People who have committed horrific acts have been in the news a lot recently. Prime examples are Ariel Castro, accused of holding three women captive for 10 years in Cleveland, Ohio, and Jodi Arias, convicted of viciously murdering her ex-boyfriend in Mesa, Arizona.
Who is so heartless and cruel that they can engage in these terrible behaviors? The answer is probably that the perpetrators are personality disordered. So various mental health experts have been writing blog articles on the cases and personality disorders, which Lovefraud readers have been forwarding to me.
Some of the statements made in the articles I agree with, and some I don’t. So I’m going to write a series of critiques of the articles. My views are based on:
- My experience of being married to a sociopath
- Two Internet surveys, each with more than 1,300 responses, in which Lovefraud readers described experiences with sociopaths
- More than 3,700 cases I’ve collected from Lovefraud readers
- Experts who I believe “get it” when it comes to these disorders, especially Dr. Liane Leedom (who was also married to a sociopath).
Please read the first article by Dr. Paul W. Ragan, a psychiatrist, which appeared on CNN.com:
Ariel Castro’s alleged abuse, sadism is all too common
Where sociopaths come from
I agreed with what Ragan wrote, until he got to this point:
Where do people like Castro come from? Male batterers often grow up in families fraught with strife, conflict, neglect and violence.
The basic theory is that deleterious early life experiences of the perpetrator cause developmental arrest of their psychological maturation and personality formation.
In my opinion, Ragan’s explanation of where sociopaths come from is total garbage.
Research has now determined that psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder originates from a combination of genetics and a bad early environment. What happens is that an individual is born with a genetic predisposition for the personality disorder, and then early experience, such as bad parenting, enables the genes to “express.” Essentially the genes get turned on, and the personality disorder takes hold.
If a person is born with a genetic predisposition to sociopathy, it often means that at least one parent is a sociopath. As Lovefraud readers attempting to co-parent with sociopaths know, they make lousy parents. Even if they aren’t overtly abusive—which many are—they are neglectful and disinterested in the welfare of the child.
That’s why the best a healthy parent can hope for is that the sociopath disappears from the life of the child. Even then, the genetic predisposition may be so strong that a parent who tries mightily to raise the child to have empathy and a conscience may not be able to overcome it.
Ragan, the psychiatrist who wrote the article, mentions none of this. Instead, Ragan says that Ariel Castro had the opportunity to grow into a normal, healthy adult, but his early experiences derailed him.
Emotional needs of the sociopath
Then Ragan wrote the following:
What happens is that the individual is left with deep emotional needs for which they feel totally inadequate to get met.
Their self-concept is so impaired and their self-esteem is chronically so low that they feel totally unable to compete in the normal adult game of attracting and keeping a mate.
At this point, when I first read this article, I choked on my breakfast. Have any of us ever met a sociopath with “deep emotional needs”? Or a sociopath who feels “totally inadequate”?
And excuse me, according to the thousands of people I’ve spoken to, sociopaths are exceptionally good at attracting mates, and many of them do keep people around for decades, which is unfortunate for their partners.
Here’s another major fallacy: Sociopaths do not have low self-esteem. Instead, they have incredibly high self-esteem, a major sense of entitlement, even when they do not have the accomplishments to back up their lofty views of themselves. If their actual resume is thin, they just lie.
Anger and rage
Okay, I need to take a breath for the next paragraph. Here it is:
When their attempts are met by failure, their impaired moral development and lack of empathy coupled with unbridled anger and rage lead them down the road of violent possession of their “partners.”
A sociopath’s impaired moral development and lack of empathy have nothing to do with failure in the mating game. These are the characteristics sociopaths are born with, which then take over the personality. The “unbridled anger and rage” is typical sociopathic dominance and aggression.
So why did Ariel Castro engage in violent possession of the women? First of all, he liked it. I assume, like all sociopaths, that Castro has excess testosterone. In The Moral Molecule, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, author Paul J. Zak says that high levels of testosterone are associated with a desire to punish, so that some men experience inflicting punishment as exceptionally rewarding. (This is less likely to happen in women.)
Secondly, Castro probably experienced extreme “duping delight.” Sociopaths love to know they are getting away with their actions. Castro kept these women right under the noses of everyone in the neighborhood and even his own family. He must have been chuckling to himself for years.
Finally, what sociopaths really want in life is power and control. Ariel Castro had total power and control over those three women for 10 years. He wasn’t angry. He was in hog heaven.
