Should We Feel Sympathy for Sociopaths?May 28, 2010 • By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, GoodTherapy.org Founder and CEO
There is no debate about the fact sociopathy is a real condition which interferes with or precludes the capacity for empathy and remorse. However, there is debate about how sociopathy should be viewed, and I take a unique and unpopular position.
The etiology of sociopathy is an important area of research that by no means has produced a final verdict on the cause of this condition. The collective research on sociopathy suggests that there are a number of possible interrelated causes for the condition including cultural, environmental, and genetic factors. As far as I know, there is no research to warrant the conclusion that all sociopaths are born with the condition, nor is there conclusive evidence that all sociopaths are the result of their environment, such as lack of emotional attachment.
Whatever the general etiology and prognosis are for the condition of sociopathy, it should not preclude therapists and other mental health professionals from treating such folks with dignity. This declaration may seem shocking at first, but there is a sensible argument for treating sociopaths with dignity. Regardless of whether sociopathy is caused by genetic factors, environmental factors, or some combination, sociopaths should not be viewed as responsible for their sociopathy because the sociopathic condition is not one that is chosen—it is one that is given, whether by genetic inheritance or life experience.
I’m not suggesting that some sociopaths do not make or intend evil action, nor am I arguing that sociopaths should not be held responsible for their actions. From a cursory review of the 20th century alone—and some of its leading figures—it’s clear that sociopaths are quite capable of evil. Because sociopathy is a condition affecting one in 100 men and one in 300 women, most of us have interacted with a sociopath and many have been hurt, abused, or taken advantage of as a result. I very much understand the kind of destruction and pain some sociopaths can cause as well as the fear, anger, pain, and the inability to forgive which many victims of sociopaths are faced with. I say “some” because not all sociopaths are the violent psychopathic killers that the media portray them to be.
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Additionally, it’s important to mention that even though sociopaths do not feel empathy, they do have a cognitive understanding of what is deemed right and wrong by the culture that they exist in. Of course we can imagine how a lack of empathy can debilitate a person, leaving one to make decisions based simply on consequences or self-serving implications. But it is still reasonable to expect sociopaths, or any member of society no matter how unrealistic it might seem, to have cognitive knowledge of right from wrong, to agree to the golden rule even for self-serving purposes, and to control their impulses.
Again, I’m not in denial of the danger that some sociopaths present. Nonetheless, I recommend that regardless of the danger sociopaths collectively pose to society, it would be in everyone’s best interest to develop sympathy for sociopaths and to consider doing what we can to help heal the condition of sociopathy.
Why have sympathy for sociopaths?
Again, nobody chooses sociopathy. One’s genetic and environmental inheritance as well as the family and culture one is born into predisposes and shapes each of us beyond our control. What a horrible misfortune to inherit sociopathy.
Sociopaths miss out on the most uplifting experiences of being human: love, empathy, and emotional connection. (Of course, this view is only held by those of us who actually know what love feels like.)
Many sociopaths make contributions to society through medicine, military service, and many other fields of service.
And there is hope, no? Currently, the odds of an adult without empathy ever developing the capacity to emotionally attach and feel remorse, regardless of the cause of their sociopathy, is probably quite low. Nonetheless, I believe that it’s better to stay open to the possibility that some sociopaths could have the capacity to develop attachment, remorse, guilt, and empathy. The latest research from the field of interpersonal neurobiology demonstrates that the adult brain can develop new neural connections and can even grow new neurons, a finding that offers tremendous hope. If we can envision future technologies developed through neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology and imagine how they could contribute to the understanding and treatment of sociopathy, I believe that there certainly is hope. What if the etiology and variations of sociopathy could be differentiated from each other and understood? What if sociopathy could be treated effectively? If sociopathy was a treatable condition, something we could reverse or heal, the amount of collective harm passed around from human to human and nation to nation could be greatly reduced. With an effective medical treatment for sociopathy, millions of children with sociopathic parents might have a chance to develop a healthy attachment, and a large number of people with sociopathy produced as a result of their childhood experiences could be prevented.
Of course, this will never happen if sociopaths are seen as invaluable, inferior, and are treated as the lepers of society. The irony is that many of us who fear sociopaths or have been hurt by them inadvertently “steal one from their playbook” by reciprocating and viewing sociopaths without sympathy. I encourage you to join me in the hope that someday pro-social groups will join together to contribute the financial resources needed to improve the treatment of sociopathy and, however grandiose, the course of human cultural evolution in turn.
If you’re looking for more information on the causes of sociopathy, this NPR story may interest you.
© Copyright 2010 by Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, WA. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
soniaMay 28th, 2010 at 3:17 PM
While I can see your point of view I really don’t think that this is one that’s gonna be an easy sale to the rest of the public. The behavior exhibited by most sociopaths is so horrible and threatening to most of the population I think that you will find that there are very few people who will find a way to find empathy for these folks. Do they deserve to be treated in a way that leaves them with dignity? Yes I agree with that. But I am afraid that having empathy will exvuse their behavior, and even if they have little to no control over that behavior that does not make what they do right and there is really no room for excuses to be made.
NickMay 29th, 2010 at 8:23 AM
How much emapthy can you possibly have for these people who commit crimes against their fellow human beings and yet can find no way to feel any remorse for what they have done?
