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Mar 312012
 

The question “what is a psychopath?” has so many answers that it remains undefined.

The terms psychopath, sociopath and malignant narcissist are used interchangeably in today’s popular culture. Even among professionals in the field of psychology, there is no one term that has been standardized and used by everyone to describe pathological narcissism.  I’ve chosen to use the word psychopath because it is the term used by the preeminent researcher in the field, Dr. Robert Hare.

Dr. Hare has attempted to clarify the definition by creating a psychopathy checklist called the Psychopathy Check List -Revised (PCL-R). The PCL-R is a clinical rating scale (rated by a psychologist or other person trained in the test) of 20 items. Each of the items in the PCL-R is scored on a three-point scale (0, 1, 2).  The highest score achievable is 40 and denotes a prototypical psychopath.  A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy.  So in this sense, the diagnosis of psychopathy is on a continuum, some people are more psychopathic than others.

What is a Psychopath? The twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R score :

  1. glib and superficial charm
  2. grandiose sense of self-worth
  3. pathological lying
  4. cunning and manipulative
  5. lack of remorse or guilt
  6. shallow affect — emotional reactions are short-lived.
  7. callousness and lack of empathy
  8. failure to accept responsibility
  9. need for stimulation, prone to boredom
  10. parasitic lifestyle
  11. poor behavioral controls
  12. lack of long-term, realistic goals
  13. impulsivity
  14. irresponsibility
  15. juvenile delinquency
  16. early behavior problems
  17. revocation of conditional release
  18. sexual promiscuity
  19. many short-term marital relationships
  20. criminal versatility
  21. Acquired behavioral sociopathy/sociological conditioning (Item 21 is a newly identified trait i.e. a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)

While this list provides a foundation for defining a psychopath, it is a clinical tool, meant to be used in a clinical setting.  It is difficult to use the list to assess a psychopath one meets “in the wild” because a psychopath always wears a mask.   Dr. Hervey Cleckley, one of the earliest researchers in psychopathy, called it “The Mask of Sanity” in his book by that same title.  A psychopath can wear a number of masks, portraying different personalities as the situation requires.  This is because he mirrors the people around him, especially the ones he intends to victimize.

It is the use of masks and deception in their predation that makes it difficult to define a psychopath. These camouflage tactics, by their definition, are almost invisible to an unsuspecting victim so they cannot easily be used to recognize the psychopath until it’s too late.

Furthermore, the psychopath, being a pathological liar, is not prone to admit the real motivations for his behavior even if he were actually aware of them.   Instead a psychopath makes excuses, justifies, rationalizes and blames his victim for creating the situation which forced him to aggress against the victim.

Many psychopathic behaviors occur in other personality disorders, making it even more difficult to determine whether the person is a psychopath, a sociopath, a borderline, a narcissist, an anti-social, some other disorder or  combination of disorders described in the DSM-5.  Consequently, there has been much disagreement about what makes up a psychopath.

What is a Psychopath? Your Emotions Inform You.

The psychopath’s addiction is to power.  To achieve power, he preys on other human beings by manipulating their emotions.  So, rather than looking outside of ourselwhat is a psychopath? shame and envy.ves for a warning sign, it may behoove us to check inside, with our emotions. In any interaction, we can ask ourselves whether our emotions are being manipulated.  Creating drama through the use of charm, pity and rage are common tactics for emotional manipulation. These are warning signs that the person may be an emotional vampire, but the final nail in the coffin is when you sense that you’ve been in the presence of evil. Eric Fromm, in The Heart of Man, called malignant narcissism “the quintessence of evil” (Fromm, 18).

What is a Psychopath? A 180° Mask That Hides Shame and Envy.

In her book, Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, Sandy Hotchkiss explains that narcissism is rooted in envy and in shame.  This shame is so unbearable that it is bypassed and results in behavior that appears shameless.  Since the psychopath’s behavior is motivated by unconscious emotions of envy and shame, then perhaps the best definition of a psychopath can be found in Rene Girard’s principles of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism.

Rene Girard  in A Theatre of Envy, states,

“Envy involuntarily testifies to the lack of being that puts the envious to shame” (Girard, 4).

In one short sentence, Girard has described the essence of the psychopath: An envious, shameful lack-of-being.  This is why he is a predator of human beings.

