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Do sociopaths in some sense choose to be callous brutal and cruel?

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βˆ™ 2011-09-13 01:43:42

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Not a choiceBy definition, a sociopath lacks the ability to empathize with the pain of others. Since there is no ability, there is no choice. For example, if I were blind, I could in no sense choose whether or not to see. Although certain genetic markers make an individual more susceptible, sociopathy is generally caused by severe neglect and abuse in childhood. A true sociopath is completely self-centered, capable of perceiving only his/her wants and needs. A sociopath views other people (and animals) in much the same way non-sociopaths view inanimate objects. Where one curious child might take apart his home stereo and go on to become an engineer, a curious child who tortures animals may grow into true sociopathy as an adult. Not every child who is cruel to animals is necessarily a budding sociopath, but it is one of the precursor behaviors. However, true sociopathy is not diagnosable in children. Not as clear and simple as thatIn the above answer the massive emphasis on lack of empathy - to the exclusion of almost everything else, even lack of conscience - strikes me as highly problematical. There seems to be over-simplification and an assumption that every sociopath is 100% sociopathic, or not a sociopath at all. Surely, in practice, it is seldom as clear or simple as that.

If it really were the case that "[s]ince there is no ability, there is no choice" one would expect some legal systems to allow sociopaths to plead diminished responsibility for crimes. However, as far as I'm aware, they are held fully accountable for their actions.

Responsible for actionsA sociopath may be as capable of empathy as a blind man is of sight. A blind man can't tell red from green, certainly, but a sociopath can tell right from wrong, even if he must be taught to distinguish between them by learning the real and unpleasant consequences that might befall him for engaging in bad behavior. A sociopath still has to make a conscious decision to act badly.

But even though it is a decision, it's always made with no input at all from the part of the brain from which most people receive information while processing emotion. If in the future, neuroscience can find a way to wake up this strangely silent area of the brain of a true sociopath, this all can change. The area is in the cerebral cortex and sends out abnormal or depleted brain waves on EEGs of sociopaths.

New Data:

The mere fact that some scientists know that much about the brain of a sociopath means that solving the problem is no longer an impossible and obscure wish -- it's moving within the realm of concrete possibility.

As soon as large numbers of sociopaths begin to be treated in a way that actually helps them, that corrects as much as possible the chaos of misdirected signals in their confused and disorganized brains, and then a form of therapy that in addition to that, by necessity, teaches them to cope with the resulting maelstrom of emotion and impression that was formerly impossible, so that they can put it in order and start to develop the heretofore dormant and silent segments of their brains and better use those formerly mixed-up areas where no recognizable order ruled, THEN THE OTHERS MAY BEGIN TO NOTICE WHAT IS GOING ON...and they will know at least this much: instead of "the kiss of death," a diagnosis of ASPD (the DSM-IV way of saying sociopathy or psychopathy) will lead someplace; that there will be things done that actually make a difference.

Crippled as they are neurologically, sociopaths are yet shrewd, and they're always looking out for themselves in a way similar to that of a loner predator. Seeing others like them actually benefitting from treatment will have to start persuading them that there's something to gain in going for help after all. Not being rejected or met with "We can't help you; you're evil incarnate," or the equivalent thinly disguised in euphemistic Psychology jargon; NOT being met with a situation where they'd have to substitute symptoms of an "acceptable" illness in place of those they bear in secret -- that would almost certainly, if gradually, have an effect: if a sociopath can clearly see a benefit coming from admitting his or her real situation, there's nothing to stop him or her from doing just that.

It's already started to happen, if in a tiny, barely perceptible trickle.

Right now, all science has at the ready for them is to use various types of preexisting medication given in attempts to counteract the chaotic patterns of brain impulses they suffer. Talk therapy added to this must be specially geared to the sociopath or it'll make the problem worse. And some people believe that sociopaths who are not at the most severe end of the spectrum of their illness can respond to some degree to sensitivity training. This might not, however, work as well with sociopaths who are abuse survivors.

In any case, once the type of neurosurgery that could help correct this has become possible, intervention of a sort that may fix some of what is broken in their brains someplace, this science will take a gigantic leap ahead!

And that will help everyone, not just those who are sociopaths.

A good therapist can prevent you from victimizing him/her without victimizing you in the process. And recent studies made by neurosurgeons and other medical experts have finally begun to pinpoint the things that go awry in the brain that are part of what causes sociopathy. In some cases, such medications as Depakote, Topamax, and even Lithium are being prescribed, and although some individual therapists prescribe Ativan and the like, much more research needs to be done there on ultimate benefit of drug treatment. It is already known that drug treatment must be augmented by a very structured and positive-oriented talk therapy.

Sociopaths can get somewhere in talk therapy if the clinician is self-confident and relaxed, firm but never authoritarian or self-important. It must not ever become an ego-contest. Once the process gets far enough along so that the sociopath is actually able to feel even a tiny flicker of genuine happiness, that is an impetus that will grow stronger if the process continues to move forward.

But a sociopath seeking this must be warned that at some point quite well along in the process of therapy, there will be an interval in which all the newly developing strength is called upon to endure very deep and long-buried pain. Sticking to it through that takes a very strong will.

