My life sometimes has felt like an old B rated movie from the 1940's, almost a of Hitchcock's twisted psychological thrillers such as "Rear Window" or "North By Northwest".
Because my job for 20 years brought me into contact with some of the most incredible sociopaths you could ever meet, be it in a movie or on the street. They were real people, living in the real world, inflicting their brand of pathology on nave victims. The stories of the damage they perpetrated upon others are massive, devastating, and horrendous tales documented in my case files, not unlike the "X-Files" and "Cold-Case" television stories, except that these are true and many times more unbelievable.
Experts estimate that approximately 1% of the American population over 18 years of age is sociopaths. That would mean about 3 million sociopaths are working, living and socializing within the greater society.
Sociopaths are masters of deception and pathological liars who seem to present as having no problems on the superficial level of their life, but after careful review secrets are revealed. These are people with no conscience or remorse for their actions.
You probably work with and live around people who fall into the antisocial personality range. Some of us who work in criminal, legal, and mental health fields experience first hand the extreme examples of this disorder, exemplified by serial rapists and serial killers. It is a sad truth that the mental health field has found no cure for this behavior or for effective rehabilitation.
The immediate options for individuals suffering with this disorder, who become perpetrators of crimes or are a danger to themselves are- prison, therapy, or sometimes drugs that have dubious benefits and limited positive results.
It was my job for years to profile the type of people who fall into the extreme category as "dangerous to themselves or others" and build a case with local police to get them out of the community or into prison because they had committed a crime.
I would like to explain the basis we used to discern sociopathy and what has become know today as antisocial personality disorder.
PROFILE and DEFINITION of the SOCIOPATH
The sociopath is an individual who presents as having an antisocial personality disorder. Modern schools of psychiatry and psychology no longer use the term sociopath to diagnose a patient. Sociopaths are now described as having an antisocial personality disorder that manifests with acute disregard for the rights of others and a grandiose sense of self.
The APA uses the DSM-IV handbook for mental health diagnosis definition, which can be found in section 301.7: Anti-Social Personality Disorder. European doctors use the ICD-10 diagnostic guide that also places the mental health illness of sociopath in the range of a Personality Disorder.
Over the 30 year evolution of psychological evaluation and diagnosis, the definition, along with specific criteria used to determine many mental health illnesses, has changed. This is very true of the psychological perspective concerning sociopathy and psychopathy. The continuum of psychological care changed the diagnosis from psychopathy to sociopathy to antisocial personality disorder, and this has shifted the loci of diagnosis from "intrapsychic dynamics" to analysizing the social impact of the individual upon society (Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal and Violent Behavior").
* A good working definition would be: a sociopath is a person suffering with a personality disorder that is characterized by chronic antisocial behavior that disregards the rights of other individuals and often violates laws of a said society the individual lives in.
The disorder involves presenting a history of chronic antisocial behavior that many times begins before the age of 12. It is a behavior disorder that becomes displayed in patterns of irresponsible, reckless, impulsive, illegal and often violent activities. Symptoms can also include dysphoria and the overwhelming sense that they are a victim in a world which is against them.
This is a psychological diagnosis that is not usually used regarding children under 16 years of age because of their undeveloped capacity for intimacy at that stage in their life development.
Many researchers and doctors still argue over the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths (Robert D. Hare, "Without Conscience", and David T. Lykken, "The Antisocial Personalities" and Ben Karpman M.D. "The Myth of the Psychopathic Personality" The American Journal of Psychiatry') debating whether they are separate psychological contexts or progressive psychopathology of the same illness. We will let them argue their academic technicalities and look at the traits Robert Hare has developed to diagnose someone as sociopathic. These are the most accepted characteristics used world-wide to assess sociopathic behavior and place a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder on an individual.
Superficial Charm: exhibited through being your best' friend too quickly.
Manipulative: always playing a con on victims' who are unaware or dominated by the individual.
Grandiose Sense of Self: they feel entitled to whatever they want and are extremely self-centered.
Pathological Liar: unable to discern where truth ends and lies begin, plus they chronically create complex webs of fabricated lives.
Lack of Remorse or Guilt: repressed rage may be a central ego force that reinforces their views of people as victims-"the end always justifies the means".
Lack of Empathy: only show emotions when there is something to gain for theirselves.
Shallow Emotions: compassion, love and joy are not genuine and promises are meant to be broken. They suffer the "Peter Pan Syndrome" of never growing up.
No True Ability To Love: they only know how to use others by feigning undying affection toward another person.
Need for Stimulation: they usually thrive on adversarial situations and exhibit extreme verbal and physical outbursts. Addictions, promiscuity.
Impulsive Behavior: they exhibit in rages and abuse where they know no personal boundaries.
Juvenile Behavior Problems: where histories of academic, social and behavioral problems manifest and become chronic (such as stealing, cruelty to animals, no ability to make or keep friends).
Irresponsible and Unreliable Behavior: they disregard others and never accept any fault for acts committed against others.
Parasitic Lifestyle: their lifestyle of living off others becomes a pattern of exploitation (moving around a lot, lack of ability to keep a job).
Criminal Activity: manifests in various nefarious actions and behaviors (murder, robbery, con scams and much more).
Robert Hare, 1986
It is an interesting fact when profiling these individuals that they tend to all be very intelligent; some have even been members of MENSA. There is an excellent book about this phenomenon called "The Mask of Sanity", a very good read.
Dr. Ken Magid, in his book "High Risk, Children without a Conscience" adds this comment about the consequences many professionals face when working with individuals who display this diagnosis "Psychiatrists are often helplessly manipulated by the psychopath; just as are the psychopaths other victims.' I wholeheartedly support this statement and experienced situations where I had to remove myself from a case because the manipulation game played by the perpetrator crossed ethical boundaries and jeopardized investigations.[I had a client who was the CEO of a major American Company by day and a stalker of exotic dancers by night...and when I began my profile investigation of him, he began to stalk me. Running into me at restaurants and other social events until it became way too obvious, he believed he could manipulate me by intimidation.]
The factors that play a major role in producing antisocial personality disorders are another debate with a wide range of theories. My experience taught me 4 things which have a serious affect on contributing to this disorder: a family history of the disorder, gender (more males), socioeconomic status, and a genetic predisposition seem to be involved with this illness.
"The Psychopath The Mask of Sanity".special research project of the Quantum Future Group