SPAIN'S Supreme Court has declared a man partially incapacitated because he is diagnosed as being a psychopath – the first time a person with this personality trait has been made a ward of court or family.
The man's father and sister wanted to declare him totally incapacitated, which would give them power of attorney over his health and finances and deprive him of legal personality, preventing him entering into contracts, voting or carrying out any other functions of a person of sound mind.
A court in Arévalo in the province of Ávila, in Castilla y León, upheld the family's claim, meaning the father was required to handle all income and assets belonging to the person in question exceeding €400 a month, then the Provincial Court matched this but made his sister the ward.
But the son and brother appealed, and is now allowed to manage his own finances, but is required to remain in his sister's custody and obliged by law to undergo psychiatric treatment and take medication.
Psychopaths – sometimes referred to as sociopaths – are of sound mind and fully in control of their own actions, are aware of the nature and quality of these, and do not suffer any mental problems such as delusions, delirium or hallucinations the way a psychotic person would.
Whilst the two terms are often confused by the layperson, they are not at all related – and although many serial and unremorseful criminals have been diagnosed as psychopaths, not all psychopaths are criminals.
Many lead a normal life and are able to control their thoughts and actions to enable them to function socially and professionally, sometimes even able to hold down meaningful marriages – but they are fully aware of their personality disorder and know it will be with them for life.
A psychopath is a person who is incapable of feeling empathy – those with anti-social personality disorders or 'affectionless psychopathy' often gain pleasure from inflicting or witnessing harm to others, although a 'regular' psychopath simply does not care either way and is not able to sympathise, understand or put him- or herself in the other's shoes.
They have a strong sense of 'entitlement' and are highly manipulative – and very open about how they 'play people' almost like a sport – and have no sense of self-criticism, guilt or self-blame.
Manipulative characters, perpetual 'passing the buck' to avoid self-blame, a sense of entitlement and inability to feel empathy are seen in other personality disorders, such as narcissism, although in the case of the latter, this is combined with a devastating lack of self-esteem, an obsession with being a truly awful and unacceptable person, totally intolerant of criticism, and with – conversely – grandiose sentiments, arrogance, 'feeling special' and expecting a higher level of respect for no particular merit, as a flip-side and a defence mechanism against being 'discovered' as 'a total failure'.
Narcissists, however, are rarely diagnosed, since the very nature of their disorder means they do not consider anything wrong with themselves and do not seek help.
In the case of the man in Arévalo, requests for him to be sectioned had been filed with the court by hospitals in Valladolid and Salamanca following diagnoses in 2008 and 2013, and also by the prison in Torredondo (Segovia province, Castilla y León) in 2014 due to his outbursts of temper and 'explosive behaviour'.
The Court of First Instance in Arévalo initially placed him under the custody of his father, since he was refusing to take his medication or be monitored by psychiatrists.
His behaviour on the day of the trial – when he left the court in a fury without warning, slamming the door and refusing to respond to the prosecutor's questions, leading to a conclusion that he had a 'low tolerance level and high frustration' – was what clinched his incapacitation.
The Provincial Court in Ávila upheld the verdict, although placed him in his sister's custody instead of his father's, allowing her to handle his finances.
The Supreme Court does not consider him incapable of handling his finances, but his health and social management has been handed over to his sister.
Personality disorder sufferers of sound mind and full awareness are not normally sectioned unless they are criminals or believed to be dangerous to others, or unless comorbid conditions such as severe depression, schizophrenia or delusions mean they may also be a danger to themselves.
Since psychopaths are generally – and necessarily – intelligent people, they are rarely made a ward of court or placed in family custody.
Even convicted murderers diagnosed as psychopaths are placed in regular prisons rather than psychiatric wards.
Killer José Bretón, from Córdoba, who murdered his children Ruth, six and José, two, was found to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits and to be a highly authoritarian personality, although of little more than average intelligence – but as none of these disorders rendered him non-responsible for his actions or unaware of their full extent, he is serving his 40-year sentence in jail, not in a secure hospital.