Dr. Ragan’s article is frightening. When so-called “experts” have such a poor understanding of the sociopathic personality disorder, and get to write about what they don’t know on CNN, it’s no wonder the rest of us are confused.
Critiquing expert views part 2: Psychology Today blogger on psychopaths who care
Thanks Donna for posting this. This makes it very clear as to why there are so many misperceptions out there about Narc’s./ Socio./Psycho. People want to believe they were abused and that is why they are so destructive, cruel,evil and malicious. Why do we not see evil exists anymore?
Spath’s have absolute self-esteem, from my experience. My ex-BF thought he was God’s gift to all women and in his professions.
He truly enjoyed exploiting a woman’s vulnerabilities and causing her shame and humiliation. These “tell’s” occurred when he was drunk.
I am grateful he did not keep me longer, painful as the discard was. I no longer pray for his soul, I pray for the women he may target.
I just wanted to say to Jm and UnOccupy how much it means to some of us who are relatively new at all of this to be able to benefit from the years of research and applied wisdom you’ve shared with us. All Donna’s work here is so important, but then when others also with wealths of knowledge weigh in the resulting education the rest of us receive is invaluable. So thank you, and please continue to share your pearls ( or should I say perils ) ?
Beyond simply not caring,they decidedly will use the information their cognitive empathy elicits toward causing harm. The psychopath will feel accomplishment at undermining their victim.
When they “love-bomb”, it is merely the investment they make to benefit at their victim’s expense. Their pay-off will vary widely from money, sex, affection, and even for something as basic as simply knowing they got over on someone.
They use their ability to comprehend people as a means to satisfy their personal needs and wants whereas people with virtue will use that same information to lend a helping hand.
In my book I wrote a bit about the lack of balance that exists with psychopaths. They rarely exhibit the ability to weigh the impact of their behavior vs. even a slight, momentary gain they produce for themselves.
Often, when a victim tries to relate the behavior of a psychopath to a would-be-supporter, it’s met with doubt because there seems to be so little to have been gained by their atrocious acts. Well intended folks expect “reasons” and look for “reasoned behavior” in the acts of others. They will often foist blame on the victim because they think in terms of cause and effect. The fact that the victim hadn’t “caused” the “effect” does not apply in a predatory relationship, but if they’re not familiar with antisocial personality disorder, they would simply not know.
To be honest at first when I heard the word sociopath and blogged here for the first time I was so trauma bonded and brainwashed that I actually thought I was a sociopath. I was afraid that I was using the word “sociopath” as an excuse for a rough relationship that I didn’t want to take blame for…but through therapy and this site I learned that he was WAY worse than what I had thought and as we progressed toward the end how disturbed this man actually was.
My point: For me what Ragan describes as his definition is SPOT on with who my ex was. He came from a war torn country, witnessed death, abuse, neglect and in turn abused me so badly with EXTREME mental manipulation over a course of 5 years that had me so warped.
In the end he did turn violent, he was SO promiscuous, made me feel that I was crazy and could never do any better then him.
I believe that he is right that an abusive up bringing is definitely a cause of psychopathic tendencies, but I believe its not the ONLY reason. Its a nature vs nurture debate and I think it swings both ways.
Psychopathy is a genetic pre-disposition. I noticed my son’s lack of empathy very early on in his life. I wish Dr. Leedom’s book had existed when I raised my son, but it didn’t, and I struggled to instill morality in a child who lacked the basic component.
The similarity between father and son is ironic, given that the father had little to do with his son up to the age of 6, and then disappeared altogether from his life.
Around the age of 18, he was working with a psychiatrist who recommended he look up his father. He learned that his father was an extraordinarily wealthy man (through the association with his long-time girlfriend,) and began creating havoc in my life while cozying up to his father. The final blow came when he eventually told me, “Now that I’m independent, what do I need you for?” I’ve barely heard from him in 5 years.
Relationships to a psychopath are very shallow. Even a maternal bond carries no weight. Love never crosses their minds. My son is very good looking and intelligent. He has pieces of his father’s charm, lies, cheats and steals with no remorse. While he’s a bully and quite capable of being abusive, he’s not one of the Hanibal Lechters of the world. The very little solace I have out of raising him is that he could have been worse.
