Psychopath or Sociopath? What’s in a Name?
I use the term “psychopath ” to refer to a variety of disordered personalities whose interpersonal style is one of callous manipulation –in particular, those people who fall into the category of the Dark Triad, usually labeled narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellianists. Additionally, you might be familiar with other terms used to describe these individuals: sociopath, anti-social, borderline, character disordered and personality disordered.
With so many labels, how can we determine which disorder we are dealing with?
Psychopath or Sociopath?
A Google search, on the difference between the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath”, results in contradicting definitions. I’ve found descriptions stating that the psychopath is more “controlled” while the sociopath is an impulsive criminal more likely to end up in prison. On other sites, I’ve read that the psychopath is the ax-wielding, psycho-serial killer while the sociopath is more likely to commit white collar crimes and hide in plain sight. I get the feeling that some of the websites making these comparisons were written by persons who identify with either one or the other of the two labels…
The term “anti-social personality disorder” has replaced both of these terms, under the Cluster B category in the newest edition of the DSM, the reference book used by psychiatric professionals. Yet Robert Hare’s PCL-R is still the gold standard for determining psychopathy in the criminal justice system.
Primary or Secondary?
In literature and on the web you’ll find articles about primary psychopaths and secondary psychopaths. Sometimes, these terms are applied to genetic psychopaths vs. environmentally created psychopaths. Other times, it’s a reference to the cold-blooded psychopaths who have no nervous response vs. more neurotic psychopaths — though “neurotic psychopath” seems a contradiction in terms, I’ve actually met someone who seems to qualify. I’ve read about sadistic psychopaths, which makes me wonder what kind of psychopath doesn’t enjoy torturing his victim. None of them care, but they all enjoy the game, so why bother with the “sadistic” adjective? We have the term “malignant narcissists” from Dr. Scott Peck and Sam Vaknin, but their descriptions don’t sound much different from the psychopathic and sociopathic definitions. Then there are the labels “somatic narcissist” and “cerebral narcissist” but neither adjective is mutually exclusive, so why bother? The point is, narcissists need attention, how or where they get it doesn’t explain the pathological need.
Reporting on the Dark Triad
Investigating the term “Dark Triad” I found a journal article titled, The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. It disputes the contention that sub-clinical narcissists, sub-clinical psychopaths and sub-clinical Machiavellianists are actually the same thing.
The authors, Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams, reported the results of this study in their abstract:
Subclinical psychopaths were distinguished by low neuroticism;
Machiavellians, and psychopaths were low in conscientiousness; narcissism showed
small positive associations with cognitive ability. Narcissists and, to a lesser extent,
psychopaths exhibited self-enhancement on two objectively scored indexes. We conclude
that the Dark Triad of personalities, as currently measured, are overlapping
but distinct constructs.
I was surprised to learn how much of these results is derived from “self-reported” questionnaires. Regardless of the additional, objective measures done later, the self-reported measure doesn’t take into account that psychopaths LIE. They lie and they deceive ALL the time, even when there is no reason or gain in lying. Those who lean more towards narcissism are perhaps more inclined to be forthcoming about their narcissism — because they feel entitled— but the truly psychopathic will seem the most normal.
Further, I learned that these self-reporting questionnaires are commonly used to evaluate character/personality disorders. These questionnaires have names such as: MACH-IV test of machiavellianism, Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale, Short Dark Triad, a 27 item scale and the “Dirty Dozen” a 12 item scale.
The authors of this study contribute even more to the confusion by using the term “sub-clinical” (referring to offensive but not pathological traits) and then applying their results to the broader Dark Triad personalities.
Pin the Label on the Psychopath
For someone just starting to learn about their encounter with a callous, manipulative individual, the labels we apply seem very important. Labels help us keep their pattern of dysfunction clearly in mind, so that we know what we are seeing and what to expect. Psychopaths will do everything in their power to obfuscate that view. They muddy the waters with details, blur boundaries and switch places to confuse their victims. Labels help to organize the behavioral traits we observe.
The truth is, most disordered people won’t fall neatly into any category. They will likely fall somewhere on a continuum, with traits from various cluster A, B and C personality disorders.
