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Dr David A Holmes,
Senior Lecturer in Psychology,
Director of the Forensic Research Group,
Dept Psychology,
Manchester Metropolitan University

During my many years immersed in forensic and clinical psychology, I have always emphasised the importance of real life case histories to the true understanding of dangerously disordered individuals. Being able to see their behaviour and thinking played out in the context of daily life enables untrained individuals to become slowly aware of the uneasy seam between their reality and our own. This is rarely more important than it is in the case of individuals who are what is termed ‘Cluster B’ personality disordered or even in those whose personality distortions are just below the level of clinical diagnosis making them less salient but still dangerously dysfunctional. Often the devil is literally hidden in the detail of the reactions and behaviour of such individuals, as the inevitable trail of chaos and harm builds in the wake of these self-serving sharks as they serially manipulate their innocent victims.

The concept of personality assumes that we have a robust and unchanging way of dealing with the world as we move from situation to situation. Some ‘situationists’ have argued that we are different people in different contexts with chameleon-like changes to our reactions. However, the evidence for stable personality traits throughout our lives and situations is overwhelming. In the case of personality disorders, personality traits are very strong and highly resistant to change to the point of causing distress and undermining the ability to function normally in occupational and social contexts. Personality disorders can have a profoundly damaging effect on relationships, to the extent that personal relationship problems are viewed as the ‘litmus test’ for disorders in the participants.

The damage within personal relationships can be very serious with what are termed the Cluster ’B’ disorders, which include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. With this group of disorders, distress and suffering tends to be endured by those in contact with the disordered, not the personality disordered individual themselves. There is normally remarkable overlap between the different personality disorders with most sufferers qualifying for two or more personality disorder diagnoses at the same time, although more often than not these are from the same cluster.

Although, personality disorders as a whole are common at just over 10% of the general population, Cluster B disorders are rarer, but account for a large proportion of the prison population. Fortunately, narcissistic personality disorder is possibly the rarest of these. As the name suggests, individuals with this disorder are highly self-centred, having an unrealistically high opinion of themselves and their status, a pervasive and persistent grandiosity in all areas of their lives and is not simply showing off to a few friends. They require constant attention and compliments, but lack genuine empathy for others and thus select acquaintances on the basis of utility or attentiveness and exploit them without consideration for the other’s feelings or welfare. Thinking they can only relate to people with high status, which is how they see themselves, and ignore those they perceive as ordinary. Narcissists will fabricate their lives and lie continually in order to maintain false status.

Most of those with personality disorders know their behaviour is odd but narcissistic individuals lack insight and are surprised if they fail to get special treatment, attention or praise. They are self-obsessed and devalue the achievements of others against their own as well as having a serious lack of empathy that is highly destructive to any relationships they may have, which also suffer from their jealousy and an arrogant sense that they deserve superior treatment at all times, based on their self proclaimed uniqueness. A bizarre sense of entitlement can lead to usurping the recognition of others or even their possessions accompanied by aloof arrogance and snobbishness towards others, including friends. Very sensitive to criticism of themselves, they will retaliate with rage or a false humility to protect their pride. Narcissistic rage can and has led to homicide.

Elements of this disorder are woven into the character portrayed in this book with aspects of another personality state also familiar to forensic psychologists, psychopathy. Many psychopathic individuals have superficial charm and lack the ‘emotional baggage’ of more sensitive people, making the psychopath socially attractive in the short-term. Having disarmed potential victims with ‘charm’, they will proceed to entertain themselves by manipulating their prey to gain what they want, be that material, sexual or sadistic satisfaction. Having indifference to the actual feelings of others, but an acute intellectual awareness of the effects of their manipulation or intimidation, gives psychopaths a predatory advantage over other criminals as well as the many innocent victims. In 1835, Pritchard’s use of the phrase ‘moral insanity’ was as apt as the later book title by Cleckley ‘the mask of sanity’ in capturing the nature of psychopathy.

In courtrooms ‘not being of good character’ tends to refer to the personality disorders described above. However, the more dangerous personality disordered individual is unlikely to come to the attention of clinicians by asking for treatment. It is only when their behaviour results in criminal charges that they enter the clinical forensic radar, usually as prisoners. This is inevitably too late for the poor individuals sucked up into their world who may suffer for many years unable to comprehend what is wrong with their relationship until desperation forces escape for the lucky. Thus, it is up to those many innocent and often generous victims to recognise their situation in order to pull the escape chord. Real life examples such as that contained in this book can reach in to these situations and perhaps avoid human suffering. Many of the aspects of what is now termed dangerous and severe personality disorder (DSPD) are evident in the pages of this book, from the characteristic disregard for the truth, law and feelings of others, to dismissal of the rights of those standing in his way. It may not be necessary to meet the full criteria for narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathy in order to wreck the lives of others, but it is vital that potential victims are very aware of all of these warning signs.


About Dr David Holmes


dr david holmes 

Dr David A Holmes

Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Department of Psychology & Social Change and Director of the Forensic Research Group at Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Holmes began academic career in 1982 at Manchester Polytechnic, started lecturing in 1985 at every level from GCSE to MSc in the UK and Hong Kong. Gained his Doctorate in 1994 and then specialising in Psychopathology, Clinical and Forensic Psychology. Dr Holmes founded the Forensic Research Group as long ago as 1998 at Manchester Metropolitan University. This organisation has grown to international recognition and membership producing publications, newsletters and annual conferences. He has published many academic books and papers in clinical and forensic areas from Autism to Stalking, in addition to gracing the pages of the serious and popular press. Dr Holmes has become an internationally known spokesperson on personality disordered, dangerous and predatory people, and is advisor to the government on stalking. He has explained other complex aspects of psychology in terms the public can assimilate on many hundreds of international TV and Radio broadcasts.


abnormal clinical psychology


Dr David Holmes book website contains fascinating video interviews with real disorder sufferers and "day in the life" documentaries charting their experiences; plus multiple choice tests for each chapter.


You can purchase Dr David Holms book Abnormal Clinicial and Forensic Psychology on Amazon