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What All Sociopaths Have In Common

As we think about sociopaths, let’s remember that they can make diverse presentations, which can make it hard to know if (and when) you’re dealing with one.

Although sociopathy is a personality disorder, it’s complicated by the fact that sociopaths have widely diverse personalities.

There are smart sociopaths and dumb sociopaths; gregarious sociopaths and more withdrawn sociopaths; engaging sociopaths and paranoid sociopaths; calculating sociopaths and more impulsive sociopaths; socially skilled, and socially unskilled sociopaths.

There are charismatic sociopaths and sociopaths with dull personalities. There are sociopaths who may leave you feeling remarkably comfortable, and sociopaths who may leave you feeling extremely creeped-out.

Some sociopaths are physically violent personalities, while others are no more prone to violence than you or I.

Given this diversity among them, what, then, do sociopaths have in common?

I take a stab, below, at answering this question, which itself isn’t so cut and dried. But what follow are some qualities that I believe all sociopaths have in common.

All sociopaths are emotionally shallow.
While sociopaths don’t have a patent on emotional shallowness (nonsociopaths can be emotionally shallow), they do have this terrain thoroughly covered. All sociopaths, without exception, are emotionally shallow.

It’s not that sociopaths don’t have and feel emotions. They are human beings, inclined as they are to transgress others. They want things. They feel their discomforts, pleasures, cravings.

But what sociopaths lack, fundamentally, is emotional interest in others. They may be interested in what others have [for them]; that is, what others have [for them] may evoke, and even stimulate, their emotions. However, they are not interested, genuinely, in who others are.

The sociopath, for instance, may recognize, and even pay very close attention, to your mood. But his interest in your mood will hinge on how your mood affects his agenda.

He is like the amoral child who, watching his mother and shrewdly detecting her vigilant energy, decides it’s not a good time to lift the five-dollar bill off the kitchen counter. He has read her carefully, and perhaps accurately. But his interest in her state of mind, and emotions, is limited to the advancement of his agenda.

All sociopaths are disloyal individuals.
I see this as a truism about sociopaths. Sociopaths may seem and even act loyal, but only so long as they calculate that the cost of their loyalty hasn’t yet exceeded its benefit [to them].

As soon as the sociopath discerns that the cost of his loyalty exceeds the advantage, he betrays those to whom he’d apparently been “loyal.”

His self-interest, in other words, is paramount, and supercedes his capacity for self-sacrifice.

All sociopaths are habitual transgressors (without meaningful remorse) of others’ boundaries.
Whether calculating or more impulse-driven, sociopaths are habitual boundary violators, without genuine remorse for their hurtful effect on others. Some (not all) sociopaths “get off” on their exploitation—meaning that, for them, the process of exploiting is the motive force that drives their exploitation.

Sociopaths may be childishly fascinated by the exercising of their power to “push the envelope,” to “pull off” capers and dodge accountability.

Their lack of remorse—lack, indeed, of any form of genuine accountability—is one of the perplexing aspects of this personality disorder. And there’s probaby not a single explanation for this.

All sociopaths grossly lack compassion.
A lack of empathy is commonly ascribed to sociopaths, but I sometimes wonder if the sociopath’s lack of compassion isn’t a more germane descriptor.

Part of the problem with empathy is that people view it differently—arguably, there are different “types” of empathy that elude a single, unifying definition.

You will sometimes hear people say about sociopaths that, rather than lacking empathy, they actually use their empathy exploitively. I don’t see it that way. I view a mindset of empathy as the antithesis of the exploitive mindset—thus, someone feeling empathic (by my definition of empathy) could not use his empathy to exploit. That would be logically impossible.

But I think we escape this definitional confusion altogether when we consider sociopaths and the issue of compassion. In this regard, I assert that all sociopaths lack genuine compassion for others.

I’m suggesting that, even more than his empathic deficiency, the sociopath’s gross lack of compassion enables his infamous abuse of others’ dignity and space.

(See an upcoming post, Sociopathy: A Disorder of Compassion, for an elaboration of this idea.)

