How Sociopaths Think

When reflecting on the sociopath’s style, I often find myself thinking metaphorically. For instance, in an early LoveFraud article (Sociopaths’ Cat and Mouse Game) I explored the mind of the sociopath via the metaphor of the cat toying with the mouse.

In this article, I probe a different metaphor: the small child abusing the captured insect.

But a caveat’s in order: Just as I wasn’t impugning cats as literally sociopathic in my earlier piece, I’m not suggesting here that all children, including bug torturers, are developing sociopaths (anymore than in my last LoveFraud article I was suggesting that all practical jokers are sociopaths).

On the other hand, I am suggesting that there are states of mind—normal states of mind—that approximate (more closely than we might think, or want to think) how sociopaths perceive and relate.

And so I invite you to join me as, together, we watch a small child, who sits  on a curb in front of his house, a daddy-long-legged spider in his clutches.

Let us not mince words: the child has intentionally trapped the spider; and he fully intends, and fully expects, to have his way with it. Moreover, he confidently feels that he has power over the spider to do with it, to toy with it, to experiment on it, as he wishes.

Does any of this, already, sound familiar?

But let us proceed: The child may (or may not yet) have formed an agenda for the spider—that is, he may already know what he plans to do with it, and how he plans to entertain himself with it; or, he may not yet know these things, but rather may be operating more impulsively, or perhaps taking things a step at a time.

In either case, as he stares down at the bug, the child does so with a feeling of omnipotence—that is, he has, and relishes, a sense of omnipotent control over the spider’s near and long-term destiny: he will be deciding its short and long-term fate. He knows that he can dominate the spider any way he likes, and, as we’ve established, he intends to exploit his dominance: the spider, he is well aware, will be helpless to defend itself against his designs.

And so, one by one, the child begins pulling the legs off the spider. He finds this interesting, amusing, and even thinks it’s a little funny. He wonders, fleetingly, in pulling the spider’s legs off, if this hurts the spider?

His curiosity, however, is detached and superficial, lacking compassion and empathy. For, although it strikes him that if someone were to pull his legs off it would surely cause unspeakable pain, yet his intellectual awareness does not translate into empathy for the predicament to which he’s subjected the spider.

(The child, in a word, fails to apply the principle do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Sociopaths, of course, notoriously forsake this principle.)

And so the spider might look a little funny with no legs. And it could be amusing to see the spider, as its legs are systematically ripped off, reduced to the size of a small nipple. And it could also be amusing to watch the spider try to walk with its legs missing.

All of these (and other) prospects for entertainment intrigue the child, and support his abuse of the insect. We can say this with certainty: in his relationship to the spider, the child is solely interested in how the spider can entertain him—that is, he is curious about, and interested in, only the gratification he can derive from the spider (and from, in this case, the spider’s predicament).

The child regards and values the spider purely as an “object” which, if properly manipulated, can yield him some worthwhile satisfaction.

And so the spider, now legless, doesn’t move. The child notices that its legs, however, which lie beside it on the concrete curb, twitch all by themselves, as if they’re separately alive and as though being animated by a mysterious force. This intrigues and amuses the child who, incidentally, has momentarily lost all interest in the spider.

That is, the child presently is no longer interested in the spider, but only with the spider’s legs (which of course he tore off), finding their twitchy, independent movements curiously entertaining.

I think we can safely add that the child doesn’t hate, or feel malice towards, the spider. That’s to say, none of this is “personal.” When he sat down on the curb, the idea of targeting a spider to exploit may, or may not, have been on his mind.

The child may have been actively targeting a vulnerable insect, or maybe not; maybe the spider just happened to enter his attentional orbit at the wrong time (for the spider), and in so doing primed the child’s exploitive inclinations.

In either case, it’s easy to describe what the child feels for the spider; he feels towards the spider precisely what he feels towards any object—appreciative of it only for the satisfaction it supplies him.

Short of this, the spider rapidly loses its value for him.

This is occurring presently: As the spider’s novelty is fading, the child’s investment in it wanes. He valued the spider purely, remember, for its gratifying properties; now, as the spider grows less novel by the second, the child grows increasingly bored with it. The spider’s value, its use to the child, is steadily, rapidly depreciating.

