Clinically Sitting With The Sociopath

It’s disconcerting, no question about it, working with someone who’s antisocial, with real sociopathic qualities (forgetting, again, for the moment, the hell of living with such an individual).

Recently, I’m struck again, in my work with a client I’ll call Howard, by the brew of certain qualities, certain attitudes, certain defenses that strike me as forming a rather sociopathic orientation.

Howard is 19. He understands the suffering he’s causing others in his life: he can “talk the talk,” meaning that he “gets it” on a cognitive level. He can say, for instance, quite accurately, what he’s doing, why it’s wrong, that it’s wrong, even that he feels bad about it.

How badly he really feels is highly debatable. In my view, not nearly as badly as he claims, and certainly not nearly badly enough to make real efforts at change. In our sessions, I confront him regularly with my perception of the discrepancy between his assertions of remorse and regret, and what he’s really willing to do about them?

I see him as someone who can hear my challenges without reacting very defensively. His undefensiveness may seem like a good quality, and maybe it is; but it’s also likely that it stems, to some extent, from his ultimate unconcern with what I feel about, and think, of him. That is, I suspect it stems in part, at least, from his relative indifference to my (or anyone’s) view of him.

When I say he’s undefensive, I mean this specifically with regard to how he fields my confrontations. He is fairly placid in his absorption of them. On another level, though, he’s quite defensive in a classically narcissistic/sociopathic fashion: On one hand, as I’ve noted, he can seem remorseful (quite regretful) for his misbehaviors and abusive attitudes.  But if you should probe him at all—not just accept his statements of remorse at face value—he predictably lapses into his truer position: this is a position from which his abusiveness is  always, ultimately, rationalized as a response to his perceiving himself as having been victimized, persecuted or otherwise treated unfairly in some fashion.

Now he is canny enough to attempt to disguise this pattern, especially with initial assertions of politically correct sounding accountability. But always, with a little prodding, you will bring him back to his true experience in which self-justification for his abusiveness and an attitude of unaccountability prevail.

Just as noteworthy: no matter how many times you point out to him how rapidly he shifts from taking “seeming” responsibility for his behavior to abruptly abdicating responsibility for the same behavior (again, rationalizing it as a response to others’ persecution), he is rather uninterested in this contradiction and basically unconcerned to reconcile it. He just doesn’t find this contradiction particularly troubling, peculiar, meaningful, or worth his time to look at.

This is a highly sociopathic quality and attitude.

It seems to reflect the “glitch” that allows this personality, in his blithely untroubled, incurious fashion, to verbalize awareness and regret over his abusiveness and exploitiveness on the one hand, while on the other (almost simultaneously) to rationalize it as a valid reaction to his perceived, or contrived, victimization.

When I confront him routinely with this contradiction, he may give lip service to the validity of my observation; but always, his interest to explore it, to own its possible ramifications, is superficial and transient.

Similarly, he will periodically assert his desire to cease his hurtful behaviors; then, in the next minute or so, when presented with evidence that he’s continued the very behaviors he’s claimed to want to cease, he may say something like, “Well, maybe I’m really not that motivated. To be honest, I’m really not.”

The honesty itself could almost be seen as admirable. But the problem lies in his blithe disinterest in the rapid, contradictory nature of his assertions. He isn’t embarrassed by this. Point it out to him and he’s almost bored, like a kid who’ll say, when inconvenienced, “Whatever.”

I regard this pattern as a sociopathic form of indifference to the contradiction between one’s statements, and between one’s statements and ongoing actions. What’s striking isn’t the contradictory content itself, but the missing shame and embarrassment when confronted with the nature of the discrepant communications.

This can leave me shaking my head, privately, in a kind of amazement. But even if I were to shake my head in visible amazement, while Howard might notice it, and might understand why he’s left me shaking my head, you can bet he wouldn’t care to make any more sense of himself to me than he cares to make sense of himself to himself—which is very little.

(This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake, not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.)

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85 Comments on "Clinically Sitting With The Sociopath"

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LOVEY the Backspath!!!!
That’s with a capital “O”!!!