All sociopaths lack appropriate shame.
Sociopaths’ deficient levels of shame support their exploitive tendencies. Shame gives us pause, and sociopaths do very little “pausing.” Most of us contemplate the factor of shame, or prospective shame, in the decisions we make.

Our automatic, often unconscious review of how shameful we’re likely to feel following a chosen action allows us to think twice before executing it. It gives us room to cancel a plan whose execution we deem, on reflection and in anticipation, risks reigning shame down upon us.

Sociopaths lack shame to fear. Lacking shame to fear disinhibits them from pursuing destructive ideas that the rest of us, more often than not, will “pass” at.

Sociopaths are audacious personalties.
As I’ve indicated in several LoveFraud pieces, there is something audacious about the sociopath. He is prone to behaviors that leave the rest of us, whether as victims or witnesses, shaking one’s head. His levels of gall, hubrus are astonishing.

Where the nonsociopath, as just discussed, will find opportunities to scrap a bad plan, the sociopath is more likely to eschew prudent consideration (and reconsideration) and pursue the flawed plan, anyway.

His audacity—see my LoveFraud piece, The Audacity Of The Sociopath—is a curious and troubling aspect of his personality.

Sociopaths are liars and deceivers.
Lying and deceiving are close cousins, and sociopaths routinely do both. But this doesn’t make them necessary good at either (although they may be). A sociopath may assert, as if he really believes it, that he broke the world record in the mile, but this doesn’t make it a good lie.

The premise is preposterous; and so what’s most striking about the lie is its audacity, not its believability.

Sociopaths often, for instance, defend untenable positions from, it seems, sheer contempt for their audience. Consider this interaction:

Wife: I saw you with your secretary at Chile’s, today, at 12:15. You were kissing.
Sociopath: What are you talking about? I didn’t leave the office all day.
Wife: I saw you. Don’t bullshit me.
Sociopath: Yeah right. Ask Allen”¦we were in a meeting at 12:15. Go ahead. Why don’t you fucking call him and ask him?
Wife: I knew you’d say that. I already called the office. Allen’s in San Diego, and you know that.
Sociopath: You’re fucking crazy. You know what, stop fucking stalking me! That’s your problem. Maybe if you’d stop fucking stalking me you’d actually find something valid to accuse me of!
Wife: Don’t change the subject. You’re lying.
Sociopath: No”¦this is the subject. You’ve got a fucking stalking problem. So let’s not change that subject. You know what, honey? One of these days your fucking stalking’s gonna really drive me into someone else’s arms.
Wife: You were kissing her, John.
Sociopath: You know what? Fuck you. How ’bout that? Fuck you.

Rife with sociopathic machinations, this interaction starts with the assertion and insistence of a preposterous lie, then maneuvers quickly into deflection, gaslighting and other abusive strategies.

In upcoming posts, I’ll extend the list of traits that all sociopaths, I believe, share in common.

(My use of “he” in this article was for purposes of convenience, not to suggest that females aren’t capable of expressing the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)

(This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW)


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142 Comments on "What All Sociopaths Have In Common"

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Dear Annie,

Yes, you can say you “love” me for any reason! (I’m a push over for sweet words! Else I wouldn’t be here! LOL ROTFLMAO)

I had heard the Eskimo thing but it was like 200 words or something like that, but same thought.

When I was a kid I spent time in South Africa and other places filming wild life. I was interested in the Bantu language. they only had words for 1, 2, 3 and anything above 3 was “many” but they had a word for “a black cow with one white spot on her left back leg” and each man could go into his herd of say 100 cows and know that one was missing and what the ONE word was that would describe her. I raise cattle myself and I hve to count them on my fingers and then try to figure out which one is missing. LOL Cows are their “currency” and it is like each one has a “serial number” and one word for that number. Amazing! to me. also they have clicks in their language which we can’t even “hear” I would have the natives speak a word over and over that had clicks and I would try to imitate it and I just couldn’t do it, I couldnt’ hear it. But in France I could have someone say a word and I could repeat it pretty well. The natives laughed (nicely) at my attempts to learn their language but I think it pleased them for me to try. An American child (age 4 ) was there at the same time we were and she was almost fluent by age 4 (she had been there a year or so) and could easily immitate the clicks in very complex multi-sylable words.