It seems that we’ve been trying to pin a name on evil for centuries. In the bible, the devil goes by many names — as did the evil Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca. Before we had the discipline of psychology, people called them witches, demons, possessed or soulless. Mythology tells stories about blood sucking vampires and zombies, the walking dead. These last two terms seem to refer to a contagious, half-human who feeds on others, feels no empathy and leaves their victims either sick or half-alive, like themselves.
Though at first we look for distinctions and it seems to help define what we’ve observed, eventually in time, a pattern of similarities begins to emerge: They all lie, they don’t care, they manipulate, and they are driven by shame and envy. While it is helpful to have terms to describe the behavior, in the end, to pin a definitive label on a psychopathic person takes years of observation and study, as we try to separate facts from their never ending fictions. As I argued in my previous article, when psychopaths know you are watching them, they put on a performance 180° opposite of reality.
In his play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
There are many different varieties of roses. They may have different petals, different colors, even slightly different fragrances. Still, the similarity among the varieties is enough so that once we’ve inhaled the rose’s fragrance, we’re more apt to recognize the next rose even though it may be a different variety.
Apparently, psychopaths also come in different varieties. Like a rose, psychopaths create indelible impressions on our memories. However, unlike a rose, whatever distinctions there might be between the individual psychopaths, they all leave us crinkling our noses in disgust.
There have always it seems even in recent (last couple of hundred years) been ethnic gangs irf thieves and thugs that committed violent acts on the public at large and “other” gangs as well…look at how bloody prohibition of alcohol was, and prohibition of drugs is the same way…follow the money, if there is money to be made the crooks will go after it and the “good guys” will go after the “bad” guys to build glory and reputation.
I am also glad that I am not raising a child in this environment, but I didn’t do such a hot job of when I was raising kids and trying to teach them empathy and morality I know that in any time it can be difficult to raise a child and with the media feeding them such garbage and making it look “cool” and violent video games which bring in BILLIONS of dollars for their owner, and as far as I am concerned anyone who says violent video games don’t foster violence and lack of empathy I think is out of their mind. It desensitizes people to viewing violence as “not real” or “not bad” or as “macho”…. For what it turned out to be worth, I didn’t even let my kids have a TV in the house for 7 years, but they learned to read and play outside which was my goal.
But I sure am not going to hold myself up as an example of the “perfect parent” LOL But, at the same time, I did the best I could and my two biological sons made their own choices and are suffering the consequences.
OxD, my ability as a parent has been abysmal, at best, and I take full ownership of this. Whether or not I realized that I had an abusive spouse and produced children with him isn’t the point. My “method” of parenting was based upon a false hope that my children would absorb my “good intentions,” via osmosis, rather than by my providing a strong example. I would beg and plead for Mike to “do the right thing” and correct his behaviors with an understanding of morals, ethics, and values, and he had no frame of reference with which to do this. Not to excuse his choices, but simply to demonstrate that what “should be” cannot even BEGIN to be if there is no clear demonstration of WHAT these values are, and how to implement them.
The exposure that children have to violence, today, is simply beyond my comprehension. Video games depict extremely graphic kill visuals – visceral matter, brain matter, bone matter, and blood all spattered and staining the screen HAS to desensitize a child’s impressionable psyche to the effects of violence. Add to that the idiocy of “re-spawn” or “do-over,” and they are programmed, literally, to perceive that life isn’t precious, nor is death final.
I remember my folks turning off the evening news during the ’60’s, when I was a child. The 6-o’clock news broadcasts of NBC, CBS, and ABC were littered with war footage of Viet Nam, and some of it was so graphic that my folks would actually cringe. I didn’t understand this, the implications of the Viet Nam War, or what violence was. I knew that it was “bad” and “sad,” but I was entirely too young to process the imagery, and they knew this EVEN in the midst of the dysfunction of alcoholism within our family dynamics. Like I did with my children, they knew that this kind of imagery was “bad” for a child on a primal level.