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  98 Responses to “What Is A Psychopath?”

  1. Truthy most of the time when we take a cow or steer to the butcher which we don’t do very often now, and the last one we killed last week was so wild we had to shoot her in the pasture and hand raise her calf before she trained the calf to fear humans.

    Anyway we would stand and talk to them while they were shot with the “captured bolt” gun. so that they would not be afraid. If we were only killilng one, we would let a companion animal ride in the trailer with them. Also I never ever let them use shock sticks on my cattle or hurry them through the chutes….first off because it is cruel and unnecessary but the adrenaline taints the meat. That’s why I can NOT stand the smell of commercially killed beef cooking because it is infused with adrenaline from days or weeks of stress and terror. Animals that are killed without being stressed have the BEST meat in the world so there are multiple things that make we want to never stress an animal I am butchering.

    Uber-Stress has bad effects on lots of things, human and animal.

    Yea, there are some horses or cattle that will ALWAYS be dangerous and I have no hesitation in putting them in the freezer but even with dangerous horses or mules I put them down humanely and they “never hear the gun go off”

    You know I may have “turned my empathy” off or down low many times and not recognized it, but that day I REALIZED that I had no empathy for her, and as I watched her spin her manipulation I knew that I would not do anything for this woman. I had given her a chance to help herself, but all she wanted was for me to be her next victim.

    I no longer GIVE my trust away, I have to have people EARN it before they get it. If I see dishonesty of any kind or hatefulness or someone trying to be a mooch, I ease away from these people and cut them out of my life. My word is my bond and I expect others to honor their word as well and not push boundaries.

    • Truthspeak

      OxD, your description of how you approach the processing of your livestock is so comforting to me – it’s “kind” and it’s right. My brother saw some of the feed lots in Southern California, a couple of years back, and he’d never seen them, before – NOBODY has, really. It was dreadful – he said that he could smell it from literally miles away, and that it was pitiful.

      The gal that was spinning her manipulations had proven that she wasn’t WORTHY of your empathy, OxD. She was of bad intent, and that was it.

      I’m also all about people earning my trust, rather than my giving my trust away without a second thought. In a previous life, that’s what I used to do: you had to “do something” for me to NOT trust, rather than “do something” to EARN my trust. LOL!!

      Yepper…………I’m perfectly comfortable behind my boundaries, these days. :-D

  2. “Well good fences make good neighbors” they say

  3. Our own mammalian brain also responds to stress the same way animals do. Cattle are herd animals just as we are, and believe it or not they form in a herd family groups…from years of observing my own cattle when there are several generations of cows there, I can see that the grandmothers are “partial” to their own grandchildren, and will let one of them eat from their dish when that animal is grown, but if another cow came up to eat, would “hook” them away from the food. There is a definite social structure in the herd….and a pecking order of “who is the boss cow” and unless that “boss cow” is removed from the herd and positioning to become the next “boss cow” causes some fights, there is relative peace in the herd of COWS (bulls operate on a; different set of rules)

    When cows or calves or bulls are pulled from their mommas at weaning, thrown into a large herd of age-mates, then shuffled and rearranged there is continual fighting in that herd because the social structure is destroyed. The kinship lines are destroyed. HIGH STRESS results in the herd and a feed lot IS terrible, I agree, closely confined in PENS where they stand in their own filth, fighting for a place at the feed trough just to survive, those animals are highly stressed and their concentrated manure DOES stink to high heaven because the stress upsets their system and it makes their poop really stink. Cow manure does not smell bad unless the animals are VERY stressed…with if you’ve ever driven behind a “bull hauler” on the road you can smell it before you get within a quarter of a mile because those animals are stressed by being crowded into a moving pen with other animals they don’t know or trust.

