Simultaneous Narcissism, Psychopathy, Aspergers
This article was originally intended to be an interview with the (in)famous career-blogger Penelope Trunk about how the combination of psychopathy ("antisocial personality disorder"), Asperger's ("high-functioning autism") and other personality disorders such as narcissism could make people more successful in business. Penelope Trunk charges $350 for an hour of personal counseling over the phone and graciously agreed to letting me conduct a public interview with her for an hour's worth of her time. I previously told her that I suspected she was not just a person with Asperger's but on the psychopathic spectrum as well and that that may be why she was uncharacteristically successful, for an aspie. She answered: "Thank you for your insight!". It soon became clear that she meant: "What a load of bunk!" I prepared myself by reading many of her blog postings, listened to her audio interviews (this brilliant one shows her capability and character) and reading her fascinating autobiographical book Making Scenes. Disappointingly, Amazon offers no Kindle version but it is for sale here and it can be transferred by USB cable to a Kindle. The concept of psychopathy and Asperger's occuring in the same individual entered my mind when I discovered that my own personality, as someone diagnosed with Aspergers, had strong components of psychopathy. Aspies lack cognitive empathy but they do have affective empathy ("sympathy"). With psychopaths it is the other way round. Aspies are often highly ethical and avoid lying like the plague, psychopaths lie all the time and ethics and morality are alien concepts to them. Aspies can be neurotic and prefer to avoid stress, psychopaths are risk-seekers, often in an impulse. One would think that psychopathy and Aspergers can not go together because they are in many ways opposite types. I think they can go together, but what happens is that some traits of one "disorder" dominate the opposite trait of the other one. This would make the most sense, since it is considered proven that personality disorders are genetic in origin. This means that both genetic conditions can at least in theory occur simultaneously.
One either loves or hates Penelope Trunk. In spite of her rather rudely ripping us off and in spite of her in my opinion questionable ethics, I like her blunt, no-holds-barred, brutally honest style and nearly all of her career advice. Most of the rest of her advice is highly questionable however, such as how to deal with debt.
Penelope Trunk. Source (with permission)
Penelope's "haters" often accuse her of pretending she has Aspergers. One of her former lovers, "D", whom she dumped, disagrees with the "haters" and emphatically confirms she's an honest-to-god aspie. Penelope forms her opinions by devouring studies on the subject she's forming an opinion about, which is typical for aspies. She's an ENTJ. Asperger's is mostly an INTJ/ENTJ affair. One of her sons has been diagnosed with Asperger's and this clip about Penelope's life proves that. Several other quirks displayed by Penelope are typical for Asperger's. So there is no doubt, and the haters are wrong. But not so fast - they're also right.
Why I thought Penelope Trunk is a Psychopath
There are many examples of unethical behaviour and advice in the many writings produced by Penelope Trunk. One sentence that stands out is an admission of having in effect stolen tens of thousands of dollars from someone who trusted her: "I already have had a six-figure book deal to write about my life that I'm not delivering on, and the editor has dumped me. (Read: Phone calls to collect on the large advance I've already spent.)". I did not find any evidence anywhere on her blog that she refunded the money or delivered on her promise, on the contrary, there are more references to this posting where she reminds us of that spectacular default on her obligations. Update: Penelope asked me to correct only one claim in this article and it was about her being an ENTJ instead of what I said initially, an INTJ. So we can assume she really never paid off her debt or delivered on the deal. For people interested in the Trunk-phenomenon (she has hundreds of thousands of followers after all), a couple of links to high-profile blogs where her possible psychopathy is discussed:
Why I am sure Penelope Trunk is a Psychopath
She stole our $350, that's why. She refused to answer my first question to her, which was:
0.5% (1 in 200) has aspergers and according to Hare, 1% (1 in 100) is a psychopath. This means that if these conditions are not significantly co-morbid, about 1 in 20000 people has Aspergers as well as Psychopathy. 16000 US citizens would be an aspie-psychopath.
