Sociopaths and violence

Abuse, aggression and violence
For sociopaths, tactics that work

When you think of sociopaths (psychopaths), you may think of serial killers. That’s because many notorious serial killers are, in fact, sociopaths.

Ted Bundy, described as a handsome and charming man, murdered more than 30 young women between 1974 and 1979. He usually chose slender, white women with long brown hair as his victims. Many were sexually assaulted.

John Wayne Gacy was a well-known Chicago contractor who dressed up as Pogo the Clown to entertain children in hospitals. He was also a serial killer who raped, tortured and murdered 33 young men between 1972 and 1978, burying most of the bodies in the crawl space beneath his house.

What drove these men to commit these heinous murders? Absolutely nothing.

Sociopaths are not delusional. Unlike psychotics, they are not hearing voices. (They may claim to be insane in court, but that’s just a ploy to escape punishment.) Gacy never showed a bit of remorse, calling his victims “worthless little queers and punks.” Bundy said, “I’m the most cold-blooded sonofabitch you’ll ever meet. I just liked to kill; I wanted to kill.”

Casual and cold-blooded violence

When these people commit violence, says Dr. Robert Hare, it tends to be casual, cold-blooded and businesslike. In his book Without Conscience, in which he uses the term psychopaths, he says:

“While most of us have strong inhibitions about physically injuring others, psychopaths typically do not. For them, violence and threats are handy tools to be used when they are angered, defied or frustrated, and they give little thought to the pain and humiliation experienced by the victims. Their violence is callous and instrumental—used to satisfy a simple need, such as sex, or to obtain something he or she wants—and the psychopath’s reactions to the event are much more likely to be indifference, a sense of power, pleasure, or smug satisfaction than regret at the damage done. Certainly nothing to lose any sleep over.”*

Some sociopaths don’t bother with serial killing—they go right to mass murder. Saddam Hussein demanded adulation, and wanted to be known as “Anointed One” and “Glorious Leader.” He achieved his goals through brutality, ordering the deaths of thousands of Iraqis.

Eric Harris, one of the teenagers responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, wasn’t a troubled kid striking back at bullying jocks, according to Dave Cullen writing for Slate. The lead FBI investigator on the case concluded that Harris was a sociopath who considered himself superior to the “morons” around him. Cullen says Harris was able to “shoot his classmates, then stop to taunt them while they writhed in pain, then finish them off.”

Many of Ann Rule’s true crime books are based on sociopaths. But these extreme cases may actually distract attention from the harm caused every day by the sociopaths next door. As Dr. Hare says, “the majority of psychopaths manage to ply their trade without murdering people.”

Relationship violence

If you’re living with a sociopath, you may feel like you’re “walking on eggshells”—never knowing when he or she will fly into a rage, scream obscenities, and strike you, your children or your pets.

Or, you may be in emotional turmoil—the sociopath tells you that he or she loves you, but you don’t feel any intimacy. This person stands in front of you crying, telling you that he or she doesn’t want to lose you, while having multiple extramarital affairs. Then the sociopath tells you that you’re paranoid and blames you for the problems in your relationship.

If a male sociopath is not physically violent, he may be a bully. And, keep in mind that aggression is not limited to men—female sociopaths can also be violent.

The range of abuse that sociopaths inflict—physical, emotional and psychological—is endless. If you’re trying to cope, help is available for you from readers of this website. Feel free to post a comment to any article. Ask a question, and someone will respond.

Violence and more violence

Unlike sociopaths/psychopaths who simply cheat on their wives or defraud people, the violent ones tend to get the attention of law enforcement. Dr. Hare found that 25% of the men in a treatment program for wife assault were psychopaths. And, he says, about half of serial rapists are psychopaths.

Psychopaths make up 1% of the general population, but 25% of the prison population, according to Dr. Hare. “Violence is not uncommon among offender populations, but psychopaths still manage to stand out,” he says. “They commit more than twice as many violent and aggressive acts, both in and out of prison, as do other criminals.”

When they get out of jail, they often return to crime. “The recidivism rate of psychopaths is about double that of other offenders,” Dr. Hare says. “The violent recidivism rate of psychopaths is about triple that of other offenders.”

These people do not change. You will not be able to help them. If you see violence—any kind of violence—get away.


* © 1993 by Robert D. Hare, PhD. Reprinted by permission of The Guilford Press.

Next: Are they insane?


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