    My old oxen though they ahd been hauled thousands of times and didn’t fear it, would load up without any protest, yet even they would get diarrhea when they were hauled because it did stress them some, not like the cattle bound for slaughter but still some stress. And emptying the bowels is a reaction to that fear or stress. Humans have the same mammallian instincts that the cattle do. The descriptions of slaves in the “passage” from Africa to the New World are kind of like what cattle experience in a “feed lot”

    Prisons are the same I think as a “feed lot” is to cattle….the inmate is thrown into a continually changing environment of short “supply” of things that people want, and into a strange “herd” and there is no way to know who is the “boss cow” until you do something that makes them mad…and it is a continual dance for survival, and always being on ALERT…

    I noticed when I would visit Patrick for a “contact” visit where I could sit across a table from him face to face, I would notice that he didn’t make eye contact with me when we were talking because his eyes were always scanning the room. He was not able to make normal eye contact for conversation because he was always watching his back.even though we were always in a “safe” place with guards right there. That failure to make eye contact made it hard for me to carry on a conversation with him because the normal “conversational” interactions were lacking. I ashed him WHY he did this, or if he was even aware he was doing it…and he told me why he did it. The only time he made eye contact was when he wanted something…like the time he did the “Charlie Manson” imitation of THE LOOK..

    Even though Patrick had ADAPTED to prison, he had fought many battles in order to do so, and as a small statured white male in a population of mostly Hispanics and blacks and has literally had to fight for his life as a result of which he has suffered many physical injuries through the years. Now, as an “old man” in prison (he is 43 now) he is not as likely to be physically attacked.

    Prisons continually move inmates from one facility to another just to keep people from forming alliances for “inside crime” and Patrick has been moved many many times, though he has been where he is now for 7-8 years. But what other kind of atmosphere could a prison have than what it is? 25% of all prisoners are FULL BLOWN psychopaths, and the average score on the psychopath check list refised (PCL-R) devised by Dr. Hare which is the gold standard shows that even the “average” inmate is HIGH on the P-traits so there are always going to be human predators knocking heads with other human predators…gang violence in order to “survive” inside and not be someone’s “boy”

    And most of these people will be out someday,. even the worst, the VERY worst, the majority will be released. I just read about a man recently on parole for something who killed 4 people…and there was a “study” of his entire family that goes back for generations with a HIGH crime rate in them, including armed robbery and murder…the family terrifies the entire town they live in and have for 60 years ior more.

    I wish I knew the answer to supresion of crime, but I think the only option for some psychopaths is life without parole.

    • Oxy,
      IMO, there isn’t much difference between a criminal who breaks the law and a spath who covertly attacks his family members. Unfortunately, we can’t give the covert spath life without parole. What we CAN do is shun them and gray rock them. Unfortunately, there are the enablers who help keep spaths in power by giving them jobs and homes so they can continue to terrorize normal people.

      The same goes for criminals. Someone enables them, once they are out of prison. That just gives them a spring board to lay low for awhile until they are ready to commit more crimes. I know because I used to enable my brother and he never changed.

      They won’t change because they crave the drama and the stress. Spaths are definitely not herd animals, they are predators who rejected the herd and see their families and communities as prey.

      As far as genetics goes, I won’t give them that because it takes away their responsibility. They make a choice to reject submission. They reject humanity, vulnerability, reality. They choose to prey on human beings.

  4. Sky, the genetics don’t give them a PASS…anymore than being depressed gives you the “right” to treat others badly, or being born with the gene that makes you likely to become addicted to alcohol gives you the right to say “well I’m sick (a drunk) because of m y genes.” The alcoholic may have the genes but that does NOT POUR LIQUOR DOWN THEIR THROATS (or drugs)

    Recent research has shown definitely that their brains are DIFFERENT…but their behaviors are CHOICES and they CAN treat others justly if , and I mean IF, they didn’t get a thrill off their “drug” of choice which is ADRENALINE and you are right, they want the drama of “putting one over on” someone because of the GLEE they get out of doing it.

    Yea, I wish we could lock up the “Non-criminal” psychopaths as well as the criminal ones, and unfortunately most of teh criminal ones will also not stay locked up forever…they just get a PhD in crime while they are inside.

    My son Patrick got a PhD in crime when he went to prison for 2 years the first time. He came out worse than when he went in….and he should not have come out. In my opinion any violent crime should be automatic live without parole. They let Patrick out and then he killed.

    • http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/04/17/neanderthal_genetic_landscape_reveals_key_differences_with_humans.html

      Perhaps you won’t have to wait one hundred years to know, Oxy. Science is moving at lightening speed and accelerating!

