You can sit with a sociopath and know he’s a sociopath, and sit with someone who perpetrates the behaviors of the sociopath, even as comfortably as the sociopath does, and yet know he’s not a sociopath. How? How can you know?
Is it something intuitive? I address this from a clinical perspective, not a personal or intimate one. But still, I find it somewhat interesting to feel, or recognize, this distinction, and maybe you’ll find it more relevant than I imagine.
Of course, the history says a lot. Whenever you are dealing with someone who is raising his kids with some real love, holding down a job, paying his bills, not abusing his spouse and maintaining a history (past and present) of friendships, these are indicators that whatever else he is up to, he is probably not a sociopath.
And so, strangely enough, in sitting with an individual who is perpetrating “dubious” behaviors, and is doing so perhaps even as a lifestyle versus, say, as a sudden, temporary departure from his normal self —strangely enough, in sitting with such a person, one sometimes gets the sense if this individual, in his essence, is “clean,” or “dirty?” Meaning, is his dubious behavior reflective of a corrupt essence, or does it somehow feel divorced from his essence?
Depending on the answer, one’s experience of the individual can be dramatically, significantly different and diagnostically very telling.
If this sounds simplistic, even untenable, I understand; and yet I’ve found it to be–for me, at least–a rather reliable experiential factor in ruling-out sociopathy.
I’ve worked with individuals who have done, or are doing, some pretty rotten, disturbing things, yet who clearly are not sociopaths, whereas I’ve also worked with individuals whose behavioral resumes may favorably compare to the former individuals’, yet who clearly are sociopathic.
Now what do I mean by “clean?” Of course, I don’t mean it in a physical sense. I mean that the individual transmits a certain authenticity, a certain genuineness that the sociopath doesn’t. He also possesses what I’d describe, very importantly, as a willingness and capacity to be known. Further, he possesses the capacity to really own his suspect actions: he does not deny them; is less likely than the sociopath to rationalize them; and is less likely to blame others for the liberties he takes with them.
He may, or may not, feel guilt for what he does that he knows is wrong from an ethical (if not legal) standpoint; and it’s often the case that if he doesn’t feel guilt he won’t pretend that he does; and yet, unlike the sociopath, he may feel genuinely uncomfortable with his lack of guilt.
He may say something like, “I know I should feel guilty about this, but I don’t. I really don’t. Sometimes I wonder, is there something wrong with me?” And he will say and mean this sincerely.
Conversely, there is something, as we know, very slippery about the sociopath—slippery in the way he discusses, or evades, responsibility for his behaviors. The sociopath’s emotional superficiality becomes evident in the office fairly soon; and, for that reason, one grows bored with him, soon.
If he doesn’t feign guilt or regret for his actions—that is, even if he admits to feeling no guilt, notably he is neither uncomfortable with, nor curious about, his lack of guilt. (In contrast, as I suggested, the guiltless non-sociopath tends to be somewhat more struck by, and curious about, his guiltlessness.)
The sociopath, I can’t stress enough, is not someone you can get to know. This is a subtle, very revealing experience. Something obstructs the process of getting to know him. First of all, he does not make himself knowable in a genuine sense. He is not engagable at a deep enough, and genuine enough level, to be “known.”
It is surely also true that something else, something perhaps more elemental, obstructs here: the sociopath is gapingly missing personal substance. And personal substance is required to be known.
There is emptiness there, which nothing can fill. At best the smoother sociopath can disguise this massive deficit with superficially entertaining, diverting qualities. But in the clinical setting, these disguises are less effective, their effect shorter-term.
He can’t hide for long the fact that he can’t make himself known; or that, at bottom, there is so little of him to know. If he weren’t so sociopathic, he’d feel ashamed of this, mortified.
Of course if he felt that shame, that mortification, he wouldn’t be a sociopath.
(This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)
LOL! that was definitely a mirror effect.
Those lyrics are extremely narcissistic and he could “feel” it.
Enough, enough bowing down to disillusion.
Hats off & applause to rogues and evolution.
The ripple effect is too good not to mention.
If you’re not affected, you’re not paying attention.
It’s too good, too good
Not to have an effect.
The first line refers to no longer bowing to DISillusion. That means that they prefer illusion to reality.
The second line bows (hats off and applause) to rogues, those that create their own reality rather than go along with the masses.
The last few lines are about getting attention and causing an effect: that’s the illusions of grandeur which all narcissists have.