I had a friend who was Arabic and he used to try to teach me some words and he was amazed that I COULD hear some of the sounds and reproduce them, as he said most English speakers couldn’t. I did learn rudimentary Spanish when I worked at a hospital on the Mexican border and from the time we spent in South america and Central America, but probably about as much as a very young child would be able to say. I have forgotten most of it now though, except for the medical terms for “take a deep breath” or “roll over” and “where does it hurt?” I envy people who are bi or tri lingual. I wish I was.

Actually I am sort of bi-lingual, I speak both English and “Red NEck” LOL

Oxy,

I don’t mean to take this thread so far away from Steve’s original topic, but I do love stuff like this. For me it’s like meditation – it takes me far outside myself and lets me re-examine life from an entirely different perspective – sets my curiosity in motion. Does farmer A in village/tribe X use the same word for that type of cow as farmer B in village/tribe Y? My understanding is we use base 10 math because it was built on the use of our 10 digits for counting. So automatically I wonder – why does Bantu stop at 3? And how can you keep track of over 100 cows if both “4 cows”, and “104 cows”, are counted as “many”? What does that mean in terms of their understanding of the world?

Over the last year or so we’ve been hearing a lot about brain plasticity in the media here. One of the “findings” is that people from different cultures literally have different brains – that the language you use in childhood influences how neural networks are laid out. And that being bi or tri-lingual gives you strong protection against dementia in old age. (Anyone see the episode of “Boston Legal” where William Shatner is trying to learn a new language to ward off the effects of “mad cow”?)

So it makes me wonder – what about psychopaths/sociopaths/cluster B’s in other cultures/languages? Are they more like each other across cultures, and less like their respective cultural counterparts? Or are the cultural/language/brain differences (if that is indeed found to be true) the same for them – meaning that a P/S from culture/language A will have differences from a P/S raised in culture/language B?

Just as the concept for “many” may be different from culture to culture, does anyone know how the concept of Psychopathy/Sociopathy concurs or differs across cultures?

Annie, that was really interesting about the tuning fork metaphor. And the story about your mother picking up the vibes but having a paradoxical reaction. picks up but reverses it.

You asked about what I wrote, regarding turning off empathy when I got an internal alert. I want to answer that, but first I want to talk about some second thoughts about what I wrote earlier.

I said that sympathy could skate dangerously close to sentimentalism. And that empathy could make me vulnerable. I wanted to change that. I think that sympathy can make me feel good about myself, like I’m a good person, and that makes me suspect that it’s possibly being generated by some embedded social rules. (Like the things we do not to feel guilty or ashamed.)

Empathy on the other hand doesn’t make me feel anything about me. It’s more an observational, learning thing. Even though imagining I’m in someone else’s reality has to be projection, or at least limited by my own internal capabilities to understand, it still places me in a new framework of circumstances and challenges. So it’s interesting, but I don’t perceive it as being about me — unlike sympathy.

So I said that empathy could make me vulnerable. I think that’s true only because I’m not thinking about me, when it happens. I’m wide open to the experience, and drinking in information. And I’m not paying attention in any self-defensive way at all. So if circumstances change, to be threatening in some way, I’m in an open, interested, non-judging mode, and my first inclination may be to accept unquestioningly information that should shift me to a more cautious mode.

Here’s an example. Suppose I’m at a gallery opening, and I’m doing my thing about imagining what was going on in the artist’s mind when the work was created. Or maybe, if I’m lucky, even get the artist in a conversation to explore thiis and he’s willing to talk about himself. And then some third party arrives and says, “Our friend the artist is lucky to have such a sensitive and interested audience for his work.”

I’m wide open and listening empathetically. That is, I’m diving into this guy’s head as well to understand what’s going on with him. And what do I find? Him looking at me and seeing me in the nice way he just said. Unlike the artist whose emotions and expressions are hanging all over the walls, and who has been kind enough to talk with me abou his process, I know nothing else about this man. And I’m in an unjudging, non-defensive mode. I have a kind of unthinking frisson of pleasure in me that I’ve attracted this nice attention.

So, stop the movie right there. What is wrong with this picture? What just happened? And why is it dangerous?

I can’t tell you how long it would take my alert system to sound an alarm in this situation, but it probably wouldn’t take too long. And that’s because of how I felt. From one moment when I was totally involved in exploring and learning outside myself, this man’s comment has suddenly changed my orientation to inside myself. His words got me to look at me.

However “nice” they may have seemed, they were an uninvited commentary or judgment on me. And I’ve gotten to the point when I can feel that kind of shift as an uncomfortable thing.

If we want to talk about the ways that sociopaths come on, I would say this is a classic test of vulnerability. How I respond is going to give him a red or green light. If I care about what he thinks about me, if I respond as though it matters, he’s gotten the first and probably the most important green light of his interaction with me. And it will probably be followed up with personal questions to determine what he can get out of the interaction and what obstacles (like a husband) he might have to deal with, all the while he’s testing what compliments or areas of interest work with me.

I’m saying this for people who are still interested in understanding how sociopaths work. I’m not. I’m interested in what’s going on with me and how I feel about it.

The faster I snap to the fact that I’m facing a boundary challenge, the less information I’ll give this guy. But even if get charmed and tipsy enough to, God help me, land up spending the night with him, anytime the alert system finally catches my attention is a good time.

If I catch it immediately, I can communicate on the spot that being told how good I am doesn’t feed any particular hunger I’m suffering from. (“You’re easily impressed.” or “Actually Mr. Artist is getting great reviews from everyone in the room.” or “You and Mr. Artist must have lots to talk about, and I have someone waiting.”)

If I catch it later, after he’s had an opportunity to dig into my history, promise to cure all my problems, tell me his sad stories, and my feelings are complicated by my embarrassment with myself for being so gullible, I can still stop playing. This is really important, and something it took me a while to grasp. Just because I was one way a minute ago and maybe for the last few weeks or months, it doesn’t mean I can’t be another way now and for the rest of time.

If I’m not embarrassed about being inconsistent — or as they would say, untrustworthy, rude, uncaring, betraying, or a cold-hearted bitch — I can decide I don’t want to be involved any more. I don’t want to hear anything this man has to say. I don’t want him touching me. I don’t want to understand him. And I want him out of my environment.

This is me paying attention to the internal alert system. And me deciding what I do and don’t want in my life. My alarms are going off. I don’t have to justify anything to myself. And certainly not to him, though if he thinks I’m a good score for some reason, he will probably try to use whatever he’s already learned about me to convince me that I do. Or that I’m being foolish or afraid of living life to the fullest or whatever else he can come up to make me keep looking at myself rather than him.

But that’s the kind of thing that these days — after using my experience with the sociopath as an opportunity to get to know myself a lot better and to get comfortable with who I am — just sets those alarms clanging harder. Not because I’m absolutely finished working on myself, but because it’s none of anyone else’s business. And anyone who tries to step into that realm uninvited — or maybe invited, but I don’t like how they use the privilege — gets the iron curtain dropped on them. Hard boundary.

Annie, I heard what you said about your alarm system making you afraid. And if you’ll forgive the personal comment, it sounds like you’re still in a relatively early stage of your healing. Even though you’ve developed some internal rules or recognition of cues, you’re still really in the shocky phase when you’re trying to understand what hit you. And not really understanding it, because these cues that may or may not really clarify who they are and what they do, and you don’t feel very confident about dealing with the threat.

Later in the healing process, this gets a little simpler. What they do is hurt you. But that’s not all. Because this isn’t just about them. It’s also about you. In fact, the part about you is much more important. The part about you is that you don’t like it. Not liking it is much more powerful than being afraid of it. Not that being afraid of it is an unreasonable reaction. But it doesn’t include any recognition of you as a person with choices. Even if that choice is simply about judging. About not liking what they do, not liking who they are because they do it, and not wanting it in your life.

Thinking this way makes a huge difference in your brain chemistry. It doesn’t mean you’re going to do anything crazy, like trying to beat them at their own game. It just means that you’re starting to look at things as though you are your own person, and not just a plaything of fate.

