“Who prays for the devil is praying for the one who needs it most.” A turn of phrase that is a slight variation on a Mark Twain quote to which he poses the precarious philosophical question; can we and should we feel compassion for someone that is the embodiment of everything we consider contradicts our humanity? The personification of the devil conjured up in my mind is someone whose a liar, a manipulator, a wolf in sheep’s skin, unable to love, incapable of empathy, self serving, charming fraudster whose falsehood leaves a wake of destruction in their path, the literal definition of a sociopath.
Now I need you to stop, take away the glitz and glam of heaven and hell from this individual and forget the story of Revelations. That is literally the definition of a sociopath… a prominent human condition, in fact according to many studies an infliction a significant number of the population may suffer from and if not personally suffering, almost certainly came in contact with someone who is.
A few things I’d like to note before you continue reading, I am not an expert on these conditions and this article is from the limited observations, my experience and from 2nd hand research. The second note is I am referencing sociopaths in this article, though many points are potentially being interchangeable with psychopaths and narcissists or other antisocial behavioural and personality disorders. All are incredibly complex personality disorders but for this article I am choosing to reference sociopaths. I have made this choice because the general consensus is that sociopaths have biological seeds relating to the condition contemporaneous in the brain of a sociopath at birth. These seeds are nurtured by environment and people thus are developed by social factors, which then presents as antisocial behaviour. I feel this fits best but is not limited too with what I’m making reference.
Who among us has not come across someone who displays erratic behaviour that may seem abnormal to most people and who pursue their self-interest with no regard to the harms of others? Do they also show poor judgment and failure to learn from experience as well as incapacity to establish lasting, close relationships with others? Could it just be someone who is just generally unpleasant or is this an undying sign of a personality disorder? The most prominent red flag is that sociopaths believe they make the truth and because they have said it you should believe it is the truth. Some would consider this trait to an extent to be a form of psychosis but psychosis is a fluid category and definition, with aspects of it manifesting in people who are bipolar or depressed as well psychopathic or sociopathic. They process the reality in a way that often allows them make decisions in a way that some people would see as amoral.
So how many people are affected by this disorder? It is hard to know for sure, because methods of diagnosing sociopaths and related conditions are notoriously imprecise with the higher estimates being as high as 4% of people and with the lower end being 0.6%. For the sake of this article I’m going to go by research that claimed 1% of people would be diagnosable as sociopathic or related condition. 1% of the British population would be six hundred forty one thousand people so the odds are that at some point you would have some exposure to a sociopath or related conditions directly and you are almost certain to have had indirectly. Some studies suggest sociopaths and related conditions make up 25% of the prison population but if you didn’t want to look there you could easily look into the field of politics or banking. Expert on such conditions, Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience, Snakes in Suits is quoted saying “If I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange.”
Sociopaths are by reputation intelligent, charming, intense, spontaneous and poetic in their speech. In fact the truth is sociopaths are very disarming and by the virtue of their disorder are incredibly talented at getting what they want through manipulation. People are often drawn in even while noticing behaviour that they would consider unacceptable; sociopaths can seem like natural leaders and influencers. Sociopaths are the gifted at the art of ‘Gaslighting’. What I mean by this term is a systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality and is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented in such a way as to make the recipient doubt their memory and perception. As master manipulators who have no remorse or shame; sociopaths can’t lose any fight or argument, leading to defending their lies at all costs, even if it becomes absurd based on logic. They simply want to win, get what they want or dominate other no matter the cost. I have been privy to witnessing this behaviour in a scenario where the potentially sociopathic person involved was willing to lose a livelihood in order to maintain a lie (definitive lie) more than most people would give up to defend the truth. But don’t for a second think that a sociopath wont enhances your life too, at least in parts as after all a sociopath wouldn’t be very adept if it wasn’t for their ability to make you happy. If you met one, there is a strong possibility you’d like them. It’s can feel worth sticking out the inevitable bad times, because the good times can be fantastic, they do bring positive personality traits to the table like being exciting, amusing and intelligent.
Sociopathic people exist in our society in two simultaneous states in a phrase I’d coin “Schrodinger’s sociopath”. This term I use when making reference to the paradox created by the perception that sociopaths are both the victim and the perpetrator. On one hand they embody a lot of what we consider to be undesirable and inhuman values by being empathetically dulled and manipulative, often hurting those who they are close to, indulging in arrogant, patronising, haughty or contemptuous behaviours or attitudes which often gets them into very difficult circumstances. Yet at the same time a sociopath has an existence that separates them from the vast majority of ‘normal’ people. They often feel victimised, as they can’t associate their transgressions with the negative consequences. They are unable to feel love and empathy like others do. They genuinely believe they are ‘special’ and can only be understood by other special people and are often envious of others or believe others to be envious of them.
