Narcissists and Sociopaths and Psychopaths, oh my!
The term psychopath has been around for generations, immortalized in movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s, “Psycho”, starring Anthony Perkins as the murderous Norman Bates. Who can ever forget the famous “shower scene”?
But that was waaaay back in the olden days – before there was such a thing as social media and the Internet. Murderous crimes were newsworthy, and the dissemination of information was more limited than what we experience in today’s age.
I’m not sure when I first heard the term “narcissist”, other than it was post-millennial and during the height of the computer industry. I had seen the term applied to Millennials, those who were born between 1980 and the year 2000, sometimes referred to as the “me me generation” or “generation me”, but I was too busy to investigate what the term really meant, besides a general idea it had something to do with selfishness.
Once I discovered the term “sociopath” – a distinctive cousin to the precursor “psychopath”, it launched me into the world of personality disorders.
Narcissists and sociopaths seemed to hide behind every bush, growing exponentially with the advent of social media. There were countless reports by people who were victimized by one or the other – me included. It was both comforting and disconcerting to find out I wasn’t alone.
But I found the shifting terminology confusing. Descriptions of the various personality disorders blended and coalesced like a demented Spirograph. I couldn’t pinpoint any one description exactly – I only knew that I recognized a pattern of bad behavior, in a few key people throughout my life, that I had unwittingly tolerated out a misguided sense of love and friendship.
I discovered that my Pollyanna approach to the world around me was best left to the world of fiction. My “rose-colored glasses” slowly descended my nose and for the first time in my life, I could see certain others with crystal clarity. I spent many long hours deciphering the difference between multiple personality disorders, recognizing their many character traits and social tactics that had left me confused and emotionally bereft.
It is often said – half the battle is recognizing the problem….
As a veteran cum survivor, I no longer tolerate toxic relationships of any kind. However, the scars of battle still remain and I strive to understand this phenomena of human nature.
I recently read a book, “The Sociopath Next Door”, written by Martha Stout, ph.d, published in 2005, that I found particularly illuminating.
I was shocked to learn that research (from 11 years ago!) showed 1 out of every 25 people as sociopaths. They can appear under a variety of guises, blending into our larger society with nary a trace for upwards to years before they either self-destruct or the truth becomes known, often by the victims who become weary of their abusive/manipulative behavior.
I was also stunned by the concept that sociopaths have no conscience. It’s hard to even imagine what that must be like, but Stout does a pretty good job describing ‘a typical day in the life of a sociopath’. She went on to say:
“Sociopathy is more than just the absence of conscience…it is the inability to process emotional experience, including love and caring, except when such experience can be calculated as a coldly intellectual task.”
Whereas, “Narcissism is a failure not of conscience, but of empathy.”
I also found Stout’s “13 Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life” quite helpful, especially rule #8:
“The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him [or her], to refuse any kind of contact or communication…They live completely outside the social contract – to include them in any relationship or social situation is perilous”.
Even though the book helped make sense of a very difficult issue that is extremely hard to identify, it still remains an elusive topic for further study.
It’s not easy to label people, even experts debate the cause, reason, and definition of certain *abnormal* behavior traits. I believe that the bottom line is this: no matter what term you use to describe someone’s actions, whether you call them a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist, one simple fact remains – there are people in our society who act without conscience; they have no ability to feel shame, guilt, or remorse.
So what can we do?
We can celebrate the fact that the vast majority of humankind CAN feel and love – but be forewarned against the few folks who do not. If given half the chance, ‘they will prey on you’.
I’ll leave you with this final thought.