Strict aside, here, but an indication of how violence can harm a child, Victor forced Mike to watch a specific segment of “Faces Of Death,” one time, against my vehement protests that it was too much for him to process. He forced Mike to watch this segment to demonstrate (and, I quote), “No matter how cute a girl might be, she could be a very bad person.” The segment was supposed to depict a Police raid on a cult cabin, in the woods, where a VCR tape was recovered that documented the beheading of a male victim in a satanic ritual, or something like that. It was HORRIFIC, and I took a beating afterwards for protesting against forcing Mike to watch it.
There are some people that drink violence in as a means of sustenance, and Victor was one of those people. He loved violence and it is my belief that he would probably have loved to commit the shooting that Zimmerman did, JUST so he could kill someone without any fear of consequences. In turn, the second exspath was well aware of my contempt for mindless violence, and developed the mild-mannered persona to hide his own violent preferences! How ironic is that?! LOL!!
I agree Truthy, completely.
As an aside, I happened on this web site and they have some awesome articles…here is one
great link Oxy, thanks.
There is another one on that site that I really liked:
There is a part one and a part two
Part 1 describes how this problem attracts selfish people into our lives.
Part 2 is about attracting better people into our lives.
As a child, I was taught not to be a bother, not to ask for anything. If I asked for anything I was scolded for being selfish. Now I know that my parents were projecting.
OxD, excellent link……..
Sky, I was also taught to not be a bother, but the word, “bother,” was one that my mother used whenever she was martyring herself. “Oh, well……if it’s a BOTHER, then……”
I liked most of the links on that site, but they had one about “treating depression” without medication or therapy, which I think is something that should be left in the hands of the professionals…and yea, I’m prejudiced there, but there are people who are clinically depressed who will “try’ these “techniques” and “herbs and spices” and stay in deep dark depression and/or PTSD…but over all the site is pretty good, at least the parts that Ii read. There is really a lot of good stuff on the internet about healing from psychopaths and other toxic relationships. I think we can all take advantage of many views on this subject…each one has different things to offer us at different TIMES…sometimes you are not yet ready for a specific truth, but next year you might be.
Totally agree with you, Oxy. Depression and suffering from depression and anxiety is still so stigmatised. I have had experience of the misery these illnesses cause. I really don’t know how I would have got out of that hole without medication. When taken properly, it’s a life saver. “Oh I don’t want to take tablets!” is the cry I hear from friends who clearly need help. Or they don’t take their medication properly; only popping a pill when they’re having a particularly bad day. Silly. You wouldn’t do that if you were in pain!
I was lucky enough to have some counselling a few years ago. The therapist was great. By the time I got an appointment…..on the NHS so had to wait…..I had been taking Prozac for a few weeks and was feeling better. I told him I felt a bit of a fraud as I was coping better and didn’t want to waste his time. He told me there is nothing wrong in getting some re-assurance ….I never forgot him. He had suffered himself and told me to spread the word; depression is more common than people think and has many levels. I feel that finding “alternative” self help treatments just makes it even more of a taboo subject. People don’t want to take medication for reasons such as side effects; what about the effects of depression?
I agree strongawoman…depression is not something you can just “get over”—people who would never think about trying to set their own leg if it was broken, would never go to a therapist or take psychotropic medications. Depression and many other illnesses have been shown to be inherited. Of course anyone can be SAD when they lose a person to death, or break up but that is NOT real depression, it is “situational depression” which time and care will make better in most cases, but inherited depression, or ADHD or anything else needs real treatment just like a broken leg. LOL
I’m glad you got help. I see a therapist from time to time now, but am doing well enough right now that I don’t have to go back, but during the deep abyss of the parole protest I was super anxious and depressed, even with medication, so went back to the therapist for a while. I take my medication and I do know it helps me. Many times when I would RX antidepressant medication the people would take it til the felt better then QUIT cold turkey and then a few weeks later they would be back in my clinic crying their heart out with depression…and they couldn’t understand why. Heck some of the people would do this repeatedly, and so I finally got to the point unless the person would GO to a therapist, I would not Rx them medication for their depression. That helped a lot. Also if a person is VERY depressed they do not have the energy to kill themselves, but if you give them an antidepressant they may improve enough that they DO get enough energy to kill themselves. That happened with a former foster son of mine. He went to his family doc, got medication, got better (some) then killed himself. That is a well known side effect of antidepressant medication without good follow up.