Psychopaths are known for often being compulsive liars and being amoral. Aspies are known for often being highly ethical and having a strong aversion to lying. Combining both personality "disorders" into one person would conceivably result in some kind of mix of traits where some traits dominate others.
My theory is that a significant subsection of aspie psychopaths inherit the fearlessness and disregard for public opinion of the psychopath but the ethics and hyper-focus of the autistic. This would make a potent cocktail of desirable characteristics for entrepreneurs. Many aspies are INTJ's, "masterminds". Imagine such a mastermind, aided by psychopathic disregard for social dogma or legislation in dire need of inevitable reform. A mastermind endowed with autistic ability to relentlessly pursue a goal and absorb any knowledge required to achieve that goal. The aspie psychopath would have the knowledge and focus to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions and he would have the aggressive "cutting through the bullshit" approach of a fearless psychopath. A fearsome foe in the business world indeed!
Being aspie-moral, the aspie psychopath would likely avoid getting his enterprise into too much legal hot water and he would run a refreshingly open and honest business. Having thought things through with aspie-concomitant INTJ rigor, paradigm-shifting, extremely risky but ultimately successful businesses models could ensue, such as that of Tesla Motors and various other initiatives of Elon Musk. Mr. Musk may be an aspie-psychopath, considering his propensity for buying racing cars and then crashing them, as well as his extreme nerdiness in his youth. Musk appears to be an INTJ and it is well known that he put up all his private money into SpaceX when it was about to fail. Aggressive risk taking is not something aspies are known for. Perhaps Mr. Musk is one of those 16000 aspie psychopaths in the US? Do you generally agree with my theory and claims? Do you have anything to add or would you like to present your own view on how combinations of personality "disorders" could be helpful in realizing entrepreneurial ambitions?
Her objections were that the question was too lengthy, it should be one sentence only. I answered that since the concept of Asperger's and Psychopathy co-occurring was controversial, I wanted to give a clear explanation and an example. I said that her answer to this question could be the only answer in the entire interview. She said that enough was written about the subject already and gave me some links. I said that I would like her answer to this particular question. Some emailed back-and-forth made clear that she disagreed with the premise of Asperger's and Psychopathy coinciding, that she deemed it a boring subject and upon my repeated plea to at least formulate something we could use on the topic, she refused to give "350 dollars worth of counter-arguments", as I phrased it. When I asked her to refund us for her time unused, she said:
I charge $1000 to write a post for someone. And it's usually about 1000 words. So don't even think about getting a refund for this. You have already taken way more than the $350's worth of time you paid for — I am not just doing this to be nice. Because I want you to be happy.
When I said that she had given nothing in return for our $350 and that therefore, my article was going to be partially about her instead of partially by her, she retorted:
ok. that sounds fine.
I have just reported you to the IRS, using this form:
The reason being that it was clear to me that Penelope Trunk cheats the IRS. Trunk, when asked to issue an invoice for her service, refused to do so, in effect. With all her self promotion on how many startups she founded and how much she's making and how business savvy she is, Penelope Trunk either does not know what invoices are, or she cheats on her taxes. We know the answer: She cheats on her taxes. Her initial "invoice" did not mention her address, neither did it have a valid date or an invoice number. All we received was a text file with a few lines, basically saying: "350 dollars to Penelope Trunk. Please pay immediately". Clearly, either Trunk never issued an invoice in her entire life of "founding and running successful Internet startups" and "writing blog postings for $1000 a pop" and doing speaking gigs and syndicated column writing and $350/hour career counseling and selling ad space on her blog "for at least $500", or she's guilty of tax evasion. She either lies about her business acumen or she's overtly defrauding the tax office and not even ashamed of it. When pressed for a real invoice, she added her address and gave it a number she apparently pulled out of her skinny behind, nr. 139934. People who make the kind of money that Penelope claims she does need to pay taxes over their income. And when you don't work for an employer but are self-employed like Penelope is, you have to issue invoices. And there are strict rules about how those invoices should look like. Penelope Trunk is a psychopath because either she has pulled the wool over our eyes in regard to her ever doing any type of business, or she's one of the most fearless (because not even trying to cover it up) tax cheats - and hence also a psychopath.