MARKMay 29th, 2010 at 1:24 PM
I agree with you. Here’s why I do agree with what you’re saying-Lets consider there are some animals who harm us humans. We cannot just go on a rampage killing them,can we? We have to selectively kill the aggressive ones. And they are ANIMALS! Sociopaths are not animals and when even a terrorist or criminal can get a fair trial and basic human rights, I think it would be wrong not to provide the same human rights to sociopaths…
We feel sad for a person who does not have money,to see someone who cannot afford the basic things for himself.Then I think it is only right that we have empathy for those who cannot afford love or other good things in life too.Hence sociopaths do require our empathy!
N.BoucherMay 30th, 2010 at 4:09 AM
Criminals are treated like criminals and whether they are sociopaths or not, they deserve the behavior that is to be handed out to a criminal.Period.
FranMay 30th, 2010 at 11:08 AM
Who are we to jusdge others? That’s not our job.
Why not put all of that energy that we carry around as anger toward some of our fellow humans and put that to hopefully some good and rehabilitation? I am not saying you have to become best friends with the person but they deserve a fair shot at redemption just like the reast of us.
Sherry OsadcheyMay 31st, 2010 at 7:24 AM
Thank you, Noah, for your insightful piece. I so agree with you. We must always look to the wisdom and teachings of our greatest leaders in humanity – – Mandela, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama. It is with compassion and understanding that we will TRANSFORM the oppressive, harmful darkness we encounter from individuals, groups. I am not saying turn a blind eye to the reality of dark behavior. And neither were/are the people I acknowledge. If we wish to encourage the evolution of goodness we cannot bring rage and revenge to a situation that already is filled with these. If it is change we want we must be the change. Thanks for your thoughts on this issue.
JohnnaMay 31st, 2010 at 8:55 AM
I want to have sympathy and empathy for others as I do not know what kinds of lives they have had to lead that have brought them to this point in their lives but I swear there are just some people in this world that I don’t know how to feel that for! These are people who have committed who knows what measure of unkindness toward others- the only ones who usually get my sympathy are those who have had to suffer so much at their hands. There have been some wonderful teachings on this subject I will agree but I have never fully been able to wrap my mind around the fact that everyone deserves kindness. I struggle with that all of the time, and while I appreciate that there are those who can find it within themselves to offer this to everyone I know that this is something that is going to remain a difficult feat for me to overcome.
joelMay 31st, 2010 at 9:18 AM
although peace and empathy may seem like the morally right thing to do,lets just ask ourselves as to how often we take into account the moral aspect in whatever we do…we think rationally and practically more often than we do in the moral aspect.
Freddy S.May 31st, 2010 at 11:22 AM
Treating a criminal or sociopath in a brutal way is not going to lead to anything positive and will only isolate them more from the community and society.It will not help in understanding why they do what they do and in finding a possible solution.
A.murphyMay 31st, 2010 at 3:14 PM
I am all for taking a new route :)
For years,we’ve been treating these sociopaths like hardened criminals.And even though some of them are criminals(not all are!), it is now clear that the old methods have not yielded anything at all. So it makes sense to take a new route and see whether it gives us any positive results. These sociopaths are people with a problem, and that problem actually causes them to cause problem to others. So it would definitely be good if we can study and eliminate the problem that they have!
pearlJune 1st, 2010 at 7:02 AM
@A.murphy: I completely agree with you. Even if the specialists are divided about the effectiveness of this newly-proposed idea, they should take it up because the old idea has yielded nothing but a big ZERO!
DuffJune 1st, 2010 at 11:34 AM
The irony is that many of us who fear sociopaths or have been hurt by them inadvertently “steal one from their playbook” by reciprocating and viewing sociopaths without empathy.
That’s it right there. If we lack empathy for sociopaths, we are acting sociopathically, thus doing the same thing as that which we would change. Strangely enough, not having empathy for a sociopath is almost like getting stuck in the worldview of the sociopath, like a therapist becoming depressed after working with a suicidal client! Perhaps a paradoxical treatment method would be to initially have no empathy–thus entering into the world of the sociopath and gaining rapport–then shift to an empathetic approach. Clearly great caution and boundaries are needed with psycho/sociopaths as to not get fooled, but this is true in all therapy, no?
GentlyFeralJune 1st, 2010 at 11:54 AM
“Many sociopaths make contributions to society through medicine, military service, and many other fields of service.”
stacy robinsonJune 1st, 2010 at 5:37 PM
I think most of us do have empathy for such people by default.But this default condition changes because of the biased approach of other people or if we are personally attacked or harmed by such people.So what I want to say is that the societal view on the issue must change and this cannot happen without the willingness of the authorities concerned.
Alison KSeptember 2nd, 2010 at 10:43 PM
I keep reading the word “empathy” and I just think to myself, I have nothing but sympathy. I can’t put myself in their shoes, but I sure do feel sad for them at times. I feel sad that some of them were made victim to horrendous past experiences which ultimately set them up for the life that they lead now. It just doesn’t seem fair. Many people live to be social, and be like others and I feel like they didn’t want to grow up and do some of the things they did, but they were set up. Not all, but some. I definitely wouldn’t outcast them. There must be something valuable upstairs to figure out the why’s and hows.
Fannie LeFlore, MS,LPC,CADC-DOctober 7th, 2010 at 1:47 PM
I appreciate what Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, Executive Director GoodTherapy.org, has written here.
I see value in being open to the possibility of people changing, but I also believe it’s important for psychotherapists to recognize the true damage done to people in “pathological relationships” with sociopaths and other pathological narcissists. The extent of emotional, psychological and other damage can be extensive as I’ve learned in my work as a psychotherapist.
