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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The sociopathy scale

Sociopaths tend to be dishonest, disloyal, parasitic, narcissistic, easily bored, impulsive, manipulative, irresponsible, callous, hypocritical, and incapable of feeling either love or shame.

But sociopaths can also be charming and, especially at first, electrifying to be around. They are full of witty asides, clever ripostes, and amusingly cutting comments. They are also natural performers, seemingly impervious to any sort of performance anxiety.

When you go to a party, the first person you're going to feel drawn to is the sociopath, who is often the life of the party. Because he gets bored easily, and has a constant need for stimulation, those around him are rarely bored. In fact, you'll often find yourself either admiring his nerve or tickled by his seeming lack of concern for social propriety.

People like that can be fun, for an evening -- if you keep your distance.

Conversely, the nicest people are often the most boring. They have a stiff, inhibited way of letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. And they are susceptible to nerves.

(The one element which complicates both sides of the equation is intelligence, which can add spice to the full range of personality types. An intelligent nice person can be more entertaining -- or at least more interesting -- to be around than a dumb sociopath.)

But intelligence being even, the sociopath is far more likely to make a splashy first impression.

You could almost grade people mathematically, by where they rank on the sociopathy scale. At one end are the sociopaths, at the other decent folk. Sociopaths spend their lives filled with the negative emotions: hatred, envy, schadenfreude, etc. They are also charming, but employ that charm to nefarious ends.

Decent folk are filled with the entire range of emotions, from hatred to love, but almost always let their consciences override their impulses -- which tends to make them dull and boring.

Be aware that where someone ranks on any one of those personality measures is a pretty good predictor of where he will rank on the others.

Being bored is a small price to pay for reliability. And being charmed in the short run is small recompense for ending up bitter, as you will inevitably be if you stay in a sociopath's orbit long enough.


Anonymous said...

John, Do you think a reasonably intelligent parent should be able to assess his child as a sociopath? And if he did, what should he do? Does counseling help? Julie

John Craig said...

Julie --
Yes, a reasonably intelligent parent who has a good sense of what sociopathy is should be able to make that assessment. (Although in that situation I'd have to imagine there would be a fair number of parents who'd be in denial.) But keep in mind, any parent who has a child who is a sociopath is more likely to be that way himself, unless the child was adopted from a Romanian orphanage at age two or something like that. And a sociopathic parent is (a) less likely to care if the child is a sociopath, and (b) less likely to see sociopathy as an entirely bad thing.

The answer to the second part of your question is, there's not a lot for the parent to do at that point, other than be aware of it. The parent should probably set down stricter rules for the child, stuff like that. Counseling certainly can't "cure" sociopathy.

Jennifer C-M said...

I have a blog on my experiences with CRPS/RSD, and it's only been about a year: but no writing; because one of these?

Showed up at my door, knowing I was in compromised health, took full advantage of all of it.

I am used to it, quite sadly, and know how (on a practical level) handle it: what is difficult, is wrapping my brain around who in God's name takes the LAST cent you have (on SSI) then walks into an apartment (in public housing she really doesn't deserve angry with me because someone ELSE turned in the rot of her behavior? My pity extends to the children caught in the middle of the selfish garbage they hand you: but in return?

They mess with friends who have been dear and are in pain and grieving having lost a child, their mother and an aunt in LESS than a year?

That is a sickness that honesty that people at this level are not capable of. It's simple: some have it, and for whatever reason (and honestly, my patience is gone, I trust no one, and really I wish I could move or at least buy a LOAD (truck full of it) CLOROX (R) would be great, and sterilize my home.

My very coveted and private life by this individual was thrown (unwilling and wanted by her or anyone; CRPS is bad deal; and I've had it a long time: but instead of ticked, and so on?

I documented photographically and so on, all of it, and turned it into management. Let the behavior reap what it sows. God is always watching. Eventually they get right with Him. The alternative no one wants, and having grown up with a Narcissistic father with an alcohol problem, and a Borderline (mother), after 38 years?

A well and hard earned break.

But rain??? Yeah, because people do care: I happen to show people love, and understanding.

Folks with this problem? Lack the ability entirely. Do I drop names? No, around me are people who care about my life, and my health and when in order to humiliate and to get trashed? Makes a $20 key to my home? But my fault she was almost booted? And oddly my passwords stop working...

When an individual cannot spell "Chicken" (chickin) and trashes those who are true, and show me loving kindness, people take notice. And let her know it was far from okay. So my conscience is clear, and now that my home is quiet again?

I sleep very well. For CRPS, not easy to do; but to know the rest would be difficult here....

