Sociopathy and psychopathy: The two most difficult questions to answer.

People frequently ask me questions about human behavior, this is natural because I’m a psychiatrist and people hope I’ll have some answers. I’ve observed a pattern in the questions that people ask me. Often, I will give an answer I am sure is scientifically and clinically correct. At some point later, the person will come back to me and ask the same question again, perhaps phrased a little differently. This process is repeated several times until I am able to figure out why the person does not feel satisfied by my answer. Questions about sociopaths and psychopaths are often very difficult to answer in a way that brings closure to the question.

The most frequently- asked questions where the above dynamic occurs is, “Is my _______ a sociopath/psychopath?” and “Why can’t I leave?” I have gone around and around with people over and over again with these. It has recently become apparent to me that these questions are difficult for different reasons.

In the case of “Is my _______ a sociopath/psychopath?” the difficulty has nothing to do with the accuracy of the DSM or the Hare checklist for psychopathy. The difficulty happens because when people ask this question they don’t really want a diagnosis. When people ask whether or not a loved one is a sociopath, what they really want to know is if their loved one is evil. So, when I come back with criteria and answers, they never feel satisfied. They walk away more confused than ever. So to answer your question unambiguously, look within yourself to understand how you define evil. What is the difference for you between evil deeds, evil choices and an evil person? A sociopath is a person who repeatedly does harm to others. In my book, this defines an evil person. An evil person is one who repeatedly harms others”¦ and yes repeated actions are a good reflection of a person’s personality.

If a person repeatedly harms others, it doesn’t matter whether he/she also occasionally does good things, says “I love you,” hangs around or seems to be “nice.” The evil deeds scream volumes about a person’ s personality and character. For more see Would somebody please tell me why he did this?

“Why can’t I leave?” is difficult to give a satisfying answer to for another reason. People who ask this question want to be helped to leave in spite of themselves. Often people who ask this question are trying to make themselves want to leave. The most satisfying answer I can give (other than come and move in with me and I’ll help you) is leaving is hard because it makes you very anxious. If you want to successfully leave you have to plan on being very anxious and have predetermined coping strategies. Many people may need to see a physician for medication because the anxiety is so overwhelming. For more on leaving a sociopath see Why is this so hard? and I dont understand why I still care.

I want to thank all of the people who take the time to write Lovefraud. We have learned a great deal from you and we strive to use your questions to help others.

Comment on this article

18 Comments on "Sociopathy and psychopathy: The two most difficult questions to answer."

Notify of

I just blogged on the pointlessness of trying to figure psychos out…it was a bit of an epiphany for me.

Dr Leedom,

I once knew a girl who was dating a sociopath, and would ask me these same two questions quite frequently! Although I am not a doctor, I did my best to answer her in much the same way as you, by providing her with the diagnostic criteria for a sociopath and offering some supporting information and correlations between her boyfriend’s behavior and behavior typical of a sociopath. Sure enough, this information never seemed adequate, and she stayed with him through much pain and suffering for a long period of time.

What I found was similar to your findings. She never seemed happy with the facts, and seemed to be seeking some other explanation for his behavior. I believe that many times, the reason why factual information about the nature of sociopaths is not enough for a person intimately involved with one to recognize them as such and make a commitment to leave, is because they often don’t want to accept it. As is the nature of the beast, sociopaths do an excellent job of mimicking honest apologies and feigning emotions they do not have the capacity to feel, and the average lover is often easily duped by the sociopath’s efforts to retain control over the other person.

In the case of my friend, this caused her to constantly search for some other, easier-to-accept explanation for his deliberately hurtful and evil behavior. In other words, she was constantly searching for hope where none exists.

Unfortunately, the inertia of a long term relationship often makes it hard for those involved to imagine a way out, and even the most evil of acts can be brushed off by victims. It appeared to me that my friend had been almost conditioned over time to accept his behavior as “the norm” and, through many awful situations, lost her steam in fighting back, and lost her hope of finding a way to a better life.

Guys.. know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking I can take a few pages from the sociopaths book.. but NOT for the purposes of hurting, lying to or defrauding anyone. I’m thinking of doing what they do in paying more attention to people’s cues and signals, what’s important to them, reading them better, and watching their behavior. I can surely use this information.. not as they use it.. but to help me deal with people, and help me maintain order in my life, and also to keep myself a bit safer out there.

holywatersalt …

I just read your blog page… very well written and thought out…You know your subject well… thanks for sharing… how can I subscribe to your blogs?

HWS fill in the blanks is really so true… and it is a good game for them because it keeps us off balance and also keeps us busy. I always used to wonder how some of these people can sleep at night after the trauma and upset they cause.

The answer is easy.. they got what they wanted, we are off balance, not in any shape to stick up for ourselves, while we are crying ourselves to sleep we won’t be researching their lies, asking hard questions or throwing them out.. security for them for one more night.. plus they enjoy the fact that they WON, once again..

holywatersalt Thank you soo much for sharing!!!! thank you thank you thank you –

I have been hearing on the local radio channels about “The Physcopath Haunted House” a halloween event. Guess these people don’t understand that physcopath’s look just like us, if they had horn’s and tails we would of known to run away from the them…..

They charge admission? A pound of flesh and your soul…right?

Thanks for the kind comments guys.

Send this to a friend