Victims of sociopaths need our empathy/sympathy too, but you may be surprised at some of the blame that gets imposed on victims who’ve been devastated and traumatized by their relationship/bonding with a sociopath. Many people are too quick to tell victims to “just get over it” without fully comprehending the insidious nature of abuse inherent in pathological relationships involving those with personality/character disorders.
The reality is that many people who suffer in childhood due to negative family-of-origin issues do not attempt to destroy other human beings, so I believe sociopaths (regardless of how they became what they are) do need to be held accountable for their behaviors. Life is difficult at some point for most people, but those who refuse to be open to growth — who do not learn from experience — are in a category of their own.
Those victimized by sociopaths would be wise to not believe promises of change from sociopathic predators who seek to harm others and refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.
According to Dr. John McCormick, what is known as the “Sociopathic Style™” of relating to others is fairly rampant in our society for many reasons. Many normal people with a “Sociopathic Style” are not fully abusive or exploitive, but occasionally relate to others from manipulative or narcissistic-oriented positions.
Dr. McCormick wrote that if individuals are committed to the “Sociopathic Style™” — as is the case with the full-blown sociopath who has a personality disorder — they will not change. That is because the true sociopathic person is walled off from their core. What they present to the world is an image – a façade of who they really are – not a “real” self. Their way of operating is control and power at all costs, which inherently involves abuse to others – whether intimate partner, children, relatives, co-workers or friends. The more severe the “Sociopathic Style™” in an individual, the less “self” and “other” exists, according to Dr. McCormick, who has developed a way to test a person’s pathological rigidity – or their commitment to The Sociopathic Style™ — through the use of the Language of Integrity©.
I think there are layers involved in understanding the reality of how sociopaths impact lives. And yet,since most people have a conscience and care for someone else in their interpersonal relationships, we can not say who is beyond reach or truly hopeless.
Johnnie SevenJune 27th, 2011 at 10:56 AM
While it’s all very fine to trumpet your POV that individuals who engage in antisocial behaviors should be treated with dignity, I, for one, think it rather odd that you’ve chosen to use the term “sociopaths” to describe (label) a group of people. The use of sociopath to label others completely negates your message here, as well as your website’s position that practitioners take a “non-pathologizing” approach toward people (e.g., “And how does that make you feel, sociopath?”). Strange.
adminJune 27th, 2011 at 11:52 AM
@ Johnnie Seven – Thanks for your comment, but I think you missed the point I was trying to make and I believe my position on sociopathy completely accords to the non-pathologizing view on this site. The fact is that some small percentage of humans are born unequipped to feel empathy and remorse. Unlike others, these folks have not been shown to be able to develop the capacity for attachment and loving connections. It’s unfortunate. I hold out hope that neuroscience may develop a cure. Lastly, the label is not mine and you’re right it would be better to refer to sociopaths as “people who are physically unequipped to feel remorse or empathy”
JamiAugust 23rd, 2011 at 3:34 PM
This is a great article and I understand the general message you are trying to spread.
You are correct in that I don’t feel sympathy for someone who destroys the lives of others knowingly and purposefully. I never will. Sociopaths know right from wrong, they just don’t care. Yes, they didn’t have a choice in their predisposition, but they know right from wrong, and can control their behavior.
Not being sympathetic toward a sociopath’s actions is the intelligent approach, is it not? Isn’t our sympathy towards them that allows us to be destroyed by them in the first place? Isn’t that what they ploy for in the course of their victimization?
From the looks of your article, it seems like you’ve never been destroyed by one personally, or you would not be saying half the things you just said, or maybe you are just delusional.
I’m interested to know if and how your life has been personally affected by one of these toxic personalities.
andy jSeptember 1st, 2011 at 8:22 AM
I read above many socio,s work in medical fields etc..correct me if im wrong imagine a nurse with no empathy or a doctor who does not really care about there patients.or a military man who says lets kill everyone they deserve it ! true lack of empathy and no moral conduct,an almost vampire attitude towards there victims emotions. sucking all but the last drop of life out of them.and the childlike mind that brings you out of the cupboard to play you are a puppet on a string and it gets no better!once your inside there walls they have you ! i find you get consumed by there unique advantage over you they play lover to excite you ,but play a very diferent game as time goes on it then becomes a circus act they juggle your emotions its fun to them to watch you be taking in then pushed away,one big see-saw! but in the end like a pair of old shoes YOU will be discarded fun with you is over ,time to go back in playground perhaps a game of HYDE and seek,as there persona is just that a switch between the good and evil.ive been there ive been on the end of there callous ways,no sympathy from me infact i say just let them grow old without anyone …
Sam KSeptember 17th, 2011 at 10:59 PM
I think some of the respondants are missing the point. Treating sociopaths with dignity and empathy has nothing to do with holding them accountable for their actions. It’s not a choice between one and the other. Sociopaths can be treated as patients with an illness even as we punish them when they choose to indulge their impulses in unacceptable ways. There is little conflict in doing both with regards to anyone else; sociopaths shouldn’t be an exception, even if it’s more difficult.
All that said, the anger and fear felt by people who have been victimized by sociopaths is completely understandable, and they don’t need to be scolded for feeling the way they do. We can’t abandon empathy and compassion for one group in favor of the other, or no progress will ever be made.
