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Friday, August 6, 2010

Sociopaths you meet rather than read about

There seems to be a general reluctance among people to acknowledge that people they know personally are sociopaths. When I explain what sociopathy is to people, they will nod their heads in general agreement about what I'm saying. But when I tell them -- on the rare occasions that it's true -- that such and such an acquaintance is a sociopath, I'm often met with a response along the lines of, "Oh, Joey? I don't think he's a sociopath. No, not Joey."

To these people sociopaths are exotic creatures whom they read about, not the ordinary-looking person they've had frequent contact with and with whom they might have shared some laughs. They will often say something like, "Joey? Well, sure, Joey has a dark side, but I mean who doesn't? I certainly don't think he's a sociopath."

You can practically see the wheels turning in their heads: Joey? Well, it's not as if he's ever killed anybody. I don't think he even could, he just said the other day that taking a life was wrong. Yeah, he can be a little selfish and even self-righteous at times, but basically he's a stand up guy, I mean he's always talking about morality and stuff. And he just seems so.....ordinary. I don't think he could be one of them.

This kind of thinking is erroneous. One needn't be a murderer to be a sociopath. Serial killers are only a small sliver of the sociopathic population, those whose favorite sexual fantasy involves death. To them, your life is worth less than their orgasm. Most sociopaths enjoy ordinary sex, which means taking someone else's life is unnecessary. But their basic psychology is no different: your well-being is worth less than any small gain to them.

Also, just because someone has given you a compliment and talked about what a moral guy he is doesn't ncessarily make him either a fan of yours or a moral guy. Someone who talks that way may merely be manipulative. Compliments may be heartfelt, de rigueur, or false; you must judge from the context and the speaker which. But people who go on at length about their own integrity usually have none.

There is one group of people who are an exception to this tendency to disbelief: ex-wives. Roughly three-quarters of women with ex-husbands seem willing to ascribe sociopathy to them.

Something tells me the percentage with ex-husbands who actually are sociopaths is somewhat lower.


Anonymous said...

I am interested in finding out how you became intrigued with sociopathy. I enjoy your writings and outings of them, especially Mother Teresa. Good one! I had a recent experience where I dated one, opened my eyes to their prevalence. I've been reading about them, trying to learn how to spot and avoid these malicious types of predators..which led me to your blog. Thanks for the info!

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
I became interested exactly the same way you did: I dated one when I was 25, finally woke up to the fact that there was something drastically wrong with her, remembered having heard the phrase "pathological liar," went to the UCLA psychology library (I was living in LA at the time), looked up "pathological liar" in one of the psychology textbooks, and saw that it said "see sociopath." I then spent four or five of the most enlightening hours of my life, reading about them and finding out what she was. They've been a sort of obsession ever since. I actually wrote a manuscript about them twelve years ago in which I detailed my experience with this woman in the introduction. If you'd like to read it I wouldn't mind sending it to you. Just write me another comment with your email address (I won't post it).

BTW, I want to point out that in the post about Mother Teresa, I never actually called her a sociopath (although I suspect it). I just wanted to shift peoples' opinion a little bit there, and make them realize that maybe she wasn't quite so saintly. Recently when I've outed one, I've put "Sociopath alert" in the headline of the post.

Anonymous said...

I've even seen a psychiatrist say this about someone after I outed him as a sociopath (having lived with him for a month, the psych having only met him for an hour). She was all "him, a sociopath? I don't believe that. He might be a Borderline, but I doubt he's a sociopath". It's really discouraging when not even psychiatrists realise that sociopaths look like perfectly ordinary citizens....

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right, people are too often willing to give sociopaths the benefit of the doubt. To really be able to tell, you have to watch them in action for an extended period of time, see how they operate. They're basically invisible to the naked eye, so to speak. The fact that even a psychiatrist would not realize this is a little dismaying.

Pavonine99 said...

Just looking through some older entries on here, and you've described most people's reactions to sociopaths perfectly.
What I find fascinating is that people are quick to jump on addicts, adulterers, the mentally ill, nonsociopaths with personality disorders, etc., who may not be the easiest to live with or moral in the conventional sense, but who have "souls", while they excuse blatent sociopaths with alarming regularity.

Also, have you looked up Fred Phelps? I know he's on his deathbed, so it would be inappropriate to write a "Sociopath alert" for him, but wow, he is/was a perfect candidate.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
Thanks for reading this far back. You're right, people who don't understand sociopathy tend to give sociopaths the benefit of the doubt, and take them at their word, whereas people with the other personality disorders aren't as skillful at subterfuge, and tend to annoy people right off the bat. Sociopaths will always leave people feeling used, and often, embarrassed at their initial gullibility, but in the short term will charm and beguile.

Just read the Wiki entry on Phelps. Yes, he does sound sort of sociopathic, but he always struck me as crazy as well. If you want to manipulate and influence people, protesting at slain soldiers' funerals certainly isn't the way to do it.