Also I never gave a person enough pills to kill themselves with, even if they took them all. I would split the Rx up into a few pills at a time if the medication could be fatal if too many were taken.
I also stayed away from benzodiasapines (like valium and xanax) because they can be habit forming and in some people can cause addictions if taken regularly. CAUTION with any medication is the best way, but some people want to prescribe for themselves and they don’t have the knowledge…others refuse to take Rx’d medication, but “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”
OxD, I’ve surrendered to the fact that I need prescribed medications at this specific moment in time. For now, it breaks the cycle as much as it can, but I’m addressing the shame-core beliefs and emotional recovery in counseling therapy.
You are 100% spot-on that people just cannot “get over” depression, especially when that depression is the result of experiences of abuse and betrayal. I’ve heard SO many people tell me, “You just need to get over it.” Okay. That sounds like a plan. So, explain to me, in detail, precisely HOW to “get over it.” I want techniques, answers, etc., and I actually said this to someone, a while back. Just HOW do we “get over it?”
When my feelings and emotional reactions and responses became unmanageable, it was time to seek help from professionals. I don’t intend to remain on medications for the rest of my life – I don’t believe that it will be necessary, in due time. But, until that time, I’m not going to play with fire. If I wasn’t going to die from neglect DURING the marriage to the exspath, I’m going to do everything in my power not to roll over and give up AFTERWARDS.
And, some days, it’s a serious challenge to meet the day. But, I’m going to do it because I can – I just have to tap into my God-given gifts and heal. That’s all. 🙂
Truthy, in my own recovery which I believe is an ONGOING PROCESS not a “one and done” thing, I have done a lot of study on what STRESS does to the human (or mammalian) brain, and one thing it does is to sever some of the connections in the brain, and literally KILL BRAIN CELLS. The brain, however, research is finding out CAN repair itself. It will NOT ever be the same as it was before the stress injury, but it will be okay again,
You are right, that medication ALONE will not do the trick, but medication is like a crutch to keep us upright and walking while we heal. If you broke your leg and wore a cast and used a crutch for a while so you could move about your leg might heal but you might have some limp and if you do, well, you do, it isn’t going to ever be the SAME but it will be where you can handle it. Maybe you will always need a cane or crutch, maybe you will not need that cane or crutch after they take the cast off…but if you do, SO WHAT???? You are still moving around.
However, if you don’t use the crutch and simply pile up in the bed with the broken leg, you will become so WEAK from the inactivity that you may never walk again.
I had a patient (this is a true story!) who was so fat and lazy that he went to bed and had his wife wait on him hand and foot…after some time of this his knee and hip joints literally FROZE so he could not straighten his legs or stand up…he refused to even try to turn over or move his position in bed, and got huge bed sores because of that. He eventually died in that bed. He was also a very abusive man to her and could hit her with a thrown metal bed pan at 15 feet!
When he acted out like this (and of course could not get out of bed) I advised her to say to him “John (not his real name) Ii can see you are upset, I’m going to close the door and I’ll be back in an hour when you are calmer and we can talk. ” Then I said “if that doesn’t work and he is still mad” RINSE AND REPEAT until he got the idea that you would not tolerate physical or emotional abuse.”
Unfortunately, his wife was not able to do this and tolerated his abuse until he passed away.
I saw her problem, but at that time my son was abusing me! I didn’t see my own problem, so I had more OUT SIGHT than IN SIGHT.
Depression and other problems with our brains are in many cases genetic…and add in a bit or a lot of abuse… and we have to have that “crutch” of medication to keep us upright and moving so we don’t become physically or emotionally “bed fast” If I must take medication for the rest of my life, SO WHAT? It isn’t like I am scoring street drugs, it is MEDICINE not recreation.
Antidepressive medication do NOT “fix” the problem of the broken brain, but they do allow you to “stand upright” and exercise your brains recovery. Therapy gives us IN sight to change our own dysfunctional behaviors and calm our thinking.
