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Sunday, August 8, 2010

A definition of sociopathy

Someone told me recently that since I talk about sociopaths all the time, I should define exactly what they are. True enough: just because sociopathy is one of my obsessions doesn't make it so for everyone else. So, a brief three paragraph primer (lifted partly from a December '08 post) for those unfamiliar with the syndrome:

Sociopaths are not capable of real love or affection, and are disloyal to everyone. They feel no guilt or shame. They are dishonest, glib, and instinctively skillful manipulators. They hate others and are destructive. They are also supremely self confident, completely uninhibited, impulsive, and arrogant in the extreme. This gives them tremendous nerve and an ability to withstand what normal people would consider stressful conditions. As a result they are often great performers. They like to be in control and they hate to lose. They can be very charming, and often have dynamic, even electrifying personalities. But the more you get to know them, the more you see their hypocrisy and their core dishonesty. And they frequently think they're fooling people even when they're not. If you spend enough time with them, they will always leave you feeling used and bitter.

When you hear about someone that "you either love him or you hate him," he's probably a sociopath. If you hear that "he'll stop at nothing" to get what he wants, he's probably one. They often develop reputations as "pathological liars." They're often very successful, although they will often also crash after what seems like strangely self-destructive behavior.

Think of the most dishonest, two-faced, selfish -- in short, the most despicable -- person you've ever met. He's probably a pretty good example of sociopathy.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

John,
Do sociopaths need to be "loved"? Are they capable of loving their own child? Just wondering.
Donna

John Craig said...

Donna -- Good questions. Sociopaths do often feel a bottomless need for affection in a way that nonsociopaths don't. These are called "affect hungry" sociopaths and the best example of them would be people who have Munchausen's Syndrome, if you're familiar with that. That's the "disease" whereby people fake having an illness in order to get the sympathy that sick people often get. (Ask yourself, what kind of person would lie to the point where they are actually taken to a hospital and use up a doctor's valuable time just to get attention?) An even better example which has recently come to light is what is called "Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy" whereby a sociopathic parent will cause his child to become so ill that the child needs medical attention, so that he (or she) can pose as a concerned parent and get attention that way. (Some parents have actually made their children seriously ill this way.)

Or ask yourself, what kind of person would lie about an accomplishment in order to gain someone else's admiration? That, too, indicates a bottomless need for others' good estimation (which, I realize, is not exactly the same thing as love).

As far as the capacity to love their own child, the Munchauen's example shows that sociopaths are not really capable of loving them the same way. They may be (relatively) loyal to their children, they may be proud of them, they may be happy to use them as props (especially if they're good-looking), but they don't feel it as deeply. I knew a sociopath once (and this guy was undoubtedly a sociopath) who would frequently say, right afer his first daughter was born, "I love my daughter. Man, do I love my daughter." A nonsociopath wouldn't have gone on that way beause there's no doubt that he loves his own daughter, and he wouldn't have felt the need to convince himself -- or anybody else -- of that fact. But this sociopath said it over and over. Sociopaths will always claim to love their children, and they may even believe that they do, but they're basically incapable of the same kind of deep, intense love that most parents have for their own children. Keep in mind, however that they are far more likely to engage in the kind of grand, showy gesture, which fools a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

I've been doing my own research and found that sociopathy is genetic.

Unfortunately I diagnozed my younger brother as a sociopath yesterday (he's 16, charming, pathological lyer, he imitates people extremely well, steals, gets extremely aggressive and when he can't obtain what he wants out of me or anyone else, he belittles them, gets bored very easily ... )

I doubt I'll tell him this though, that I found out he was a sociopath.

Also, is rap music sociopathic music?! How can such music resonate with people? I found a notebook in his room as well, with "rap lyrics" he wrote, about raping women, hatred towards women... "bitches, whores" ...

He often insults me and told me I was a "prostitute" yesterday, I answered : "I'm not a prostitute yet but okay, if you want me to be a prostitute, I'll go and prostitute myself!"

He replied in rage saying I quote: "If you do that, I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU!"

my older sister is also a sociopath (thank god she doesn't live with us anymore.. she was less of a sociopath though, more of a manipulator, more secretive, and she could be alone read a book and leave us alone.. but whenever she had an idea, she would do ANYTHING to achieve it, regardless of any hurt she could inflict on others...My father is more of a passive-sociopath, my grand-father on my mother's side was a sociopath, and my grand-mother on my father's side is a sociopath. All I have is my mom =c , it's terrible. We were wondering if the stats of sociopaths were faked and actually higher? Living in a family of sociopaths makes us think we're the crazy ones...

