The Single Most Powerful Signifier of Sociopathy

What is the single most powerful signifier of sociopathy?

How about, lack of empathy?

I don’t think so.

As an isolated factor, I don’t think lack of empathy best nails the sociopath.

Many millions of people, after all, lack empathy and aren’t sociopaths. Also, exactly what constitutes empathy is a subject of some disagreement. Some LoveFraud members, in fact, question whether sociopaths even lack empathy (some asserting, to the contrary, that the sociopaths they’ve known have used their capacity for empathy to exploit them).

But the biggest problem with lack of empathy is its weakeness in explaining the single, truly best signifier of sociopathy—the characterological exploitiveness of the sociopath.

It is a high level of exploitiveness that most singularly exposes the sociopath.

Now exploitiveness is also associated with the narcissistic personality. For this reason extremely destructive (“malignant”) narcissists can be hard to distinguish from sociopaths. Still, a high level of exploitiveness is rarely the single best signifier of narcissistic personality disorder, whereas it is, I suggest, the best single indicator of sociopathy.

Why does lack of empathy fail to explain the sociopath’s exploitiveness? It fails because most people who lack empathy are not exploitive. Just consider the autistic spectrum disorders: Lack of empathy is commonly associated with these disorders, but exploitive behavior is not.

Now it is true that empathic individuals will generally be nonexploitive. Why? Because their empathy will prove a deterrent against exploitative impulses or ideas. Empathy, in other words, surely is a powerful deterrent against exploitation.

But in someone nonexploitative (someone, say, with Asperger’s Syndrome), empathy will not be needed for its deterrent effect. However, in someone inclined to exploitation, lack of empathy will be a missing deterrent in a situation where deterrence is urgent.

Effectively, the sociopath’s exploitive nature is undeterred by empathy, which is missing, thus liberating him to exploit. And it is the sociopath’s tendency, or compulsion, to exploit, I propose, that best characterizes his sociopathy.

I’d be remiss not to clarify my working definition of empathy. Empathy, as I use it, is an experience, or appreciation, of another’s experience that, depending on the situation, elicits a thoughtful, respectful, perhaps nurturing, but never exploitive, response.

While some sociopaths may possess an evolved capacity to read others’ vulnerabilities, this doesn’t make them empathic.

It is the particular response to someone’s vulnerability that indicates the presence of empathy, or exploitation. It is the particular response, or pattern of responses, to someone’s vulnerability that separates the empathic individual from the predator.

In this respect, I regard the sociopath as seriously, and given his exploitive personality, dangerously deficient in empathy.

What about his remorselessness? Certainly the sociopath’s remorselessness is quite notable and diagnostically significant. However, I would argue that the sociopath’s remorselessness is a byproduct not of his lack of empathy, but of his exploitive personality.

Many people who lack empathy are remorseful, for instance when informed that an action they took, or something they said, left someone else feeling damaged. They may struggle to relate emotionally (or even intellectually) to the effect their behavior had on the wounded party (their deficient empathy); but they are upset to learn that their action caused damage.

In other words, they feel remorseful even though their empathy is deficient.

However, exploitation and remorselessness go hand in hand. The essence of exploitation is the intentional violation of another’s vulnerability. The exploiter knows, on some level, that his behavior is exploitive.

By definition, the exploiter is grossly indifferent to the damaging effect of his behavior on his victim. All that matters is his perceived gain, his demanded, greedy satisfaction. There is indifference to the loss and damage to others resulting from his self-centered, aggressive behaviors.

This sounds a lot like callousness; and we recognize callousness as another of the sociopath’s telling qualities. But I would suggest, again, that the sociopath’s callousness derives not from his defective empathy, but rather from his characterological exploitiveness. Most people with deficits in empathy are not callous. On the other hand, the exploitive mentality will engender a callous perspective.

I discussed in a prior post the audacity of the sociopath. I suggested a correspondence between audacity and sociopathy. But here, too, we want to get the causality correct: audacity doesn’t make for sociopathy; but the exploitive mentality will make for staggering audacity.

