How to Love a Psychopath

I watched a documentary, recently, about a psychologist, named Mark Dadds, who specialized in treating children who suffered from callous-unemotional traits which is generally categorized as a persistent pattern of behavior that reflects a disregard for others, and severe lack of empathy. It is a core trait found in those who go on to become clinically diagnosed as psychopaths. In children, these traits are either biologically inherited or as a result of being  severely traumatized, neglected, physically or sexually abused. 

Professor Dadds wanted to devise a method to treat kids with behavioral problems due to their callous-unemotional traits. He published a treatment program and went on the road with the promise that he could cure any child with these behavioral problems. After implementing his technique on hundreds of children he was dumbfounded to realize that it wasn't really working. The children weren't responding to the time outs and punishments, they would just come back out and repeat the same sort of inappropriate behavior again.

Around that time, a new study came out that showed the difference in the brain activity of people who had callous-unemotional traits, and those without, when presented with images of other people in emotionally distressing situations. The part of your brain that controls your ability to process fear and negative emotions is called the Amygdala. In normally developed people, the amygdala showed a strong response when presented with the distressing images. The people with the callous-unemotional traits showed almost no amygdala response whatsoever.

Most of us learn to care about others by witnessing the emotions and fear in other people at a young age. When presented with these emotions we develop a feeling of discomfort or unease, understanding that something is wrong.  If you are never exposed to these emotions (because you were abused for example), you will not develop that part of your brain that responds to  the higher human functions like empathy and moral conscience. Without developing the part of their brain which allows them to feel guilt or remorse these kids and adults were unable to connect to the pain of another person and that is why they found it difficult not to repeat their destructive behavior.

The conclusion of that study caused an uproar in the world of psychology and it gave Professor Dadds a new idea on how to approach treatment for these children. Because callous-unemotional children are very reward driven but don't care about being chastised, he decided to try a new approach. This time he told the parents to look their children right in their eyes and show love. Children with these behavioral problems typically don't look their parents in the eye but when the child caught their parent's gaze it was met with a sincere "I love you".

 In the first study, the child instantly responded to his mother in a way that Dadds had never seen before. Each time the boy did something good, his mother would gently turn the child's face to hers, look him in the eyes and praise him for reading well or giving the correct answer. Professor Dadds noticed something astonishing, the boy was finally connecting to his mother.

As  this type of therapy continued on, the children eventually developed a sense of guilt when they disobeyed and were able to feel sad when they saw that emotion reflected  in others. The parents were then able to discipline their children normally once they had made that connection.

Anyways, so the point of this blog was not just to tell you about the new psychology discovery I learned, but to show you how this kind of knowledge can change the way we view being a light to the world.

I see the "world" as the emotionally traumatized children, we are the parents, and God is our psychologist. I witness frequently in religious circles, such as Christian, Messianic and Jewish, all approaching their "problem children" with the first technique of "rebuke, rules, punishment, obedience".  Just like the children in the study, you find most people just go back and continue their destructive behaviors because they still can't connect to any feelings of remorse over what you're explaining.

In the study, the only thing that made the kids connect was love, real eye to eye contact love. Remember, a lot of the kids whom the psychologist treated had been severely abused, and a lot of the people in the world come from that same place of brokenness. If you don't first reach them with your love you will never reach them with the rules. I didn't care about breaking the law before I experienced God's love, but after I experienced His love, I wanted to make Him happy, and because of that, I felt guilty when I transgressed against Him.  The connection between right and wrong came after I knew God sincerely loved me.

When you seek to really be a light to the world, it's true that Love is the answer. When you can make someone else experience love, you make them want to do as you do. It's the most powerful thing in the world!

Imagine, if they actually knew "us" by our love...

Be a light.

Shalom Remnant.

It is our love that brings them in, but it is our walk that shows them why we love.