Today one of our new bloggers, Johana, mentioned that her daughter had a “reptilian look” and I got to thinking about “THE LOOK. Those of us who have dealt with psychopaths have usually seen “it.” I’ve tried to put a description of “THE LOOK” into words, but I just can’t do it. There is no basis to describe it, but it is like the supreme court justice said about “por-nography”–”you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.” The best “picture” I can come up with to illustrate “THE LOOK” is the news photo of Charlie Manson taken shortly after his arrest. I lived in Los Angeles at the time Charlie and the “family” were arrested and like many people, I stayed glued to the tube watching their antics in court. One photo actually gave me chills, even back in those days when my own little psychopath was not even walking yet. That photo has “haunted” me ever since. Even then I knew that “THE LOOK” gave you the feeling of looking directly into Satan’s eyes. Something, as Johana said, “reptilian.” Now that I have come to know some psychopaths all too well, I realize that after Charlie was no longer on the news, I had seen “THAT LOOK” on the faces of others. The faces of others who turned out to be malignant and Machiavellian. I’ve seen plenty of people “spittin’ mad” over this thing or that, but no matter how mad they were, they never had “THE LOOK” with those cold reptilian eyes. It is said by philosophers that the eyes are the “windows to the soul”—on in the case of “THE LOOK” windows into the insides of someone who doesn’t seem to have a soul…someone who can hurt you and not care, in fact, hurt you and glory in the suffering they cause, just because they enjoy doing it.
I’ve told this story before, but “THE LOOK” on the face of my son, one day several years ago on the last time I visited him in prison, when he was bragging about how “much worse my crime is than the cops even knew.” We had been chatting “nicely” and he was trying to convince me to do something that was not something I wanted to do, I don’t even remember now what it was, but I kept saying “No, I won’t do that.” Finally after some time and apparently being frustrated with me, he “presto-chango” in an instant went from a pleasant look to “THE LOOK” and said to me “If you knew how horrible my crime was you wouldn’t like me very much, it was much worse than even the cops knew.” It literally happened in a split second, like he had been wearing “the mask” before and took it off, and I immediately thought of the photo of Charlie Manson I had seen so many years before. I felt like I had been suddenly hit in the face with a bucket of ice water I didn’t see coming. I think I must have had a stunned look on my face, and I said something to the order of “what could be worse, Patrick, than shooting a young girl in the head? Did you rape her first? Did you burn her with cigarettes? What could be worse?” Then just as suddenly as “THE LOOK” appeared, it was gone and he was back to “but Mommmm, what would Jezussss do?” I left that day and never visited him again. I was stunned, and I realized exactly what I was seeing. I was looking into the eyes of EVIL. A person who had no guilt, no remorse, but instead, was actually proud of what he had done and how cruel it was. Even then, it still took me months to process what I had seen, and what it meant. “THE LOOK” is part and parcel of those who have no conscience. It isn’t anger, it isn’t even rage, it is worse than anything else I can even imagine. While I refer to the LOOK, as “THE LOOK” it really isn’t even just one expression on someone’s face of being angry, frustrated, or enraged, sometime it is a smirk, like T. J. Layne, the murderer, had on his face in court at his sentencing when he pulled aside his outer shirt revealing a tee shirt he had painted with the words “Killer.” Up until that moment, he had appeared very polite and quiet in court, saying “yes, sir, and no sir.” But that day the mask dropped and he showed THE LOOK in the form of a purely evil smirk.
While I think that many people who have little or no conscience have learned how to maneuver and manipulate people to get what they want (“supply”), but I think “THE LOOK” must be inborn. Research has shown that humans have all kinds of “instincts” just like other animals do, things that are inborn within our genes that make us want to walk, talk, attach to others, to love and hate, have joy and experience sadness and loss. Research has also shown that people high in the psychopathic traits have brains that are literally hardwired differently from “typical” people. They react differently to stress, attention, impulsiveness, and many “feelings” and emotions are different than in typical people who are not high in the traits. As we learn more about what we can expect from people with little or no conscience, we can observe them and how they behave. We are not going to just meet one or two in our lives, there are between 1-4% of the adult population who qualify as full-blown psychopaths, and many many more who are high in the traits. Psychology is not an exact science yet, but with the new fMRIs and other objective tests much is being learned about the roles that genetics and environment have on what we are and what we become. Just like our genes determine what color our eyes are or how tall we are, genetics plays a big part is our personality. Watching for signs of “THE LOOK” is only one way in which we can be aware that someone may be disordered…whether you call it psychopathy, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or just plain “mean as a snake” it doesn’t matter. If people display lack of a conscience and a delight (“duping delight”) in doing bad things to others, then we don’t need these people in our lives. If they are someone we love(d) it will be painful to realize this, but we can heal, we can recover, and we can go on with our lives. Just like everyone else, I have my ups and downs, but over all I’m making FORWARD progress in coming to terms with what has been dealt to me in the way of a “hand” in life. It isn’t what I wanted, but it isn’t in my control. I have to accept what hand I’ve been dealt and “get on with it” in life. While there have been times I have felt like I had the most miserable things happen to me that anyone could have happen and not literally die of a broken heart…but you know, I have so many blessings, and I do my dangest to count my blessings. At one point I had a list of blessings, starting with the simple things like enough clean water to drink, a roof over my head, enough clothes to keep from being arrested, some people who did/do love me, enough food to eat, medical care, etc. Things we tend to take for granted, but shouldn’t. I would read my list every day to remind me that I wasn’t bereft of all the good in life. Spring is finally here and I’ve been doing “spring cleaning” and gardening….and enjoying the sunshine and warmth in the air. Today as I was working in the garden, I actually stopped, looked around at our little “hole in the woods” and realized just how happy and blessed I am, how good God has been to me. I stood there and literally wept with joy. Only a few years ago, I grieved so much I wanted to die, felt like I would die just from the pain. It’s been a long hard road, but those people who have shared with me, held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own, are precious to me, but in the end there are some things we have to do for ourselves, one is to be born, no one can do it for us, and another is to die, no one can do it for you….the most important thing though, I think, is that we must do our own healing, even if we have support from those who have been on the road before us, we still have to do it for ourselves, but it sure is comforting to have someone who can say “I KNOW how you feel” and know they DO KNOW.