🙂 🙂

Wow….I’m so blown away by all the well articulated, intelligent posts here. I’m either learning something new, or relating to the actions of many of your (x) Socios/spaths that almost feel like reading the same story, over and over, but each with some variations…

I would like to comment on the article in that my last exSocie is currently in therapy, which he has said he absolutely hates. He thinks the therapist is “an idiot”. When I have asked in the past why he is going, the response varied, but was still vague in nature. The more frequent response was “Well, I DO get something out of it”….uh huh….must be why I’d seen soooo many changes. I have a feeling, but no proof, that ex wife understands that he has “issues”, and that he wanted joint custody of the children….just wonderin if perhaps it was COURT ORDERED in order for him to have custody half time. Either way, therapy has done nothing for him in the slightest, except learn to use new manipulative techniques and, like a new language, some psychological verbiage. He’s thrown the word “healthy and unhealthy” around, but had used it against me. “This relationship is ‘unhealthy’ for me, us”…..he used that to create more fear of abandonment. Something that ultimately happened anyway….
I’m sorry, just reading all of this has a flurry of thoughts running through my mind. Lots of flashbacks and memories of things done and said, some I’d long since forgotten….
So Steve: I completely understood your article here. It was as if you were sitting across from my spath and who knows, perhaps you were? lol! Just keepin the humor….but it seriously struck a cord with me because MANY Professional Therapists and Counselors are fooled by this behavior. You just have a great ability to see right through it, as if you were the victim her/himself. That’s pretty amazing.
Flower: My ex hubby was a P. He lost interest in the children when I threw him out on his ear, however by the time that had happened, he has taken up with my best friend. Even though I was VERY angry with her AT FIRST, I realized it was not SHE who was to blame for HIS being who HE is..just because I was married to him, didn’t mean that someone else couldn’t be victimized by him too and sure enough she was over ten years…to the point of cancer. Very sad. Anyway, nuff of that, because of this relationship with her, he didn’t see the need to be involved with the children. This hurt me initially because I thought he SHOULD be involved to some extent and I WANTED him to be involved…I saw the pain my children were in…they loved their Dad, and I felt tremendous guilt for wanting out of what was a horrifying marriage….he came back twice….then he never came back again and I’ll tell you the last time he saw all of us, was a horrifying goodbye. I was left to clean up a HUGE mess….but as the years passed, as hard as it was raising the children alone, I began to realize the absolute BLESSING it was that he was gone. I was never EVER a Mother of the Year by any stretch of the imagination, but his involvement would have doubled the tragedy and pain we had all experienced. I was so happy and relieved in later years, to understand that his behaviors never changed and in fact, grew worse as he got older. I thank GOD almighty that his supply was not focused on what a great father he was. Which, in my opinion, would be the only reason he would want so much contact….and/or to piss me off and create more drama within the family. Fun stuff. Stuff I was fortunate enough to avoid.
I don’t admire your situation, but I DO think you’re very strong. NEVER lose sight of the fact that these people will use and abuse children if they believe it would create more drama,make them look impressionable, as well as use the “Disneyland Dad” feature to ruminate and pontificate for all whom will listen about what a GREAT person he is, an ATTENTIVE FATHER. **Barf**

I look forward to seeing how your situation goes. I’m sorry you’re having to go through it….but I think you’re strong enough to endure it. 🙂 I hope. I don’t know you, so I would just be speculating, but you seem strong on your posts and resolute in creating a workable solution, if there is one with a Spath/Socie??

Really enlightening for me here. Some strong voices. I’m really appreciating all I’m learning here. There are NO dummies in this crowd AT ALL. It’s great to see the levels of intelligence here…ironically, I don’t feel so alone…because while I know I”m not stupid by any means, I’ve made some REEEEEALLY sorrowful, shameful choices. I may never share those here because they are quite controversial, how I met my last X Spath/Socio, but I still hope to find a level of healing here to push forward .

Thank you all for your wonderful insights and sometimes, hilarious input! 🙂

THANK YOU for posting this. Reading this was a very REAL eye opener for me and helped me A LOT in healing.

This is EXACTLY what it was like living and talking with a sociopath every single day.



Welcome to Love Fraud….lots of inisght here, support and just knowing you are not alone sometimes helps a lot. Again, welcome.

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