I am very grateful for the medicine to help me recover and heal myself, but I do think that healing is a JOURNEY not a destination. As we improve we are able more and more to see how to make our lives and our thinking better and more satisfying. Dr. Frankl’s book “Man’s search for meaning” illustrates that when we are traumatized as he was in the Nazi prison camps, that there are only three things we can do.
1. turn our faces to the wall, give up and die (either physically or emotionally)
2. become bitter and filled with hate and rage, being a perpetual victim
3. Find meaning from our suffering and live the rest of our lives with MEANING.
I CHOOSE # 3
OxD, I’m choosing #3, as well. The other two options are not what I’m meant to do, if that makes any sense, at all.
I’ve always been able to “bounce back” from everything that I’ve experienced, and this recovery is something completely different. I think that it’s the betrayal – the set-up and the long-con – that finally took its toll. After a lifetime of various traumas and “taking it on the chin,” it finally culminated in this whole-self breakdown.
So, the options #1 & 2 are definitely options, but neither are whom I am, nor are they whom I intend to be.
our ability to “bounce back” is what kept us playing the same game over and over. Hopefully we can “bounce out” of that game and find a new way to perceive our lives.
Yes, our brains can change and grow. It’s a slow process though. And we have to give up a lot of what we thought was true in order to be able to accept a different reality.
Sky, that makes perfect sense to me. “Bouncing back” was likely perceived as my personal desire to take it all on the chin and then some. I LOVE “bounce OUT!!!”
Yah……..the “acceptance” is the catalyst to actual healing for me, I think. And, I also agree that we have the ability to rewire our brains – it’s not simple task, but it is absolutely possible. If I can process and learn the concept that “feelings are not facts,” I can do anything! LOL
We were taught many FALSE things as well
There is good in everyone….FALSE…even Ted Bundy was a “good friend” to Ann Rule, but that did not mean he was “good” in any sense except pretense
It takes two to fight..meaning that if you are in a “fight” it is partly your fault. NOT TRUE..you can be a totally innocent victim and get the shiat beat out of you by an abuser
There are two (valid) sides to every story…WRONG…there may be two sides, but that does NOT mean that they are both VALID
and so on….as long as we operate under these FALSE “rules” of social conduct then we will always be victims.
It is only when we realize that these things (and others) that we have been taught are TOTALLY FALSE that we can begin to see that we don’t have to tolerate bad behavior from anyone because “deep down” there is good in them that somehow we can bring out…or that our reality might be “wrong” and it really IS all our fault. LOL
We were taught that we had to “forgive” any wrong done to us, “forgive” meaning to give them another chance to do it again and again and again.
Well, my new definition of “forgive” is to quit being bitter about it, but to STAY THE HAIL AWAY FROM FOLKS THAT WOULD ABUSE ME.
OxD, you’re spot-on about false beliefs, and I’m working on altering my beliefs to be based upon FACTS, rather than feelings, or what I think other people’s expectations of me might be.
I realize that I refer to “shame-core beliefs,” frequently, but I do that because I can clearly appreciate how these flawed beliefs were formed, when they were formed, how they were formed, and the depth of impact that maintaining those flawed beliefs has caused throughout my lifetime. My choices, actions, and decisions were rooted in shame and the flawed belief that I was somehow responsible for the health, happiness, and success (AND, failures) of every human being that I cared about. Well, this simply isn’t true.
“Forgiveness” is the benefit of “acceptance,” I believe. Once I accept that a truth is non-negotiable and cannot be altered, I can allow “forgiveness” to occur, and move on without regret. I’m STILL struggling with that concept because it is an absolute challenge. Bitterness can become “comfortable” and familiar. But, it’s so very, very toxic to me, personally. So, letting go of that is my primary focus, right now.
Yepper………I don’t have to despise someone to stay away from them, anymore. Time was when someone really had to “Do Something Bad” in order for me to acknowledge that they were toxic to me. Nowadays, I’m learning how to sever ties with toxic people without feeling ashamed, guilty, or responsible for their choices, actions, and behaviors.