This could be good news, or more bad news, for the spider. As his interest in the spider expends itself, the child may decide to move on. He may be finished with the spider, and so he may, finally, leave it alone. The spider may have a chance to escape with its life. That could be the good news.

But it’s also possible that the child, seeking a last satisfaction of his thirst for stimulation, may decide, perhaps impulsively, to squash the spider, to crush it, like the bud of a leaf. And if he does this, it still won’t be personal. The child doesn’t have it in for this particular spider.

This particular spider merely happened to conveniently enough meet the child’s criteria as an exploitable object.

And so it’s 50-50 whether, in his boredom, the child will move on, leaving the legless spider to regroup after its traumatization; or whether, also in his boredom, he’ll decide to mash the spider between his fingers so he can feel what it’s like to mash an insect into a  paste. That could be a curious sensation, which he’s never had (or hasn’t had it in a while).

He might find that sensation interesting, or maybe not.

And so comes the abrupt, anticlimactic end of our story, which was simply about the intersection of our neighborhood child with the unsuspecting spider.

Postscript: The child spared the spider, not from compassion, but because a cramp in his leg prompted him to rise, and stretch. But in walking away, the child inadvertently stepped on the spider, flattening and killing it. But even had he known this (and he didn’t), it’s not likely that the irony would have impressed him.

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

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309 Comments on "How Sociopaths Think"

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Thanks Erin and Ox. I probably wouldn’t have screamed at her if my daughter was with me. I will definitely make a list of my blessings. Thanks for the hug.

Learn and ErinBrock thanks. I definitely won’t do it again and I am feeling better. I came home and gave my daughter a big hug : )

I don’t think what you did was so awful because you did what you needed to do for yourself. Who cares what it looked like? I once blew up in front of 100 quiet Buddhist meditators sitting peacefully in the meditation hall. I was screaming at my stepfather for something that had happened many years before. It just came up and I couldn’t really help it. I was yelling “You son of a b*tch…” at the top of my lungs. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

I am incredibly sorry for the pain you are going through. It just blows my mind the damage some of these creeps can do in people’s lives.

What caught my eye was the fact that the ex didn’t retaliate. The S step daughter of mine is ALWAYS as cool as a cucumber…she can make you look totally ridiculous like a screaming maniac and she is cool as ice.. maybe that one slip will help you get over it. Sociopaths remind me of little mean kids that will poke sticks in a dog’s face and corner them , and then when they bite, they run tell the parent’s how mean the dog is….then smiles while the dog gets a beating….they bait you, so be careful , never be alone with them and you could even wear a small digital recorder in your pocket when you know you have deal with them. I’m not suggesting anything illegal, but if it’s on your property I think you can do that.

Its easy to be cool as ice, if you have no deep emotions.Also, Im sure that she decided to be EXTRA cool as ice, to show you up in her eyes as over emotional by contrast.
My 46 yr old daughter always looks cool as ice, when she smiles, there are no lines round her eyes,her smiles a re totally FAKE.Her fav. description for me,{one size fits all} was a “drama Queen”.
One time, my younger spath daughter was running me down because I was in tears to her over the phone about something.
“Really Mother, you are so emotional, its embarrassing. Why cant you be more like Ms Mother? Shes always in control.”
Six months later, M went home from school. called her Mum, no answer. Went into the garage, her Mum was hanging from a beam. Dead. Shed hung herself. her husband had died of cancer 6 months before, this was the woman my daughter
gave me as an example of ‘cool”. So I said to my daughte,”Maybe you should be grateful I CAN show emotion,
unlike poor Ms Mum, keeping it all inside caused her to take her life.”
My spath daughter was around 15 then. Was a biatch then, at 44 shes still a biatch. hasnt changed. Love, Gem.X

Gemini Girl…… are right ..they never change….one reason I don’t confront her more is not that I’m a wimp…it’s just that I don’t trust myself not to get emotional or just lose it with her ..and my bio daughter….any tips? I hate getting that feeling of losing control around either one of them……….I would love to be able to post a picture I have of my S-path’s 2 little girls…..and let the viewer guess which one is an S path…..they are 4 and 6 and you can tell …..even though they are both smiling…..the s -path child’s eyes look plastic…almost like doll eyes….she can creep you out….and when she sleeps she looks odd………like she’s inanimate or something….just like her Mom did when she was little………I’m getting chills now…it never goes away……..

