[soh-see-uh-path, soh-shee-] Show IPA
a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Part of what makes sociopathy so fascinating is that we understand very little about what causes it. The sociopath overall is little understood, manifested primarily in the conventional belief that the sociopath has the malicious intent to harm others. The truth, however, is more complex than a single answer allows. Are sociopaths bad people? It's easy to utter a full-throated "Yes!" for so many reasons, but the reality is that sociopaths don't necessarily have malicious feelings toward others. The problem is that they have very little true feeling at all for others, which allows them to treat others as objects. The effect of their behavior is undoubtedly malicious, though the intention is not necessarily the same thing.
Ultimately, the sociopath typically emotionally destroys those who are close to him or her, but the sociopath destroys them in a way consistent with their unique approach to others: They take them out like your average person kills off characters in a video game. Those in the wake of the sociopath suffer because they have the liability sociopaths don't: actual human feelings that stem from a deep sense of social obligations to others, a moral anchor that is supposed to be part and parcel of having relationships.
The sense of entitlement that comes with sociopathy is astonishing to those who abide by the social laws and conventions of our culture. Where does the entitlement come from? It stems from an underlying sense of rage. Sociopaths feel deeply angry and resentful underneath their often-charming exterior, and this rage fuels their sense that they have the right to act out in whichever way they happen to choose at the time. Everything is up for grabs with sociopaths and nothing is off limits.
In relationships, sociopaths are the epitome of Machiavellian creatures. If they were astrological signs, they would be Geminis, with two distinct 'selfs' at work. They are duplicity incarnate, with a polished self shown to the world and a covert, hidden self that has a rigid and calculating agenda: assume the highest level of the social hierarchy and win, win, win. It is often the kindest and most trusting individuals who suffer the most at the hands of sociopaths, and the healing process for these individuals continues long after the relationship has ended. Those in the wake of the sociopath are often left wondering, What happened to me? Why does this one individual have such a powerful effect on me?
In the media, I'm often asked what causes sociopathy. "Are they born this way?" is one of the most frequently asked questions. The truth is that we don't know. Stout (2005) sums up the research well, explaining that as much as 50% percent of the cause of sociopathy can be attributed to heritability, while the remaining percentage is a confusing and not-yet-understood mixture of environmental factors. (Notably, a history of childhood abuse among sociopaths is not always present.) Similarly, Ferguson (2010) conducted a meta-analysis and found that 56% of the variance in Antisocial Personality Disorder, the formal disorder of sociopathy, can be explained through genetic influences.
I'm hard-pressed to say that I have vast reservoirs of empathy for the sociopath. At the same time, to see the life trajectory of a sociopath, it's hard to not feel sad that the sociopath has an existence that separates him from the vast majorty of 'normal' people. They often end up in prison and never truly know what it feels like to love and trust. Just imagine what that existence is like, not just for a week or month or summer, but for life. Do they even know what they're missing? No, but they live in a constant state of hypervigilance, viewing the world in a sterile, game-like manner. They have no real attachment to anyone.
Given the major role biology appears to play in creating or planting the seed of socioapthy, are sociopaths deserving of some empathy? If, as the research suggests, sociopaths are born with a predisposition to sociopathy, it means that they don't have total control over their behavior. To think that a poor child is born with such a horrific, life-long liability is a terribly sad reality. After all, no child deserves to carry around that kind of baggage
How to Detect a Sociopath
1. Observe amount of remorse. Most sociopaths can commit vile actions and not feel the least bit remorse. Such actions may include physical abuse or public humiliation of others.
2. Observe sense of morality. Most human beings live by some moral code of ethics. The sociopath, on the other hand, often skirts morality for personal benefit.
3. Observe level of emotion. A sociopath can experience a highly emotional event without displaying the least bit of emotion, at least on the surface (silent scorn). They often respond to "good news" with cold blank stares.
4. Observe level of social interaction. Although many sociopaths can be extremely charming, they harbor strong antisocial inclinations and can exist in isolation (without feeling deprived) for weeks at a time.
5. Observe intellectual performance. Some of the famous sociopaths possess a strong mental acumen and can perform well in academics/skill without cracking a book. If they apply themselves they obtain perfect grades.
6. Observe manipulative behavior. Sociopaths understand human weakness and exploit it maximally. Once determined, they can manipulate individuals to do just about anything
7. Observe violent behavior. As children some sociopaths torture defenseless animals such as frogs, kittens, puppies, hitchhikers, etc. (This behavior can surface in adulthood, but then damage is delivered via mental and emotional abuse.)