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
To answer your question, music itself of course can't be sociopathic, though many rap lyrics do sound as if they're written by a sociopath. As far as a 16 year old kid who listens to that stuff, that' snot rare, and a lot of kids at that age are just striking a pose. There are plenty of suburban kids who listen who are not sociopathic themselves.

And yes, sociopaths a re good at making others doubt themselves. But once you get wise to their tricks, they lose that power.

Finally, yes, sociopathy does run in families, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's genetic. Sociopathy usually occurs when there's no real bond formed with either parent in the first couple years of life, which is why so many kids who grow up in orphanages end up as sociopaths. And once that cycle is started, it can last for generations.

Anyway, good luck, it does sound as if you're in a difficult situation.

Anonymous said...

Sad but true. I was married to one of these guys. He lied about everything every single day of our lives. He lied about being a pilot in the Marine Corp and even purchased a flight suit and pinned wings on his uniform when he came to see me on the base. Lied about being in combat and had ribbons where he never went. He became verbally abusive after our child was borne and his selfishness was beginning to shed light. Everything he did 'out of kindness' had an underlying motive to bring attention and praise to himself. He was charming and smart and read lots of books on the CIA claiming himself to have served with them. He ended up destroying my oldest son's self worth and mine to the brink of a suicide attempt and became physically aggressive with both boys and me. I got the nerve to leave after much therapy. There was not a single therapist or social worker that did not tell me he was a sociopath. That made it worse through a bad assault. He got off scott free because so many people refused to believe he could do such a thing. But after loosing his job,leaving the state and is now shacked up with another women while we are still married, some folks are beginning to see that he is not what he says he was. Certainly not a Christian. He does not even have a relationship with his odest son for 13 yrs, but is driving around the woman's daughter and her friends. Scary. I feel for her. She has no idea what this man is capable of doing. I hope he will not kill her. I pray for her and her daughter and for God to show her before it is too late.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Your ex certainly sounds like a textbook case. Claiming false glory (or "stolen valor," as that law calls it) is a common sociopathic activity.

And as far as this new woman goes, well, sociopaths always seem to be able to find a new victim, someone w ho hasn't been burned by a sociopath before and who will end up bitter -- and wiser -- for the experience.

Sorry you had to go through all that. At least you'll know what to watch out for next time.

Anonymous said...

My ex is a bona-fide sociopath. He is the most dishonest person that I've ever known, a real _sshole. In my opinion, he's a lunatic. He has put me through hell-on-earth. The stories I could tell. Unbelievable. These people are out of touch with reality, embarrassing themselves ten-fold, as well as their families. My ex has the charming personality, is a pathological liar, a thief, a cheater, etc. Basically, after examining his family-of-origin, I figured out that the disorder is in his family. He had the genes for sociopathy, but due to having a psycho father (he beat his kids with a belt, scaring the hell out of them) and a mother who didn't bond with her kids (she was "unaffectionate and unnurturing", as stated to me by his older sister), the ex developed into a sociopath. Basically, I feel that his parents destroyed a human being.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Yes, your ex is definitely a sociopath. And being married to one is definitely hell on earth. Your description of his family background rings true, too, sociopaths become sociopaths mostly because they don't form a bond with another human being before the age of two, and after that, are unable to.

Sorry for all your troubles. Sociopaths are always a learning experience, but at least once we've been inoculated, we're immune next time, i.e., we'll never be as susceptible to another sociopath.

Anonymous said...

My sister is 45 and is a sociopath and has been most of her life. Being older I remember she started lying and manipulating around 3. I unfortunately was one of her very early "victims". She was spoiled & coddled by our live-in babysitter...that's when it esclated.

Now she has engulfed my grandmother, who has passed on, and especially my mother. Mother goes right along with sisters' actions and has rewarded her with no boundaries or consequences. Even worse, sister is a prescription pill junkie and mom is her financer. Sister has lost at least 20 jobs in as many years and lives with mom and is on welfare. Mom bankrupted herself for more than $500k, most on sister...lately drugs and issues with law in a bad way.

The rest of her family, especially my younger brother and myself...oh and sister is the "middle child" and has been angry about that since brother was born...have had to sit back helpless for our whole lives. We are fed up. Mother always defends sister and has even straight out put sister before even her own grandchildren! There is no seperation of the two of them. They are the toxic twins...we are the enemies who try to infiltrate.

What can we do to help ourselves?
Sincerely,
Ternimally disappointed & Kicked in the Head

John Craig said...