      • I have been reading my eyes blind and still can’t keep up with all that interests me as far as genetics is concerned…The differences in the brains of people, the different genetics…and why we are what we are and how we can “fix” the things that are wrong.

        The landscape of our society and why we act like we do and how that behavior changes when we are alone or with others, or why mob mentality is worse than any individual in the mob.

        Why did dozens of people listen to Kitty Genovesee scream as she was knifed to death over half an hour and no one try to help her or even call the police?

        Humans are “herd” animals for the most part and desire contact with our own kind, but just like cattle are herd animals, but can stampede so can humans stampede into a mob of voilence and rock throwing, IED planting mob killing for “truth” and “justice” or drive airplanes into the twin towers….why do men kill each other in wars and that is “good” and yet if you slay a single person that is bad? Between genetics, instincts, politics, customs and socilizations man is a mysterous creature.

  5. There is a guy who has ASD, who has an obsessive interest in Aspie/Neurodiversity/Neanderthal genetic connection, which he researches and writes about. He has articles published in journals, as well. I read stuff on his website, periodically, and after reading your comments, above, I thought I’d share this with you, in case you might find it of any interest. If you don’t find this particular article of interest, you might want to read through other aspects of his theories/findings on his site and perhaps there will be something you find of value or that might pique your interest or what not.

    http://www.rdos.net/eng/

  6. Hi Shane,
    that did pique my interest and I checked it out.
    There is an overload of information on that site. I know where to go when I want to research Neanderthals, that’s for sure! My ex-spath was also interested in Neanderthals, it was apparent that he believed he was one. Can’t blame him, though, since he LOOKS like one. He was extremely muscular with a large head, neck and prominent brow ridge. He is also of German descent.

    As interesting as genetics are, epigenetics piques my interest even more. It’s so interesting to read about how the environment affects DNA. Specifically, how child abuse affects the methylation of DNA and the resulting physical, behavioral changes in an individual. Environmental stress from abuse, from food, toxins, war and every other interaction creates the persons that we are.

    Since homo and neanderthal DNA was very similar, the different environments in which they lived could very well be the defining factor which made them different. The neanderthals had a lot longer to adapt to the colder, northern regions and epigenetics definitely played a role there.

    Here is a much better (more balanced) article on Neanderthals, autism and gene methylation

    Edit:
    In these current articles, the researchers seem to say that Homo Sapiens and NOT Neanderthals were more susceptible to the neurodiversity that leads to autism and schizophrenia. Yet, in other articles and in the link you posted, the researchers are saying that neurodiversity is derived from Neanderthal DNA…
    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/the-savvy-scientist/what-neandertal-dna-can-teach-about-race-autism-and-more/

    It seems to me that, the writers are NOT unbiased, but rather they begin their research with preconceived notions. This, to me is reminiscent of scapegoating, narcissism and racism. If the research shows me anything at all, it would be that the human tendency toward preconceived notions of race is the MOST embedded tendency of all and, like scapegoating, it’s capable of hiding itself even from the person with the racist tendency.

    • Thanks so much for sharing the articles. Looking forward to checking them out. I can’t believe how much knowledge you have, or rather, the wide range of various things related to the human mind/brain, etc. that you have knowledge of. I become fixated on learning about anything to do with the workings of the mind. I used to be obsessed with how the P’s brain works, which obviously started while I was in the aftermath, but, now I am fascinated with all sorts of things. I mean, most anything neuroscience related, be it bio/psycho/physio, etc. I often have to set a timer so that I don’t go overboard researching stuff, since I have to work and do school projects, as well. Honestly, if I had no other commitments, I might find myself doing research 24/7. Anyway… thank you, again. :- )

      • Yeah, me too. I get carried away but that’s because there is so much still to learn about psychopathy and the cluster b’s!
        I think that autism is another really interesting subject as well.
        I’m glad you like the articles on 180 and the links too.

  7. Here’s an interesting article written about a self proclaimed “good psychopath” I thought you guys might like

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2621102/Why-psychopath-secret-success-New-book-SAS-hero-Andy-McNab-reveals-having-character-traits-vital-winning-lifes-battles.html

    • LOL! well I can’t say that I “liked” the article, Oxy… but it seems typical of a narcissist.