Anonymous said...

Julie and John. Be very careful in what you say about children. All two year olds are sociopaths. Empathy has to be developed . There is strong evidence to show that its sociopaths breed sociopaths(as you said) but also abuse and neglect that breed them too AND indulgent weak parents aswell. Loving parents with strong boundaries and a little knowledge will most likely NOT produce a sociopath.The Dexter story is VERY unrealistic. Dexter would have despised his loving father and done exactly as HE wanted....

John Craig said...

Anon --
Couldn't agree with you more about Dexter, it's a ridiculous show.

I disagree about weak, indulgent parents though: they generally produce little narcissists, who are spoiled, but not sociopaths, who are destructive in a particularly feral way. Also, I wouldn't say all two year olds are sociopaths; yes, empathy has to be learned, but there's a school of thought -- which zi subscribe to -- which says that whether a child has formed a bond with a parent by age two will determine his or her eventual capacity to develop empathy. All the socializing comes after two, but the basic psyche has already taken root by that point.

MarieCurie said...

It does seem unrealistic that a sociopathic child would embrace his foster father the way the Dexter character did. But Martha Stout does say that sociopaths can learn "moral guidelines" (they just don't feel any guilt/remorse about breaking them).

The Dr. Vogel character from Season 8 has a sociopathic/psychopathic son who hates (and eventually kills) her.

Considering that there could be a genetic link with sociopathy, this does hold up with her as well.

Evidence: her seeming enjoyment in the scene where she questions Dexter about the "Bay Harbor Butcher" without saying outright that she knows it was him, not Doakes.

John Craig said...

MarieCurie --
I may have spoken a little out of turn above, given that I've only seen all of two Dexter episodes. My point was that the whole idea of "a sociopath with a heart" or "a serial killer with a heart" is an oxymoron. they don't exist, period. I certainly can't speak with authority about the dramatic arc of the show, having only seen two episodes.

Steven said...

I just came across this footage of a psychopathic sex abuser speaking very candidly about what he did and his attitude. He also talks about how he would convince people he was a decent person by offering help and feigning empathy, just so he could steal from them late on. I've never heard a psychopath speaking this openly before and, of course, with no hint of shame.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I've actually seen that video before; you're right, they're rarely that forthcoming, though once they've been caught and convicted, a lot of them will be brutally honest about what motivated them, especially once they're on Death Row.

Justin said...

(Responding to your dialogue above with MarieCurie)

The Dexter show is actually quite a solid portrayal. Definitely not a "sociopath with a heart." Yes, he protects his family with Rita, but only in a reptilian way, and doesn't like any of them very much.

I'd venture to say it's one of the better pieces of tv or cinema relating to sociopathy. American Psycho is good too, but I think the Bateman character mixes sociopath and narcissist traits in an inaccurate manner.

John Craig said...

Justin --
You've seen more Dexter than I have, so you're speaking with more authority there.

I've never seen American Psycho, but I would point out that all sociopaths are narcissists, it's part of their syndrome. (Not all narcissists are sociopaths, however.)

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

Dexter was a well-executed piece of entertainment. However, psychologically, Dexter is an impossibility. He kills with total premeditation, sometimes with a touch of sadism (for the viewers' vicarious thrill, since the 'victims' are all loathsome sociopaths themselves). Yet his motive is apparently a flimsy 'repetition compulsion' to 'get' his mother's killer --- or so it seemed to boil down to. But murder and sadism committed by killers in real life is about CONTROL (or practical business, such as offing drug supply competitors). Dexter is never about wanton, destructive control for the sake of control, and it's not mercenary business; his killing is about the meting out of Justice. That's why the audience ends up liking him. Dexter would NEVER kill an innocent just because he's filled with pent-up rage or bored tension that day. And that practically defines sociopathic killers.

On the other hand, most socialized citizens have an almost insurmountable revulsion and inhibition about killing another human being, even if that person is the vilest of sociopaths deserving of execution. It would be virtually impossible to develop the cold detachment about killing others multiple times that Dexter is capable of. The only way to do so is to have no qualms, no inhibitions and no conscience. And so that's why Dexter ends up making no sense as a realistic character.

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
Thank you for putting into words much better than I did why the Dexter characterization rings false. I was a little reluctant to really get into it since I haven't seen much of the show; but the premise, a likable sociopath, always seemed false to me. From what I saw, it was almost as if Dexter was a superhero show, and he got his superpowers from being a sociopath, so he was capable of meting out justice in a way we ordinary human beings could never dream of. And, like all superheroes/avenging angels, he only went after the bad guys. You know, just like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer.