Although some see sociopaths as too emotionally deficient to experience the despair necessary to suicide, I see suicide as offering a viable option for some sociopaths, and I’m going to explain why.
Let me start with a bit of crude, brutal logic: for many sociopaths, as we know, life is very much a game; hence, when game over, life over. No more game, what’s left? The answer may be, nothing.
And yet it may be less “despair” and “depression” with which the sociopath is left when his act has been shut-down than his preferring no longer to deal with an existence he knows will cease supplying the gratifications to which he’s grown accustomed, perhaps addicted and certainly privileged.
In the face, then, of this massive problem, the sociopath, with his notorious penchant for escaping inconvenient situations, may consider “checking-out” out of life—suiciding—when it, too, becomes insolubly inconvenient.
Some sociopaths, recognizing that their run of exploitation has ended, may use suicide as a final act of rebellion and contempt, as if to express, “See! You may have apprehended me, but watch! I’ll kill myself, and so I’ll escape again! Nobody gets me. Nobody makes me account! I am accountable to myself only, and now I choose to disappear, permanently. Ha!”
Of course, we’re all acquainted with the incarcerated sociopath who seeks his death, and may even generate publicity around his quest to be capitally executed. His is the case of the imprisoned sociopath asking the state, in effect, by proxy, to assist him in his suicide. What are we to make of this?
For some, the specter of the prisoner seeking execution arouses a certain sympathy; the prisoner may be seen as pursuing a form of ennobled self-justice, which may be interpreted (or rather, misinterpreted) as reflecting his belated humanity.
But what is the incarcerated, suicide-seeking sociopath really doing? Where is he really coming from? The answer is that he’s doing what he’s always done—exploiting for an edge, an advantage.
In such cases his spirited self-advocacy for death-by-state reflects some very basic sociopathic tendencies, among them his audacious grandiosity and arrogance. For even in his wretched, no-status state, here he is making noise and refusing to recognize limits—that is, he’s still attempting to exercise omnipotent control; he’s determined to determine even the way he dies!
But the incarcerated sociopath’s pursuit of assisted suicide-by-state is also, and probably principally, about his desire to escape a life intolerably devoid of gratifications.
Remember that, for many sociopaths, life without an ongoing infusion of gratification is like living in prison. For some of these sociopaths, this just is not a life worth living.
It is possible that despair, finally, is a driving factor when sociopaths attempt or commit suicide. However, it is the source of his despair that’s probably most noteworthy and distinguishing: the sociopath often feels his despair as an existence intolerably devoid of sufficient gratifications, and the promise of future gratifications. And so his despair derives, ultimately, from the frustration of his greedy, insatiable demands.
Adding to his despair is the probable sense of his shattered omnipotence—that is, the sense that he can no longer exercise the kind of control over others, and control over (and satisfaction of) his gratification-habit to which he developed a deep, arrogant sense of entitlement.
The sociopath’s belief in his omnipotence, a belief deployed in the service of producing continual gratifications, gives him his superficial, if not only, purpose in life. Deprive him of it, and all bets are off.
(This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns was for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)