When Bad People Do Good Things

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.)

Comment on this article

132 Comments on "When Bad People Do Good Things"

Notify of

Dear Aussiegirl, I can hear and FEEL the empathy you have for truelove and only someone who has experienced such profound loss can truly relate to someone else who has experienced such a loss. Your heart is wise and your compassion boundless.

When Witsend came here desperate to find a solution to her son who seemed to be “morphing” into a psychopath before her eyes and she was literally in fear of her life with the boy, yet wanted so desperately to find a solution to “fix” him (he was 16) but I knew how she felt because I had BEEN in those shoes, those exact shoes wanting to find some way to SAVE MY SON….Wits end’s son will turn 18 in december and she only comes here from time to time now, but though her heart still aches at the “loss” of her son (though he still breathes) I think my understanding of that loss helped her to survive that intense pain.

Each of us here has suffered, and in some way alike and in some ways differently, but there is a common thread. Henry and Matt are both gay men and though one i s a landscaper in Oklahoma and the other an attorney in Washington DC they have a common bond that “us girls” don’t have with them, an understanding for each other. So there are people here from all walks of life who have had different relationships with various psychopaths of all levels, from murderers to just hateful arse holes…sons, daughters, parents, sibs, coworkers, spouses, co-parents, etc. but the contribution we each make is so important.

Thank you for being here…your kind, compassionate and very wise advice to someone who is I am sure hurting deeply was very moving to me, and I think will be/is to her as well. Your sage advice is a great addition to our community here. (((hugs))))


Thank you so much for your caring post. It is so wonderful that we are all here for each other.

I love reading all of these posts and it has helped me so much with not losing my mind and NC. At times I feel so strong not being with my Spath and then I get moments of weakness where I feel so sad and lost and upset.

It is weird that spaths can do great acts of kindness and fool everyone into believing what a great person he or she is. My soath is always doing other things for people and going out of his way to help others. But…that is what they do…right? They try to make others believe that they are great people to maks all of the messed up stuff they do.

My spath lied and lied and lied. One day I took off work after we were on the rocks from me finding out he had been on sick porn sites and lied to me about it and said that someone else signed him up for thoses. I took off work to get tested for everything under the sun.(all came back okay) I drove past his house just to see if he was at home(he lives w his parents) bc he was supposed to be at work. It was like 10am and he was supposed to be at work early that day. I sat at the end of his driveway and called him.

Here is how the convo went:
Me: “Hey, where are you right now?”

Spath” What do you need? Hurry up because I am about to walk inot a meeting.”

Me: “You are? Where are you?”

Spath: “I am in _______ about to walk inot a meeting.”

Me: “Really? What car are you in?”

Spath: “My truck.”

Me: “Really? Your truck is in ______ risht now?”

Spath: “Yes,l I am in_____”

Me: “Then why am I looking at your truck in your parents drivweway?”

Spath: “Ummmm I meant to say I am in a hurry and about to leave for a meeting.”

When I would bring this up again he would swear he never told me he was walking into a meeting that I misunderstood him.

I totally understand how these types of people can make you crazy. They make you constantly think if you are losing your mind and not hearing things correctly etc.

Right now I am sad tonight and don’t know why….it will pass I guess.

Had to get this off my mind and heart.

So I can’t type well…lol. I read my post and it is full of typos…sorry:(

My spath daughter lies all the time! She is always claiming she is on expense paid trips a broad. My SIL told me he was calling up a neighbor to ask her to look after his kids{he now has FT custody of the 3 kids.} but Spath d “occasionally” will baby sit her own kids in his home! Anyway, he said,
“Sarah, can you look after the kids after school for about an hour, D is in China on business.”
Sarah, –“No, shes not in China, shes at my place! Shes here!”
He says she can t even remember her own lies,and has to lie to cover up fresh lies!!Even the kids are now starting to suss her out, esp. the older two.

Dear Seriously,

That is called “gaslighting” and it is twisting reality with lies,, and we begin to wonder if WE are the crazeeeee ones, and we are NOT crazeeeee they are!

1 13 14 15

Send this to a friend