15. Hannibal Lector- Antisocial - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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15. Hannibal Lector- Antisocial

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > How Dangerous

 How Dangerous is this Person? Assessing Danger & Violence Potential Before Tragedy Strikes

ANTISOCIAL: Characteristics, Criteria, or Elements for Aggression & Violence Potential
-- Code: NO=not applicable; YES=applicable; DEPENDS= Depends on other issues or occurs sometimes
ANTISOCIAL: DEPENDS, Specific Triggering Event
ANTISOCIAL: YES, Opportunistic Behavior
ANTISOCIAL: YES, Sense of Entitlement
ANTISOCIAL: NO, Self-Righteous Attitude
ANTISOCIAL: YES, Ego-syntonic Perception
ANTISOCIAL: DEPENDS, Self-Esteem Gain or Loss
ANTISOCIAL: NO, Intense Emotional Arousal
ANTISOCIAL: NO, Resentment
ANTISOCIAL: YES, Functional Reinforcement (positive or negative)
ANTISOCIAL: YES, Characterlogical Behavior/Perceptions
ANTISOCIAL: NO, Transitory Behavior/Perceptions
ANTISOCIAL: DEPENDS, Isolation/Avoidance Behavior
ANTISOCIAL: NO, Presence of Remorse

Borderline individuals when activated, individuals with narcissistic rage, paranoid “retaliation,” along with frustration, bullying, and culturally based aggression, abuse, or violence can appear to be characteristic of antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy- also known in lay language as the actions of a psychopath.  Of particular importance to the therapist, the lack of emotional arousal of the threatened narcissist mimics the flat emotional presentation of the sociopath.  The narcissist who goes into a narcissistic cold rage from a threat to his or her omnipotence, grandiosity, or entitlement becomes functionally sociopathic. However, there is clear motivation for psychological self-preservation for the narcissist.  In contrast, the individual with antisocial personality disorder or sociopath is an opportunistic abuser more so than being triggered or motivated by self-preservation.  The sociopath abuses, exploits, or manipulates because he or she can for the most part.  No one has to “do wrong” to him or her.  There is no need of personal resentment motivating aggression as vengeance.  The aggression, abuse, or violence is interesting and in his or her own way to the sociopath rewarding and pleasurable.  Since power and control can be considered a core issue in self-esteem, hurting others and getting away with it fosters his or her self-esteem.  However, the sociopath seems mostly not to care.  Being in control, dominating, and exploiting or hurting others is what he or she is.  Anthony Hopkins played the iconic sociopath Hannibal Lector in the film "Silence of the Lambs" (Demme, 1991) and a sequel "Hannibal" (Scott, 2001) and a prequel "Red Dragon" (Ratner, 2002).  Lector was a fascinating and terrifying character to film viewers who were guiltily captivated by his ingenious manipulations and violence.  Challenges to his or her domination or staying in control can trigger aggression, although a trigger is not necessary for the sociopath to aggress.   In "Hannibal," Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi of Florence, Italy who both disrespected him and threatened his freedom became a particular target for Lector's violence.

Jodie Foster and then Julianne Moore in the sequel played the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Clarice Starling.  In the first movie, agent Starling engages with the dangerous Lector for assistance.  His interest and willingness to interact with her has to due both to her being interesting and to her deference to him.  If agent Starling had been aggressive or manipulative, or worse disrespectful, the sociopathic Lector would have been dismissive or dangerously activated.  The men who try to control him: the prison guards and warden in the "Silence of the Lambs," Inspector Pazzi, Justice Department official Paul Krendler and Mason Verger- a prior victim of Lector's who conspire together to capture Lector for Verger's vengeance in "Hannibal" become targets.   A female who challenges the male sociopath about gender roles might trigger both acquired societal sexist expectations and sociopathic control issues.  For example, “Intimate partner abusers with antisocial features are thought to have the most rigid attitudes about sex-roles as assessed with questionnaires (Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart 1994). They may use violence in order to maintain power and control (Babcock et al. 2000). They may also use emotionally aggressive communication styles while engaging in a conflict discussion with their partners (Gottman et al. 1995). Thus, intimate partner abusers with antisocial features may articulate sexist beliefs and verbally aggressive statements reflecting power and control in response to the ATSS (articulate thoughts in simulated situations paradigm)” (Costa and Babcock, 2008, page 396).  The male antisocial perpetrator may hold patriarchal or sexist belief systems for reasons beyond upbringing or upholding cultural models.  Rigid sexist beliefs about gender roles serve the male sociopath to reinforce and justify maintaining power and control over a female partner.  

Other cultural values for other individuals- the male or female sociopathic gang leader for example, may passionately embrace community values that serve maintaining his power in the community.  Loyalty and prohibition against confiding in outsiders (snitching) serves the gang leader domination and avoids competition.  Social beliefs or cultural values are likely to be cherry-picked to serve the pathology rather than be necessarily reverently held.  A female sociopath would therefore reject cultural training for female submissiveness.  Rejection would not be for feminist, social, or political reasons but from concern that she would lose power and control.  However, the female sociopath may manipulate other females' gender culturally acquired instincts for deference to authority to maintain domination over others.  By the same token, either gender or any sociopath would go along with or go against social standards to maintain power and control.   The functionality to serve selfish desires is more important than group or community expectations.  For the sociopath, others’ idealist social or cultural standards present opportunities for or barriers against manipulating others.  A pragmatic sociopath would find idealistic individuals stupid or simple and to be manipulated.

