Even bad people can sometimes behave well. That seems a strange twist on the idea of “good people behaving badly.” But it’s true. Even the skeeviest personality isn’t usually spending all day long exploiting everyone who enters his path.
Now this doesn’t mitigate his skeeviness one wit. But it’s also true that sociopaths aren’t always exploiting and mistreating others, all day long. They will be taking some time off, in different contexts, from their more unseemly behaviors.
And so sometimes, sociopaths can be nice, even very nice; sometimes they may extend themselves to others. Now we can question what motivates them when they are behaving well; probably, very often, their prosocial behaviors are driven by relatively shallow, if not manipulatively self-serving, motives.
Still, it’s fair to say that most sociopaths aren’t spending their lives 24/7 causing havoc to everyone around them; and it’s fair to suggest that, sometimes, if motivated to do so, they may even bring some cheer into others’ lives.
After all, we know these personalities can be charming and engaging; and that when they are, this isn’t necessarily, always an “act.” The sociopath can be genuinely charming and engaging, and he may enjoy, genuinely on some level, being charming and engaging.
In a sense I’m suggesting that not everything about even the sociopath is fraudulent; the sociopath, like anyone else, has genuine experiences, although we are right to question the depth of his experiences; and we are right to question his motives when he is behaving himself.
But to avoid confusion, my point is this: Beware! Do not rule-out sociopathy, or a similarly exploitative personality disturbance, simply because the individual is capable of behaving well sometimes, or even, alas, often. To do so risks our missing the significance of the dangerous, always lurking curve-balls that the even sometimes well-behaved sociopath may throw at any time (predictably or not).
One may be tempted to think, “If he can behave this well, can he really be that bad?” The answer is, yes. He can behave, sometimes, this well, and yet really be that bad!
So while I’m not necessarily saying “don’t be fooled” by his better behaviors, which may (or may not) have a genuine component to them, I am suggesting the exercising of great caution not to let the sociopath’s better behaviors distract you one bit from giving full weight to, and appreciation of, his destructive behaviors.
The latter should not be regarded as one bit less menacing and forbidding by virtue of his capacity to display the former.
(This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is strictly for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and attitudes displayed.)