The Sociopath’s (false) sense of superiority. Also applies to Ns & P’s.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about how Sociopaths often falsely have a sense of personal superiority and how many Sociopaths seems to enjoy and get feelings of satisfaction from labelling themselves as such (when they cotton on to what they are).

This thinking comes from trolling a few sites such as Sam Vaknin stuff (a self confessed Narcissist – possible S if you read some accounts). Totally up himself either way if you ask me!

Also from several posts from people on the internet saying ‘I am a Sociopath’ etc.

Basically lots of S’s seem to call themselves ‘wolf to sheep’ or somesuch and seem to imply that they ‘always win’ because of their lack of ability to feel empathy and their ‘machiavellian’ characteristics. I think that this is a ‘great trick’ for them if they’re able to pull it off.

Now I’ve also been thinking that S’s do cause absolute devastation as LF posters can prove – to people who don’t se them for what they are, and even for those people who ‘have seen the light’ and can see the S for what they are. Sometimes the S’s tactics work – to dreadful effect.

I absolutely don’t want to trigger any LF members pain – as I myself understand that I did have a ‘breakdown’ following falling in love with and being in a relationship with an N. I also think it’s different for LF people who can’t go totally NC because they have children with the S N or P or for some other reason.

But maybe it’s just the point that I’m at in my healing journey.

Since coming on LF and also having been (more or less) NC with exN for 2 years now – I’m getting to the point where I see exN mostly as an a**clown who overestimates his abilities at every turn. He’s a Loser with a capital L as he’s been fired from every job he’s ever had, is in loads of debt, has a rotten relationship with his mother and basically has to constantly ‘move on’ to pastures new as he PO’s this that or the other person.

I don’t feel sorry for him (which I used to), ‘cos he totally brings it on himself and though he can’t change ‘what’ he is, he surely could learn from his experiences that his behaviour ultimately never actually gets him what he wants longer term (financial security, personal power, endless supplies of praise/admiration from others around him).

He can’t hurt me anymore ‘cos I don’t care what he thinks, feels, is doing etc. When ‘ripples’ of his N attacks come along – I’m able to quickly think of tactics to ‘see him off’. I’ve become used to moving on and my circle of friends and my life is very solid and protected. More than it’s ever been in my life before.

Basically S’s N’s and P’s tactics only really operate if they’re able to keep what they are a ‘secret’ to everyone around them. They like to lurk about in unrecognised. Vampires can’t thrive in the sun right?

I also do believe that S’s N’s and P’s have ‘primitive’ emotions and are capable a limited range of feelings of rage, pain, obsession, fear.

My exN suffered alot from deep periods of depression (when NS was withdrawn in some way, or he suffered a ‘narcissistic injury).

So, It’s possible to hurt S’s N’s and P’s, it’s possible to make them fear/avoid the empathic ‘targets’ who is using S battle tactics to good effect. Also the empathic person who’s able to get ‘the system’ working for them (not often enough I’m afraid).

I’ve also been thinking alot about my experience from working in CP and how actually, much of the time – the S P or N’s I’ve come across can be very foolish and unaware of how obvious they are.

If you call them a ‘fool’ or an ‘a**clown’ or ‘abuser’- it’s less frightening than if you call them an S P or N don’t you find?

I don’t minimise the suffering of their child victims, I concentrate on ‘sorting em out’ – concentrate on helping their victims recover as best as I can. In the case of children this is the hardest. The S N or P has the most ability to hurt a child – children are after all truly vulnerable. The worst is that the principle of ‘no contact’ doesn’t work for child targets in the same way that it would do for an adult target.

However I do come up all the time against S’s or P’s – or otherwise abusive persons who seriously underestimate what a determined SW can do once they’re ‘onto’ the S or P.

