Hervey Cleckley Quote #8

After describing the futile cycle of psychopaths going to prison, to a mental health hospital, and back into society, Cleckley describes the clueless nature of those trying to address those with psychopathic personalities:-

Turning now to penal facilities, now to psychiatric [hospitals], relatives, friends, doctors, lawyers, the community at large, all find they are trying to measure areas in kilowatts or color in inches. Since the fire extinguisher did not particularly help the child’s fever, which has become alarming, we gravely apply a plaster cast.

The Mask of Sanity

Hervey Cleckley Quote #7

[The psychopath] not only reproduces consistently good specimens of human reasoning but also appropriate simulations of human emotion in response to all the varied stimuli of human life. So perfect is this reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him can point out in scientific or objective terms why he is not real. And yet one knows or feels he knows that reality, in the sense of a full healthy experiencing of life, is not there.

The Mask of Sanity


Ebony 2Tamika escaped into the night and collapsed down next to the aging tombstone. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, and her labored breathing once again became audible. She knew that she was now living on borrowed time, and soon the machete at her mother’s hand would come back to finish the job. In the kitchen, before she had fled the house, the metal had slapped and stung her face, and the cold greasy feeling at her fingertips over the hairline fracture in her throbbing skin told her the blade was no longer clean. Deep and long menstrual cramps pinched hard in her abdomen, and for the briefest of moments felt in perfect synchrony with the blood oozing steadily up and out of her cheek.

She rolled over with her back against the cold and moldy stone, and closed her eyes. Tamika pulled her knees up and rested her head between the two bony points, and with a conscious exhale realized that she was once again in control of her breathing.  The graveyard was a hundred feet from her rural house and they were surrounded by fields and woods on all sides. The discarded church had been razed to the ground by her drunken stepfather in an attempt to bond with her younger brother, and it had worked. Those two were now living in the city, offering to fix anything for the right price.

She lifted her head and stared out over the silhouettes of rounded tombstones and angular crosses, all the way down over the iron railing, and passed the cornfield to the tree line. The night was quiet, and otherwise beautiful. The silvery sheen on the full moon favored the dead and offered Tamika its acceptance. Behind the stone, the past was approaching, and she knew she could not go back. She also knew she could not go forward. She was in death’s pen.

The hinges of the wrought iron gate squeaked and crunched on the breeze, and Tamika darted forward, keeping her knees bent and her back arched. Her mother was now obese and wore the same purple floral gown day in and day out, and even though she had arthritis in her hips and knees her reflexes were still fast at will and her strength superhuman. In decades past she had survived police brutality and saved her friend from an abusive husband. Tamika didn’t hate her mother, but she hadn’t finished grieving for her, either.

She stole over the grass between the rows using familiar coordinates and found the grave of her stillborn daughter, Ebony. The grass was long and damp in front, and soaked through the hem of her thin cotton skirt.  Her daughter was the last body to be buried in the grounds of the Church of God in Christ before it had been abandoned. Tamika dropped to her knees and held on to both sides of the small tombstone.

“I have been here many times, but I have never left your side. You sat with me for eight months as I tried to figure out the world before I brought you into it.” Tamika fell back onto her heels and wept. “But I failed to understand the world, and then I failed to bring you into it. I wanted so much for you, Ebony. My darling, Ebony. I would play music for you, and dreamed of being there when you picked out your first instrument. I strolled through bookcases with my hand on you, and looked over all the titles and smiled at all the adventures we would have by your bedside. During checkups with the doctor, I wondered if you would be allergic to penicillin, or if you would be braver than your mommy when giving blood.”

Tamika wiped her eyes on her bare arm and felt the crystals along the sticky cut line on her cheek. “All of those times I dreamed about being there for you, when it was I who needed you to be here for me.” She glanced up at the tombstone and ran her fingers over the name ‘Ebony’ etched into the granite. “I need you now more than ever.” Tamika’s fingertips etched down her navel to the scar. “I could never bring you into this world, but I need you to take me out of it. Please.” She leaned forward and kissed the stone.

The cold and porous rock pressed to her full lips, and the smell and taste of grass and mildew pushed her imagination into another time and place. The sun was shining and she was rolling around in the freshly cut grass at school. She laughed as she remembered what it was to not feel lonely. An explosion of life and thoughts cascaded through her mind and were gracious to re-instill in her of all the good times she had felt. When the memories simmered to a stop, she was once again face to face with the word ‘Ebony’. Tamika smiled and reveled in the sense of warm joy sweeping through her veins in waves, and down her face in comforting and familiar tears. She sat back on her heels. “I died when you died.”

Tamika straightened her back and stared back out over the cemetery to her house with the light still on in the kitchen. The gate to the cemetery was wide open, and Tamika knew that her mother was standing behind her. The strained breathing and the smell of putrefied milk and body odor told her that it was time.  Tamika pulled herself towards the tombstone and edged around to face her mother, her back resting against the granite.

Her eyes refused to focus on the imposing and towering form before her in the dark, with the moonlight reflecting on the blackened blade, hanging limp in her mother’s hand, the tip carelessly brushing against the grass. Tamika’s head, resigned to its fate, fell to the left and she saw her father in his overcoat and hat floating before her in the night. The image was from a memory of an old photo, frayed at the edges and kept in a box underneath her bed. He had finally come back to take her away.

Tamika closed her eyes and plucked one last memory; her mother reading to her at her bedside, when nights had once been magical and mornings-after full of promise. Her last breath unmoored from her soul and convulsed from her chest in a whimper. “Mom, I forgive you.”

The machete rang out and chipped on the stone behind Tamika’s neck, and the flesh of her past stood over her severed body, as it once again bled for a future that was never to be.


