South Africa’s population is an estimated 49.9 million according to Statistics South Africa. A study done by the Mental Health and Poverty Project for the mental health policy development and implementation in South Africa (31 January 2008) revealed that some 16.5% of South Africans suffered from common mental disorders (depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders) in 2007. This figure does not include schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder, which are also relatively prevalent in this day and age. Just by looking at the statistics we can assume that roughly 8.2 million South Africans suffer from a mental disorder. When one is confronted with these statistics it is natural to immediately think back to the colleague, boss, or employee who had no boundaries, came across as emotionally blunt or seemed to have no conscience. We all know people who are on a ruthless quest for power and recognition, with a toxic or negative attitude or low drive. Such experiences always render the question as to whether we are dealing with personality or possibly, pathology. The need to understand human behaviour and especially abnormal human behaviour dates back many years. Pythagoras (500 BC) believed mental disorders reflected disequilibrium of basic harmonies (love-hate, good-bad).  Hippocrates came with a more naturalistic view - that the sources of all disorders should be sought within the patient and not within spiritual phenomena. Socrates was a deep believer in intelligence and reason and he asserted that even though a person might be moved by inner demons he/she could be guided to purification through self-knowledge. During the Dark Ages (1600) superstition, demonology and exorcism was the zeitgeist. By the eighteenth century the door of the spirit began to close and that of scientific thinking burst open. Marx, Cattell, Freud, Pavlov, Binet, Thorndike, Jung, Adler, Erikson, Eysenck, Bandura, Ellis, Frankl and many others made invaluable contributions in trying to understand human behaviour. Millon did exceptional work using a multifaceted theory where he believed many factors play a part resulting in specific human behaviour. His work generated each of the official personality disorders in the DSM-III. In order for us to fully understand personality disorders we need to understand personality. Personality as defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology (2007) is “ the configuration of characteristics and behaviour that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities, and emotional patterns – viewed as a complex, dynamic integration of totality shaped by many forces.” In other words “Personality is seen as a complex pattern of deeply embedded psychological characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of psychological functioning.” The APA Dictionary (2007) defines Personality Disorders as follows: “Involve pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes.” The above definitions are excellent but there are also other views and perspectives. In reality we know that we rarely come across a clear-cut diagnosable personality disorder. Most of the time we are confronted with an uneasy feeling or behaviour that we struggle to understand. As an Industrial Psychologist, Psychometrist, or HR specialist we are contracted to make sure that our client (organisation) invests in the best possible human resource available. Selection and development is a multi-million dollar industry simply because we realised the importance of investing in the ‘right’ person. Most organisations have thorough selection procedures which include interviews, reference checking, biographical information forms and assessments just to name a few. We use various tools to help us choose the best suited candidate for the position. We assess their skills, competencies and abilities. Sometimes we however need to ask ourselves whether this is enough. With a high risk position such as CEO of a company, Headmaster of a school, Priest etc. is it not absolutely essential to select an individual who is psychologically stable? I’m not saying that pure clinical assessments are necessarily the answer, and definitely not promoting any action which are beyond your scope of practice. We just need to be informed and aware of potential red- flags especially when selecting for high risk positions, and be aware of the various non-clinical assessments available that might indicate possible red-flags with selection/development. Have you encountered psychopathy before in your work? How did you handle it?

Jani has her MA in Industrial Psychology. She is currently situated in Bethlehem where she is responsiblefor various projects which will contribute in building JvR’s presence in the Free State province. Email her on or leave your comments below.

Photo by: Eric Constantineau