Many who have been hurt by sociopaths develop a general distrust of others. This distrust is understandable given how difficult it often is to tell if another person is a sociopath. However, going through life with distrust is not a pleasant way to live. Victims naturally then want to know in detail what sociopaths are about so they can identify the untrustables, and go back to trusting everyone else.
One of the purposes of this website is to describe sociopaths and teach people to identify them. Sociopaths are pathological liars who like to talk as experts on many topics. They manipulate others and generally have a high opinion of themselves. They also lack remorse for their actions and don’t seem to care about the pain they cause others. In fact they seem to enjoy inflicting all types pain (harm) on others.
The enjoyment of hurting another person is called sadism. Sadism usually refers to enjoying another’s physical pain. However, sociopaths enjoy inflicting all manner of pain on others including financial, emotional, psychological and social.
To sum it up sociopaths are in the business of reducing people to nothing and then taking glory in their accomplishment.
I have just described the most important “traits” of sociopaths. Many of you are saying, “Yes right on, that described mine exactly.” But are you satisfied?
You probably do not feel satisfied because you are left with wondering why. Why would someone do that? If you discover the answer to the “why question” you can go back to trusting everyone else again because you would understand the sick motives of sociopaths.
Normal people don’t enjoy watching other people suffer do they?
Here is where some get stuck, because many people secretly and not so secretly hope they live long enough to see the sociopath finally suffer. Well, if you can enjoy another’s suffering what makes you different from the sociopath?
If we examine the reasons why we would take pleasure in a sociopath’s suffering, we see there are two basic reasons. One is revenge and the other is our ability to consider the sociopath as “inhuman.” If a sociopath is not really human, then it is OK to enjoy that private moment of our imagined revenge.
There are therefore two basic routes to sadism. The first is through the power motive. Revenge is about reasserting power over someone who has robbed us of power. The power motive is also called the social dominance drive.
I am grateful to Caesar Milan the dog whisperer, for educating the public about dominance. We all know that a dominant dog has no problem inflicting pain on underlings to assert his dominance.
The second route to sadism is called “compartmentalization” by psychologists. A person who compartmentalizes has a motive (drive) to inflict pain on someone and so rationalizes it by saying that the other person is inhuman or “deserves it.”
Interestingly, both routes to sadism operate in sociopaths. Jack Levin and others have written a great deal about compartmentalization in sociopaths. Sociopaths are also ruled by the power motive and so enjoy hurting because it is confirmation they are achieving power.
That gets me to warped empathy. Many, including Jack Levin, have pointed to the faulty logic behind the idea that sociopaths lack empathy. If sociopaths lack empathy then how can they enjoy another’s suffering? If they can’t identify other’s emotions how can they know they are inflicting pain and so get enjoyment? Is there any question that the sociopath that hurt you knew you were suffering?
Most of us have seen clearly the sadism of sociopaths, so we know they must have some kind of warped empathy. Empathy should lead to sympathy with another’s suffering not pleasure in another’s suffering.
In 1982, while reporting the results of a very well done study in which he found that violent sociopaths of normal to high intelligence actually have increased empathy, Heilburn* made the following statement:
“One way to interpret these results would be in terms of a sadistic, effective-processing psychopathic model of violence in which inflicting pain or distress upon another is arousing and reinforcing (pleasurable). Such a model would assume that acts inflicting pain are more intentional than impulsive and that empathic skills promote arousal and sadistic reinforcement (pleasure) by enhancing the psychopath’s awareness of the pain and distress being experienced by the victim.”
Now in 2008 researchers have obtained results that confirm Heilburn’s theory.
Researcher Jean Decety from the University of Chicago found that young sociopath’s brains light up with pleasure when they experience another’s suffering. In this study, the pleasure was especially present when the suffering was being inflicted by another person. How did the researchers demonstrate this? They showed violent movie clips to sociopaths and non-sociopaths then used fMRI to scan their brains.
Most importantly, the study showed no abnormality of the brain pathways involved in empathy. Sociopath’s empathy centers appeared to function just fine.
So how can I help you feel comfortable trusting the 90% of the rest of humanity who are not significantly sociopathic when I have already said that that most people can be sadistic under certain circumstances?
The answer is found again with motives, specifically the power motive. Learn to recognize the signs of excessive power orientation. It is OK to want a certain amount of power, but the pursuit of interpersonal power should not occupy a person’s every waking moment.
Well balanced people enjoy love and affection more than they enjoy power and control. I encourage you to learn to tune into love motives in others. I have found that consciously choosing to notice loving behavior in others has also helped me better recognize the power motive.
Avoid people who dehumanize others because whether or not one who dehumanizes is a sociopath, this compartmentalization is an important contributor to man’s inhumanity to man.
Lastly, I encourage you to stop supporting violent entertainment with your consumer dollar. Such “entertainment” fosters the development of sociopathy in at-risk youth. It also brings out the worst in everyone else.
*Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1982, Vol. 50, No. 4, 546-557