AmandaFebruary 29th, 2012 at 1:05 PM
Noah, I read your article about Compassion for Sociopaths and as a mother who is passionately and desperately trying to raise a child (now 20), who is a sociopath, I was elated to see that some one out there “gets it.” My son did not ask for this, nor was he abused, neglected, abandoned as a child. Quite the opposite, he was and is being raised by 2 loving and married parents and yet our son struggles. He was born this way and has no more control over this than the color of his eyes. In fact, it would probably be easier for you to ask him to change the color of his eyes than to change his behavior. I am positive that the work that we have done so far has made our son’s life less dramatic/traumatic but his outlook for a productive (by societal norms) life is significantly low. He may never be able to live on his own, have a family, hold a job but he will always be loved by my husband and me. That is not to say we protect him from consequences but we make his life as stress free as possible. We have learned that if we structure his life in a such a way that he is able to manage it with little to no stress, he is in a better place. He loves our home where he feels safe and protected and most importantly loved which for him seems to be the most effective therapy. I am not suggesting this is easy and often times I and my husband are pushed to our limits but he is our son and he needs are help. Thank you for the article, I pray that your words are read by millions of folks who also share your insight.
Laura O'SigginsApril 30th, 2012 at 5:47 PM
Very interesting discussion. The sociopaths that I have known have varying degrees of non empathy, hard to measure as they are both geniuses and able to mimic empathy, but, have been told they do not feel it by them. I do believe we can cure sociopathic behavior just as I believe we can cure all mental illnesses. What I have found in my research is that the sociopaths that do horrendous things probably have a degree of obsession or compulsion about the specific thing they do and whatever that is made some impact upon them where they repeated it and got satisfaction. In their everyday life they may look and “act” normal or passable. Nutrition has an effect on behavior and depleted and toxic amounts of vitamins, minerals, chemicals, heavy metals, etc. including prescribed medicine can deplete the necessary vitamins and minerals that create enzymes in the body which in turn effect making neurotransmitters. Vitamin B5 pantothenic acid can create a cleptomaniac if severely depleted; copper toxicity can deplete zinc and can contribute to rage and obsessions. Of course it is not as simple as this as everyone’s biochemical and genetics are individual, but, science is catching up to what orthomolecular doctors have been saying for decades, that nutrtion effects behavior. Improving overall health by taking micronutrients and eating foods that help the liver detoxify the excess toxins and chemicals bombarded on us in this society everyday, will be a good beginning. Why we have not outlawed artificial flavorings, colorings, and additives and gmo, and other toxins, I do not know because these do add to the problem. Tartric acid, yellow food dye like in Mountain Dew, a favorite drink among teens can create many problems, an asthma attack, rage, etc if they have problems detoxifying the salycilates because of an enzyme lack. More research is needed and knowing people who have been helped with nutrition turn from schizophrenic behavior to leading a productive life tells me, there is hope for the sociopath. Of course if we prove that nutrition has an effect of behavior, can it then be used in a court of law, and if that is so could the sociopath sue the makers of the food they ate? More questions than answers, and that is probably why it is not talked about…oh, wait, the man who killed Harvey Milk used the candy bar defense, and we laugh at that, but, he obviously had some mental problems, that were caused by nutrition.
deanMay 2nd, 2012 at 3:15 AM
i enjoyed this artical. getting the balance right between being sympathetic and a kind of righteous indignation (for want of a better phrase) is difficult I find. I think being sympathetic isn’t being all fuzzy wuzzy and silly but is a mature and enlightened response to life’s many many challenges. Easier said than done of course.
What is the best way to respond and deal with anti-social PD? I guess a personal response will depend on many things but what society does with people with this condition has to be pro-social surely. Yes this will mean holding them to account but also offering the right kind of help – although there aren’t enough resources in practice.
I like the tone of the artical. I don’t think it says for minute that we let anyone “off the hook” but its always refreshing to be exposed to the kind of spirit this artical is written in. It has given me some insight into my own stresses about ASPD and made me realise I could benefit from being a bit more enlightened (generally).
deanMay 2nd, 2012 at 3:17 AM
btw, without playing word games “sympathetic” may not be quite the right word. Personally I like compassionate. Just a thought.
TDMay 19th, 2012 at 10:13 AM
Thank you for this article.
I’m a person with a personality on the sociopathic spectrum, malignant narcissism, and your article almost made my eyes mist a bit. Funny it seems, upon retrospection that I’m not being able to feel much concerning others, but positive sentiments towards my – I wouldn’t call it a handicap or condition – towards my being then, makes me feel some self-pity of a sorts.
In any case, I don’t think that sociopathy should be treated, through medication or surgery, I think we’ve seen how much harm American psychiatry could do, leaving thousands of people lobotomized just to “fix” them. Like someone mentioned above, if it’s about “killing aggressive animals”, you won’t help evolution. A species can’t exist without a certain level of aggression – it’d be destroyed.
We’re of course, not talking about the likes of some serial murder-rapist. I’m talking about thousands of people who are “empathetically” impaired, yet their sociopathic traits allow them to perform feats that their empathic brothers and sisters can’t. Making a scientific breakthrough, a military victory, taking a business risk despite being bound by a conscience and succeeding – sociopaths are those who push forward, because they lack fear, often. Push our whole species.
The problem, at least in my case, is constant dysphoria. That’s how I understood what I am, despite feeling good about everything else. There’s a problem that often more than not, you feel dysphoric. I guess other people fill that and quiet the sinking feeling with this whole “love and empathy” and “connection to fellow humans” thing, but we have to improvise. This improvisation sends some people down the wrong road, but it’s not like solely sociopaths are killers, abusers and so forth.