For those of you worried you meet this description or might be a sociopath it’s unlikely that you are. A sociopath is unlikely to have the self-awareness to identify those personality traits in themselves, as their perception is often that the world has something wrong with it, not them. And by the same logic you might have read this and thought you are definitely not a sociopath, well, there’s a possibility you might be. And here within lies the problem. Perception.
The real truth is there is something fundamental we love about a sociopath. They are antagonists in stories, our cheating ex’s that lost the plot, a reality show’s outlandish participant, criminals without compassion, apprentice contestants, hypocritical politician’s, singing super stars gone wild as well as friends and family whom are seemingly without empathy. They break from the norm and that has somewhat of a guilty pleasure that engages and stimulates across all levels. Sociopaths are a social predator who charms their way into people’s lives because they have a greater purpose; they senses the opportunity for personal gain. We are often hurt by these people in so many ways and have to recover from their destructive methods. Yet they can also be accomplished and easy to talk to and perhaps most remarkable is their ability to blend in seamlessly in to their surroundings.
Now, maybe here’s a seldom thought idea. Sociopaths are prevalent across all cultures, creeds, nationalities, they are present at all ranks, statuses and from all backgrounds and these people are the embodiment of extremism. I’d like to propose the concept that as a society that we see the actions of a sociopath and we are manipulated (sometimes by other sociopaths) to associate the antisocial behaviour with some form of identifying features like background, religion or race in order to push an agenda (potentially for other sociopaths).
Lets say the world was to change its perception and see that the action of a sociopathic person or people and identifying that is an individual who is a sociopath has a mind that is incomprehensible to your average person, that the reason they are unable to integrate is to do with their inability to experience reality in the way most people do. They simply possess a malfunctioning mind unable to comprehend reality or emotions in the same way that we see it. They are “Schrodinger’s sociopath” simultaneously both perpetrator and victim.
The fact remains that we don’t fully understand etiological process underlying sociopathy. Sociopathic people are integrated into our society put often persecuted for it. Yet, unlike other mental health issues there is no treatment I could find for those who might be a sociopath and there does not seem to be the same impetus on research and development to find one. Admittedly sociopaths generally don’t perceive there is anything to treat and thus they are very difficult to help. Punishment (such as prison time) is very ineffective sociopath treatment as sociopaths are unable to learn from either mistakes or punishments. Research shows that therapy is often useless in the treatment of a sociopath and occasionally therapy can actually worsen sociopathic behaviour because it’s a new game for the sociopath. Currently, no medication exists to treat sociopaths but adopting a systematic approach has proven slightly effective but only for short spells before the sociopath reverts.
While these treatments may not be effective for adult sociopaths, they may prove helpful to children who exhibit sociopathic behaviours. There are some promising leads being done into the relationships between lowered amygdala activities and sociopathy as well as other personality disorders, theorising that sociopaths and related conditions lack the ability to generate the basic emotions that keep primitive killer instincts in check. In identifying any common traits in human behaviour especially complex personality disorders we should try to not place people in definitive boxes. Personality disorders are a spectrum where the majority of people fall into the middle of the spectrum where sociopathic people fall further to one side. This would especially be the case if there were definitive evidence between the sensitivity of activity in the lowered amygdala, as people would experience varying levels of sensitivity. Any issue that could potentially affect six hundred forty one thousand in Britain alone in my opinion needs a greater drive on research.
Some food for thought. Could we be doing more to develop treatments that could support people with sociopaths to integrate them in to society and how could this be done? In lieu of treatment, sociopaths are not without talent and intelligence, could those who repeatedly struggle to integrate with the right support contribute to society?
I think it’s important to work on how we perceive sociopaths too. It been a long hard struggle but I don’t feel sociopaths are not ‘less human’ and they are natural human variants. I’m not saying that you should get back with your sociopathic ex or anything like that. Your relationship with a sociopathic would still be toxic and as an individual the best way to deal with a sociopath sometimes might be to cut contact as it would be for anyone who does not enrich your life. But I am suggesting we shouldn’t dehumanise people who have this condition and push harder on understanding so to best support those who suffer with it, this would also reduce the suffering of those who come in contact with these people.
Do we just need to have more sympathy for the devil?
Feature Image Credit to Alicexz