What I’m describing here is an entry into the angry stage. Someone else recently wrote about the angry stage as when we get mad at something they’ve done and dump on them. That not the phase, that’s just getting angry at an event. The angry phase is when we start understanding that they are the problem. Not what they did. Not whatever we can figure out about their motivation or their tragic histories or anything else we might want to figure out about why this occurred. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what they feel or who they are. What matters is that they are a problem, and they are causing pain in your life. This is about you and your problem.

One of the reasons we have to go through trying to learn about them and understand them is to give ourselves permission to suspend empathy, manners and whatever else in standing in out way of judging them, blaming them, and then doing whatever it takes to get rid of them and make sure that we’re better protected in the future.

The angry phase is a phase. It’s something we need to go through, in order to get to the rest of the healing process. As you’ll hear from other people, we go through cycles of anger. And that’s largely because when we first allow ourselves to become angry, we haven’t really figured out what a really terrible problem they were. We need to respond to our first understandings to loosen up the mechanism. And then other memories rise, and we understand more about what total pains in the ass they were. Eventually we clear it all out, because we’re responded appropriately to everything (or the important high points), and in responding we’ve been figuring out that we’re worth more than that, and that we can ensure in the future that our defensive awareness and skills are much better.

In the case of our complimentary stranger from the art gallery, suppose I had slept with him and shared information about my work, only to find out that he was an executive at a competing firm who was applying for a job with my company that would make him my boss’s boss. And if I didn’t stay on his good side, that I might find myself out of a job and blackballed as well. (I’m trying to imagine a worst-case scenario.)

The difference between being focused on him and the threat he presents and being focused on not liking the way I feel is significant in terms of how I would react. If I were scared, I probably start trying to manage him and manipulate my work environment to try to build insurance policies against whatever I feared he’d do to me. If I just didn’t want to play this game, I’d probably march into the human resources department and inform them that this guy targeted me at a social event, pretended he was interested in me to acquire corporate information, and threatened to get me fired if I didn’t cooperate.

Both are risky. And both require some dishonesty on my part. But only one of them reflects what I really want. To get rid of him. And yes, I’m prepared to risk my job to do it, because I don’t want to feel like this.

Could I be wrong about him? Sure. But I don’t care. Does this make me sound like a sociopath. Yes, it does. No empathy, no regrets. Do I feel okay about doing it? That’s a good question, but just the fact that I’m in this position at all, when I wasn’t before he showed up, brings me right back to the issue that set off the alarms in the first place. I don’t want this guy messing with my mind, my life, my body, my job, my money or anything else. From that perspective, the choice seems pretty simple. And once he’s gone, I can go back to being empathic with people who interest me or who I have reason to care about.

So as usual, one of my very long posts. I hope it makes sense.

Kathy

I have been on the sidelines reading this blog and articles trying to understand and figure out how to handle my exposure to at S. I was knocked out of my chair when I read the posting about 3 months. The woman I met at 3 months took off and left me in a confused and lost state of mind. After of course getting as many things as possible that she could take from me.

3 months seems to be something that others have experienced as well.

Welcome, Stillstunned,

“time” is different with different con jobs, there is the short con, 1-2 days, the longer con, a couple of weeks, then they go on up from there to a life time of conning, decades even before it becomes obvious to the victim.

Recovery is the same way, some people recover quickly, some in a “little while” and some of us take months or years to sort it all out. It takes as long as it takes.

Generally with a romantic or business con they “love bomb” the victim for a period of time, weeks or months, then the abuse starts and the “drama dance:” goes on until they leave or are kicked to the curb.

Sorry ou are here, but glad that you found this place of knowledge and healing. Stick around and read and learn. Knowledge helps us get our power back. God bless.

he has crossed my mind today.. because last year at this time..we were together and I recalled him telling me that two of his wives were violent, one even came after him with a knife and I asked him what provoked them and he told me that he didn’t know….

then after I punch him once in the shoulder in total frustration during and argument he is 6’1” and I’m 5’3″ 115 pounds.. he began calling me violent and I have never been called that in my whole life.. The way that he treated me, infiltrated my life, actually negated me and what I might want in his manipulation and contrived emotions… filled me with frustration….
I wonder did he do this to all the women in his life.. then he acts like he has no idea why they behaved that way…

I had that womens intuition…you all know that feeling you get when you KNOW something is not right? Well, I had never looked at his texts before, although this day I did. I found a text NOT sent to me saying “I cant stop thinking about your kisses” and another sent to someone saying “goodmorning, Im thinking about you”. I sent a reply back to the texts saying “goodmorning” and received one in return, again saying ‘goodmorning, how are you?”

