Why don’t people get it about sociopaths/psychopaths?

Two weeks ago I started a series on the treatment of sociopathy/psychopathy. That series was interrupted by the need to discuss the case of the con man who kidnapped his daughter. Now it looks like he also may be implicated in the disappearance of a California couple. The con man, like many in his profession has had a number of different identities. Before I go back to talking about treatment, I want to discuss con artists and the nature of sociopathy/psychopathy again.

Donna and I had the good fortune to speak with Dr. Robert Hare this week. I wanted to talk with him about the fact that there is not much in the scientific literature linking psychopathy to con artistry. In that conversation, he said something very profound that deserves repeating. Since I can’t quote him exactly, I’ll give you the gist of it.

According to Dr. Hare, people saw the movie A Beautiful Mind and they “got it” about schizophrenia. People saw the movie Rain Man and they “got it” about Autism. Thousands of movies have been made about psychopaths/sociopaths and people still don’t “get it.”

We did not go into a detailed analysis of why people don’t “get it” about sociopaths/psychopaths but I will here because until you “get it” about the disorder, you cannot “get it” about treatment for the disorder.

This week I received a letter from a woman who is struggling to “get it.” We receive at least one letter a week that reads like that woman’s so she is not alone. The letter reads something like, “The father of my child is in Jail for assault. He is a pathological liar so I can’t believe anything he says. He also has cheated on me repeatedly. He has conned me out of all my money and now I have to declare bankruptcy. I don’t think he is a sociopath because he has remorse. Is there any hope for him and for us?”

Now if you read these letters as an outsider you get it! But the people who write them are really struggling with what they themselves are saying. They are struggling to make sense out of two conflicting points of view. The first point of view is that there is “good in all people” and that all people need a “family to love.” Just like the many people who say the con man from last week who goes by the alias Rockefeller, “loved” his daughter. People saw him caring for his daughter and assumed love motives. They interacted with him and he was charming and funny. One lady said “He had a lot to offer as a person.” People think that when they interact with someone who is “charming” and “caring” and they then like or feel affection toward the person, the charmer feels likewise. Sadly this is not always the case.

The second point of view is that there are some people who lack love motivation completely or are severely deficient in it. The psychological consequence of not having love motivation is not known by many people. If you understand what happens when love motivation is missing or lacking, you will “get it” about sociopaths/psychopaths. When love motivation is lacking, a person does not stop wanting to be around people! Everyone thinks that just because an individual wants to be around people and seems to enjoy affection, the wanting proves that person is a loving human being. People think that all unloving individuals just want to be alone. That assumption is wrong and is deadly.

In most cases, when love motivation is lacking or missing, the person retains his/her desire for social contact. Since love motivation is not at the root of social desire, something else is. When love motivation is lacking, power or dominance motivation takes its place. Also remember that sexual motivation keeps people social as well.

When con artists take care of people, it is about power motivation. When con artists go to parties and meet people, hob knobbing with the rich and famous, it is about power motivation. When con artists steal $250,000 only to squander the entire sum in 6 months, the theft wasn’t about money it was about the power of the get over.

So, if you look at the situation with the preconceived notion that all people are motivated by the same human motives you can’t possibly “get it.” I challenge you today give up on your preconceived notions about human motivation. Instead come to understand that there are three human social motives, love, power and sex. Thankfully, 90 percent of everybody has a personality organized primarily around love motivation.

The problem is that a sizable percentage of people (perhaps 10-15 per cent) have a personality that is organized around gratifying their need for power rather than their need for love. These people are not loners! They are even more social than loving humans. If you are motivated by the need for love and intimacy, your need can be satisfied by one spouse, other family members and a few friends. If you are motivated primarily by the need for power, then you won’t be satisfied until you rule the world!

Just like the need for love has its associated behaviors, so too does the need for power. Care taking can be part of both motives. The need for power is also accompanied by controlling and aggressive behavior. The degree of control and aggression shown in a relationship is a sign of the amount of power motivation that is behind that relationship.

If you think about it you already know I am right. There is a saying, ”If you love someone set him free. If he comes back to you he’s yours, if not he never was.” A sociopath/psychopath can never set anyone free because he/she can’t love. Sociopaths/psychopaths can only own or possess. Of course a sociopath/psychopath is going to cry when alone or if someone abandons him/her. The sociopath/psychopath just lost all of his/her power. That is very upsetting you know!

Now that I have beat that to death, please understand that love motivation can either be deficient or absent. Therefore power motivation can either be somewhat excessive or the only motivating force in a person’s life. Excessive power motivation makes people emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and physically sick. It also makes them evil.

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165 Comments on "Why don’t people get it about sociopaths/psychopaths?"

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Kat good observation, good point of view – but they lost and we won…….


I totally agree with your conflict theory and that we are the competition. And Henry, in some ways I agree that they lost and we won…we certainly won by having them out of our lives. However, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel I have “lost” an integral, and important part of myself…the ability to be fully open and trusting. And, sadly, I’m not sure if I can get that back. One of my friends told me the other day, “you aren’t the same as you used to be”. No, I’m not, and may never be again.

Peggy Pseu

Yeah.. we lost Henry, that’s why we feel the loss, we lost our dream, that piece of our heart we devoted to them, and worst of all, our innocence. I know that maybe some of us were a little naive, maybe, thinking that someone too good to be true was true, but we didn’t need to have our hearts ripped out like a bunch of war orphans, either.

I mean.. we wised up for sure.. we are the “sadder but wiser” people, as the Music Man says, but I do not know if I can ever trust or give myself quite as fully as i have in the past.

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