Terminally disappointed --
Sorry to tel you this, but there's only one thing to do with sociopaths, and that is get away from them. You sister will never change, and as long as she has your mother under her thumb, your mother will side with hr. So put as much distance as possible between you and them. Your mother may wake up eventually, and if she does, you can welcome her back into the fold, but until such time, there's really noting you can do, so I suggest you and your brother just cut off contact with them. Sounds like you won't be missing out on much of an inheritance anyway if your mother has already bankrupted herself. And you have nothing to feel guilty about, sounds as if you've already given them more than enough chances.

Anonymous said...

My sister was a sociopath she is dead. The harm she inflicted on us, her family, is devistating to this day. She died in 1990. She was violent and sadistic. A deceptive back staber. Protect yourself by not engaging in their stuff. Have as little contact as possible. I know you live with one. You must protect yourself.
my sister isolated me from my friends in school to the point of me being openly harassed everyday. My self esteem was distroyed. Find out all you can about sociopaths.
Take care of yourselves

dappled days said...

A family member is a sociopath/psychopath? (have heard both words used to describe him). He also has Munchausen's(thankfully not by proxy). He claims to love his cat but does not care how long he leaves it in a kennel when he goes touring hospitals all over the country with his symptoms (he has had several unecessary operations and I'm sure he has more knowledge than some of the doctors on the illnesses he picks).
Apart from this, he has caused untold fear, destruction and injury(both physical and mental) to others, but does not acknowledge any of it. Yet he is a child-like and vunerable person in many ways and although I know I can never trust him, I often find myself feeling sorry for him (everyone else has abandoned him and he is an old man now) and somehow get drawn in. Although these days I try to help (when he needs it, which seems to be practically all the time) from a distance.
I don't think he is capable of loving or caring for anyone other than himself and wonder how lonely this must feel.
When his mother (my beautiful, sweet, kind, grandmother - okay, I admit he's my dad) died he informed me he was going out to a really good restaurant to celebrate! He was very cruel and abusive to her before she died with alzeimer's. He lived with her as her 'carer' and even though I informed social services he was not suitable. They ignored me, insisting he was very caring and attentive to my grandmother, they really seemed to think the sun shone out of his bottom. Even the day she was found thin-as-a-rake, wandering the street in confusion and covered in bruises, he managed to wriggle his way out of it.
I only discovered your blog today.
I read your Asperger's post first. My young nephew has been diagnosed with it. Yet he is not at all as you described, he's really lovely and many of his traits are opposite to those you atribute to AS. I find you quite spot on with Sociopathy though.
It has been interesting and helpful to read this post and the comments.

John Craig said...

Cicely --
The two words (sociopath and psychopath) pretty much mean the same thing. Some psychologists draw a distinction between the two, saying that sociopaths became that way because of their upbringing, whereas psychopaths have something more organically wrong with them (frontal lobe malfunction or some such), but for all practical purposes, they are the same thing, and describe the same patterns of behavior.

It must have been very difficult growing up with a father like that. Please keep in mind that he is looking for the same thing from you that he is seeing from all those doctors, attention and caring, and like all affect-hungry sociopaths who "suffer" from Munchausen's, he is a bottomless pit for attention and caring. Please keep this in mind as he draws you in, and also keep in mind that sociopaths are very skillful at drawing people in by playing on their sympathies.

Also keep in mind that as far as the sympathy and caring that he himself has to offer, he demonstrated that with your grandmother. And "wriggling" one's way out of it" is another sociopathic specialty, btw.

As far as your nephew with Aspergers, he is undoubtedly a saint compared to your father. Aspies do tend to be honest, and are in some ways the opposite of sociopaths (they would be incapable of manipulating others). But if you have every had to deal with one on a regular basis, their obstinacy and rigidity and unwillingness to admit a mistake can be very wearing. (Check some of the comments on that post from others who have dealt with them.)

Thank you for reading the blog. If you're interested in sociopathy, type "sociopath alert" into the (narrow) search box towards the top and you'll find analyses of various sociopaths which you may find interesting. The one on Bill Clinton is the most thorough, but some of the others, for instance the ones on Anne Heche, Bernard Kerik, Lance Armstrong, Jesse Jackson, and Karen Sypher might also be instructive -- not that you need any instruction.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that sociopaths hate I don't think so. They don't care enough yo hate. If you mess with their projected world they will isolate you. We had one make a deal with is. She would leave our world alone if we left her projected world alone. In her world we had abused her and this was her source of pity that she didn't want messed up. This was the reason for the deal.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Trust me, sociopaths hate. I've known several and when you got to know them, you'd find they were always brimming over with venom, and loved seeing other people get hurt. And a few of these sociopaths would do whatever they could to hurt others, as long as they felt they could get away with it, even if they had nothing tangible to gain from it.

