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Why do we say sociopaths are like animals?

“He’s an animal!” is a statement commonly made regarding sociopaths. To those like me who love animals, this comparison is a bit distasteful. However, this week we will see that this statement may indeed be true.

Previously, I introduced the idea of the Inner Triangle. The Inner Triangle is a way to understand the hows and whys of sociopathy, and to predict how a sociopath will behave in a given situation. The Inner Triangle consists of our Ability to Love, Impulse Control, and Moral Reasoning. I have already described Ability to Love and Impulse Control, and the relationship these have to the disorder. This week we will discuss the Moral Reasoning of sociopaths.

Animals do not possess moral reasoning

Although animals can love and use impulse control, they do not reason morally.

Other intelligent mammals do live in societies, so moral reasoning is not required for life in society. To have a society requires leaders whose purpose it is to motivate everyone else to give up his/her own agenda for the sake of the group. Leaders make decisions for the group and enforce these decisions so everyone can work/live peacefully together. Animal societies can be lead by males (apes), females (elephants, meerkats) or a couple (wolves).

Those whose job it is to lead are called dominants. Dominant animals control the resources available to everyone else and so have power. Since animals do not have laws or moral reasoning, dominant animals decide everything for the group. Research has shown that dominant animals enforce their power using charm, intimidation and if need be, aggression.

It is only our laws that stand between us and the kind of leadership found in the rest of the animal kingdom. Think about it—a sociopath behaves like he/she is a dominant animal living in an animal society. Unfortunately, in many places humans are still ruled by other humans rather than by laws. Interestingly, these ruling humans are very often sociopaths.

Moral Reasoning and sociopathy

Although sociopaths can recite the rules for behavior, they lack Moral Reasoning. They do not subscribe to the rule of law, they instead live according to the law of the jungle. To have Moral Reasoning requires more than the ability to recite words that relate to behavior. Moral Reasoning requires belief. Sociopaths do not believe in these rules the way the rest of us do. Because they do not believe in the rules, the rules do not guide their behavior.

Moral Reasoning involves belief

What is belief? Belief is an emotional connection to an idea. Moral Reasoning also depends on values. Values require emotional connection to ideas regarding sources of pleasure and punishment. Sociopaths understand sources of pleasure. However, they have a decreased ability to repond to punishment. The lack of Moral Reasoning seen in sociopaths is related to their lack of emotional connection to anything other than power and sex. For sociopaths, other people and society itself serve merely as supply sources to gratify their own desires for power and sex.

Understanding sociopaths can make us better

Coming face to face with a sociopath’s inability to love can make us more loving. Similarly, when we consider the lack of impulse control exerted by sociopaths, we are motivated to improve ourselves. What about Moral Reasoning?

My daughter will be 16 this week and is considering philosophical questions. She recently asked me if I really thought humans were “higher” than animals. She knows I have a deep love and appreciation for other species and so wasn’t sure how I would answer. I told her I thought that perhaps the single biggest accomplishment of humans to this date is the American Constitution. Some might say the same about other documents like the Magna Carta.

Our laws are documents that allow us to have leadership based on something other than the brain of the current power holder—truly remarkable when you think about it. Our laws stay the same regardless of who leads. The next time you are in church or synagogue and the reader says, “Oh, how I love Your law!” Reflect on your own experience with a sociopath. Then you will emotionally connect with the person who wrote that about 4,000 years ago.



8 Comments on "Why do we say sociopaths are like animals?"

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  1. Great food for thought! I now call the psychopath, ‘cretin’. Like you, I love animals and find it distasteful to connect the two.

    I have a question — Animals act on instinct. Do psychopath’s do the same? Act only on instinct, using whatever tools they have to get what they want, regardless of the consequences or impact upon the rest of their ‘society’?

    BTW, I love the concept that our laws stay the same regardless of who leads. Very powerful.



