When Sociopaths Follow The Rules

Aren’t sociopaths supposed to be rule-breakers? Isn’t this a main indicator of their sociopathy? If so, then what’s up with sociopaths when they’re following, not breaking, the rules?

Hmm. This appears to be confusing, but then again, is it really?

Perhaps it’s oversimplistic to see sociopaths as incapable of following rules? In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s fair to say that sociopaths will break rules; they will violate boundaries; they will hurt and violate others with a startling—indeed sociopathic—lack of accountability and conscience.

The sociopath, I think we can say reasonably, will inevitably transgress others, and he will transgress them heartlessly.

However, when we compress the grand scheme of things into something less grand—for instance, day to day, week to week, month to month, even for longer periods—things may be different. When we break down time into shorter periods, we discover that sociopaths, much like many individuals gripped by compulsive, addictive tendencies, often possess the capacity, at least temporarily, to suppress their inclinations—in the sociopath’s case, his inclination to violate and exploit.

Otherwise, how would the sociopath manage, as often as he does, to operate so effectively undetected, or under-detected? In other words, if sociopaths couldn’t, and didn’t, follow rules; indeed, follow many rules—social rules, legal rules, interpersonal rules, employment rules—then there could be no such thing as the sociopath’s “mask?”

Because the sociopath’s mask, ironically, is dependent on, supported by, his capacity to follow rules.

The sociopath’s mask, in a certain sense, is precisely this—the social, legal and interpersonal conventions and rules he follows between, or in simultaneity with, his violating, exploitive behaviors.

His mask is his capacity to follow enough rules, enough of the time, to “blend in,” to seem normal and well-adjusted, to cast himself as among the least likely suspects to be perpetrating the transgressions he perpetrates while operating behind the mask.

And so there is a certain irony here. Yes, the sociopath, in the greater scheme of things, is a rule-breaker, a transgressor with a seriously defective conscience. And yet, at least in many cases, in the smaller scheme of things, he is a good enough rule follower to abet the construction of the very mask behind which he unconscionably violates, or surely will unconscionably violate, his victim(s).

(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 attitudes and behaviors discussed.)

Comment on this article

175 Comments on "When Sociopaths Follow The Rules"

Notify of

As someone who unfortunately(unwillingly) has 2 sociopaths in her life, yes.. they can follow rules, it’s part of the game. If they have no other options, other than the place/person that supplies room and board, they will manipulate and play the game to keep that roof over their heads and whomever is under their mind control. And yes, if one of them is pathologically paranoid, it does keep them in line, somewhat.


‘plays right into their hooves.’


Sociopath’s are Very “patient” people. As long as it looks like things are going according to their sick plan, they can wait what seems forever, as long as their end goal is getting met. They can “follow rules,” but sooner or later they violate some rule of life. Usually minor.

They “seem” to follow the rules but they DON’T LIVE BY THE RULES!


Oh yeah, they can be patient, patient little planners with their idea just waiting to take form. Always with a scheme, something up their sleeve, so sick of their sickness.

Everytime I read a new (old) thread I see all the signs—yep catfish would step on my feet or pinch me to hard I would call him on it. He would say he didn’t realize he was doing it. Yeah right. I believe he honed in on me however i didn’t make it easy for him to get a handle. He ask me a lot of ?’s and I think he was surprised by the answers. Another thing he said was that his X belived he could read her mind, I kinda chuckled and said that perhaps you were reading her body language but I don’t believe you can actually read someone’s mind. My husband and I were married more many many years and somethimes we knew what the other was thinking but that was only because we knew each other so well. I digrest..this seemed to make catfish angry that I did not believe he could read mines. I said if you can do that tell me what I’m thinking…..he came up with some BS I laughed again….told him nope that’s not what I’m thinking. He says “you know it is you know I’m right you just don’t to admit it.” Really!!!!! Lol I was thinking what an idiot I am to be standing here playing games with this fool. LOL
My 2 cents worth for the day I’m still reading and learning.
Stay Strong Stay Safe and Stay Sane Seeing Clearly

1 16 17 18

Send this to a friend