Anyway – I’m not saying that ‘the system’ is that great, but I’m just pointing out that S’s and P’s are actually quite gullible in some ways when an adult target starts to look for their flaws and chinks and how to use their S N or P traits against them.

Now I also don’t want to suggest that they aren’t dangerous if you’re in a relationship with them or have a close tie of any kind. If there’s an S P or N in your life who’s targeting you- GET THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE i.e principle of NO CONTACT.

However I just want to say that they’re not always as smart as they like to make out gals and guys. If you’re feeling that the S N or P is ‘unbeatable’ – it’s because he/she wants you believe that they have all the power and you have none.

I’m also not saying – become ‘like’ the S N or P. However the difference is that an Empathic person will ‘weigh’ the consequences, including the possible emotional impacts on everyone involved, as well as all the other factors – before deciding what action to take.

We just have one more tool in our tool-box than they do!!

Does anyone have any thoughts on this- I’m really interested in other LF community members thoughts on this one. Maybe I’m way off base here? What do y’all think?


Delta 1

I have an interesting report today. It’s about how I “think.” Or, rather, fail to.

I let others scold me. I think, oh, yes, I’m such a good listener, I take “feedback,” b.s., b.s., b.s.

And when I don’t, I am seen as having a problem listening, taking feedback, b.s., b.s., b.s.

But the truth is, I listen too much, and take too much “feedback.” I need to start offering some. Like, “Who the hell told you that you could scold a person for something you noticed two years ago, over drinks with other friends present?”

And what if I did it to them?

How good would they be at taking “feedback”?


You’re right, Delta 1, it’s the perception of power. But they don’t have all the power and you have none. You can just say, “Stop.” No reasoning. Just stop. Brute force. Let everyone else figure out what just happened. And think twice before they mess with you.

Good post Delta 1:

From spath: Hope all is well with you and the family. I would have responded when you first sent the email, but I was working on some other things financially, and I still am(smile). You said you have a attorney can you have him to call me or give me his info cuz I dont know anything but the 265.00 to get started. would like to know total cost and we can go frm there and hopefully it will be done by the end of this month. May God bless you with a wonderful day!

Me: The above gem was “penned” after receiving my letter to him regarding the divorce 30 days prior!!!! I received it around June 24, 2010. So I was wondering that although they perceive themselves to be superior in intellect, etc., my personal experience has been that this guy is either feigning stupidity or he does actually have cognitive deficiencies. I told him in plain English over and over how the divorce would be handled. He uses these “questions” or his supposed “inquisitiveness” as a cover for trying to determine his greatest chance at exploitation of the situation. He see that he was trying to use my eagerness to divorce him as bait to try to engage him again. We have a two-state residency marriage. So he was looking for information on filing in Tennessee where he lives and where we were married, yet he sent me information about Arkansas. Huh? He had grand plans of opening up a bakery business. He made pies, which were actually very good. He had a certain supplier for the pie shells. But he was planning on moving to California (where I live). The supplier did not have the pie shells in California. Like most normal people would do, I looked for a supplier in California. He was adamant about ordering from this supplier, which would only sell at very large amounts, like 36,000 mini pie shells. I asked him how we proposed to store this stuff, and he said we could by a freezer. Hello!????? Anybody there!?? A freezer that would hold 36,000 pie shells in a 2 bdrm apt??? I showed him the Olympic Swim Stadium in Los Angeles. The look in his eyes showed no clue of recognition about what I was speaking of. The Olympics, dude? Only the whole world is involved in it. Where were you? He claimed that he wasn’t into sports and that he was a thinker. Whateva!

The cracks began to show around the 3 to 4 months period of having known him. Are there just plain stupid sociopaths? I never felt he was smarter than me. He was a dangerously covert manipulator. Where he hurt me most was in the time that we got to know each other I revealed things to him that he later used to try to tear me down. I began to doubt myself. When I recognized his sadistic side, I refused to allow him to relocate as we had planned to my home. I lost $175 dollars. We have no children. We never lived together (sooo close, almost blew it, whew!) I considered that I was fortunate.

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