Although it has been many years and there is a new relationship, a friend of mine still wishes every day that the sociopath that preyed on her will “drop dead.” Wishing and hoping that some horrible end will come for the sociopath takes up time and energy in my friend’s life; as she searches for evidence that something bad has indeed happened to the sociopath and then is disappointed.
Recently, I discussed the topic of forgiving psychopaths with a psychopathy researcher who is not a clinician. He said he received a letter from someone complaining that friends were pressuring the victim to forgive. It was the psychopathy researcher’s opinion that people should NOT be told they have to forgive a psychopath.
Upon reflecting on this opinion, I believe that this psychopathy researcher may have a special insight that informs his view —that psychopaths should not necessarily be forgiven. Perhaps this insight is: in spite of their brain disorder, psychopaths still have a choice about what they do.
My son is now 7, he and I rough and tumble play every day. It is impossible to wrestle and not have some kind of slight hurt come to one or the both of us. From the time he was very young, perhaps as young as 3, my son has appreciated the idea that mommy didn’t “do it on purpose”. If he pokes me in the eye or lands rough on my stomach he’ll say “Sorry, I didn’t do it on purpose.”
This example illustrates our inborn social contract that says we do not hurt each other on purpose. If hurts happen in the course of life, they are usually unintended side effects of other behaviors and so should be forgiven. Cheating on a spouse could even be forgiven as an unintentional hurt if the person succumbed to temptation in a moment of weakness, realized the wrong committed, then repented. Even murder is not punished as much if it is an accident.
The problem with sociopaths is that their behavior is no accident. They hurt people on purpose, carefully planning, then executing their plans. After 7 years of reading research articles and talking to victims, I believe choice is part of a complete explanation of sociopathy and victimization. If you watch any of the TV shows about sociopaths you too will see that the theme of their choices permeates the media.
Friday night, Gangland on the History Channel told the story of Billy Wadd, a member of the Devil’s Disciples motorcycle gang who gained notoriety when he broke the biker’s code of silence and testified against his nephew who murdered a family during a home invasion. Wadd said he decided to aid the prosecution of his nephew, John Wolfenbarger, instead of “taking care of things the usual way” because “You just don’t kill kids.” It is clear he believed these murders were performed with an intention that not even another sociopath could accept, so even sociopaths believe in their own capacities for choice.
Now let’s reconsider whether victims should be told they have to forgive. It seems there is a natural human instinct that says forgiveness is reserved for accidents, unintended consequences, and perhaps intentional slights that are out of character. How then can you ever forgive a psychopath?
Psychopaths have been compared to predators. I think this analogy is seriously flawed. A predator such as a lion or wolf has to kill in order to survive. Psychopaths don’t hurt for survival. They hurt because they want to, because they like hurting. Their enjoyment of hurting increases the likelihood they will choose to hurt if given the opportunity. They also seek out opportunities to hurt -not for survival but for pleasure.
Since sociopaths, with intention, repeatedly violate our inborn social contract, perhaps they should never be forgiven.
Instead of forgiving, I hope, my friend, you will think about all this and thoroughly digest the reality of the sociopath you shared life with. The reality is terrible— you shared life with a truly evil person, someone who regularly, with malice and forethought, chooses to harm others. Don’t stop hoping to see the day the scourge of this evil person’s existence will be wiped from the Earth, but do not waste any more of your time on him.