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3 Features of Corporate Psychopaths’ Offensiveness

Psychopaths' illusions about interaction produce and sustain their violence.

Key points

  • Corporate psychopaths' destruction involves the abuse of power to control and bully others.
  • Their distorted interpersonal cognitions sustain their violence and denial of responsibility.
  • They maintain their illusion by dragging their victims down to their level of thinking and interaction.

Most research on psychopathy focuses on offenders involved in the criminal justice system. The Psychopathy Checklist–Revised (PCL-R) applied to this population has identified individuals with this type of personality disorder as carrying dysfunctional traits, such as shallow affect, impulsivity, lack of empathy, lack of remorse or guilt, irresponsibility, and socially deviant lifestyle and behaviors (Hare, 2016).

However, a number of psychopaths may possess the ability to evade prison and to flourish in organizational environments. A couple of studies (e.g., Boddy, 2014; Boddy et al., 2021) have shown that although corporate psychopaths who occupy senior-level positions share some similar symptoms as other types of psychopaths, their inimitable destruction involves their abuse of powers to control and bully subordinate coworkers with threats of or real violence and punishment, thus jeopardizing the interests of the organizations and the well-being of employees.

Unique Characteristics of Corporate Psychopaths

Although labeling psychopaths as carriers of dark personalities or invoking their toxic upbringings, genetic factors, or emotional dysregulation may all provide insights about the disorder, I contend that corporate psychopaths (broadly defined, including psychopaths in educational, government, or business institutions or organizations) have at least three unique characteristics that remain to be further examined, based on my direct observations of how some of them (four persons) interact with others in organizational settings. The following analyses are my personal perspective with the hope that it may provoke some thought for further research.

First, the psychopaths’ very sense of existence seems to depend upon constant encroachments on others’ rights and boundaries, including harassing people; persistently finding faults with others; attempting to control what their victims can do, think, decide, and choose; and being intolerant about any disagreement, typically accompanied by their verbal and emotional violence, such as intentional and prolonged screaming and hyperbolic rage uncalled for by the situations (see "How Managerial Psychopaths Use Emotions to Manipulate Others").

Certainly, they differentiate between individuals with different potentials, only selecting and attacking victims who are most vulnerable while putting up a charming façade before higher authorities or other individuals whom they want to please for the time being. As Boddy (2014) observed, this type of perpetrator in organizations experiences arousal and pleasure and a heightened sense of dominance when making others emotionally suffer.

Second, the psychopaths seem to live in a fabricated illusory world characterized by some false idea about human interaction. They use their distorted cognitions about interpersonal reality (that is, misrepresenting how and why others validate and invalidate their communications, see Sun, 2009) as their guideline to generate, rationalize, and sustain their interpersonal violence.

In particular, they have the false belief that fear and pain regulate others’ actions. Additionally, their defense strategies include denial of responsibility, blaming others, or external factors for their wrongdoings and professional incompetency. Those approaches and defenses represent distorted interpersonal cognition because they are invalid for the recipients (see "Why Are Some People Habitually Aggressive?").

Third, it is difficult for them to be disillusioned by conventional treatments and approaches because they rely parasitically on their victims to maintain their sense of false certainty about the interpersonal world through dragging their victims down to their levels of operation. If the victims react that fall within their manipulation, they would maintain the false sense of certainty. Their victims who try to use logic and reasoning to debate with psychopaths about their misconduct may involuntarily confirm the perpetrators' false sense of certainty about their illusion because they expect to see aggression-generated reactions.

Additional evidence regarding psychopaths’ need for a sense of certainty comes from the observation that although they enjoy their self-inflation and grandiosity, they fear abandonment and exclusion.


In short, the analyses show that corporate psychopaths have at least three unique characteristics: (1) their very sense of existence seems to depend upon constantly harassing selected victims, (2) their distorted interpersonal cognitions sustain their violence and denial of responsibility, and (3) they maintain their interpersonal illusion through the ploys that drag their victims down to their level of thinking and interaction.

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