      When I read articles written by people who think spaths are all like some type of James Bond hero, I wonder.
      I wonder if it was written by a narcissist, who can’t stand to admit that he’s nothing but a narcissist and would rather have the psychopath label because it seems more glamorous. Or, I wonder, is it written by a psychopath who just wants to white wash his mask, so he mentions his audacity but neglects to discuss his envy, malice and schadenfreude. Really, I think it’s the latter. Spaths know their days are numbered, as the internet and popular media begins to unmask their evil, so they are trying desperately to put out disinformation and propaganda.

      They’ve been around for a long time, I think their desperate attempts are too little, too late. We’re tired of them.

  8. ha. so he was a “good psychopath” when he was ‘In fights, feeling detached, like he was watching himself in slow motion, thinking clearly about what needed to be done and how he was going to do it”, AS OPPOSED TO THINKING ABOUT HOW HIS FIGHTING WAS AFFECTING HIS OPPONENT? . “There was no fear, no emotional connection to what was happening.’—-> SO THAT MAKES HIM “GOOD”? Holy Cow. All I got from his article is that he comes off as a pure and utter malignant Narcissist (P).

    The only advantage to having some P’s (non-violent one’s) is that they can make good surgeons, as they aren’t bothered by/or distracted by blood and guts, or witnessing death or what have you…

    …and, if I recall, correctly, I saw a you tube video of Kevin Dutton (who is quoted in the article), and found ‘him’ to be hiding behind some sort of mask of his own, in fact. Perhaps I will go check him out, again.

    edit: I viewed part of a Dutton video, and he is actually not the guy I was thinking of (who seemed to be a malignant N…at best). BUT, I did see Dutton in a documentary about the businesses where the largest percentages of P’s exist. I don’t know much about him, beyond that, however. Now I feel inspired to go search out the guy who I was initially thinking of. Hahah. I guess the obsession in fact, never seizes.

  9. I was counseling a lady today who was born into a nest of vipers and dysfunctional family who were “respectable” on the outside, masking their venom to the community…after all “what would the neighbors think?” and “keep up appearances” were their mantras.

    As most of us have in the past at least, kept trying to figure out WHY???? and “IT IS ALL SO UNNECESSARY” and she will of course never know the “why” but can only say “that’s just the way they are and I can’t change it.”

    Not all, and not even the vast majority of psychopathic people are in the criminal justice system, many of them are “successful” doctors, lawyers, policemen, military etc. and they may even do a “good” job but they do not have connected relationships…they are just manipulating their victims in a non criminal way, but that doesn’t mean they are “nice people” simply that they do not openly defy the law itself.

    Then there are ones like Patrick my son who openly defy the law and brag about it. While Ps have some characteristics alike, they are just like us, all unique to some aspects of their personality.

    • Hi oxdrover, Are you a counselor, in addition to being a Nurse? My therapist is also an RN, although she no longer works as a Nurse.

      I do understand what you mean ^^. I hope you don’t mind me inquiring about the following. I saw an episode of SVU last night, where a 10 year old psychopathic boy was portrayed. He was what I would conclude to be sadistic. He hurt people (and killed a dog) to gain pleasure from watching them suffer. He even explained why he did it, with each event that took place and smiled while speaking about it. Was your son the same way when he was very young? I am curious because I have only read about how potential P children turn from seemingly good-nature’d, to having no conscience, no remorse, between the ages of 16 y/o and their mid-20’s. I do know that P children can possess the P gene and that with some/most, inevitably they will grow into destructive P’s to varying degrees, but the boy in the show was my first experience witnessing full blown P traits, and sadistic traits at that, in a young child… at least, that I am aware of. In addition to the above, the methods he used to manipulate his parents and the police, as well as the looks on his face were bone chilling. It was all the same as what I personally experienced from the ex-P, yet, almost more sinister seeming… if that is even possible. Perhaps solely due to the fact that he was so young.