Great article on “10 signs you are dating a psychopath”
Good link, OxD……….too bad these things aren’t “taught” at an early age, right?
I read this article in the Huffington Post when it appeared on Yahoo – At first, after reading the title, I thought Yea, right, this will be a waste. Wow, I was sure wrong. It was an excellent article, hit all the high (or low) points.
I went on to read the comments, mostly from people calling this woman an uneducated “quack” and her article ridiculous. I think that just goes to show you, you can’t really “teach” people anything about this subject UNTIL they have been there, done that……….
My ex-spath was very subtle with his love bombing I didn’t even notice it, yet somehow I was profoundly hooked.
The pity ploys were more noticeable, but he didn’t speak ill of either his mother or his ex, instead he spoke fondly of memories with them. Yet, there were many hard luck stories in which his business was burned down by arson (I’m positive he set the fire) or someone stole his invention because he didn’t know how to protect himself, etc…
If I’d read that list when I was young, I’d never have believed it either, MiLo. I’d have dismissed it as painting everyone with a broad stroke. You’re right, without the emotional connection and the meaning of the red flags, we just don’t see the patterns of boundary violations.
I was recently watching a you tube video that mentioned the power of attention. Basically, the emotional vampire needs our ATTENTION in order to steal our emotional energy. We can learn to tune into our emotional energy and know when it’s being drained from us. Then take our attention back from that vampire.
Milo and Sky, I read Dr. Hare’s book about psychopaths “Without Conscience” in 1994…I yellow high lighted almost every page and applied it to my psychopathic sperm donor (father) but some how even though Patrick was the spitting image of my father…not so much in looks as actions and he was in prison for murder by then, I STILL DID NOT CONNECT PATRICK to the book. It took me over 20 years more to really connect the dots. And heck I’m supposed to be a mental health professional. LOL In fact a few months after Patrick was arrested for murder, I took a job at a mental health hospital in patient setting for all ages…and it was theraputic for me because Ii couldn’t talk about the problems with Patrick with my “friends” (or wouldn’t talk about it might be more correct) but I could talk about it to my coworkers and it was therapy for me to be able to talk about it, but you know, I STILL didn’t get it until years (decades) later. So as Jesus said “those with eyes who will not see, having ears but will not hear” and that is so true…we pick and choose what we want to believe even in the face of EVIDENCE.
Milo, it’s very good to “see” you! And, in hindsight, I can identify the exspath’s behaviors as toxic, at the very least.
Sky, I “knew” about “bad people” as a younger woman – they were all behind bars, but they still “deserved” a second chance and a chance at redemption in my mind. It’s interesting that the majority of men and women that I’ve met who have had their own experiences with psychopaths are about 40-45 in age. Very few younger people recognize or identify that they are involved with “toxic” people. And, my belief that this occurs is that we’re just not READY to see the facts for what they are.
When I was still married to the first abusive exspath, I “knew” that the relationship was toxic. I knew that I was terrified, most of the time. I knew that I was depressed and anxious, and that I felt trapped. But, I remained “for the children.” My fear of being on my own with 2 children was greater than my fear of a loaded .357 in my face.
OxD, you are so spot-on that we literally pick and choose what we want to believe, even in the face of cold, hard, facts and evidence. I can clearly remember looking into the eyes of the second exspath during some discussion, and I recognized that there was no emotional connection, whatsoever, in those cold, dead eyes. I wondered, at that point, if I had made a terrible mistake in entering a contract of marriage with him – but, because there was no physical or verbal abuse, I passed it all off as my wild imagination. There were other things that he did that were questionable – doing what HE wanted and beating down my aspirations via passive/aggressive tactics – but, I ignored them with the belief that I HAD to be imagining things. EUGH……..
I guess I wasn’t very clear in my last comment. I meant to connect the two thoughts, that, while it’s true that I didn’t “see” or “understand” the dysfunctional relationships, I did feel the emotional drain of the vampires. What I didn’t know was that I was supposed to — or even allowed to — protect myself from it. Nor did I know HOW to protect my emotions from being drained by taking my attention away from the vampires.
This stuff really should be taught in grade school. Where else are people supposed to learn it?