I confronted him with what I saw on his phone and he, of course, tried telling me the texts were SUPPOSED TO go to me, but must not have made it! The name that they were sent to though was “Gus”. Well, needless to say, he became irate with me saying he wasn’t gonna be in a relationship with someone who couldnt trust him and he packed his things from my house and left!

He SWORE up and down that the text was sent to me originally, however, he is too stupid to know that I sent a reply to whomever (Gus) they were to and got a reply.

That was about a year ago and it still makes my stomache turn.

robxsykobabe:

Women’s intuition, men’s intuition — we all should learn to trust that gut feeling that we KNOW they are cheating.

The first rule I adopted after my relationship with the S was that I would never tolerate texting again. You can text me during the day when you know I’m probably in a meeting. You can text me if you’re running 10 minutes late and you’re about to get on the subway to get here. After that, I don’t want to know squat about texting. As I learned the hard way with the S, texting gives S’s the perfect opportunity to cheat on you — I was stupid enough to believe that texting is a form of communicating. It isn’t. Quite simply, it boils down to common sense. The amount of time it takes to type in a long message/diatribe/whatever, could instead be spent talking to me. And if you can’t dial the phone and talk to me, but can find the time to text back and forth, then you’re obviously doing something you don’t want me to know about.

So, never settle for texts outside of the two circumstances I mentioned above. If you’re getting bombarded with texts, I can guarantee that the person texting you is up to no good.

this post is absolutely spot on about the texts I always harboured those thoughts when my partner was conducting the text sessions that way too but could never articulate it so it remained in my mind only ..how great it is to know that people can see things for the way they actually are !!! and convey it … i felt validated thank you

Mooshoo, hi, BBE was saying something on this point the other day, how important it is to our recovery to see another poster state in clear rational terms why our abuse was abuse. No ifs, no buts. No cognitive dissonance. It is what it is. Abuse. It is so validating. All the best.

Matt:
I have ‘delayed’ getting into the texting world! I cancelled the kids texting too!
I WANT and insist on the phone calls…..
I HATE it when someone is texting back and forth in my presence…..I speak up!
I think it’s an unneccesary way to ‘multi task’….or hide from reality.
I have ignored the texting on purpose…..I don’t want to be that available to my clients either……
So ….my rule is NO Texts!
I block em.
🙂

Kathleen that was a pretty stupendous and incredible piece of writing there – I read the whole thing and really GOT IT. It’s about them at first but mostly it’s about us. I understand – I had wounds there long before he came along that I was plastering with hope and faith – he saw the wounds and saw a big opportunity.

Had I only taken the time to clean out the wounds and let them heal, he never would have made it over my threshold. I haven’t had the courage to depend on my intuition – to listen to it and honor what it tells me and in reality it is the only alarm system I will ever have so I was dumb not to have developed it prior to meeting him.

Like many others, I had the illusion that everyone is basically good. I now know that is just not true and whilst it is a disappointment to realise it, it will serve me better to live in reality rather than an illusory world that doesn’t exist. I will apply the Rule of Threes in the future with people I don’t get automatic alarms with = one mistake is excusable, two means a serious problem and three means you’re gone – that applies to lies, broken promises or arrangements, moodiness without explanation and a whole host of other unacceptable behaviours.

I agree with you we are far too often polite and ‘nice’ instead of safe and respected. I have started to say ‘no’ if I am uncomfortable with something. I have started to refuse things I don’t want. In doing so I am being authentic rather than who I think people might want me to be … so rather than being rude it honors my own spirit and the spirits of those I interact with.

Excellent post too! I can relate to those behaviours = they were so painful each time they occured.

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