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  2. 421dmb2 says:

    The more I read on this site, the more I come to believe my ex-husband is a sociopath. I think I understand two sides of the “inner triangle”, but not the third. I really don’t understand what moral reasoning is. I can think of many examples of how my ex showed he had an inabilty to love. I can also think of many examples of him being very impulsive, but I don’t understand what moral reasoning is. Is an example, his willingness to lie in court documents and in court to achieve his goals? A sociopath doesn’t care about the laws when he is trying to achieve what he wants?
    Some of his behavior really baffled me, for example, he had a dog that lived for 14 years. Toward the end of the dog’s life he had arthritis and couldn’t climb stairs very well. When we let him out in the yard to go to the bathroom, he would yelp in this certain way to let us know he wanted to come in. I would then let him in through the cellar. We had a split level house, so he could climb half the stairs, rest on the landing, and then climb the other half. If we didn’t let him in within a reasonable time, he would attempt to go up a steep set of stairs leading to our deck. As the dog got older, his arthritis got worse. I always made sure I ran downstairs to let him in. One day, I was bathing my toddlers and the dog started barking. I yelled to my ex to let the dog in. He yelled back something to the effect …yeah right do it yourself. I yelled that I couldn’t leave the babies. When I realized he wasn’t going to get off the couch to let the dog in, I started rushing to get the kids out of the water. I was too late, my dog attempted to run up the back steps, almost made it to the top, but then fell down the stairs. It was pitiful. It seemed like my ex loved that dog, but he let him fall down the stairs. He didn’t even act sorry. I never understood that.
    Also, one time, my infant son was having difficulty breathing. He actually turned purple and I yelled for my ex to come help because he wasn’t breathing. Again he wouldn’t get off the couch and yelled back..”yeah right!”. I ended up driving my son to the hospital, and they had him go by ambulance to a more sophisticated hospital. When I called to tell him his son was being transported…he seemed really annoyed that I woke him up. He acted like he didn’t care at all.
    Another thing I remember is his cold response to watching the news. He was never moved by sad stories. I remember feeling really badly when Princess Diana died. I was shocked and felt awful about it. My ex berated me for feeling like I did. I was going to counseling at that time, and my counselor told me that just about everyone in the world felt badly that Diana had died, and the fact that my ex was so cold about it showed a personality flaw in him.
    I am curious if spreading false rumors about me shows lack of moral reasoning?



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  3. MLG asked:
    I have a question — Animals act on instinct. Do psychopath’s do the same? Act only on instinct, using whatever tools they have to get what they want, regardless of the consequences or impact upon the rest of their ’society’?

    Remember that higher mammals don’t just act on instinct they have a higher brain and can make decisions about what to do. They make choices between competing impulses.

    421dmb2 asks about a better explanation of moral reasoning. Morals are basically language based thoughts about rules for behavior. We have the capacity to allow these thoughts to guide our behavior. Sociopaths do not use these language based thoughts to guide themselves. They are like animals in that they only choose between competing impulses, as in your stories about your husband’s love for the couch and himself.

    One of the main reasons why sociopaths are lawless is that the law is something greater than ourselves. I trust that usually the law knows more than I do, so I follow it even when it is not convenient for me. There maybe times that competing values cause people to have to disobey laws but when they do they can cite another moral law that led to the disobedience i.e. Rosa Parks and the bus situation.

    In contrast, to a sociopath there is nothing greater than himself. He’ll break any moral law if it suits him. Thus his moral intelligence is below that of a normal three year old (who will at least try to avoid punishment). In the moment, the sociopath does not comprehend that his greatness does not make him immune to punishment.

    Spreading false rumors can be lack of moral reasoning, lack of ability to love and lack of impulse control. All three are required for moral behavior. Also to have moral reasoning one must be committed to the ideas of laws, not just able to repeat meaningless words.