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Cleckley, Sexuality, and Circumscribed Behavior Disorder

In The Mask of Sanity, Cleckley devotes a chapter to a case about what was termed Circumscribed Behavior Disorder. Cleckley described it thusly:-

When behavior disorder is circumscribed, in a child or in an adult, one sometimes feels that symptomatically the patient resembles a psychopath but that a different sort of personality lies behind the manifestation.

The chapter is included among other chapters that are supposed to stand in contrast to psychopathic personality to help us better understand the psychopath, and includes such cases as the psychoticthe psychoneurotic, and the malingerer. One certainly gets the feel that this is 1940s psychiatry really struggling with classifications and groupings, after all, behavioral permissibility seems to be determined by the cultural and legal zeitgeist, and if something is deemed ‘wrong’ culturally, then psychiatrists automatically look at it as a disease or disorder.

This chapter is particularly striking, however. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with the ‘patient’ in this case, a young woman who had sought help because she feared social repercussions  because of her deemed promiscuity. The other chapters all describe behavior or symptoms that now have reputable courses for treatment and therapy (mostly), and while it’s easy to attack the work of Cleckley for the obvious 1940s social climate and prejudices, he wrestles with this patient in the same way that Nietzsche struggled to understand women; if he could just lose the product of his time element from his observations and reasoning, the truth, I think, would have blown him away. You feel like he knows something is wrong in the same way that Mr. Anderson feels that something is wrong in the movie ‘The Matrix’ before he becomes Neo.

The young woman in the case ends up in counseling in her mid twenties. She clearly has a strong and curious sex drive, and she is also thoroughly intelligent, a keen social critic when it comes to cultural mores, and very book smart. She had no desire to form any long lasting relationship with a man (something that unfortunately flagged her as psychologically defective – because of course, sex for sex’s sake is clearly ridiculous). Cleckley interprets this as her not caring who she hurts: If men invest in a series of dates, there is some consensual sexual activity, and then she chooses to move on, the hurt the men suffer is obviously her fault and has nothing to do with their emotional immaturity and possessional attitudes.

In two years, she slept with twenty men. Cleckley notes that she easily experienced vaginal orgasm (wonderful that she had to answer those questions because she’s being screened as sexually dysfunctional), and even so, did not want to stay with any one man. After all, as we know, if women are sexually satisfied, what more could they possibly want out of life? There is never any evidence that she cut and run from relationships, or used sex to steal or blackmail from anyone, only that she ever wanted brief sexual encounters. There was also no guilt felt after sex, which is why Cleckley has connected this apparent disorder to psychopathy in the first place.

Later, the young woman finds an intimate and rewarding relationship with a woman who was fifteen years older and was a part of the faculty with her husband at a local college. This older lady was well read, erudite, and felt a reciprocal attraction; they would together listen to symphonies, read Shakespeare out loud together, and drink and chat well into the night. This progressed into nights spent together in the same bed where they had sex. This happened when the husband was away for research.

While the marital infidelity is enough to make one squeamish, the young woman clearly found everything she wanted in a partner. Who doesn’t want an intellectual, thought-provoking, charming, and sexual guru to spend most of their free time with, especially before the dawn of family and work life?  These needs that the young woman experienced would have made her selfish in the sense that she’s trying to figure out the best place for herself in the world, but her culture was against her all the way. In fact, she tells Cleckley how it was okay for little boys to wander off on tree climbing, hiking, or other adventures, but little girls were more restricted, and how boys became airline pilots, surgeons, and generals, but women became wives, and were destined to a life of housework. She fought this all the way and dared to listen to her own drives, dreams, and desires.

While in counseling, Cleckley noted that she was forced to admit that male and female genitalia are better suited to each other and work together to get better “sensual results.” He seems bang on the money – she was forced or defeated to admit something so preposterous. The concluding part to this chapter is disheartening. She’s being made to ‘understand’ that her feelings and drives are mechanisms for avoiding responsibility, in the same way that a child might feign sickness in an effort to avoid school. She is effectively punished for being herself.

I think Cleckley struggled with this case. He knew her observations of 1940s stereotypes were apt, yet her behavior is interpreted heavily by the prevailing morality of the time. One gets the impression that Cleckley’s primary duty for therapy was to encourage cultural assimilation. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was finally omitted from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

There was a disorder here, but it wasn’t Circumscribed Behavior Disorder. It was oppression.


Hervey Cleckley Quotes #6

I am not sure there was ever much more need for “psychosis with psychopathic personality” than for “psychosis with red hair” or “neurosis with a Ph.D. degree.” The new nomenclature appears better designed to avoid unnecessary confusions of this sort.

Mask of Sanity

A Sense of Future and the Act of Killing

Blame the Amygdala

Nietzsche future pastIt’s easy to forget how much the ideas we have about our own futures impact our daily lives. We all try to invest in our futures (financially, academically and intellectually, and emotionally and genetically) so that when ‘it’ arrives we will be comfortable and happy. Ideas of a comfortable future make us feel happy, and conversely, thoughts of a chaotic future fill us with dread and peptic ulcers. How we end up in the future is in some ways besides the point, because what we are really trying to do is feel satisfied and happy in the present – by doing what we need to do to secure good thoughts of the future.

Thoughts of the future are intimately related to our sense of morality. Take the golden rule, for example – treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. How would you like to be treated? W

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A thought on behavior and language

I’m finding it quite paradoxical this morning that the word ‘behavior’ is a noun and not a verb. Behavior is indicative of doing things, and verbs are ‘doing’ words. There’s the verb ‘to behave,’ which is to act within the parameters of social or familial expectations, but there’s no I behavior, you behavior, he/she/it behaviors…

I’m quite convinced that I am behavioring all the time.