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Psychopath vs. Sociopath

Psychopath vs. Sociopath

When discussing antisocial behavior, most people will interchange the word psychopath with sociopath, but they actually have two different psychological definitions. While both are considered personality disorders, specifically antisocial personality disorder, they have one very big difference. The ability to feel empathy.

While a sociopath can commit equally horrendous crimes as a psychopath, they will probably feel bad about it at a later date when the drugs wear off or the influence of their gang has faded. Sociopathy is not a formal psychiatric condition. It refers to patterns of attitudes and behaviors that are considered antisocial and criminal by society at large, but are seen as normal or necessary by the subculture or social environment in which they developed. Many petty criminals are sociopaths.

Sociopaths may have a well-developed conscience and a normal capacity for empathy, guilt and loyalty, but their sense of right and wrong is based on the norms and expectations of their subculture or group.

Psychopaths on the other hand are unable to feel emotions. Research estimates that psychopathy affects between 1 and 4% of the population, potentially over 10 million individuals in the United States. A lot of them are ‘sub deviant’, meaning they are aware of their condition and conceal it effectively, and occupy normal positions in society.

Research has also shown that psychopaths can recognize each other, create networks, and collectively view normal human emotions and humanity in general with condescension and disgust. They enjoy manipulation of ‘the perceived weak normal’ and gains pleasure from causing others pain.

That being said, psychopaths are not necessarily homicidal killers. They can be entrepreneurs, politicians, entertainers and various other successful individuals who often never see the inside of a prison….psychopaths have what it takes to defraud and bilk others: They are fast-talking, charming, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless.

The psychopath can actually put themselves inside your skin intellectually, not emotionally. They can tell what you’re thinking, in a sense, they can look at your body language, they listen to what you’re saying, but what they don’t really do is “feel” you.

According to a book co-authored by Dr. Robert Hare with Dr. Paul Babiak called Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, “The difference between psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder is that the former includes personality traits such as lack of empathy, grandiosity, and shallow emotion that are not necessary for a diagnosis of Antisocial personality disorder (APD). APD is three or four times more common than psychopathy in the general population and in prisons. The prevalence of those we would describe as sociopathic is unknown but likely considerably higher than that of APD.”

Psychological researcher Dr. Martha Stout, Ph.D. has this to say about the Psychopath:

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.

You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.

You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.

How will you live your life?

What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)?

The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people – whether they have a conscience or not – favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dull-witted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites. […]

Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all.

If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other people’s hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. […]

Since the psychopath has no real emotions, they develop their own personality throughout their life by mimicking those around them. Though they are often successful, their inability to control inappropriate outburst of anger and hostility can often results in loss of jobs, disassociation with friends and family and divorce. This in itself is filtered by the psychopath into a justification process for more aggressive behavior.

Because of their inability to gauge when their actions are being perceived as dishonest, deceitful or dangerous, they also fail to accept that there are consequences for their actions. They always maintain a belief that they can outwit those who pursue them and that they will never be caught. And if they happen to get caught, they believe they will find a way out of trouble.

Genetics is the strongest predisposing factors of psychopathy. According to David Lykken, a behavioral geneticist, psychopaths feature brains with physiological defects. Based on his studies, the part responsible for emotion and impulse control is underdeveloped in psychopaths. Additionally, research also shows that psychopaths demonstrate low-state autonomic nervous systems, which is why they are unable to show emotion, and they are incapable of feeling what other individuals feel.

A psychopath is a very good actor, which is why they tend towards positions of power like CEO, lawyer, media and politics. Some researchers have theorized that we live in a “Pathocracy”, which is a system of government created by a small pathological minority that takes control over a society of normal people. This is a form of government in which absolute political power is held by a psychopathic elite, and their effect on the people is such that the entire society is ruled and motivated by purely pathological values. 

Therefore, a sociopath could justify their antisocial behavior in a Pathocracy very easily, because they rationalize their behavior in relation to the “tribal” norm they are exposed to. The sociopath is beneficial to the psychopath who rules by deception, pretending to be a normal “feeling” human being, but in actuality is only motivated by their individual will.

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