The Mask of Sanityby Published 31 Jan 2003
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The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality is a book written by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley, first published in 1941, describing Cleckley's clinical interviews with patients in a locked institution. The text is considered to be a seminal work and the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the twentieth century. The basic elements of psychopathy outlined by Cleckley are still relevant today. The title refers to the normal "mask" that conceals the mental disorder of the psychopathic person in Cleckley's conceptualization.
The Mask of Sanity Reviews
Considered a revolutionary study of psychopathy upon its initial publication in 1941, Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues about the So-Called Psychopathic Personality offers useful insight into the affliction almost eighty years later. Faced with a poor understanding of psychopathy throughout society as well as the legal and psychiatric community, Dr. Cleckley hoped to identify the common symptoms of psychopaths and improve their treatment options. Working in a psychiatric hospital, he routinely saw individuals who were arrested for committing some petty crime, feigned insanity or bluffed at suicide to escape legal consequences for psychiatric institutions, then convincingly demonstrated apparently sound minds and above-average intelligence in order to effect their discharge from the hospital, only to commit further crimes and repeat the entire process all over again. Cleckley aspired to break this cycle by categorizing the characteristic traits of the psychopathic personality so that such individuals could be recognized by judges and psychiatrists alike, while simultaneously advocating for a reform of the medicolegal system that would enforce treatment at the discretion of a psychopath's physician. Given that questions of legal insanity are prevalent in modern criminal trials, these concerns remain relevant today.
The most useful part of Cleckley's book is the 200 pages devoted to case studies of psychopathic patients observed under his care. These portraits form a cohesive profile of the psychopath as an otherwise intelligent individual with a startling inability to pursue long-term goals or act with consequences in mind. They lie on a whim, steal paltry sums of money, drink to excess, pursue frequent sexual encounters without affection and generally have no comprehension that their actions are harmful or troubling to those around them. Cleckley refreshingly refrains from sensationalism in these pages. Despite popular culture's depiction of the conscience-less serial killer, the psychopaths Cleckley encounters may threaten violence, but rarely (if ever) carry out regular acts of serious brutality. The cases described in these pages may have no moral compass, but they also lack the foresight required to pursue any far-reaching act of grave consequence.
At times however, Cleckley's work offers unfortunate reminders of the era in which it was written. Much of his psychological analysis is couched in Freudian interpretations, like the Oedipus complex. A chapter on "Sexual Deviation" is filled with outdated and offensive depictions of homosexuality. And of course, there has been significant progress in psychology in general and the study of psychopathy in particular since The Mask's publication. Yet as a whole, the book offers a thorough depiction of the psychopathic personality that is likely to stand the test of time. For readers like me looking for a basic introduction to the subject, Cleckley's book serves its purpose as a clarification of psychopathic behavior.
Amazing Book and a must read for someone who wishes to understand the depth in being human/inhuman. Human is an animal and the line between normal and abnormal is thin, biased and often misleading.
I learnt all I can about sociopaths from this book. The case studies were by far the most interesting part of the book. Can be a little dry and it's definitely out dated. Most of the behaviours in this book that point to someone being a sociopath are socially acceptable ways for people to behave today.....so either the book is REALLY out of date or we are living in the era of the sociopath.
Cleckley scatters through this book constant fascinating anecdotes and remarks, some so outrageous or remarkable that one would assume he made them up if he were writing on some other topic.
Cleckley's moralizing and occasional very old-fashioned comments are occasionally as interesting, and reading him in 2012, one feels very strongly just how distant (in a social mores sense) we are from him in the 1940s and earlier - when he writes of 'miscegenation' (I wonder how many teenagers now could tell you what 'sexual miscegenation' is), when he defends homosexuals as possibly not insane but sometimes even decent people, or when he speaks in horror of female psychopaths not guarding their virginity, or in a half-page fulminating against the hippies, or when he speculates that a healthy male adult might - after several years stranded on a desert island - enjoy masturbation (no, really?).
Sadly, Cleckley is not nearly as dated as one would hope after reading something like 200 pages detailing the endless wake of destruction, fraud, violence, deception, manipulation, and criminality: his basic conclusion that there are no effective treatments for psychopathy, and all previous attempts have been expensive failures, seems to remain true. Indeed, some attempts at treatment have backfired and resulted in even more crime being committed by subjects.
Cleckley can write about all the myriad ways circumscribed to scrubbing toilet bowls while somaticizing such tribulations through delineating the less than perfunctory actions required to achieve such immaculate results and still find himself amenable even to the most dyspeptic individual as well as still be considered the pioneer in such a boring field.. entertaining you quite propitiously along the way! His writing style is superb!