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.)