The love scripts of sociopaths

It is likely you are reading this because a sociopath said “I love you” and you believed him/her. You also probably thought that when the sociopath said “I love you” he/she used these words as you do, to express a sense of intimacy, passion and commitment. However, what a sociopath says and what a sociopath does are so different it can be crazy making.

In the aftermath of a relationship with a sociopath, former romantic partners are left to wonder, “Just what was going on in that person’s mind?” “What was he/she thinking?” Many people have written in asking, “Did he/she really love me?” and “Do you think he/she loves that other person now?” It is the second question many find most disturbing.

In 1943, Dr. Abraham Maslow in his classic paper, A theory of human motivation, declared that psychopaths lack the capacity and motivation for love. “The so-called ‘psychopathic personality’ is another example of permanent loss of the love needs. These are people who, according to the best data available (9), have been starved for love in the earliest months of their lives and have simply lost forever the desire and the ability to give and to receive affection (as animals lose sucking or pecking reflexes that are not exercised soon enough after birth). ”

Contemporaneously with Maslow, Dr. Hervey Cleckley described psychopaths in The Mask of Sanity and developed a set of criteria for their identification. According to Cleckley (criteria #9), psychopathy is associated with “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love.” He declared “The psychopath seldom shows anything that, if the chief facts were known, would pass even in the eyes of lay observers as object love.”

Cleckley also maintained that an “absolute” incapacity for love is even found in those with an “incomplete manifestation” of psychopathy, who lack the full disorder. Writing in 1956, Drs.McCord and McCord disagreed with Cleckley and Maslow. They described psychopaths as having “a warped capacity for love” stating, “there are indications that the capacity, however under developed, still exists .”

My guess is that the McCords got fooled just like you and I and a recent paper shows us why.

Dr. Barbara Gawda at Maria Curie-Skldowska University Poland studied the “Love Scripts” of sociopaths. Love scripts are simply ideas about love that a person has. These ideas include how people fall in love, and what people in love are supposed to do.
Dr. Gawda showed a picture of a man and a woman hugging to 60 sociopaths in prison, 40 prisoners without disorder and 100 university students. She asked all participants to write a story about the picture and to imagine themselves as one of the characters.

The sociopaths stories were significantly longer, more detailed, and more self-centered than the other two groups. Contrary to expectations then sociopaths do not lack love schemas. They are perfectly adept and perhaps more adept than most in talking about love. The findings of this study jive completely with my own clinical experience. That is, over the years many people I knew to be sociopaths told me about their love experiences. Their stories were impressive and had me believing that they were capable of love.

If clinicians, scientists, lovers and family members rely on verbal reports, they will never come to understand the lack of capacity to love that characterizes sociopaths. Cleckley reached his conclusions about psychopathy and love only after observing their actions over a number of years. He also said this,

“In a sense, it is absurd to maintain that the psychopath’s incapacity for object love is absolute, that is, to say he is (in)capable of affection for another ”¦ He is plainly capable of casual fondness, of likes and dislikes, and of reactions that, one might say, cause others to matter to him. These affective reactions are, however, always strictly limited in degree. In durability they also vary greatly from what is normal in mankind. The term absolute is, I believe, appropriate if we apply it to any affective attitude strong and meaningful enough to be called love, that is, anything that prevails in sufficient degree and over sufficient periods to exert a major influence on behavior.”


A theory of human motivation. Maslow, A. H.; Psychological Review, Vol 50(4), Jul, 1943. pp. 370-396

McCord, W and McCord, J (1956) Psychopathy and Delenquency New York: Grune and Stratton, Inc. page 13

Love scripts of persons with antisocial personality.Gawda B.
Psychological Reports 2008, 103, 371-380.

This study compared the scripts of love among 60 prison inmates diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder and those of 40 inmates without an Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis but low antisocial tendencies, and a control group of 100 adult students in extramural or evening secondary schools without Antisocial Personality Disorder traits. The study focused on emotional knowledge about love of the group with Antisocial Personality Disorder, as they present lack of capacity for love. The study was done to examine how they perceive love and how much knowledge they have about love. All described their reactions to a photograph of a couple hugging each other. The content of these scripts, analyzed in terms of description of actors, their actions and emotions, and length of description, was compared among the groups. The scripts of love by antisocial inmates contained more actors’ feelings and strong emotions, as well as more descriptions of actors’ traits, their actions, and presumptions. The inmates with Antisocial Personality Disorder showed more focus on themselves when they described love than the other inmates and the controls.

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316 Comments on "The love scripts of sociopaths"

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As i said, I used to not think this way. My view evolved as more and more I became in contact with HIV+ men who do not disclose their status and continue to have sex.

My last BF is HIV+, the result of a condom break with somebody he had been dating for months and did not know the guy was HIV+.

Despite prevention efforts, 40,000 new HIV infections are diagnosed in the USA each year.

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