      • Sorry it took me so long to answer…my computer was in the hospital. I am an advanced practice nurse which meant I could Rx medications and do some small surgical procedures, as well as counsel psych patients….I’ve worked both in medicine and in psych, both inpatient and out. I have a son Patrick who is a psychoopath and is in prison for a cold blooded premeditated murder of a 17 year old girl and in 2006-7 he sent a “friend” of his, a 3X convicted pedophile to infiltrate our family ike a trojan horse by renting a small house from me. Eventually a friend saw his name and picture on the sex offenders web site and by then he had hoodwinked my entire family except one son. He was to kill me be before my elderly mother passed away because it would benefit Patrick if I died first as there is a trust….in any case, I fled and went into hiding until the guy realized I was gone and he could not find me then he went into Plan B and seduced my DIL the wife of his “friend” my son andrew, then they tried to kill him. Fortunately failed and they both went to jail for about a year for her and 15 or 16 months for him.

        I have protested my son’s parole every time he comes up and so far have been able to keep him in prison, My mother, however sends him money and hires him an attorney to get out, she is 85 and he has her totally hoodwinked. My o ther two sons are NC with her except sometimes for business purposes, I must talk with her by e mail.

        Even though I counseled others about bad relationships, I could not seen the BEAM IN MY OWN EYE…I could help others with their splinters in their eye, but my own beam kept me BLIND to what my son is and what he was doing until he bragged ab out his killing of the girl one day and the beam fell out of my eye and I SAW what he was…it was shortly after that that he sent the Trojan horse to kill me and make it look like suicide.

        I was a total basket case for a while, and then melted down again last january to June in 2013 when I had to work on the parole protest again, but I’m back to my spunky self now and hope I can forestall any new melt downs. If I outlive my mother the chances are that he will be totally without funds and I can keep him in prison for the rest of his natural life.

        • Truthspeak

          OxD, you wrote, “Even though I counseled others about bad relationships, I could not seen the BEAM IN MY OWN EYE…I could help others with their splinters in their eye, but my own beam kept me BLIND to what my son is and what he was doing until he bragged ab out his killing of the girl one day and the beam fell out of my eye and I SAW what he was…”

          You know, I was always able to “see” other people’s abuse and abusers, but I was in TOTAL denial about what I was living with, myself. Same with the second spath – he wasn’t the violent type, but he was far more insidious than the first one because I gave him all of the information that he needed to develop his illusion – I had NOT recovered and healed from the first marriage. After that, I seemed to continue surrounding myself with toxic people. This second marriage was the splinter falling out of my own eye – yeah, the spaths are out there and they are absolutely going to do what they do, BUT, I chose two different types of sociopaths as partners, and it finally became “All about me,” this second time around.

          Wow…….what a journey it’s been, so far! LOL!

        • Oxy and Truthy,
          While I agree that we have plenty of “beams in our eyes”, I think it’s also important to point out that our “lack of boundaries” comes from having been lied to. The abusers work hard to develop close relationships with their victims before they begin the abuse. When we have any type of friendship, some of our boundaries are penetrated. That’s just the nature of human relationships. This is why we seem to have strong boundaries in business but poor ones with our family members.

          Any time we are love bombed, the boundaries between people are blurred and our integrity is weakened.

          The pattern I’ve noticed is that after the love bomb, abusers ask us to violate our own boundaries and to make special exceptions for them and for their bad behavior, their lack of responsibility. It’s our values that they want to violate. Once that happens then we don’t know who we are anymore and we become like they are, without identities.

          • Jill aka Darwinsmom

            What a great observation, Skylar!

            I agree. Anyone genuine, caring and close to us will sometimes cross a boundary of ours and we hurt because of it. And they might even sort of muck up their apologies over it or have a hard time apologizing for it, but they will not plead or argue to make an exception for it and that it wasn’t meant to hurt us or that we are making too much out of it, because they can actually empathize and feel that if we made the same mistake with them they’d be as angry or hurt over it as well.

          • Jill,
            they mirror us the way a parent would mirror an infant and we react by mirroring them back, merging with them. It’s no wonder we lose our boundaries.

            It took me a long time to realize that there is only one set of rules and the spath is subject to them too. He is not an infant, not exceptional and not above the rules. When I learned that, I realized that my family isn’t special either, they are not more entitled than other people, as I was raised to believe.

            So much of their behavior is from never having grown up. Then when we mirror them, we regress into infantile behavior too. It’s behavior we learned from our family of origin.

  10. […] 180 rule – a great website explaining in detail about psychopathic behavior. […]

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