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Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

The Sociopath

Is this not the same as someone with APD? The general understanding is that a person wth little or no regard to social or legal rules. But that can’t be right otherwise we might have to describe Nelson Mandela as a sociopath. Obviously I have never met the man, but while I could describe many politicians as having sociopathic tendencies – Nelson has always come across as a thoroughly decent human being – – may be I’m wrong. Let’s see the official version:

So what is a sociopath? You won’t find criteria in the DSM IV or official psychiatric nomenclature, but the construct refers to the largest subgroup of APDs. Most are males, but an increasing number are female. They have otherwise normal temperaments (as opposed to psychopaths who have abnormal temperaments). Some are aggressive, fearless sensation seekers, and others are Machiavellian manipulators. A Machiavellian is a personality type who is a cross between an antisocial personality and a narcissist, and someone who also has an extremely high sense of entitlement. The one thing that all sociopaths have in common is that they are “too much” to handle for their parents or anyone else. It’s common to refer to them as unsocialized, but the dyssocial sociopath does socialize to the mores and values of a dyssocial outgroup, like a gang. Let’s explore the four (4) subtypes of sociopaths:

COMMON SOCIOPATHS are the largest subtype and have a weak or unelaborated conscience. They are not ashamed by the same things as you or I would be ashamed of. They are like feral children grown up, taking pleasures and gratifying impulses at every opportunity or temptation. They especially enjoy and take pride in bending or breaking the rules. As teenagers, they are often runaways. As adults, they are often geographically mobile, living in shelters, or taking advantage of welfare systems. They are experienced shoplifters. They have quite active sex lives. They are usually of average intelligence, but don’t do well in school and never seem to break out of low-paying dead-end jobs. Nevertheless, they seem genuinely happy with their lives, unburdened by any sense of negative self-worth or the fact that they have not been a functional, contributing member of society.

> ALIENATED SOCIOPATHS have never developed the ability to love, empathize, or affiliate in real life with another person. They will show more emotion toward their pet or a personal artifact than toward a person. Or, they may hate animals and live out their emotional life by watching TV (identification with soap opera characters is a common pattern). Dating and marriage relationships will be very barren and empty. They won’t get along with the neighbors. They live in a shell. They have a cold, callous attitude toward human suffering or any social problem in the society they live in. They just don’t care because it’s outside their range of empathy. Most will believe they are justified in this because they feel they were cheated in some way themselves by society, and a few will be more than happy to rant and rave about it to anyone who listens. They are chronic complainers, and underneath it all, they would like to see nothing better than all of society destroyed.

AGGRESSIVE SOCIOPATHS derive strong, yet nonperverse gratification from harming others. They like to hurt, frighten, tyrannize, bully, and manipulate. They do it for a sense of power and control, and will often only drop subtle hints about what they are up to. They polish their aggressive, domineering manner in such a way to disguise any intimidation others might feel. They seek out positions of power, such as parent, teacher, bureaucrat, supervisor, or police officer. Their style is one of passive aggression as they systematically go about sabotaging the ideas of others to get their ideas in place. In their spare time, they like to hunt or occasionally do sadistic things like find stray dogs and cut them up. They are usually effective at getting their way, and are especially vindictive if resisted or crossed. They don’t follow the social norm of reciprocity like others do.

DYSSOCIAL SOCIOPATHS identify and hold an allegiance with a dyssocial, outcast, or predatory subculture. Any subculture will do, as long as it runs counter to established authority. They are capable of intense loyalty, and even a feeling of guilt and shame, within such limited circles. They seem to continually fall upon bad luck and bad companions, however. While they will constantly complain that none of this is their fault, behind it all is a kind of self-defeating mechanism in the poor choices they made themselves.

Well … now I can pathologise all the people I really don’t like – with ever greater exactitude! In fact my next door neighbours now merit a label a label of alienated/aggressive sociopaths! The trouble is, while I might feel really smug now, I am no further down the line in knowing how to deal with them.

But let’s go on … the next posting


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Antisocial Personality, Sociopathy, and Psychopathy

I’m aware that although I use these terms on various courses (“Difficult, Disturbing and Dangerous Behaviour” and “Working with Violent Perpetrators” there is considerable confusion and media hype about the use of the above terms. So I thought I woulkd put together a series of postings (for the most part lifted from the literature) to sort out what we are talking about. This has been prompted by a very interesting study that I recently came across “Validating female psychopathy subtypes: Differences in personality, antisocial and violent behavior, substance abuse, trauma, and mental health” – unfortunately to interpret the study would, for many of us, be like a new language.

A very helpful article in this respect can be found at I will take some quotes directly from that site:

People who cannot contain their urges to harm (or kill) people repeatedly for no apparent reason are assumed to suffer from some mental illness. However, they may be more cruel than crazy, they may be choosing not to control their urges, they know right from wrong, they know exactly what they’re doing, and they are definitely NOT insane, at least according to the consensus of most scholars (Samenow 2004). In such cases, they usually fall into one of three types that are typically considered aggravating circumstances in addition to their legal guilt — antisocial personality disorder (APD), sociopath, or psychopath — none of which are the same as insanity or psychosis. APD is the most common type, afflicting about 4% of the general population. Sociopaths are the second most common type, with the American Psychiatric Association estimating that 3% of all males in our society are sociopaths. Psychopaths are rare, found in perhaps 1% of the population.

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