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  4. 421dmb2 says:

    ok…I understand now. My ex husband has never broken the law. He has purposely lied in court, has violated visitation orders, and has spread untrue rumors, but has never broken other laws. It is very important to him how he is perceived by the outside world. In the story about my son needing to go by ambulance to the hospital, in private, in dealing directly with me, he could have cared less, but then to the outside world he came visiting everyday. He kept his family up-to-date on my son’s progress….the perfect, concerned dad.
    So, his need to be seen as the “good guy” has helped me out. In the past, my ex did things like make plans with my boys to sneak out their bedroom window to his waiting car on the day before my scheduled vacation. Counselors advised me not to involve the police in these situations because it would cause additional stress to my children, so my ex knew he could get away with it. It remained a problem within our family, but when I started to call the police in on these situations, it suddenly made public his bad actions. I have found that as scary as it is to call the police (because they are not supportive of being called into these situations) it has cut down dramatically on the number of these situations.
    I think I read something you wrote that there is a scale of sociopathic behavior. I think my ex is somewhere on that scale.



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  5. Scoobie says:

    The Princess and The P

    Just putting in some points to start with my story. I will revise it as I think of more points, and will put it into a better format later.
    These points are mainly regarding my XP.

    – he was neglected by his parents who worked a lot as they had 10 children, he was the youngest.
    – his Brothers (7 of them), used to beat him up, throw him around, tease him, and psychologically abuse him. They did this all his younger years. I.e.: They tried to get him to kill his Dog when he was a child, with a large kitchen knife.
    – he left home at a young age, fending for himself, living the street life, selling drugs etc…
    -he joined the Navy at 17, and was discharged with a medical discharge at 19 – two days before his time was done, he went awol. He was evaluated by the Military Psychiatrist, who said he ‘was nuts’. He never told me an actual diagnosis.
    -he claims to have blown up a building when he was in his teens, as it was a hangout for some guys who raped his girlfriend.
    – he killed another teen around his age when he was younger, apparently in self defence. It was in the local papers apparently.
    – he claims to have been kicked out of the city, and escorted out by the Police, claiming they said he was a danger to society locally.
    – he claims to have done ‘second story’ work, and been paid well for it regarding obtaining the files of political figures locally.
    – he was tested in the Navy to have an IQ of 140, which his mother confirmed.
    -he claims to know members of the Mafia, and by their first names.
    – he has a violent streak in him that i have witnessed on many occasions. He has hit me numerous times, tried to strangle me twice, thrown, smashed, and broken windows, furniture, doors etc… while in rages that he claims to have blacked out during.
    – he has used emotional blackmail on me regarding our son, threatening to take him away from me. (which is why I stayed).
    – he has used just about every form of manipulation that I can think of to control me and my whereabouts.
    – he has tried to isolate me from my Family.
    – he has made more threats than i can count towards myself, my family, my friends.
    – he has hit, thrown against the walls and down the stairs our cats in the past, and kicked them.
    – he killed my one dog by snapping it’s neck while I was at work. He said it attacked him. Funny it never attacked me.
    – he has told so many stories that i don’t know what to believe that comes out of his mouth.
    – he has never been able to hold down a job for long. His anger and problems with Authority always got the better of him.
    There is much more, but that is a sample for now.
    I had been with him for 19 years.
    – He tried to convince me that a religious group had broken into our townhouse, and stolen information on the book he was writing about them, and then crashed our computer. So the information was lost.

    – He had me believe that this religious group was out to get me and our son, to kill us. So, I was afraid to go anywhere without him.

    – He had me believe I was the brunt of a bunch of religious conspirators.

    – He put me up on a pedestal of religious significance, and claimed that the said religious group was trying to kill him to get him away from me and our son, so they could control us.

    – He claimed that the FBI/CIA has a file on him.

    – he claimed that the local police had a file on him, but that it was deleted by an officer on his behalf, as he was helping to find a murder suspect of a local girl that was killed back in 1983.

    – He claimed that a bunch of organizations are all into Satanism, New World Order, type of stuff, and are all run by s Secret Society as sub groups of their order.

    – He claimed that our house had been bugged, the phone tapped on several occasions.

    – He claimed that all of this was happening because of things his Father did.

    – He had friends who claimed to be in a Secret Society.

    – He had me afraid of everything and everyone.

    – He still claims that all of the above is true.
    – He also claims that these people have blackballed him, so that he can’t get work.

    – He claims that these people are out to destroy him.

    Now for the Story of My Childhood:

    – I am an incest survivor.