In my personal experience, I found army to be great place to lift the boredom and dysphoric state I’ve been in, and there was a spirit of competition that kept me entertained, I liked it a lot and the feeling of purpose it gave me. About that time I realized that mostly I’ve been “blending” in, than acting on my impulses, and after the army I went to college where I had begun reading about the condition. The trigger was that someone asked me how active duty in the field was, and I said I really enjoyed it, and everyone were like “no fucking way, almost everyone return from war shocked as hell, the fuck are you”.
Then I realized, after wading through a number of books, resources, essays and blogs is how society treats people like me. Especially people like me in the army. Compendium of all that’s evil in the world, portraying the “empaths” as helpless chicks. The total dehumanization shining through the writings and research.
Point is, I always felt myself better than other people in a neutral way. Intellectually, physically, and I’ve internalized the total “I don’t give a fuck” as a sign of cold-bloodedness and steel balls. I admired that trait and grown it in me, and then I read and watch all this crap about how it’s all BAD.
I felt angry. I felt wrong and degraded, and still better than these people. And through some cognitive processes, I’ve decided to dehumanize those who AREN’T like me. I’m not saying that it’s someones writing that had pushed me to this conclusion actually, but rather observation of the current social paradigma, that celebrates weakness instead of strength, which sociopaths – can’t speak for everyone, but anyway – have. And we have this strength despite the aforementioned, sometimes absolutely CRUSHING dysphoria.
I won’t tell were I ended, when I realized that dehumanizing others for dehumanizing ME ended, it’d be absolutely flameworthy.
I just wrote all this, that it’s a self-perpetuating machine. At one point I was ignorant of what I am, acting as all others do with very slight abberations and feeling it’s just my character, but when I learned about it, my hate just plummeted.
Evil, untreatable, manipulative? Okay I am, and I’ll give it to you tenfold. That’s the mindset that might develop in a self-aware sociopath within the state of modern psychiatry.
If that’s what was intended, it was obviously successful.
So concluding, yes, it’s about dignity. And treatment not in the sense of “yeah, let’s just shoot up this guy with drugs till he’s a slobbering non-violent retard” or “let’s remove the EVIL part of the brain”, but treatment in a more generalized sense. We’re here not to fucking destroy everything, no more than the “common man” (I’m a journalist, as a result), we’re just people that are less concerned with emotions and more concerned with ourselves and our desires.
It’s not a crime per se, and we have our uses.
A-JayJune 1st, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I just want to start by saying yes, I have an antisocial personality disorder (or sociopathy). And yes. it is true. Emotions are lacking. What I want to do though is just put it into perspective. I know a lot of people are against others with sociopathy, and maybe they are correct in their hostilities, but I just wanted to say that. Well. Imagine having no emotions. just feeling nothing. you wake up. nothing. you don’t, you can’t, act upon emotions. You will never love anything. Not you parents. No one. You don’t hate either. I know that some sociopaths may have done horrible things, and I’m not saying they’re right, just it isn’t to do with anger or hatred. It’s simply acting upon a purpose, for that is all you have in your life, because as I said, you have no emotions to act upon. I just wanted to put it into perspective. Maybe try it some day. See how long you can go without acting on an emotion. Unfortunately, this is impossible however, for it is incomprehensible to most, but still, just give it a thought. If you’ve taken the time to read this, and I know this is an old article, thank you. Whether or not you believe sociopaths should be treated with empathy is irrelevant. I just wanted to try and give people perspective. Thank you again. Be grateful for what you have.
Fannie LeFloreJune 1st, 2012 at 2:35 PM
A-Jay — Thank you for sharing your valuable insights about lacking emotions, related to anti-social personality disorder.
Please clarify what you are referring to when you say, “Be grateful for what you have.” Does this mean that some sociopaths may envy “normal” people who can feel and connect to others?
Perhaps this can help us bridge a gap or get closer to the heart of some problems. Envy in some form can make people attempt to destroy what they wish they had. This is what I’ve seen sociopaths attempt to do with relatively decent people who actually were their friends, treating them as if they didn’t matter (devaluation). Any person with basic self-esteem would find it intolerable over time to continue engaging with a sociopath who abuses, mistreats and dismisses what is good about them.
Another problem is that many sociopaths, as the previous commenter TD wrote above you, think they are superior to other human beings and view those with empathy as weak. Empathy is a strength, but sociopaths devalue this and attempt to “reduce” and destroy good people whom they presume to be superior to. Sadly, sociopaths don’t realize their own limitations and blind spots — how can they if they view themselves as superior? As a result, they do not have a clue to how they become their own worst enemy. Nor about how pitiful they look and sound in trying to dehumanize other people who cared for them at one point before finally giving up and letting go of friendship or other connection with a sociopaths for their own safety and survival.
In my opinion, there is an extreme level of neediness with sociopaths (perhaps due to the emptiness sociopaths experience due to lacking a solid sense of self) and they will try to punish their family and friends rather than take responsibility for filling their own existential voids/lack of meaning. Could this be similiar to the unrelenting boredom that TD referred to?
My comments on this are based on experience as someone who has had to detach professionally and personally from people whom I believe were sociopathic. They were unreasonable in their expectations of what other human beings can realistically give and be to them.
Who would want to befriend someone long-term who cannot appreciate good qualities others offer? Who would want to be dragged down by someone who lacks gratitude while taking so much, yet seemingly believing they are entitled to another’s empathy and forgiveness no matter what they do, and when there are never lessons learned from mistakes?
Who would want to live in isolation with a sociopath who seeks to dominate, control and destroy rather than being open to compromise for mutual benefit? Who would want to continue engaging with a self-appointed superior sociopath who creates an alternative reality where the sociopath is the center of the universe?