Being smarter or more controlling in his or her mind or sense of self entitles the sociopath to hurt others.  Why?  The sociopath aggresses because he or she can do it and get away with it, and because victims are too stupid to prevent being harmed. There may be a self-serving circular logic and behavior loop justifying the sociopath's abuse of others.  “..among those with antisocial or psychopathic features, cognitive distortions reflecting anger, verbally abusive controlling behavior, and rigid sex-roles may emerge” (Costa and Babcock, 2008, page 395). Violence or abuse is a manifestation of superiority and an assertion that social rules for others do not apply to him or her.  Interestingly the sociopath may be considered not to be self-righteous.  Sociopaths know right from wrong and that society deems his or her behavior as wrong.  Hannibal Lector has no illusions about how he is seen by society.  Being seen as a monster is no insult.  If anything, it is amusing to him that he frightens and intimidates regular people with behavior that they find incomprehensible.  The sociopath knows that his or her choices violate community, religious, and legal boundaries.  It just does not matter to him or her that others see the behavior as morally reprehensible as long as he or she does not get punished.  Getting away with it or not, along with gaining some benefit determines a behavior’s value to the sociopath, rather than some value system.  It is very practical and egocentric morality without the socially accepted “higher” levels of morality.   Despite his relish harming others, his sense of self-satisfaction in getting away unpunished may be even greater.  Lector remains free and makes his smug escape at the end of both "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal."

The individual with antisocial personality disorder can be isolated socially or be active in social circles.  The sociopath does not get reciprocal emotional or psychological validation in relationships, so often could do without them.  However, sociopathic domination and exploitation of others is not possible without social interactions and relationships of some sort.  Hannibal Lector was a respected psychiatrist before arrested and incarcerated for serial killings and cannibalism.  In "Hannibal," he has taken on a new identity as a respected art scholar and the curator prestigious library that serves as a repository of rare books, historical documents and art treasures.  The sociopath is not motivated by the same social and emotional needs in a relationship as other people. However, he or she can adeptly play the role of honorable citizen, social or political leader, or accomplished professional because it serves him or her.   Rather than seeking intimacy or someone to reciprocally play with, the sociopath seeks others to play- to coerce, manipulate, exploit, intimidate, dominate, and abuse for his or her entertainment.  This is perhaps comparable to a cat “playing” with a mouse before killing it and eating.  The mouse is clearly not enjoying “playtime.”  The sociopath’s defining lack of remorse for hurting others and lack of empathy for other’s pain or distress… or death makes for a very dangerous amoral criminal, person of authority or power, partner, businessperson, or citizen.  The only entry for an extreme sociopath is his or her aversion to being caught and punished for transgressions.  As a result, skilled and adept sociopaths can find satisfaction and social acclaim in various fields where their aggression is condoned and/or readily hidden.  Obviously, a sociopath can excel as a criminal if his or her actions serve the profitability of the gang or criminal organization, while preventing the key bosses from being caught and prosecuted.  Or, the sociopath becomes the boss or gang leader and manipulates gang members to serve his or her needs.  However, the theatrical extremity of Hannibal Lector belies the sociopath who exists and functions without committing or being caught committing obvious legal transgressions.   The individual with antisocial personality disorder often can justify otherwise vicious cruel actions in business, law enforcement, and government among other vocations.  Such an individual can manipulate or fool people desirous of important personal benefit to excuse or overlook abusive behavior.  Whatever is profitable or adds status and power to the individual validates sociopathic behavior.  Moreover, if his or her organization gains status, power, or profits, it may condone and encourage, or turn a blind eye to morally reprehensible choices and actions.  

Sociopathy can work for an individual skillful enough to work the system. The system can be a business, team, organization, family, or the couple. However, the threat, possibility, or reality of being caught and punished would ordinarily cause the sociopath to alter behavior.  This depends on the sociopath not being too emotionally invested or aroused beyond caution to act regardless of consequences.  That reckless disregard of negative consequences is more typical of a borderline in the moment of hurt and anger or a bitter paranoid individual upon accumulation of resentments.  To the sociopath, potential positive consequences activate abusive or violent actions, while potential negative consequences (punishment or loss) block the same actions.  The therapist, professional, or concerned person should avoid making appeals to empathy or remorse or an ideal self of mutuality and focus interventions on the probability of being caught and punished.  Unfortunately, the dedicated sociopath might then feel challenged to find a way to aggress and abuse.  The narcissistic aspects of sociopathy: omnipotence and grandiosity may drive a need to be successfully violent without being caught or punished.  Being caught and blocking success as an entry to therapy or change is not easily accomplished.    Its effectiveness may depend not only on the individual having a strong sense of realistic negative consequences but also on how severely sociopathic he or she may be.  

If the individual is deeply sociopathic and therefore, extremely dangerous, in couples therapy for example the therapist may need to forgo seeking change for this individual and the couple and focus on safety for the partner.  In other situations, such as a family, workplace, or institution, the professional or concerned person may need to compartmentalize or terminate the sociopath for the well being of the rest of the community.  That may mean confining, restraining, or eliminating the presence of the sociopath away from others.  This could be terminating contact, interactions, or meetings.  The individual may be placed in highly structured environments or roles where he or she is less likely to access people and circumstance for harming others.  This can mean divorce, legal or functional disowning, being fired, and incarceration.  Other than incarceration and death, Hannibal Lector continues to move on to probably another situation and new victims.  The sociopath or individual antisocial personality disorder, who loses his or her victim's availability or situational ability to harm others also moves on.  The therapist, professional, or concerned person may only be able to intervene and protect people in a current situation.  Such people may also be educated and trained to be more vigilant and sensitive to be able to identify a sociopath and take protective measures.  However, the therapist, professional, or concerned person not have venue or opportunity to protect new people in subsequence situations from the sociopath.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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