Anonymous said...

"And a few of these sociopaths would do whatever they could to hurt others, as long as they felt they could get away with it, even if they had nothing tangible to gain from it."

Not just when they haven't anything to gain - they'll even do it when it actively causes them to lose something. After I blocked a sociopath on Facebook, he got so angry that he started a smear campaign against me in a public FB group. Fortunately, the moderators were onto him and he was expelled from the group, my reputation untarnished. Still, it's a good illustration of the way they'll hurt people even if they damage themselves in the process. The phrase "don't cut off your nose to spite your face" applies brilliantly to sociopaths.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right, they can do that, although I've usually found that they attack in a way which leaves them covered. But yes, they are also sometimes willing to take a blow just in order to land one.

Anonymous said...

Oh, he did TRY to orchestrate the smear campaign in a way that left him covered. He used the tactic of making me look the one who'd wronged him, but I placed a very carefully-considered comment in reply so I successfully mitigated the damage done by turning the tables on him. I think I wrote something along the lines of "only a true narcissist would make a statement like that - even if I were guilty of what he's accusing me, a non-narcissist wouldn't spontaneously make an unprovoked post about it in a pubic forum. Perhaps the author would do well reading the Wikipedia page on psychological projection - and everyone else the page on smear campaigns - to see what's really going on here". My comment was clever enough to draw everyone to my side, but I wouldn't have been able to think it up had I not been educated on narcissism & sociopathy.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That does sound like a clever response. Anyway, I'm glad you got the upper hand there.

Anonymous said...

Listening to what others say about someone is a very good way of avoiding sociopaths. I never used to take much notice of anyone's reputation; I preferred getting to know people and judging them for myself. For a while I was glad I didn't listen to reputations as I met a few nice people that I wouldn't have become friends with if I had taken other people's prejudices into account. Until, of course, I met a sociopath. He had a very bad reputation (he told me this himself) and was banned from many online groups for being a troll. However, he seemed nice to me so I ignored what everyone else said and gave him a chance. Oh, how I wish I had listened!

My tip is this: there is *usually* no smoke without fire (that is: everyone may be mistaken about that person, but usually not). If someone has a bad reputation, but you still want to give them a chance anyway, keep your guard up for the first few months. Talk and be nice to them, but do not trust them with anything important until you really know them. Don't let them borrow anything and don't share any personal information that could be used against you in future. Whatever you do, do not engage in any sexual activities with them and do not enter any romantic relationship! (Sociopaths love 'whirlwind romance', where they want to start a relationship/move in with/marry you ASAP. If someone is unwilling to take things slowly, this could be a red flag). Ignore this advice at your own peril.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Your comment exudes common sense. You're absolutely right about the smoke. If one person speaks ill of someone, take it conditionally; if everybody does, beware.

Good advice all around.

Anonymous said...

I've been married for 20 years, with what I am now believing to be a sociopathic husband. Finally, I separated from him a year ago, and am only now starting to see some of the things friends and family have been telling me for years. Unfortunately, I grew up feeling unloved. I believe this made me a perfect target. At all costs, I wanted my marriage go survive. I wanted my children to grow up in a two parent home. The first 10 years, felt like a dream (not really when I now really analyze his behaviors and motivations), the last 10 truly have been a nightmare. He has lied countless times, cheated, used drugs, and I always took him back. Now that I am not, the worst of the worst is coming out. He lies constantly, he manipulates, he guilts, denies, and side steps anything that will substantiate my point. It is so bad, that it has been suggested I move for my own safety. I don't know what the answer is for me, as I see the risk in staying. The worst pain I feel is for my children (we have 3). He ignores them, blames them, and only connects w them when it suits him. It breaks my heart. I cannot comprehend psycologically how a man, a father can do this. That actually is what has brought me to your site. How of all things can a parent so easily hurt an innocent child. Their child? Please help me understand as I only want the best for my children.

John Craig said...

Anon --
If you're looking o me for help then you are in dire straits.

If your husband does all the things you say, he is a sociopath, and if he is a sociopath, then your children are better off with minimal contact with him anyway. Nobody is better off for their contact with a sociopath, not even his children.

Sociopaths are destructive, dishonest creatures, and in the long run only hurt those they are around. If your friends and family are telling you to move for your safety, maybe you should listen. And if the children are being blamed -- for whatever -- by him, they will only be losing being manipulated, not being loved, since a sociopath is not capable of giving love.