Monday, June 1, 2009

Sociopaths = flexible sense of self

In response to this post, the following question from a reader:
What's up Me. I'd really love to know where you get your information from regarding the sociopath's flexible sense of self. I haven't come across any other material on sociopathology that describes this undefined underlying personality structure you talk about. I'd like to do some more reading about it.

Thanks again for the blog. It's been most illuminating.
My response:
You answered your own question before I got the chance to respond. As you have probably seen in your own research, the concept of a sociopath having an extremely flexible sense of self is not entirely original to me, but you were probably unable to find it stated outright (at least I have not been able to find such a clear statement) in any of the scientific literature. That shouldn't be surprising, though. The literature on sociopaths is quite terrible and almost always fear-mongering. Psychologists studying sociopathy focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.Tthere is some work being done mapping brains of sociopaths, and that has revealed that the brain of a sociopath does in fact work in ways different than an empath's brain. Still, though, scientists seem more concerned with defining the characteristics of a sociopath based anecdotally on what a sociopath is not, e.g. how a sociopath differs from an empath behaviorally, rather than studying the sociopath for what he is -- a different human variant. This is the common complaint of the neurodiversity movement: stop seeing our variations from normal human behavior as symptoms of a defect, and start acknowledging that we have a separate but equal system of thought and survival.

But back to your question. I got my information from piecing together seemingly disparate elements of the literature on sociopaths in a way that conformed with my own personal experience . Psychologists see traits like "inability to conform to social norms," "lack of conscience," "chameleon-esque," "masked," "charming," "undetectable," and "versatility" and think that it is a hodgepodge of unrelated characteristics. They understand the "what," but they don't understand the "how." As you mentioned in your most recent comment, I believe the "how," the origin of many of our observed behaviors, is that we don't have a rigid sense of self, a characteristic that I believe you correctly label as one of the sociopath's defining characteristics, and if I may add, perhaps the predominant defining characteristic.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I enjoy your comments. And do let us all know if you find anything written on the sociopath's flexible sense of self.


  1. I don't think this is due to a bias to sociopaths (although there is a huge one), but rather because psychology and psychiatry are really lacking the empathy we're told that any person who functions "well" in society must have. There's no understanding, just diagnosis, psychotropic drugs, then you'll be "normal"; until you die or stop taking their crap, at least. Not just sociopathy, but almost every single abnormality is never described in relation to the patient, save maybe depression.

  2. That makes the fact that sociopaths often have alcoholic upbringings make sense. They think it's because our mothers never loved us when we had alcoholic parents... stupid... and not that maybe we grew up in an unsafe world and had to constantly adapt. Perhaps we stem from fears, which makes the alcoholism a factor as well as gang environments or other unsafe areas that force the mind to develop quicker, and stronger, not just happy hjonkey dory butterflies and rainbows lives.

  3. I kind of agree with you jasnowflake. For instance, my father was what they call a dry alcoholic. He replaced alcohol with religion as his addiction of choice, with very unpleasant results.

    Anyway, if we combine the heritable portion of all psychological traits, which in this case is a brain genetically predisposed to developing “sociopathic” tendencies, with strong environmental factors like the kind you mention, we get a good start at explaining this particular variation on the human personality.

    I also agree with anonymous. Psychological "help" really isn't about understanding is it? It's about conforming.

  4. I'm very amazed by the amount of intelligence expressed here. I am involved with a sociopath and I believe logic to be the key in understanding anything. For me, I combine logic and empathy to understand my "friend". For if I get mad at him I feel guilty and the cycle repeats itself. But grasping the concept I can come to understand what is and what will never be. I'm very disappointed about the lack of knowledge about this subject matter. Thank you for sharing your intelligence.

  5. I wonder if the lack of scientific literature on this is due to there not being enough scientific research on it because those that understand what this really is do not have the chance to share the information with someone that would be able to further investigate the phenomena. Being that the psych community is not very receptive there probably is not an abundance of people willing to volunteer the information to them. Just thoughts.

  6. I wanted to thank you for posting this. I never knew how to express exactly how I felt with my personality as I picked up random traits from friends and family members as I moved across the US over the last eight years. With my already vague and diverse background with random professons and social circles, I have developed traits to run with high professionals in the city as well as with the dead beats of the ghetto. Hiding in plain sight has always been how I like it as I work whatever scheme I have going for me at the time.
    I have always tired of how the medical journals and average people see sociopaths. I was diagnosed at a pretty young age at twenty and it definitely affected a good deal of my actions having such a negative stereotype around the subject. At twenty seven, I find it to be more of an advantage over my peers than a disadvantage. Thank you for having this journal.

  7. i am a sociopath and i believe that humans are still evolving and i personally believe that sociopaths are the next step in human evolution and i believe that their was a few homo ergaster in a world with homo erectus and i believe that the same with homo habilis because this brave new world in which we live in builds and needs sociopaths to run the worlds businesses and run the world which is run with money and power which i personally believe this world will eventually be ran by mainly sociopaths and their will eventually be few emapths


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