Dr. Martha Stout takes us into the world of sociopaths and gives the reader a check list to recognize them. I found this book (audio) some time ago at the library when I was doing research for a cozy mystery. I found it enlightening. You may be surprised how many times your path has crossed that of a sociopath either at work or in a relationship. The keys to a sociopath, which is hard for most of us to understand, is that they have no empathy and no conscience. They can be very charming when they want something, but charm is not a characteristic, it's something learned.
Here are some of the notes I took:
A sociopath is sometimes referred to as anti-social. 4% of the population (1 in 25 people).
- Failure to conform to social norms
- Manipulative, deceitful
- Impulsive, failure to plan
- Irritable, reckless
- Reckless disregard for others
- Consistent irresponsibility
- Lack of remorse after hurting, mistreating, or stealing.
(3 out of the 7 characteristics = sociopath)
Sociopaths need power, but it could be the power to be the CEO of a company or the power over their family in order for them to not work and stay on the couch all day. They have no conscience and no empathy for others.
Steamroller over groups who are voiceless
Manipulate and bully – even when it serves no purpose
Want to bring down people who are wealthier, more attractive, more successful
Can be an underachiever
Wants to do whatever just to get by
Never feel responsible or neglectful – no conscience
Rely on others to support them
Other things to look for:
Glib and superficial charm
Spontaneous, complex, entertaining
Accompanied by a grandiose self worth which may seem ridiculous
Drug use – failure to acknowledge responsibility
Callousness – no empathy
No bonding with others
Partner viewed as a possession. He may be angry to lose his spouse because she is a possession not because he loves her.
Nothing has power to move him. Cannot see beauty, ugliness, goodness, evil – only sees how things/people affect him.
There is no effective treatment – will only seek help if there is an ulterior motive i.e. court ordered.
Even people with a conscience can show some signs of a sociopath and be unkind but they have a sense of obligation to a human being – emotional bond. Conscience is not a behavior, it's something we feel.
First 5 senses are physical.
Senses may be dimmed by illness – flu or missed sleep, toothache. These may distort emotional attachments. Hormones will also affect conscience but it is still there.
They use people as pawns
They want to win and dominate
They don’t worry about families, loves, cannot share successes with anyone
No value in relationships
They have empty lives and dissatisfaction
They do not understand emotions
Very few sociopaths are considered criminals. Very few crimes are prosecuted. Their crimes are ongoing deception and camouflage.
Why Conscience is Partially Blind
They use charm to blindside us.
They know us better than we know them.
They study us and decide how they can manipulate and use us.
Seduction is another technique – use emotional ties to get what they want
They will weep or act with righteous indignation when confronted.
Movie: Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer is about a sociopath. Common term used now is gas lighting someone.
Charles Boyer is not violent but causes Ingrid Bergman to lose faith in herself.
We cannot understand why someone would do something mean, irrational, or bewildering. It causes us to doubt our own thoughts.
You may suspect, but do not tell anyone because it doesn’t seem rational. We feel people would think we are crazy.
We cannot explain adequately why a person would do such a thing.
People with a conscience would only harm someone through anger or fear.
We cannot understand the motivation to hurt someone with seemingly no reason.
Good people question themselves not the sociopath.
There are no absolutes. No one is 100% good or 100% bad.
How to Recognize the Remorseless
When it comes to trusting others we have all made mistakes.
We believe that anything we feel or do are also felt or done by others. We don’t understand.
Good people do not want to believe the personification of evil.
How can you tell whom not to trust?
The best clue is the pity play - someone who appeals to our sympathy
They like people to feel sorry for them – pitied.
Good people let pathetic individuals get by with murder. This allows them to get away with lying, cheating and conning.
Our emotional vulnerability is used against us.
Pity and sympathy is a danger signal.
i.e. The battered wife whose husband is later seemingly sorry.
The sociopaths act like victims.
Sociopaths have no regard for the social contract, but know how to use it.
They act like martyrs
They have no obligation to other people. It is all about how everything affects them.
They have brief, intense enthusiasm toward hobbies. They begin abruptly and end the same way.
Passive characters are not expected to be sociopaths.
They might use children to “get to” the other parent. i.e. cry in front of them.
It’s a control game.