I am thankful for being able to embrace goodness and value human dignity. Part of what gives my life meaning as a relatively normal human being is that I do not take for granted the kindness of others, and I enjoy reciprocal relationships.
A-JayJune 4th, 2012 at 12:20 PM
To Miss LeFlore.
Thank you for your enlightening response. I meant be grateful for the gift of emotions. And yes, regretfully, it was meant in an envious way, but also just a closing comment to my response. And I believe that there is some right to be envious. For you, ‘normal’ people, have been blessed with the gift of emotions, and we/I have not. It is often infuriating to see some people that do not understand quite how lucky they are, gifted with emotions and what joys they can bring. Again. Thank you for your response. Also, to anyone who reads this. Just remember. You may choose to feel or not feel empathy towards sociopaths, but at least you have the choice to feel anything, hate, love, anguish, etc. thank you.
LAOctober 8th, 2012 at 6:17 PM
You obviously have never first hand experienced the tornado of destruction a sociopath causes. Think they are deserving of empathy- Surround yourself with them and leave us with a conscience in a separate circle….You wont have empathy after they eat you alive and spit you out. Very pollyanna!
LAOctober 8th, 2012 at 6:22 PM
Ms. LeFLore- I read your description of who a sociopath is and you describe them perfectly. You chose precise words to describe how they think and how it feels to be on the receiving end of their abuse. Thank you for interjecting some honesty about why sociopaths are not deserving of our empathy..
Fortuna VeritasNovember 18th, 2012 at 2:22 PM
I’m not so sure that holding up the contribution of military service by those who cannot feel anything from taking the life of another human being as a good thing is quite the wisest course of action or a career path that’s very good for the health of the society.
Holly CNovember 18th, 2012 at 9:13 PM
When we discuss Sociopaths and any other abnormal psych, we have to question, would any atypical psych be able to manifest and stay in manifestation without others reciprocating from their behavior? The followers giving praise and approval to the Sociopath, Narcissists willing to support and act within the Sociopaths schemes and the victims who are unaware of their vulnerabilities and do not trust their instincts are all enabling, regardless if it is not intentional. I could never imagine acting on malice and having to live with myself. I will never pity, it is the pity that has helped the Sociopath stay on the pedestal they gloat on but I will have some compassion for the cause.
Holly CNovember 18th, 2012 at 9:24 PM
I became a target of a Sociopath and endured many unsubstatiated accusations. I failed to trust my instincts. I take accountability for that and I learned a good lesson that has aided me so much in the future. I trust and follow my instincts and I have already reaped far beyond any loss from the Sociopath. The heavy weight of abuse from a Sociopath is Psychological Harassment. Many will harass you over a long time with spontaneous acts of bullying. Unsubstantiated accusations that manifest approval and priase issues. They may annoy you until you give ‘in’ and do what they want or get that coffee with them etc. You may be trapped with them in college or at work too, so you may go along with things to keep peace and prvent any more of those hostile stares. They keep at it, the plod until they get what they want at all costs. These tactics are used to get control over your emotions and then actions, along with how you view the Sociopath. Many research you to find control levers. Control levers are vulnerabilites that can be pushed to get you in emotional mind and also used to get an emotional reaction from you that they can exploit for some kind of personal gain.
trevorDecember 6th, 2012 at 6:37 PM
what makes anyone think they want to be cured? sociopaths are the superior breed they make perfict leaders who always exibit pride, ambition, and cunning in all feilds because they dont let emotions get in the way their is nothing wrong with their brains they are the Evolution of Man.
asociopathJanuary 20th, 2013 at 9:51 AM
Thank you to the author for writing such a great article. There have also been some very constructive ideas posted and has lead me to a response. I’ve very recently, at the age of 35, realized I am a sociopath. It’s been disconcerting to see though the immense hatred and anger directed to those who are by those who aren’t. For my entire life I’ve always wondered why I was different from others. Growing up I didn’t have a feeling of empathy or the ability achieve the emotional connections of my peers. As I write this, tears do come to my eyes. I’m not sure as to why I am who I am or how I became. While noted and tested to be very intelligent, I’ve never stayed on a path long enough to excel. My ethics and study habits have consistently been my demise. ADD is the easy answer but I’ve always felt my problems were more deeply rooted. Most have also looked at me questioned my responses as being different. My father is also sociopath who I’m not even sure he is aware. He only recently has become incarcerated because of it. I feel his downward spiral of debilitating health problems led him deeper into finding a sense of worth and pleasure. He has been a deviant his entire life and because of that I’ve never had respect for him. At the same time, many of my actions have mirrored his mistakes. What I find makes me different from him and possibly others is my extreme desire to fit in and my awareness that I am different. I’ve been taught empathy at work in past jobs where it was necessary to perform at a high level, primarily because I never showed it. Once I understood it was necessary to do so, I learned how. If not a feeling from within, it’s an understanding. I now consciously put myself in that persons shoes to feel their frustrations or pain. I have learned to empathize. This has been a taught response and something I’ve worked hard to achieve. Yes I have been a deviant my whole life. I’ve been locked in with achieving self goals without regard for others, family and close ones primarily. I’ve leached, been that parasite as stated of a typical sociopath. I’ve done so without remorse, later to look back and not understand how I could. These feelings, emotions and actions may reinforce the negative feelings others have to people like myself but I can only hope the opposite. I do love, maybe it’s a different response in my brain from others, but it’s what I know as love and it motivates me to continue with my direction in life of improving as a person. I truly feel that educating and accepting people like me can make society a better place. Very high level positions are held by individuals who fit the mold of a sociopath. Some have been labeled as great people because of the tough decisions they’ve made and arguably we’re all in a better place because of them.
