A sociopath definition in a medical dictionary is something like:
But that doesn't tell us very much!
The best way to think about a sociopath is that it is someone who does not have a conscience. That means they don't feel any guilt, shame, remorse or embarrassment about anything they do. This may seem very strange to those people who do live with a conscience because it's incredibly difficult to imagine what it would be like.
It means that sociopaths can do bad or evil things and feel no regrets whatsoever. They literally never feel bad or upset about anything they do! This explains how some serial killers or serial rapists can do what they do. They feel nothing for their victims. Absolutely nothing!
Such extreme sociopaths are rare, however. Much more common are the sociopaths who live seemingly normal lives, but who are lying, cheating, swindling and manipulating everybody around them for their own selfish gains.
It can be incredibly difficult to realize that you are in a relationship with a sociopath because they act charming, friendly and witty and they make friends easily. They like to make friends quickly because friends trust each other. And it's easier to get friends to do what you want.
They have the ability to read people and they quickly assess the needs, desires and weaknesses of others and then use these things to control and dominate for personal benefit. They do this by pretending to be the perfect partner who is able to provide those needs and desires and help with the weaknesses.
This means that the relationships they build are totally fabricated. They are based on lies and deception, deliberately designed to manipulate the emotions of their victims in order to be able to take advantage of them. And they may do it really well! So well, in fact, that even when they are abusing people, stealing from them and lying, the victim still wants to maintain the relationship with them!
This can occur within a husband wife relationship, in a business setting or even large group settings such as destructive cults, or you may even have a sociopath next door!
The controlling girlfriend who leeches off her boyfriend, isolates him from his friends and creates drama so he feels he has to come to her rescue every time, may be a sociopath. The wife who treats her husband badly, having many affairs, spending a lot of money, having him look after the house and children when she's out socializing, may be a sociopath. Even after leaving such a relationship, it's not easy to forget such a sociopath.
That high-powered exec who has climbed the corporate ladder very rapidly, walking all over everybody else, who never quite gets the job done on time, or ends up tricking somebody else to do it for him and somehow is always in the good graces of his superiors, may be a sociopath in the workplace.
The important thing to recognize is that one of the traits of these monsters is that they want to control, manipulate and dominate others. They are not necessarily playing to win but to keep the game going. Sometimes the seemingly stupid things they do can be understood only if you consider that the aim of their game is control. This means control of their victim's emotions, thoughts, decision making and behaviors. In other words, total control of a person's life. This happens not just in cults but also in intimate relationships, work situations and social situations. You can think of an intimate relationship with a sociopath as a cult of two people.
Perhaps we should add something about this to our sociopath definition - "No conscience and wants to dominate.'
Another group of sociopaths are those with overtly antisocial behavior.
From the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual used by mental health professionals, we get the following criteria for antisocial personality disorder:
Obviously not every one of the sociopathic symptoms need to be present to make a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder!
You could say that in any sociopath definition there is a spectrum in the symptoms that sociopaths display, from serial killers on the one end, to those with obvious illegal and destructive antisocial behaviors, to those who are 'socialized' or integrated into the community but who nevertheless are emotionally abusing people and destroying their lives but in a way that is more difficult to recognize.
A common factor is that they are all controlling and domineering and they inflict damage and suffering on others. You can learn more about the signs of abusive relationships and about how exactly the damage is done in a marriage to a sociopath.
Psychologists who work with clients to undo the mind control of sociopaths suggest that if a sociopath has not had problems with the law, it's only because they haven't been found out yet!
Sociopath treatment options are limited...
Whatever sociopath definition you use, these people are sometimes also known as psychopaths.
Dr. Robert Hare, a psychologist who has studied psychopaths for many years, believes that most sociopaths/psychopaths have antisocial behavior, but not everybody with antisocial behavior is a sociopath. For example, people can engage in antisocial behavior for a variety of reasons including traumas in childhood, childhood abuse or neglect and so on.
Sociopaths, however, exhibit antisocial behavior because they have no conscience. They know what they are doing, they understand the difference between good and bad. They can choose 'bad' and it doesn't bother them.
Some people believe there is a difference between sociopathy and psychopathy but there is often disagreement about what the differences are. You can find out more about sociopath vs psychopath here.
Read more about the symptoms of a sociopath, how they appear in real life situations, sociopath tests and what to do if you think you might be dealing with a sociopath, things you need to know if you have toxic parents, how to leave an abusive relationship and how to divorce a sociopath...
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