What causes Sociopathy?
Common traits – no guilt, no shame, no conscience to get what they want. No sense of obligation or emotional attachments.
Fails to conform to social norms
Aggressive, reckless, impulsive.
Fails to honor financial obligations
They cannot have an emotional experience – loveless
Narcissists can feel love and passion but do not have empathy and cannot see past their own nose. They may be in psychological pain but do not realize they are alienating others and it concerns them.
Sociopaths do not care – do not feel love but can appear emotional by imitation or practice and can be fluent in conversational emotion. They learn from movies and observations of others.
Environmental Influences –
Childhood abuse does not cause sociopathy
They are influenced less by early influences. Quality of childhood and family life made no difference.
Criminal behavior may begin at an average age of 14.
Children with attachment disorder have similar characteristics.
This showed up when children from orphanages in
Romania were adopted and brought to the U.S. In the orphanages they had no physical
contact. They were not shown love.
They exhibited similar behavior to sociopaths, but they were seldom charming as in the case of a sociopath. They did not fake being normal. They were openly hostile and had belligerent indifference.
Some cultures encourage sociopathic traits. i.e.
U.S. encourages individuality
Asian cultures encourage connectiveness and respect for life. Lower percentages of sociopaths in those countries.
Sociopaths treat life as a game of domination
They rarely wish to be cured.
13 Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths –
- Acceptance – they have no conscience. You can’t change them
- Go with your instincts regardless of how they seem.
- New relationship rule of 3.
- One lie may be misunderstood
- Two lies may be a serious mistake.
- Three lies – You are dealing with a serious liar – Get out of the relationship.
- Question authority. Just because someone is a doctor, lawyer, principal etc. doesn’t mean you can’t question. Again, rely on your instincts. Six out of ten people will blindly obey a person in authority.
- Suspect flattery. Flattery is extreme and unrealistic and used for manipulation.
- If necessary redefine your concept of respect. Too often we mistake fear for respect.
- Do not join in the game. Intrigue is his tool. Do not banter with him. You need to protect yourself.
- Avoid him and do not have contact with him. Disallow him in your life. Including them in a relationship is perilous. If total avoidance is impossible, make plans to work toward a goal of avoidance.
- Question your tendency to pity too easily. Do you often pity someone who consistently hurts your or others? Sociopaths exploit situations.
- Do not try to redeem him. They are unredeemable. Swallow hard and cut your losses.
- Help only those who truly want help. Sociopaths don’t want help they want to manipulate and control you.
- Never agree to help him conceal his true character. Do not cover up for them. You don’t owe them.
- Defend your psyche. Do not let him convince you most people do not possess a conscience.
- Live well – it’s the best revenge.
They will never prosper from conflict. Life is a constant competition for dominance.
Dr. Colberg did a study on boys and found there were 3 levels of moral development.
7-10 yrs. of age – They obey rules based on reward and punishment.
10-13 years. Conventional – They are guided by others in authority without thought of reward or punishment.
Adolescent – Post Conventional – they form abstract moral reasoning in line with conscience – freedom, dignity and respect for life.
Sanctity of life is a moral law.
Gilligan – student of Colberg’s contended that women would have different views:
Women – Ethic of care (learned from mothers)
Men – Attachment to society and rules
Women – Value people – Do no harm to self or others
Contrary to Colberg’s study, there are no universal stages
Conscience is when what you think, feel and do are in harmony – Mahatma Gandhi
Sociopaths end up losing everything valuable by playing the game
Sometimes freedom (prison)
Move frequently (hiding)
Acting ruthlessly does not bring you more.
In the end they always self-destruct – i.e. Hitler, Mussolini
If they oppress enough people, the people will eventually rise up against them.
Sociopaths need constant stimulation – addictions: alcohol, drugs, sex
They also may be addicted to risk taking. They will be burned out by middle age. They cannot love.
Others are stimulated by happy moments along the way with other people.
They are sometimes hypochondriacs to get out of doing work.
Aversion to sustained effort to work.
No day to day commitment to anything.
Occasional splashy, short lived, performance
Manipulate others into doing the actual work
No prolonged investment
Solo – Make lousy team players
They are on the path to ultimate failure
The thrill of manipulation eclipses everything else.