Trust from sociopaths and understanding from both can lead to many doors being opened. We can all continue to learn from each other.
SMLFebruary 6th, 2013 at 4:12 AM
A great article. Finally, one that doesn’t demonize all people with the lack of empathy. Why not look at it as an impairment like blindness or deafness that one can partially compensate for with other senses? This can be quite useful in objective analyses without a desire to manipulate other than trying to fit in and be ‘normal’. Loneliness is punishment enough for highly functioning sociopaths.
H CFebruary 6th, 2013 at 3:33 PM
watch when you speak and how much, especially if you are gaslighted.
TAMarch 17th, 2013 at 5:23 AM
I don’t know much about sociopaths behaviors(only saw several) ,but I do know of the countless atriocities humans/groups have done in the world in spite of having empathy.We’ve destroyed countless indians and don’t think of them as people.We subjigate in public blacks/indians/chinese/ and countless other races before and now still do so but insidiously.(possibly more traits) Having empathy doesn’t stop anyone from commiting wrongs or killing others.Having empathy for your family/friends/country is merely one step above a sociopath.Are we really deserving to condemn sociopath for their supposed lack of empathy when we as human still do the same against other countries/race/religion/world?Would empathitic people accept the bible condemnation of people for merely not believing in their god as fair and just? What about the korah?
1950 blacks right?
1850 Civil War?
and this is from a LEADING developed country?
Furthermore-one of a southasian country motto was EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF. Are they all sociopaths?Are they more likely to be developed in a country like that?Is it their fault with a motto like that?
Empathy is useless if this is the extend of it.
Sociopath are likes humans fallen or always was in the darkness of life. To help those in the darkness, you need a strong inner light(integrity/consistency).
If someone is deeply wounded(sociopaths)can be saved by half-hearted common folk people?(Neutral-people who fight for family/country/religion) HELL NO! They need doctors(heroic people with strong presence) of the highest caliber to help them.People who don’t gave up after getting ‘tricked’ once or twice.People who keeps trying to help them in spite of them being ‘helpless’.I saw a manipulated sociopath go from pure evil like to neutral-good.He now can cry and feel love for another.Sociopath are savable….but not by you guys.At the same time,don’t you ALL(those who actually tried with all there heart(while showing heroic like example) exception) go praise yourself for giving up on them.It reminds me of kids praising themselves for flunking caculus because math is ‘uncool’ too hard.
ZDMarch 20th, 2013 at 4:28 AM
Yeah, thanks for the article. I looked up “empathy for sociopaths” and it led me here. I also want to thank the comment Alison made – about having Sympathy rather than Empathy for sociopaths- I think that’s what it comes down to. Because neither the sociopath, nor the “normal” know what it feels like to be in the other’s shoes, we cannot call it empathy, but Sympathy- if we feel considerate towards the sociopath.
I actually think Consideration is the best word to use, because Sympathy implies pity, and I don’t actually pity the sociopath. I think the most human way of being, is to accept that it’s impossible to put yourself in someone elses shoes, but you can try! And trying is AWESOME!
I got initially burned by a sociopath friend. But then I let him in and we both learned SO MUCH about ourselves through each other. I think the world is way too fuelled by EMOTIONS- who says we’re better off because we have them? YES, I love LOVING. But I also like being DRIVEN to get things done, to be RATIONAL.
I believe I’d be alot happier if I was less emotional. It takes up alot of my life, being so empathetic. It also gets me very frustrated!
I think the world is possibly MELODRAMATIC like a DAYTIME SOAP OPERA most of the time- and I truly believe that the world could learn a HELL : ) of a lot about itself if it got off its high horse, was open and stopped discriminating, so even SOCIOPATHS could COME OUT!!!!!! WOW, I wonder what that world would be like……………….I reckon we may end up REALLY space traveling then!
I live in HOPE. Thanks TD and A Jay, GOOD LUCK to us all. LIFE’S A SPECTRUM.
NathMay 12th, 2013 at 7:25 AM
Thank you for this article, really.
I have been doubting about being a sociopath or not, most people say I am not but I still doubt it.. It could be that I am just emotionally shut off because of trauma through my childhood. Yet I share a lot of traits with the aspd/sociopathy diagnosis. So reading this, socio or not, still makes me feel better and a bit more hopefull. I am going to therapy with the real intention to work on my behaviour and my emotional state.
LeeJune 29th, 2013 at 6:11 PM
I agree with someone who posted, “There is no debate about the fact that sociopathy is a real condition which interferes with or precludes the capacity for empathy and remorse. However, there is debate about how sociopathy should be viewed, and I take a unique and unpopular position.” I wouldn’t DARE even entertain the thought of giving sympathy to my ex who blamed me and our son for his financially abusing us, holding us physically and mentally hostage while blaming us for having to pay essential bills such as water and electricity. Though I do take responsibility for being so naive I thought he actually had a heart. I’m now physically and legally free of him, though he is like a recurring infection that you just cannot get rid of no matter what.
marshaJune 3rd, 2014 at 11:57 AM
Hmmm.. Well that was my problem to begin with, I was his therapist. I was too objective. I think you can and should treat these individuals as human if you are the therapist. But.. yes that is a big BUT.. I wasn’t his therapist and he was not my client. I should have believed him when he showed me who he was and walked away. Thankfully, I only spent 2.5 months getting to know him and five days hanging out with him in person. After that, I just left and ignored him. AT anyrate, how are we to understand human behavior if we don’t have scientists hanging around who want to study these kinds of people? We must educate ourselves. And not all sociopaths are EVIL some want to integrate into society.. and I mean like 1%. LOL. Im sure there’s a nice sociopath lingering in some dark corner wishing he or she wasn’t cold as ice.