The therapist must repeatedly remind the patient that the process will also reward him or her with better and better feelings, ultimately becoming its own reward: that terrible emptiness called 'boredom' being replaced by feeling, both painful and joyous.

In cases where brain damage is too severe to permit of this on its own, new developments in technology in the next decades will bring implantable devices that may be able to be used in the brain, along with other means including synthetic replacement neurotransmitters, to carry nerve impulses along paths formerly silent and unused in the sociopath's brain. Although such devices would have to be used with extreme care to avoid causing violent convulsive seizures, some of the anti-convulsant medications that are already being prescribed to sociopaths in test trials could possibly prevent this unwelcome side-effect.

In the present, therapy is hard to come by for anybody not extremely wealthy, and for sociopaths, many of whom are unable to work, it is even that much harder to find help. But it exists. And, looking at some observations posted at other similar questions by others, one can see that a very popular opinion is that sociopaths, psychopaths, are all "evil" and undeserving of help!

One very important point, therefore, is that, most certainly, no one helps sociopaths by repeatedly calling them 'evil'! That kind of response cannot possibly help anyone. A sociopath before treatment cannot trust anyone and must learn the fundaments of trust and interaction between people. No one who is persuaded to believe that he or she is just plain bad can sustain any hope for change. It becomes a vicious cycle: the sociopath, being told he or she is evil and cannot be helped, gives up, and in frustration and anger lashes out again at people, and in response to that, people say that their original point is proven.

The main reason sociopaths don't usually seek help is that they can't trust, rather than that they like being as they are. Plus, they can often sense exactly what sort of a response any call for help on their part is most likely to elicit from professionals and lay folk alike. Sociopaths are not breezing along in paradise. It isn't all a game. It's a truly miserable existence. And it can be made better. It may not be "curable" yet, but it most certainly isn't as hopeless as so many people say. There is therefore nothing to be gained and much to be lost when therapists and lay folk try to ostracize sociopaths from the human race entirely! Sensationalism and superstition will only prevent progress.

This was written on another question on the same essential topic as this one, by a self-confessed sociopath who was officially diagnosed (other than me!) --

  • Sociopaths, though born that way, are people too. To avoid an entire group of people is absurd. That's like saying, "Since these people have dark skin, everyone should completely avert themselves from them." I am a moderate sociopath, and though part of me doesn't want to change, another does. Many times it is really entertaining to see how stupid people can be, especially when they're so gullible as to believe every word that mellifluously flows from my lips. Yes, I am parasitic, but even so, there are some people I would like to stop hurting. I can't find any websites that can provide a way to help my sociopathy. Maybe people like you should stop your self-victimisation and start trying to actually help people like me! I knew I was a sociopath before the age of ten but have only recently had it officially diagnosed. I am eighteen years old now, and I have been lying and destroying others' sanity for a long time. So, please post some helpful tidbits that might help sociopaths resist the sweet urges we get when we encounter weak human beings. When you cut us, do we not bleed? When you kill us, do we not die? Do you honestly think that you're being lied to and manipulated when we sincerely ask for help. Listen to yourselves! This is the internet; ergo, you're safe from our fortified mental grasp.

The essay that follows was written in another answer by another self-admitted sociopath, who actually might not be a sociopath. Still another person added the brief comment to that effect after her tragic essay.

  • umm... i kindof am one... just so y'all know, it's not so much fun being one either. i read that sentence up there, "Incapable of real human attachment to another." i don't even know what that is, i see it, i approximate it... it's like being outside a door looking through a dirty window and watching re-runs of people I've seen in love or with children or with friends, and scratching, sometimes banging at the glass to get in and... nothing. I'm fond of people in every sense of the word, their little quirks and habits, the way they see life, except if they went away it wouldn't bother me much other than finding someone else to be fond of. i don't have friends, i only date military men because they're ok with only having a girlfriend for a couple months and i tell them in advance i won't wait for them... i don't know what else to do to limit the damage i inflict on others just as a result of them knowing me, short of moving to the mountains... but i still move between 2-5 times a year :( it's kindof hard walking around knowing I'll never have what i see making other people so happy and running when i can tell someone is getting close just because i don't want to hurt them more later down the road... i'd like it alot to settle down, i WANT to be able to feel more with people, but it's hard to miss what you never had. i want what i THINK it would feel like... it'd be easy to give in and let someone stay because I'm so lonely... but hey, I've written enough, just know i try to be a responsible little sociopath, i won't ever get married or have kids, i practice safe sex, i won't stay in one city for long... everything you all take for granted i will never let myself have just because i WANT to take it for granted. being like this won't go away so hopefully i can limit the amount of hate thrown my way by limiting my interaction with people, i don't know what else to do. and you all might not belive this, but i am sorry, hopefully i can speak for the other people who have damaged your lives.

Comment: The above testimony is clearly not indicative of a sociopath because they seem to make efforts to keep from harming others, even if it doesn't benefit themselves.

I have a friend who told me he never had feelings or felt amotion he wasnt necessarily mean to people but would manipulate people for his own benefit but he said he always loved me and my bro and we always made him happy i feel like just treating him as a equal and being nice to him has given him feelings i tripped on acid with him and since then he said he started feeling feelings and emotions and treats people alot better now i hope its true either way he thinks he does and is doing good so never give up hope!

2011-09-13 01:43:42
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