Someone who brazenly steals money from more than one publisher, after the theft says: "I want you to be happy", who is not ashamed to blog about essentially defrauding a publisher out of a large sum of money and who issues fake "invoices" with the only conceivable motivation being tax evasion shows clear signs of psychopathy. Adding these behaviors to her history of advising people to unethically "use people" and "working the system", as well as the candid exposure of her, um, interesting life before she started her blogging/startup career, I agree with many others who've been following her writing for years and say she's a psychopath. I also suspect she is a narcissist, in part due to the large selection of flattering photographs she offers for use on other sites but also due to what she chooses to expose about herself and the manner in which she presents that information. A fully nude lower body comes to mind, when showing off a bruise on her thigh. When I told her that one of her detractors had plagiarized that controversial photo in a literally below-the-belt attack on her, she brushed it off as not worthy of her attention. It seems as if she likes being in the spotlight, regardless of the quality of the attention. Wikipedia claims that 35% of all people are on the narcissistic spectrum, which could make Penelope Trunk one of roughly 5000 Americans that are Narcissistic Psychopaths with Asperger's. It is my theory that Psychopathic aspies, with or without Narcissism, are highly interesting individuals in the sense that they often reach great heights in their chosen endeavors. Because the narcissism motivates them, Asperger's gives them focus and endurance and the psychopathy does away with many moral scruples and fears. Aspies are not rarely intelligent INTJ's: "Masterminds".
I had some emailed back-and-forth with her and she told me she has also been diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder, to which I replied that I'm glad as a narcissistic psychopathic borderline aspie, she did not have the nuclear launch codes. To Penelope's credit, she apparently did not set out to defraud us of 350 dollars because it turned out that she truly was not able to answer my question. It seems Penelope has a fundamental inability with logical thinking:
"You can't really have Narcissism and BPD. They are two different reactions to the same thing. In many families, for example, the boys have narcissism and the girls have BPD. The key thing is that if both BPD and narcissist are terrified of abandonment. The narcissist pushes people away before they can abandon the narcissist. The BPD person clings desperately. You can't do both. BPD people will never leave. Narcissists leave all the time. "
So what Penelope claims is that a person who is born with the genetic trait of Narcissism is immune to BPD, whether the latter is environmentally acquired or hereditary, or both. This claim is similar to her claim that someone can not have the genetic makeup of both psychopathy and Aspergers. The thing is, not only do these claims not make sense, there also is no empirical evidence mentioned in the peer-reviewed literature that could support these rather bold out-of-hand dismissals. She uses illogical reasoning to support her claims that basically, personality disorders can not co-occur. And then she contradicts herself by saying she has both BPD and Autism. So BPD and autism can co-occur, but Psychopathy and autism can not, neither can BPD and narcissism. Penelope gives no insight into why that may be, but she says:
I've been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This is something that you are not born with — like narcissism get it from having some sort of predisposition but also having terrible parenting. I see now that this is relevant to what you're writing. You can google the difference between borderline personality disorder and narcissism. There's also a blog post somewhere where a psychiatrist who doesn't know me diagnoses me with BPD.
Then she linked to this very interesting graph:
She mentions that her Myers-Briggs type, ENTJ scores highest for primary psychopathy, primary psychopathy being defined as the actual affective aspect of psychopathy. Secondary psychopathy defines to what extent a psychopath is able to hide the fact that he or she is a psychopath. Primary psychopathy is the metric we're looking for. I did not report Mrs. Trunk to the IRS after all, but only because like Mrs. Trunk, I value my time and I was planning to do it only in case she would not follow up with some "wiedergutmachung".