LeoJuly 23rd, 2014 at 11:19 AM
I appreciate what your saying but as having gone through the horrors of having a sociopath in my family I will say that their is a huge danger in dealing with a sociopath. The only way to deal with them is having no contact with them or you will be their victim. Since they do not generally seek therapy for their illness, their chances of getting better are slim to none. Yes, you can have sympathy for them but as little contact as possible. The minute you leave an opening for them they will exploit you. So you can only have sympathy for them from afar not in person. Good Luck and be careful. This family member tried to destroy my life until the day he died.
MarieAugust 7th, 2014 at 11:16 AM
My niece is a full blown sociopath. THERE is NO therapy or pill that will give someone a conscience or make them feel empathy! Do I feel sorry for her? Sure in a way I do, but I have no contact with her. Sociopaths are not savable.
loveJanuary 16th, 2015 at 12:41 AM
I sought out to find out how I can help the second sociopathic bf to enter my life. The last one ended when he drugged me and attempted to murder me. I had discovered my exes truth, he had lied about everything . I still decided to try, I thought if he could be loved anyway that he could face it and live a happier life. He pretended I was his Angel , he went to therapy and said he loved it. I don’t regret any of it. I still have love for him and I always will. I think it’s extremely sad to be born like this, u don’t know why so your left to feel outcast or evil. I am grateful for my emotions, as much as they hurt sometimes I know im lucky .
The new bf… who I did not go after or seek out, is very honest about things for the most part. He will tell a story of punishing an ex for hurting him and I have to point out that what he did is not a part of normal behavior. He has a child and it seems she awakensd love inhim . He has told me that for as long as he can remember he didn’t have feelings. He tried ecstasy in the late 90s and it opened his mind to emotions. Says it gave him a conscious and that life was easier without it. Lately hes been a jerk, getting mad over nothing and blaming me for his problems. Its frustrating and potentialy dangerous. Im going to love him unconditionally until I can’t handle it anylonger
Holly CJanuary 22nd, 2015 at 10:33 PM
Many if these types think others lack empathy and have no remorse. If one says he is hypersensitive, expect him to demand attention like baby. If you don’t then you will in his eyes, have no remorse, for example. Consider perspective from where is at themselves.
Holly CJanuary 22nd, 2015 at 10:51 PM
Be cautious as these sociopath profiles are too vague and can be applied to anyone.
Also consider perspective. Many, when you escape will think you deceived, as many must, in order to escape. As emotionally under developed, many think you have no remorse or empathy. They are hypersensitive. They are easily intimidated by anyone, most especially anything that threatens their mask.
Many are likely dealing with a despicable coward. Go look up definition of both despicable and coward.
Don’t let them think they are feared because they are in truth, cowards. That is why they engage in cowardly crime:
Any type of harassment crime
Stealing intellectual property
Attempting to steal your character (courage)
Attempting to engage you in conduct through willful neglect and willful ignorance
Secretly filming or Recording to use for ‘leverage’ and or to exploit
They also tend to smear or attempt to smear you with false reports and allegations
Provoking you or trying to induce you I to substance use in order to get you in an emotional state to either exploit and or use to smear
If they apply physical force it will be later on and behind closed doors
They tend to prey on through; luring, enticing or inviting the various forms if vulnerability
This is nothing to fear. It is the despicable coward that fears humility and that is their perceived most painful thing. They perceive you leaving as an attack.
They are easily intimidated and hypersensitive. They lack courage and ambition. The fear of humility aids their continuance as a despicable coward.
The most that can happen is you let it get to you. Only a person alike the despicable coward will follow their smear and partake.
PsychoNextDoorJune 3rd, 2015 at 7:44 PM
If anyone has a question; I am at your disposal for a limited time.
I encourage you to view my posting on another thread:
SusanJune 8th, 2015 at 7:19 PM
While I agree that we should try to have compassion for people with mental issues, it’s obvious that the author of this article has not had exposure to a sociopath on a personal basis over a prolonged period of time. I am a 62 y/o survivor of a sociopath mother. These people are abusive and prey on their helpless children. I am not unforgiving, in fact, I would give anything to have that opportunity but if they deserve empathy it should be from behind bars where they can’t ruin lives and affect generations of people. I understand where you’re coming from but honestly you wrote out of ignorance because unless you’ve lived it yourself you can by NO means fully understand the dynamic. It’s taken me years to figure out what was wrong with me. My mother pretty much ruined my life with her manipulative and controlling behavior not to mention the effects of a lifetime of mental/emotional/physical abuse. Behind bars is where they ALL need to be. Just like any other criminal – which all sociopaths are because they are abusing someone or something somewhere – they can receive your empathy and understanding from a place where they leave no victims.
RachelJuly 5th, 2015 at 6:24 PM
The tendency of sociopaths to be attracted to violent professions like the military is part of the problem with sociopaths, not something they should be praised for. What kind of soldiers do you think are the ones who rape and murder civilians, giving the rest of the military a bad name? I’ll give you a hint, they’re not the ones who joined to serve their country or to pay for college.
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