All spaths are rogues because they despise authority. That’s different from questioning authority. The first is a knee jerk reaction that comes from an infantile place, while the second is a thoughtful response before a decision is made.
I’ve run into a very interesting website:
To set internal boundaries from shame and fear is dysfunctional in the long term. When we try to control our behavior out of shame and fear it doesn’t work because we end up rebelling against that attempted control. We rebel by acting out in the self abusive ways that we are shaming ourselves for in the first place. Thus the codependent cycle of shame, blame, and self abuse is fed by the very shame and fear messages that we are using to try to stop it.
The reason we rebel is because when we are shaming and abusing ourselves we are betraying ourselves – and on some deep level we know that is not right. The rebel in us fights against this self abuse – but at the same time because we are reacting out of dysfunctional programming, the rebel within has become allied with the very addictions and dysfunctional behavior we are trying to stop with the shame. On the highest level the rebel within is trying to get us to be True to our True self – but because of our dysfunctional programming, it identifies the ways we learned to protect and nurture ourselves, the ways we learned to go unconscious to the pain, as our ally instead of as self abusive behaviors.
That’s a great link, Skylar, and I totally agree on us being able to set INTERNAL BOUNDARIES as well as EX-termal boundaries.
We must set the external boundaries on how others treat us, but we must also set the INTERNAL BOUNDARIES in how we treat ourselves. How we allow ourselves to function.
I use my quitting smoking as an example. I would “TRY to quit” (like Yoda says “there is no try, there is just do”) LOL but I KNEW when I “tried” that I was not actually going to DO it. I can admit that now, though I wouldn’t have at the time even though I knew it. LOL But when I finally decided to DO instead of TRY, I set an INTERNAL BOUNDARY….for me, by me.
I realized a while back that I had never set boundaries for those people in my “inner circle” I had “door mat” printed on my back for them to walk on and wipe their feet over and over….and I finally learned to set those EXTERNAL boundaries, and in learning to set them, I realized I had to set my OWN internal ones as well.
The guy talks in his blog about the internal “critical parent” which is a concept drawn from Transactional Analysis (Dr. Eric Berne) which has some very good constructs for visualizing our feelings and out thinking as well. The critical parent is that “voice” within us that is “recorded” from the parental unit that criticized us when we were little and they were “gods”—-it is unfiltered and unedited and we accept it as “gospel” written in stone. “You are messy” or “You are no good” or “you are a loser” but we can SILENCE that voice though we can never erase it but we can hit the MUTE BUTTON on that voice…we can calm and soothe our inner child and give them what they need, and take care of that inner-self emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. We can keep them from doing things that are self destructive and counter productive, and help her/him to live a full and satisfying life.
Just as we would stop our real child from smoking, or eating too much, or drinking too much, or playing in the street, we can set boundaries for our own inner child and do more positive things with our life.
I can tell that the link has some very important information that I need to learn but it’s very difficult for me. I totally get how people with ODD, end up abusing themselves in an attempt to dismiss an oppressive and shame-based authority, but it’s hard for me to find the good and nurturing parent within myself.
The only authoritive voices I’ve internalized are the critical, shame-based ones. What does a loving nurturing parent sound like? I can silence the critical voices but then there is no voice at all. How do we calm and soothe that inner child? What does theat inner boundary feel like?
Sky, I was fortunate that I did have my step father who was a nurturing voice for me….the only “voices” I can hear from my egg donor are critical….
RE-parenting yourself when you’ve never had a nurturing parent can I imagine be quite difficult, however, you can take the “voices” of others and substitute them for the nurturing parent you never had.
Think for a minute about something, anything, nice about you that someone you respect has said—a teacher, a neighbor, a friend, an aunt or uncle. “Sky is a kind person” for example. or “Sky is smart” and repeat that over and over as a nurturing voice inside your head. When you start to hear the NEGATIVE CRITICAL VOICE of your “internal critical parent”—STOP, be aware of what is going on, and then mentally hit the MUTE BUTTON on the “tape recorder” and say to yourself “I do not have to listen to that LIE.”