From what I understand of the recent commentary on the subject, a sociopath and a psychopath are separated merely by the core that produced the lack of empathy in the child. A psychopath acquires it in their genes, while a sociopath comes by it through social interaction as they develop.
Since very few of us have the medical skill to examine the basis of development for each and every predator that exists, conjecturing how they came by their antisocial behavior can only be theory. But whatever caused it, the result is the same lack of humanity that expresses itself in countless ways.
I believe that it was Dr. Hare that expressed that a child who is pre-psychopathic is more likely to become violent when raised with violence. But there is no indication that a pre-psychopathic child will not become violent when raised in a home with no violence.
We can only hope to create an awareness in society over the importance of empathy, both cognitive and affective, in the development of a child’s moral reasoning so that parents can intervene to provide as much direction as possible in each child’s early years.
For those who question my divulging information about my son, I write under my maiden name, which is not his name.
I started “collecting” sociopaths in high school. One of my best friends was a spath. I was totally oblivious for 15 years. Even though this boy was a simple platonic relationship, we were so close that he was like my brother. Even my mother was enamored of him. His behavior was quirky- but not “dangerous” or violent. Things often didn’t add up. But because he wasn’t particularly distructive or overtly mean- nobody paid attention. My sister and I just shrugged it off until one day we realized he was stealing money from us, jewelry out of the family jewelry boxes, CLOTHES from our closets…well, thru a series of odd events we realized he was a transvestite with a lot of “boyfriends” (return customers). His own family realized this and did things like paid for all the clothes he shoplifted, took his car away, kicked him out of the house when he stole stuff from purses and pockets at his own father’s shiva! My sister and I went to the library and took out books on “Abnormal Psychology” until we found the “personality disorder” that fit his “lifestyle”! This was in the early 1970s. Since then I’ve met many more! Often my girlfriend’s husbands, boyfriends, one father even! One thing that is not often mentioned on “developing a spath” is that they seem to “begin” with lying and stealing. Small stuff. They get away with the small stuff and DON’T GET PUNISHED. So they step it up a notch! Well, THEY STILL DON’T GET PUNISHED….Quite rapidly they realize that they can get away with baldfaced lies- even really obvious lies and people just let them get away with it. So in a VERY SHORT TIME- they realize they can just do as they please because they can simply TALK themselves out of getting into “trouble”. Often they lie and the person who is actually telling the TRUTH is considered the liar! And it just goes on…
You make a really good point about how many of these individuals start out by lying;then when they get away with lying and don’t receive punishment or “consequences”,they become arrogant and feel what they’re doing is “normal”.The last two sentences of your post is so true,as I’ve experienced!
By the time they get to you as an adult, their pattern of psychopathy or sociopathy is well established. If they don’t have empathy by the age of 8, they are unlikely to ever develop it. Where there is no empathy, there is no conscience.
While it’s true that chidren without empathy are prone to lie, cheat or steal, it is not accurate to assume that their parents made no effort to impart consequences- and so their disorder snowballed.
My son killed his rabbit at age 4 with his bare hands. He had never seen or been confronted with violence in his life.
I made every effort possible to raise my son to be a morally intact individual. Children who are disordered do not respond to consequences. They do not relate to cause and effect. It’s like talking to a wall. In fact, any effort to impart a consequence will simply make them excessively angry. Rules don’t apply to them. Common decency does not exist in a relationship with them. Time-outs don’t matter. Reasoning doesn’t matter. Psychiatry didn’t help, in fact, it made the problem worse.
My son ran away several times at my insistence that he obey the rules. Living with a disordered child is a heartbreaking nightmare.
For every male psychopath or sociopath out there, there’s a mother. And it’s often a mother who loves them and did everything possible to raise and nurture them. Some kids are simply encouragable.
An incorrigible child, or “black sheep of the family”,as they used to be called,has got to be the heartbreak of every mother;the frustration for every father.
I think about my own in-laws.When I really think about it,I think they must have just finally given into exasperation.They wanted to do what was right.Spath wouldn’t live by their rules.He wouldn’t live by the rules of the Catholic school.So he and his brother were placed in public school.He didn’t follow the rules there either.He would start out with ‘minor’ offences,but before long,he was into serious trouble.His father knew the ‘right’ people,and he got him out of ‘hot water’.Years later,his dad was still yelling at him,telling him what a loser he was,and reminding him of all the times he got him out of trouble.It was a dysfunctional family~but I know there was alot of frustration that wasn’t handled properly!