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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Different styles of sociopathy

A few days ago I got the following comment (which I've edited slightly) on the Do sociopaths love their children? post: 

A lot of these comments about sociopaths seem to confuse "that jerk that beat my kids, or the jerk who ran off with his girlfriend" with an actual sociopath. In fact, what they are describing sounds closer to borderline personality.

An actual sociopath is a person who cares about things, not people, and is driven to succeed at all costs, pushing aside whoever hinders their desires. They are willing to lie or cheat to get what they want.

I know this because I've studied this (and because I've worried that I might be one). I concluded after research that while I do lack some empathy, I have more in common with a schizoid (inability to feel emotions strongly) than a true sociopath. Don't confuse sociopathy with Asperger's, schizoid, autism, borderline, or any other personality disorder. It is characterized by deceit, indifference to the feelings of others, and malice.

Many sociopaths are in positions of power, where they can control the lives of others: police, politicians, etc. Quite a few are landlords. Think about this the next time you pay rent, and the guy raises it.

From my understanding, sociopaths develop in an atmosphere where love is not actually present, where parents use and abuse, and the child has no reason to believe anyone cares for them.

Given this, it is difficult to see a sociopath give genuine love to a child. If they do, yes, it is a sort of "extension of oneself" deal. Or in some cases the opportunity to control or use the child, or make a baby psycho of their own.

I replied:

Good points. I've noticed that while sociopaths are something like 3 or 4% of the male population, something like 30% of divorced women claim their exes were sociopaths. I guess it sounds more dramatic than "borderline personality" or some of the other diagnoses. I suspect the most common condition they faced was simply narcissistic personality disorder, which is far more common. (All sociopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are sociopaths.)

You give a good description of sociopathy, but keep in mind that there are different styles of sociopathy. You mentioned police and landlords, but the deceitful style you describe has a more white collar flavor to it. There are plenty of low level criminals who are sociopaths as well, and they just don't seem to care that much about anything (or anybody), just their next score, or their next fix, or their next rape or kill. They're dishonest and indifferent to the feelings of others, but also irresponsible (they don't care enough to get to a job on time, etc.). Plus there's the pathological liar style of sociopathy, which is characterized less by malice than indifference to others, but a burning desire to be the center of attention and be lionized, often for false reasons. (Think Munchhausen's Syndrome.) 

I want to expand on this a bit. It's always helpful to remember that there are different styles of sociopathy. At one end you have Anthony Lord (described in the previous post) or Richard Matt, described here and here. These guys are the type of sociopath who is always bristling with hostility, and there's never any mistaking their intentions. They were bullies when young, and they remain bullies after they become adults. 

There is also the Munchausen Syndrome-type of sociopaths. These people appear completely different from an Anthony Lord or a Richard Matt. They have pleasant demeanors, don't come across as angry, and generally aren't violent. But underneath there is the same absolute lack of humanity, the complete indifference to others. 

If you had seen Lacey Spears walking down the street, you'd never have felt threatened by her sweet smile and cherubic face in the least. But she ended up killing her young son (by injecting him in the stomach with salt) just so that she could get more sympathy for herself. Who but a monster could have done this? 

Or take Jackie Coakley, the false UVA rape accuser. She was an innocent-looking coed who, at first glance, blended right in on the Charlottesville campus. She, too, would appear to have nothing in common with Lord or Matt. She had no desire to beat people up, or shoot them, or dismember them. All she wanted was the attention she got from being a "victim." Yet at the same time, she couldn't have cared less if some frat boys had been kicked out of the university or even sent to jail because of her lies. Which indicates the same complete lack of conscience. 

Another common variety of sociopath is the con man. He generally lies because he wants something from you: maybe sex, maybe your money, or maybe your vote. 

The type of men who prey on lonely women and pretend to love them in order to take their money are an example of this type of sociopath. They have a number of different scams, but most boil down to (a) building a relationship with a woman by acting as if they love them (and extracting real feelings of love in return), and (b), somehow cadging money from them. No one would argue the utter lack of humanity of these men. 

(And there are plenty of women who pull the same scam on naive men.) 

Another type of con man is the kind who wants your vote. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both lie all the time in order to further their own ends. Neither seems to have the slightest discomfort with lying, especially about themselves, and one of their biggest lies is to frequently attribute the noblest of motives to themselves. Anybody so dishonest by nature essentially has no regard for others. 

In any case, the point here is that there are different styles of sociopathy. And just because someone does not come across like an Anthony Lord or Richard Matt does not mean they're not equally devoid of decency. 


Runner Katy said...

Love this post, and it's good for us to all be aware and heighten our senses about what type of sociopath we might be dealing with. Wouldn't you also agree there are some that are a combo of types, such as the Munchausen Con Man sociopath?

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
Thank you. Sure, all sociopaths share certain psychological traits, they just express them in different ways. Everybody who has Munchausen's is already a con man by definition, since they're conning us into believing they're sicker than they are. And a lot of sociopaths, even if they're not aggressively violent like an Anthony Lord or a Richard Matt, has no problem with facilitating others' downfall, if that action comes at no risk to them. Bu my point with this post is, no one would ever mistake a Jackie Coakley for a Richard Matt, yet they both have the same complete lack of conscience.

Anonymous said...