The other thing I would suggest that you do is to get Dr. Eric Berne’s book “Games People Play” which will explain about the internal “parent” and “adult” and “child” and how the internal parent is split into the Nurturing parent and the critical parent. It was like “tape recorded” when we were little, and accepted everything that the parents (as gods) said as TRUE. Now that we are an adult (and have an internal adult which c an analyze truth from fiction) we can protect our internal “child” which is the part of us that feels emotions and enjoys life (or is sad when the internal critical parent tells it is is bad) and we can control which of the “tapes” we listen to—and we can also set boundaries for others as well. It is a good read and a good constructive concept as part of our healing tool kit. It has helped me a lot. I wish I had used it more and sooner. LOL
There was no nurturing parent. Only when I was sick. I was sick a lot. Lots of allergies, eczema, stomach aches, asthma, hayfever etc…
There were nurturing teachers but none of them showed me how to set boundaries in a nurturing way. They did have encouraging words when I did well, but what are the right words for setting boundaries when you want to quit smoking, for example?
I told myself that I HAD TO QUIT for my health’s sake….and I remembered what my doctor had said about an X ray that was up on her X ray board in the hall way at her office. As I was walking out I looked at the x ray with pneumonia and said “WOW, that looks bad” and she said….”yours looks worse than his” (from smoking) and I heard that what she said was truth, so I said to myself, “I WILL quit smoking this time.” DO, not “try.” So even when I was TEMPTED I did not give in. I knew I would not give in. I did not give in, but for ME, not for anyone else.
There may not be any nurturing voices about how to set boundaries, but you can READ about that and learn with your internal “adult” brain. You can put those words into the “voices” inside your head.
I used my doctor’s voice, not a criticizm per se, but a FACT, my lungs x ray looked worse than his because I had been a 40 year smoker. Actually I lucked out in that my lung function tests were better than expected for a person who smoked so long, I had good DNA there at least, but I abused it. My p sperm donor smoked unfiltered camels since age 9 or 10, 2-4 packs a day until he was 80 + before he died. Not sure what he died from but obviously he had good lung DNA. He probably smoked 150-180 “pack years” and still didn’t get lung cancer by age 80…so maybe I got lucky and I won’t either. I’m not short of breath yet either.
I also realized that my doc was right about the swelling in my feet being from the excess salt I was consiuming, and when I was younger my kidneys could handle it but now they can’t, so I took action….set boundaries for myself to cut the salt to less than 1500 mg which is what the American Heart Association recommends. NOw I am down to 500-1000 mg.
Same thing on my blood sugar…I have type II diabetes in my family if you get over weight…and in the last 7 years I have done just that….so in order to control my blood sugar I have got to lose weight. I have done the first 30 pounds, and need to do the next 30….and I’ve kind of slacked off on that but am getting back on the band wagon there and “get cracking” again. So it is again keeping my inner child who wants that extra snack from overpowering the ADULT knowledge that one bite at a time is going to dig my grave with diabetes if I dont’ keep her under control.
So, I let her have the mini-reese’s cup (80 calories) once a day, just not the whole pack! LOL
Skylar & Oxy,
I enjoyed reading the above posts. I used to listen to Loiuse Hay’s tapes at night while I slept. I helped me a lot.
This is when I was in therapy years ago. It’s hard to reprogram those critical voices, but it can be done. I think it takes constant vigilance at first. Catching those thoughts and correcting it right away. Not that I’m any champ, believe me. I still have loads of work on setting boundaries. Nice discussion though.
I just looked at the website. I like it and saved it to my favorites. I’ll check it out fully later on. Thanks for the link.
glad you liked it, I’m still sifting thru it.
I guess I just would like something powerful – as powerful as the voices of my parents were.
My own voice doesn’t seem to carry much weight these days. It used to. I was able to quit eating wheat/gluten and sugar when I needed to back in the 1990’s. But these days I seem to have much less energy to convince myself.
I’m doubting my own authority. Comes from having met a P and finding out that they’re EVERYWHERE.
Well sky, that is what I am saying about VALIDATING ourselves! I used to “need” or “want” validation of myself from the egg donor, I tried to please her so she would validate me….couldn’t do it. Not possible.
When I realized finally and openly and truthfully, that she did not even like me much less love me….maybe even hated me…I realized I don’t have to listen to her “voices” or care or give a schidt about what she thinks….she is NOT God….hey, God loves me, God forgives me, so who is she to tell me I am worthless? I figure I can take my petitions for approval to God directly and don’t have to get her approval first! LOL So as long as I am doing what is right, and doing the best I can, then you know, I don’t need her approval. I’M OKAY WITHOUT HER APPROVAL.
It has taken some work as Ana says and continual reaffirmation but I’m getting there.
Answer me this, do you CARE what your X P thinks of you? I imagine the answer is NO, well that’s the same way I feel about my egg donor, I do NOT CARE what she thinks any more because I realize she is not the end all and be all of my life.