagine that rescue workers might be better off not having emotional reactions to other people’s suffering.
The Psychopath-Schizophrenic Connection
Psychopaths often are violent, of course. In general, our society is based upon us all not being psychopaths. So much of our social order just comes down to us all caring about each other. And whether they are violent or not, psychopaths can use all of our empathy against us. But outside of that, I have very mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, I could sure use some of their low-anxiety confidence. On the other hand, I think they’re almost non-human—what is it that makes us human but our empathy?
I tend to think these shooters are schizophrenics, rather than psychopaths, simply because they reliably kill themselves. Just the same, the whole murder process in these mass shootings is so systematic they seem psychopathic. And who knows: maybe it is both. Or neither. But I know that we need to try to help the schizophrenics, regardless of their effect on us. I’m not sure there is much we can do about the psychopaths.
I’ve known quite a number of women who have self-mutilated themselves. It is a small example of people behaving in extreme ways that don’t make sense and don’t (in any direct way) lead to the resolutions of their problems. In saying this, I am not justifying killing or self-mutilating. I am only saying that it would be useful to help people before they get to that point. Or at least to try.