Many domestic violence survivors believe all abusers are socio- or psychopaths. I’ve asked experts in the field of domestic violence if they agree. These experts say we shouldn’t label abusers because if an abuser should be labeled a “sociopath,” he would then have a legal excuse for his behavior.
So, I don’t know if all abusers are sociopaths. But I do believe they are similar. Tweet This
Which leads to the question, what exactly is a sociopath? I recently read a book called The Sociopath Next Door by Dr. Martha Stout. In this book, the author takes a long look at what a sociopath is. She says a sociopath:
Has no conscience; this person can do anything at all without the slightest glimmer of guilt,* and
Cannot feel emotions in the same way non-sociopaths do.
Having a conscience gives meaning to life. This sense of constraint is rooted in our emotional ties to one another. Since sociopaths have no conscience, they also cannot love others the way the rest of us do. They actually can’t feel love. Many sociopaths are able to fake it and act lovingly, at least for a time, but it is only an act. Because sociopaths cannot feel love and empathy for others, their lives are actually very boring. For non-sociopaths, happiness comes through our ability to love, and living life according to our higher values. But a sociopath has no higher values. They are loveless, amoral and perpetually bored.
The only thing a sociopath lives for is to “win” against others. Tweet This
Since they don’t actually care about others, “winning” is their only excitement. What does winning look like to a sociopath?
Example 1 – Jamie works in an office with four men and one woman named Pamela. Jamie is very physically attractive, and likes the attention men give her because of her looks. She dislikes having other women around her who are potential rivals for the attention she feels she deserves. She decides to work to get Pamela fired. Whenever she talks to their mutual boss, Rick, Jamie pretends to like and respect Pamela. This makes Jamie look good. However, she feeds lies to her boss about Pamela whenever she can. One day she tells him Pamela has been having trouble at home, and that is why Jamie had to do all the work on their joint project. (In reality, Pamela did the majority of the work). Another time she mentions that Pamela isn’t good with numbers, and that’s why their latest project went over budget. She hints that Pamela might be having an affair with their co-worker Tom, but she “doesn’t like to say it.”
To Pamela, Jamie goes out of her way to ingratiate herself. She brings in homemade desserts like brownies and chocolate chip cookies because she knows Pamela struggles with her weight. Pamela is too kind to ask her not to bring in treats, so she eats them to make Jamie feel good. Jamie compliments Pamela on any outfit that actually doesn’t look good on her. Therefore, Pamela begins to wear her least attractive outfits more often. Jamie says she feels like Pamela is her “best friend,” and invites her out for drinks after work, though Pamela doesn’t really drink.
Over time, Pamela’s work begins to suffer because she is feeling depressed about her weight, and her looks. She suddenly feels ugly! Her boss Rick begins speaking to her in harsher tones because he thinks she is slacking on the job, and using her spare time to carry on an affair at work. When the company has a bad year and he must lay off one worker, who does he pick? Pamela of course. After a year of smearing Pamela’s name with their co-workers, Jamie’s rival is pushed aside.
Example 2 – Justin isn’t the smartest guy, or the most good-looking, but he is a charmer. He likes to date women who have blurry boundaries and are susceptible to his charms. Previously, he “played the field,” but now that he is working a professional job, his boss is hinting he should settle down. He notices that married men seem to be getting better promotions than the single men in the office. He begins wooing Karen, a sweet girl from a happy family. She isn’t interested in him right away, so he ramps up the charm. He brings her flowers daily, takes her to expensive restaurants, buys her gold jewelry, etc. He knows she has been hurt in the past by men who refused to commit, so he tells her on their third date he loves her and wants to marry her. She is a bit overwhelmed, but is attracted to his willingness to commit, and how hard he works at his job. They get married after six months of dating.
On their honeymoon, she notices that he pouts when he doesn’t get his way, so she tries to agree with him most of the time. He tells her she is beautiful, but her clothes are dowdy looking, and he wants to buy her a new wardrobe. She is a bit hurt, but believes he wants her to look her best because he loves her so much. When they settle in to their new home, he wants to make all the decisions about how it is decorated. She doesn’t really care about decorating, so she lets him make all the decisions. . .
Fast forward five years. Karen has given up her career to stay at home with their two young children, even though she really would have liked to work, at least part-time. Justin spends very little time with the children, and expects Karen to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, childcare, etc. He doesn’t do yard work either, because he has a bad back. Therefore, Karen does all the yard work as well. Justin goes out four or five nights a week with “clients.” When Karen questions him and asks why he never invites her, he says he needs to entertain clients, and she can’t come because she isn’t smart enough to impress them. In reality, he is having an affair, and most of those evenings away are spent with his new girlfriend, (who doesn’t know he’s married).
Fast forward another ten years. Karen has gained weight, she suffers from depression, and has fibromyalgia. Their children are disrespectful to her because that is how Justin treats her. When her son begins calling her a “b____” to her face, she complains to Justin, who says, “You are a b_____.” He gives her the silent treatment whenever she questions his decisions, and he has hit her once or twice, just to keep her in line. She thinks she has caused the issues in their marriage, but doesn’t know what she could have done differently. She wonders why she is so unhappy, after all, she’s married to such a nice guy. All her friends and family love him. She has begun contemplating suicide, because he has made it clear he will never let her go. If she tries to leave him, he will make sure her parents have an accident . . .
These are just two examples of sociopaths who get what they want by lying to and manipulating the people closest to them.
Is sociopathy rare? What causes it – nature or nurture?
Dr. Stout says that 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath. In a room of 100 people, four are probably sociopaths! Quite a frightening thought. Is sociopathy caused by the person’s environment, or are people born with it? The answer is both. Sociopaths are born predisposed to the condition, but their environment plays a role in shaping them. Studies have found that sociopathy is about 50% heritable. This means that approximately half of all a sociopath’s characteristics are present at conception.** A sociopath’s inherited characteristics can be slightly compensated for, or made much worse by how they are raised, or the culture they grow up in.
Interestingly, in some cultures, specifically Japanese and Chinese, sociopathy is relatively rare, maybe as small as 0.03 to 0.14 percent, compared to 4 percent of people in the United States.*** Why? American society seems to allow, and even encourage a me-first attitude. In other words, in America, guiltless manipulation of others is socially acceptable. Japan and China are more group-centered societies. Whatever is good for the group overrides what is good for the individual. Therefore, in these societies, sociopaths are encouraged to behave like they have empathy and conscience, even if they don’t. In these societies, the culture insists on caring about others, and connecting to the group, causing some sociopaths to have an intellectual understanding of conscience, even if they can’t feel it. Dr. Stout concludes that a wonderful family life cannot redeem a person predisposed to sociopathy born into an American family. There are too many other factors in American society that encourage conscience-less thoughts and behavior.
The Sociopath Next Door is not written from a Christian point of view. Does the Bible talk about sociopaths at all? Yes, it does. 1 Timothy 4:1 -2 describes a sociopath:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
In my next blog, I will talk about how to spot a sociopath, and how to defend yourself against one.
Question: Have you ever dealt with a sociopath? What happened?
I pray the Lord will give you wisdom and discernment when dealing with people like this.
* Stout, Martha PhD, The Sociopath Next Door, (New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2005), p 120.
**Stout, p 125
*** Stout, p 136