People with NarPsyAsp "disorder"
Anders Behring Breivik is a Norwegian who killed 73 people. Those people were participating in a summer camp for socialist youths that aspired to become politicians. Quite a few were children of left-wing politicians. Breivik was appalled by the fact that ethnic Norwegian young women, women that likely would come to have a seat in a future Norwegian parliament had sex with dark-skinned immigrants in those camps. He wanted to hurt Norway's then-leaders by killing their children, groomed to become Norway's future leaders. Breivik was someone with Narcissism, Psychopathy and Asperger's. From reading his manifesto, it is clear that his Narcissism motivated him to become a "martyr" and a "great leader and shining example". Breivik made his own insignia and tried to look his best in many photographs he made of himself, which he submitted to the press. He underwent plastic surgery and did body building. The psychopath in him made him able to spend a long time killing many, many people. The psychopath in him made him able to earn the money for his bomb by selling fake university diplomas from a diploma mill. The Asperger's made him able to learn how to make a massive bomb and to spend years slowly putting it together, carefully grinding and mixing for hours on end, day after day in kitchen mixers until he had a metric tonne of explosive. Many aspies are hyperlexic and Breivik was no exception. His lenghty manifesto was partially written by him. He spent years on online forums but always ended up censored and booted out.
Another mass murderer with Narcissism, Psychopathy and Asperger's is Elliot Rodger. Roger's Asperger's stood in the way of relationships with girls. His Narcissism made him furious about the fact that he, who so "eminently deserved to be worshipped", was so "cruelly and unjustly ignored" by women. His Psychopathy made him capable of executing random strangers.
These two individuals channeled their NarPsyAsp energy into violent endeavors, but there are also examples of NarPsyAsp people who traveled a different route, a route more profitable to themselves at least. Larry Ellison comes to mind. Ellison's talents are: Making himself appear smart and handsome (Narcissism), implementing complex software algorithms (Asperger's or at least high IQ-INTJ) and charismatically bullshitting corporate customers out of billions of dollars in return for the most buggy software in the history of databases (Psychopathy). Mr. Ellison is a classic example of a Machiavellian CEO and anyone who has seen an interview with him can vouch for his narcissism. Mr. Ellison's biography mentions his extreme, undying interest in the complex technological details of the most advanced relational databases, technology requiring the "special interest" of aspies and corresponding ability to concentrate until things finally work as intended. An ordinary CEO would eventually be content with living the high life on his yacht, but Larry Ellison never lost his fascination for complex database algorithms (clustering, concurrency, record locking, atomicity etc.), something that eventually caused problems for Oracle because it went at the expense of neglecting other, more pressing issues. Steve Jobs was certainly a narcissistic psychopath (he cheated Steve Wozniak out of 90% of his fee, he took credit for Woz' inventions, he refused to pay child support when he was worth $200 million) and he had an aspie-like focus, a laser focus on what interested him and the characteristic lack of empathy of the autistic mind. The way he treated his employees as well as his own family, the way he was against supporting charities, Jobs seemed to have lacked both empathy as well as sympathy.
Asperger's + Psychopathy = ?
It stands to reason that a person can have the genes for psychopathy as well as for Asperger's. How these genes work together to form the personality out of sometimes contradicting traits is still guesswork, but it is likely that at least some characteristics of both "disorders" will be more or less present in the individual. It could be that an aspie psychopath would be more ethical and honest than an ordinary psychopath, for example. Much less manipulative, much less criminal energy but still fearless and ruthless, especially when you get on his or her bad side. Due to the rare nature of personality disorders, there can only be a very limited number of people with more than one personality disorder, assumed that personality disorders are not significantly "co-morbid". Even if some are to a certain extent, we know they are much less than 100% co-morbid, making a person with two or even three personality disorders extremely rare, especially when they are very intelligent. Perhaps the few thousand highly intelligent narcissistic aspie psychopaths of this world are working hard this very moment, plotting their moves, trying to shape it in their image or even die trying. The combination of these extreme traits does not at all guarantee success, but they make a powerful, exceedingly rare mix of potentially very useful personality ingredients in business and politics.
By Frank de Groot