A therapist that I saw several years ago old me that the love of a person with antisocial personality disorder is an immature kind of love. Over time, I realized that what he told me was very much the truth.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
The older I get, the more I question exactly what "love" means. Romantic infatuation certainly fades fairly quickly. As does lust, which it is closely connected to. The best definition I can come up with is, you love someone if, were that person to die, you would be incredibly, unconsolably sad, and that feeling would last for a while. Otherwise, it's not…..quite as real.

Anonymous said...

I met an elderly couple (next door neighbor's parents) who had that kind of bond. The wife died (she had congestive heart failure) and three months later, her husband died. They were very close, having been married 50+ years. It was sad that the husband had a hard time living without her, a very pleasant couple.


Anonymous said...

Really like your blog. Your writing and perspective remind me of another guy online who happens to be a harvard/goldman guy. I'm not sure if the similarities are because you were both selected by the same organizations that look for similar characteristics, or that there's some biological and cultural link in your age and iq (which are probably similar), but it is interesting to observe online. you both are smart, loquacious, persistent, self-deprecating, fiscally conservative, energetic, athletic, and are willing to upset people with what you say (i know that's the blogs raison d'etre, even so i think you're gentler than he). i used to read the other guy's posts regularly, but i think the blind spot he had was so large, he eventually just came off as rude. he'd flip positions without acknowledging being wrong, he'd lament behavior in others he had himself, and he was self righteous in his evaluation of anything aesthetic. many times he had very thoughtful reasons for his conclusions and behavior, but i think even that warped into rationalizations. I always wondered if there was something pathological going on in the background. It got to the point that i had to stop reading him because his rudeness was predictable and unremitting. which is a shame, because i learned a lot from him and he was inspirational in many ways. i guess i figured i learned what i wanted from him, so i moved on. i thought you might be interested in reading his posts given your interests in psychology and your history with goldman.

you can click on his profile name f-l-e-m-ke and go back through time to read his posts. the main thread is about his mclaren, where people ask him about his car, but they really ask him about everything.

Anyways, thanks for putting time into this blog. Now others can learn from you too.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you very much. Not sure I'm all those things, but thank you anyway….Actually, I started this blog because I wanted an outlet to vent, not because I wanted to shock or upset people. (Though I have to admit I enjoy doing that too.)

I tried clicking on Flemke's name in both of those links you provided but nothing came up other than a statement that he had had 20,041 posts or something like that. I did read a couple of things he wrote on that McClaren thread but that's a pretty esoteric topic that's not one of my interests, to tell the truth.

Given what you say about him, he was probably much better suited for Goldman than i was. Admitting you're wrong about anything doesn't seem to get you ahead there, it's full of guys who are as you describe him -- rude hypocrites.

Anyway, thanks for being a regular here.

MarieCurie said...

"An actual sociopath is a person who cares about things, not people, and is driven to succeed at all costs, pushing aside whoever hinders their desires. They are willing to lie or cheat to get what they want."

Could a sociopath care about their own children to the extent that doing so gave them a veneer of acceptability or even in some circles, status? I think Martha Stout gave examples of this type in her book - with both kids and pets.

Personally, I don't think having children and even showing signs of caring can rule out sociopathy.

Jackie Coakly - don't know if she's sociopath, but she definitely has some kind of issues. And I'm glad the UVA students are suing Rolling Stone for their irresponsible, slanderous journalism.

Sociopaths scare the H_ll out of me. I don't know for sure if I did in fact encounter one, but it just feels like I did (in the gut).

MarieCurie said...

Yuck. Therapists (or any "care provider" for that matter) who have complete power over their patients and exploit them.

There was a description of this type in Martha Stout's book. Much more obviously insidious, but same cold, destructiveness with no apparent remorse.

Creepy as H_ll.

John Craig said...

Marie Curie --
I actually wrote about the subject of sociopaths' feelings toward their own kids here:

It's a brief post, but it's actually turned out to be the most widely read post ever on this blog, I guess it's a question that people Google often, and for some reason, it's turned into a Dear Abby-type of site on its own. But yes, I agree, being "loving" toward their own children is a pose that sociopaths often strike just because they think it makes them look good. (Think in terms of those Hollywood actresses who adopt children from Africa because they think it makes them look good.)

I tink Coakley is unquestionably a sociopath, and have written a few posts about her on this blog.

I promise you, given that sociopaths are 3 to 4% of the population, you've met at least a few in your life, though most that you've met you haven't spent enough time with to see what they were.

Steven said...

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, I'm familiar with this case. Heartiste actually just highlighted it as an example of how females get tired of beta males. But there's no question she's a sociopath.

Steven said...

I haven't got a clearer sense of how psychologically different and evil a sociopath like her is. The way she actually convinces him to kill himself, coaches him to do it, and then uses it to act like a victim/saint, creates a fundraiging group and talks publicly about how she couldn't stop him from killing himself. Unbelievably calculating and utterly without conscinece. Is she an extreme case or what? There must be degrees even within sociopathy...?

John Craig said...

Steven --
What she did is pretty amazing, even by sociopathic standards. But I don't think there are really degrees of sociopathy. It is, by definition, simply the utter lack of a conscience. I suspect that this one was simply not as adept at hiding her true self. Remember, she was only in high school (as I recall) when she did these things, so hadn't perfected the art of covering her tracks yet. And maybe she didn't thinker phone records would be available as they were. There are plenty of "pillars of society" who put on noble fronts who are in fact the exact opposites. Think of the many politicians who are like that.

Steven said...

yeah, scary. I tend to believe people when I hear them talk...I kind of want to believe them. But some of them must be totally putting on an act.