Sociopaths must spend their entire lives watching others and learning to imitate behaviors that they are unable to engage in naturally.
So often during this recovery process, I have been told by others—those who have been targeted by sociopaths and those who have not—that it does not matter why the sociopath did what he did. Focus on you, they said. Figure out why you were vulnerable and what kind of behavior patterns you need to change. It does not matter why the sociopath lied to/cheated on/manipulated you, they said. Focus on YOU! Although they meant well, their words did not help me.
It is absolutely important and necessary to be introspective and learn everything we can about ourselves as we try to crawl our way out of the darkness. However, that kind of self-discovery can and should wait. Before that (and along with it), it is necessary to make sense out of what has happened to us so that we can build a foundation for healing. And for many of us, immediately after we realize we have been deceived and betrayed, the burning thought in our minds is…WHY??? Why did the sociopaths lie so much? Why did they work so hard to convince us that they loved us, only to discard us so callously? Why did they spend so much time with us, if they never, ever cared for us? Why did they keep things going with us as they pursued other “relationships”? Why did they suddenly turn into completely different people? Why do they make us feel like we are going crazy? And the list goes on and on…
We can find the answers to these WHY questions by understanding how, exactly, sociopaths operate. By “understanding,” I do not mean that we can or should emotionally understand their behavior or excuse it in ANY way. I mean that we can and should intellectually understand their behavior because, by doing so, we find new wisdom and we take back our power! Below, I summarize the main concepts I learned about the sociopathic mind from various experts in the field:
Sociopathy lies on a spectrum
Sociopaths are not easily identified. In fact, it can be exceptionally difficult to determine if someone is a sociopath. Even professionals are easily fooled, and many counselors have a poor understanding of personality disorders in general. In addition, some people exhibit more sociopathic traits than others, which is why sociopathy lies on a spectrum. Some sociopathic people are very obviously egotistical, for example; others are much more covert in their narcissism. That is just one example of the differences. Perhaps this is why several terms have been used to describe people who exhibit abnormal personality traits, including sociopath, psychopath, and narcissist. To further add to the confusion, psychologists, therapists, and researchers do not agree on which terms should be used or how they should be defined. Despite this controversy, the fact remains that a person who exhibits any number of sociopathic traits is toxic and should be avoided.
Sociopaths lack a conscience
Sociopaths know the intellectual difference between right and wrong. They understand society’s expectations. They understand what moral behavior is supposed to look like. They even understand that actions have consequences. The problem is, they do not care. They do not feel remorse or guilt. They have no inner compass to guide them, and so they do exactly what they want at any given moment. This lack of conscience means that it does not matter to them if they trample on the rights, feelings, or safety of others. It means that they have no limits and are therefore capable of anything; it is a recipe for endless cruelty and depravity.
Sociopaths feel a limited range of human emotions
Sociopaths are plagued by emotional abnormalities, making them empty shells. They experience “shallow” feelings, which means that virtually all of their emotions are fleeting, if they have them at all. They seem to feel rage and envy in full force, which fuels aggressive behavior in many of them. However, any rages they display are surprisingly short-lived.
Because of this defect, sociopaths are unable to truly connect with other people. They are unable to have true empathy for others, they are incapable of compassion, and they do not suffer, because they cannot relate to emotional pain. They live a life devoid of true pleasure, unable to enjoy a sunset or the company of an animal or another person. They only get temporary, meaningless thrills out of things like sex or food or deceiving and manipulating others. Most ominously, this emotional deficiency means that they are unable to love. It also means that they must spend their entire lives watching others and learning to imitate behaviors that they are unable to engage in naturally; in this way, they become demented chameleons.
Their emptiness also makes them chronically bored. The boredom is almost painful for them, and they will do anything to alleviate it. This contributes to their tendency to act impulsively and recklessly; for instance, it is very common for psychopaths to become addicted to alcohol, sex, and drugs. And ultimately, they will do anything and everything to get rid of their boredom because, having no conscience and no empathy, they do not care who gets hurt in the process.
Sociopaths view everything in life—including relationships—as games to be won
Sociopaths have an insatiable need to win. This desire to win is so strong that they sometimes will take themselves down in the process of becoming the “winner.” Because they are unable to build real relationships, they view their interactions with others as games. Other people are simply pawns to be played. And because they have no conscience, they make up their own unethical, ever-changing rules for those “games.” They use tactics like mirroring, deception, projection, gaslighting, pity plays, and other forms of emotional and physical abuse to idealize, manipulate, confuse, and intimidate others, all in the name of “winning.”
Sociopaths live to exploit others
The ultimate purpose of every sociopath’s life is to do whatever it takes to get what he or she wants at that moment. Since sociopaths do not understand love, they view other people as objects to be obtained, used, and then discarded. And so in all their interactions with others, they follow a particular pattern—idealize, devalue, and discard—over and over and over again. They are constantly scoping out potential targets and assessing them as sources of supply. Their desires change unexpectedly and abruptly; at any given moment, they might want money, or a place to live, or sex, or a cloak of normalcy, or a short-term thrill.
They often throw people away suddenly and brutally, ignore them for days, months, or even years, and then contact them again as if no time has passed and all is well. They find it entertaining to lure targets back into their games, if it serves their purposes. Nothing stops them from pursuing whatever they want in any way they can.
Sociopaths provide “tells” about who they really are
Sociopathic tells are yet another manipulation tactic sociopaths use to exploit others. They specialize in playing mind games with others, and tells are an effective way in which to confuse their targets. It is only after the abuse that survivors begin to see the truth behind these tells.
They come in three forms: projections on to others, truthful remarks, and statements that are the exact opposite of the truth.
When sociopaths project, they are giving their targets camouflaged clues. They talk about how other people cheat or lie or hurt others, as if they abhor such behavior, when in fact they are describing themselves. And during the devalue phase of their “relationships,” they often project this negativity on to their targets, in an effort to make their victims doubt themselves. It also has the effect of making targets feel as if they are going crazy.
Sociopaths tell their targets exactly who they are, but they do it in such a way that it is impossible for victims to understand the consequences of the horrible statements. Targets might hear comments like, “You shouldn’t be with me” or “I’ve never had a good relationship” or “I wanted to hurt someone.” Sociopaths turn these declarations into pity plays and feel secretly justified in exploiting victims when they do not realize the statements are real.
The Opposite of the Truth
Sociopaths convince their targets that they will never lie or cheat and that they love them so much. They also promise that they will never do anything to hurt their victims. They regularly mislead targets by making claims that are precisely the opposite of the truth.
Sociopaths believe they are superior beings
Sociopaths see nothing wrong with using people and then throwing them away. They feel completely justified in lying, cheating, stealing, and manipulating others. In fact, not only do they see nothing wrong with their behavior, they actually believe that they are incredibly superior to other people! Every time they are able to con their targets, they view that as evidence of the targets’ weakness. And, they do not suffer from low self-esteem or insecurities (although they often pretend to “feel” that way in order to manipulate others). On the contrary, they are egotistical and arrogant. And this makes it impossible for them to benefit from therapy, and it makes it impossible for them to change. Why should they change, when they believe they are already better than everyone else? This, I believe, is the main reason why there is no cure for sociopathy.
Although it is very difficult to wrap our brains around such a foreign and disturbing way of looking at the world, doing so can help us protect ourselves. I have discovered that all I have learned about sociopathic behavior has helped me put the pieces together of a terrible puzzle, and although it is horrific to see the completed picture, it has also empowered me and enabled me to trust in the truth of my own experience. I hope that it will do the same for you. It is okay to ask why!