(My use of “he” in this post is for convenience’s sake, not to suggest that men have a patent on sociopathy. This article is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)

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thank you. what you say seems so obvious and at first i was strong, or so i thought, but in the end i couldn’t even accept that he could be doing these things to me and on purpose. then i was so humiliated and broken i felt stuck as to accept the truth seemed nearly impossible. i mean i was convinced for 13 years that he was at the least my friend. i told him, the 1 person on this planet, everything about me every weakness, crazy thought, dream, vulnerability, everything so to realize it was a con and i gave him everything he needed to emotionally kill me, well it still scares me.

do you guys really think he is gone. i pray to god he is but the pattern is he goes and has a thing with some other girl for a few months then back to mama (he calls me that too didn’t think of that until this very moment, agh!!! gross.) he always comes back to me. what am i going to do when that day comes?????

i hope it never does but i almost think i need to be ready, like think it out like he does so i am not off guard or unprepared. what do you think???

Dear Awakening,

I know it seems so surreal. I too trusted endlessly… I guess I wanted to or needed to…and he led me to believe…but slowly and surely his mask dropped and all this chit happened and I still stayed…

When we say “we gave them everything they needed” to do what they did to us…means we need to LEARN how not to do that…I dont know about your guy, but I didnt make my guy EARN my trust, I didnt hold him accountable to treat me the same way I treated him,..I let him slide all the time, I made excuses (those are the things we have to LEARN NOT TO DO) Now that we know con men are out there…we are better prepared to protect ourselves. Whats done is done. Now what can we learn from it so we are prepared. They will always be who they are and do what they do…but it we too will always be the way we were..then the cycle continues…we dont necessarily change..we grow..we learn…we act now.

About whether or not he is gone? Do you want him gone? Or do you want to do what you have always done (let him come back to Mama?) Cuz you have choices. Something else I never realized. I have the choice to not answer my phone…not answer my door and to say NO! You are a bad person for me in my life. Yes you need to be prepared to love yourself, respect yourself and trust yourself enough that you know this guy is a loser and bad for you and abusive and you need to remain NC. Silently fade away….no threats, no one-upping him if he comes back, just tell him you are done. Then dont listen to his forthcoming lies or emotional abuse…No Contact. You are in charge of yourself. He is not! You are going to take back your power. He lost the priviledge of knowing you and the wonderful person you are.

yes i want him gone forever. i wouldn’t survive much more. trust me i rode it to the bitter end. there was nothing and i mean nothing (not even the sex anymore) good or pleasurable, nothing but pure agony, self loathing and HELL!

i was either crying on the floor or trying to get him out or feeling insane for letting him near me as i couldn’t pretend anymore. he was pure evil, mask off, and basically called me his “mark” to my face telling me i deserve it.

even with him torturing me it was still so hard to escape not wanting to understand or talk, agh!! only setting myself up for more abuse. it was hell pulling myself out of that and i won’t survive another round, no way!.

i have gone back and forth for years but i had no idea what he was until last aug-sept. and it took me until january to stop letting him in and my last text was probably in april.

thanks so much for your wisdom and support. i have some hope that this time i can do it. you give me hope and confirm my story and honestly without you i am not so sure but with you i think i have a chance, yea!!!!!!!!

go to the High conflict personality website….out of Arizona.
They have several therapists that have been trained in these behaviors they recommend in your general area.

Stay on it girl!!!!

I agree that the P in my life didn’t care if it was a male or female, child or adult – It was adulation he was after. I used to wonder if he was gay. Now I realize my gut feeling sensed that he had younger guys he was interested in as well as 80 year old women, if he could exploit them in some way – be it sex, supply or whatever could be provided according to his need at the time. He dragged us to over 30 moves, most of them living with whatever family would take us in. We were in a religious cult at the time, so always stayed with “brethren”. He would go from church to church feigning desperation, and that was how we lived – he used these people for supply in the name of God. He used to walk the church’s lobby telling me the Holy Spirit was showing him who in the church was evil, and that he had the spirit of discernment. How SCAREY!
When I look back at all of this, I can only take it piecemeal.

Exploitive is it. Just like the tick that you snag, as you walk along innocently… suddenly it is sucking everything it can possibly exploit out of you.
The tick I knew is an expert at exploiting governmental agencies as well. Disability fraud. Get a job??? Right. That’s only for some stupid jerk. Hopefully a closer look at the bloodsucker will occur.

