psychopaths, sociopaths and you

We were arguing about the difference between psychopath and sociopath last night at dinner. (Alex argued no difference at all, Tom and I thought that a sociopath was someone who hadn't acted in an antisocial manner and psychopath was a sociopath who'd gone of the rails. Mike thought it was time to talk about something else.) and I started thinking about the socio-psychopaths I've known. (insert standard "you can't get to be ___ years old without running into and dealing with these people")

There are the dumb ones--or the not well disguised ones, I mean. They're the type who get into trouble and it's never their fault. They're easy to spot--well, easier than the other sort--because they play victim every time anything goes wrong. I met quite a few among the refugees and wonder if they were turned into that sort of person because of the horrors they'd seen or if they were the type of person who'd be likely to survive the horrors.**

But then there are the ones who can run a con of a life for years. And they can leave you speculating that you don't know anyone at all. The very best can make you wonder if you yourself have a life based on lies and if you yourself are a sociopath at heart. There is no grounded reality after you've dealt with one of them.

The best are sweet (but not chokingly so) charming and tuned into the people around them. They never seem lose their place in their personal narrative. Never. Ever. Even when the game falls apart, as the unalterable facts are laid out, they can stare you in the face and give an entirely plausible explanation, or one that would be plausible if you hadn't seen the same thing happen over and over in their lives. I'm convinced that they can make themselves blind to their own actions, or turn those actions into something trivial or justified.

I've figured out a few guidelines to spotting the sociopaths who'll suck people dry:

1. There are a lot of people in their past who inexplicably don't seem to like them. They'll tell an amusing story about some dear friends and when you ask, where are those friends today, they say "Oh, we've lost track of each other. I have no idea what they're doing." Or "They stabbed me in the back. They hate me and I honestly don't know what I did wrong because they won't talk to me."

2. They live in the moment. There seems to be very little planning for the future. Or if there is, it's unrealistic.

3. They don't stay put in an apartment/place for more than a couple of years.

4. They've lost track of many (if not all) of their family members. If anyone's left it's probably a mother or father because, god bless parents, they tend to cling even after everyone else walked away.

5. They disappear for chunks of time. Maybe a couple of weeks here or there. Or even a year.

You can actually be friends with these people because they really do listen and respond. They are fun. Just for God's sake, don't lend them money or become dependent on them for anything. Expect to be abandoned once you figure out the truth. And then, if you're inhabit small world, the stories will filter back to you, all about how you inexplicably dropped your good friend.

Or, if they're vindictive (the best aren't because that'll bite them and they keep their eyes on the prize) there will be lies spread about you. The worst are when they spread distorted truths about you. Outright lies are just silly, easy to shrug off, but the mangled truths can be dangerous. That's one of the ways you end up wondering if you're the one who has been distorting truth this whole time. It's only when you run into other people who've been through the sociopath's wringer that you can set yourself straight.

I don't think this last has happened to me. (If it has, I'm blessedly ignorant of it) But I have met enemies of a sociopath who'd been described as dreadful assholes who turned out to be perfectly reasonable people who'd eventually asked for their loan back.


**They were NOT the majority of the refugees I met. Okay?


  1. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Kate, You are my one true love. I'm posting this sucker on my facebook page for all "my" psychopath's friends (and enemies) to see.

  2. I was looking this up recently too after watching the mini-series Sherlock from the BBC where Sherlock Holmes (in a modern setting) is called a psychopath by a police officer and he replies "I'm not a psychopath but a high-functioning sociopath. Learn the difference."

  3. Anonymous1:11 PM

    Hiya Toots,

    Cool! I've been studying the bejeezus out of this subject a lot recently too. According to a bunch of psych sources, "psychopath" is not a real diagnostic term anymore, if it ever was. "Sociopath" is a real term, and it is at the extreme end of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder continuum. It may intersect with other personality disorders too... I'm not sure about that, but it definitely shares the central traits of NPD:

    a tremendous sense of entitlement, be it for one's own imagined merits or the greatness of one's "cause"

    a lack of actual empathy for other people

    unwillingness/inability to accept blame for anything, ever

    For anybody interested in this subject, I recommend the book "The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists" by Eleanor Payson. The title and cover art don't do it justice. It's really clear and useful.

    Ta-ta, m'dear!
    Ann (whose maternal unit was NPD fer shure)

  4. Anonymous1:17 PM

    PS- More about sociopaths (and about the term "psychopath") in the book "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout.

  5. Ok, I've never heard of that series, Lyvvie. I wonder if it's in the USofA. I hope so.

    Thank you for the cool suggestions for reading, ann.

    Makes me wonder what the opposite of NPD might be. Maybe an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for other people? spending all of your life trying to come to the aid of others?

    But even that has a hint of narcissism to it... thinking your actions can change the world or other people.

  6. Anonymous2:52 PM

    SO uncannily what the Wizard book says! The opposite (sort of) is codependency, which develops as a coping mechanism when you're under the thumb of a narcissist. Narcissists break down your boundaries so you're easily taken advantage of and generally feel responsible for everybody else's well-being. And not only does it stem from the same sort of wounds in early life, it can at its most extreme be a form of narcissism. Beware anyone who insists they are looking out for you whether you like it or not! :^D

  7. I think it was out a few months ago in the UK, airing now in Oz so should be available for you soon. Here's the trailer:

    You can get the series in bits on youtube. This is the one bit where Husband and I found fault because Sherlock would be able to know if Watson was gay or not so the whole awkward conversation shouldn't have happened.

    And that's all the links I'll litter in your blog.

  8. Lyvvie, you must be magic! The show has just now appeared over here.


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