These creatures are not environmentally “green” about anything, in fact, they are experts at wastefulness of resources… yours, mine, anyone’s but theirs. Walk in to a room, flip ON the lights, walk out. Turn the TV on, walk out of the room. Turn up the heat to 90 degrees, open the doors to 30, or 40 degree weather outside, who cares, it’s not their money. Sit on the pot, and use up a roll of toilet paper a day, so what?, they don’t buy it, or pay the plumber to remove it. Stand, or sit, in the shower, hot water blasting hard enough to boil skin on contact(trying to warm the cold blood?) for a half hour or more, twice a day, consistently (OCD?) When forced(expulsion threatened) to do dishes, blasting hot water on the whole time, and squeezing cupfuls of detergent down the drain (this is fun!). Eat whole jars of peanut butter at a sitting, whole containers of ice cream a day, so what??? it’s not their money! (i.e. where the TP needs arise) Stupid enough to pay for their phone time cards? Too bad. You’ll never hear from them… all their talking will be to someone else. How stupid can you get? Stupid enough to pay for their gas? Too bad again. They love idling it, and maximum acceleration off the line. What about coffee? This one loves getting jacked up on several pots worth/day. The lights are ON, but nobody’s home. So are they capable of love??? Certainly. Love of every little thing they can possibly exploit, from everyone, and everything, that’s what they love, and crave.
What do they love even more? The fact that they pulled it off… and you were a stupid jerk to let them get away with it. That’s what they love the most, so don’t let anyone tell you they don’t love. When they are gone, do they miss you? Yes, but only the stupid jerk part of you. So remember, if you’re wise, you will make it easier for them to find a new stupid jerk, than to return to the old one.

Masters of exploitation.



‘What do they love even more? The fact that they pulled it off” and you were a stupid jerk to let them get away with it. That’s what they love the most, so don’t let anyone tell you they don’t love. When they are gone, do they miss you? Yes, but only the stupid jerk part of you. So remember, if you’re wise, you will make it easier for them to find a new stupid jerk, than to return to the old one.’


i have come to think that this is what they love the most too. which means that every time my sweet ppath laughed she was LAUGHING AT ME.

Steve notes, “The essence of exploitation is the intentional violation of another’s vulnerability.”

This is a superb, succinct, and clearly understandable explanation of the core of sociopathy. This single sentence defines it in terms that a victim, judge, police officer, attorney, or anyone else with a remedial comprehension of language can grasp.


The associations of your past can drag you down and hold you back. They can keep you from fulfilling your potential. Violators of the Heart. These are relationships that prey on your heart and rob you of control over your life. Don’t give power to any person to manipulate you and control you. No person can make you lose your joy, your mind, your temper, or any other aspect unless you give that person the power. Don’t do it!

The most dangerous violator of the heart is the person who tells you what you want to hear. It is the person who strokes your ego and tells you words of affection that you are desperate to hear, all in an effort to get what they want from you. Violators take advantage of the “needs” in your life, especially the needs to be loved and accepted. They aren’t concerned about your blessings or your destiny. They are concerned only about what they want. They are takers, not givers.

You MUST identify and accept the reality of an out-of-balance relationship. At times, you need to take stock of the situation and admit to yourself that a relationship just isn’t working. All of your efforts at helping or rehabilitating a person have failed. It is at that point that you need to walk away as you say, “I have done all that I can do. ”

Progressively end unhealthy relationships. It takes emotional energy to end a relationship, cut unhealthy relationships out of your life one at a time until you can look around you and say, All of my relationships are ones in which there is mutual give-and-take, a mutual blessing, a mutual edification. I am on the same wavelength with those who are close to me when it comes to values, beliefs, and goals.”

Walk away from an unhealthy relationship WITH THE FULL INTENT that YOU WILL NOT revisit that relationship in the future. You should not have the intent to come back to the relationship. Make a clean break. Make a definitive break. Find the people who are starving for what you offer! Find people who want who you are, what you give, and what you celebrate.


(A friend gave this to me and it comforted me and I drew courage and strength from it. I hope this helps you too like it did me).

All well and good if you are an adult. As a child there is no defense against exploitive parents.

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