    – I was abused by an Uncle over a period of approximately 10 years, (from age 5 to 15). He died at age 42, that’s when the abuse stopped.

    – The Uncle that abused me was apparently diagnosed as Schizophrenic. They alledgedly teated him with Electirc Shock Therapy on many occasions, but it didn’t work. They didn’t have many treatment options back then.

    – He had me fearing for my safety by telling me that if I told my parents, they would send me away to a Home. (His Daughter was sent to a Home as she was mentally disabled). He told me they would think I was a bad girl.

    – I used to hide away from him so that he couldn’t touch me. I was an avid tree climber, roof climber, fit in to small places anywhere I could type of girl. I would hide in places where I knew he wouldn’t reach me. Even in a damp, dark basement full of cobwebs, under the stairs, which I was terrified of, as there were spiders. I was however, more afraid of him.

    – He used to abuse me in all manner of places: His Car, In my Bed, in my GrandParents beds, Even in my Parents Bed.

    – He was relentless in his abuse of me.

    – He taught me about all manners of sex at a very young age. I was practically a baby.

    – He had a violent streak. One time he punched me in stomache so hard that I flew across the room into the couch, and couldn’t breathe for a few minutes. He did this cuz he heard me say I hated him on a dare by my cousin. My cousin took off when he saw him coming. My Parents, when i told that he had punched me, said i must have deserved it. I was 8 years old at that time. Hence I could not trust my Parent’s for fear that they would say that I was the one that was wrong in all the other things he was doing to me. This reinforced all the things the Uncle said to me about my Parents thinking I was the bad one, and sending me away to a Home.

    – My Mother actually threatened to send me away to a Home when i was a child.

    – My Dad actually took me up to one. On the Mountain here. I think it was a convent. I screamed and carried on so much that the Sister said she didn’t think it was a wise idea. I wouldn’t let go of my Dad’s leg, I was so afraid. That place still gives me the creeps!

    – I grew up in a fearful environment. Living a double life so to speak. There was the normal me, and the abused me that i hid from the world. He never hurt my soul though. I came to believe that my Soul was the real me, and my body was just a house for my Soul, and was expendable. I came to this realization at a young age (around age 8 yrs.).

    – there was also physical abuse from my Dad, and threats of it from my Mother. i.e.: Wait until your Dad gets home. Which usually resulted in getting the belt.

    – the last time I got the belt, i was 14 and on my period. My Dad belted me 18 times. My Mom had to come upstairs and check to see if I had any cuts. I was defiant though, i didn’t cry!

    – I took the belt one time to protect my sister, and got belted across the stomach. My Dad later apologized for it.

    – My Mom was an alcoholic. she became that way after finding out that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, when I was 9. Just after she had given birth to my Brother.

    – Consequently, i raised my Brother until i was 18 yrs. old. I moved out at that time, as I couldn’t take living there anymore.

    – The worst part of it all, was that the whole family, including the abusive Uncle, lived in a Tri Plex, until I was 12. I find it hard to believe that they didn’t know that he was abusing me.

    – My Grandmother caught him abusing me once, and didn’t say anything. Of course, she was mentally slow, and he was her Son that could od no wrong. She had a grade 2 education, and her Mother died when she was 5 or so. Her father was a coal miner who died of Black Lung in Scotland.

    – My Parents would often have this Grandmother babysit us, as my Dad was Musician and a Booking Agent for Bands. My parents were quite busy with the Agency. The Uncle would give my Grandma money to go to Bingo when he had it, so that he could have access to abuse me.

    – I do not know whether the Uncle ever abused my Sister or Brother. I gave myself up so that he wouldn’t harm them.

    – I felt I had no way out, nowhere to turn, no one to trust, and all I could do was protect my siblings as best as i could, and my parents in a way as well.

    That is the basics of my story.
    – My mom tried to stab me with a steak knife when I was 17 cuz she didn’t like my boyfriend (Brian).

    That was a big defining moment for me, and is when I decided I needed to leave home, at 18.

    Kind Regards To All,

    Scoobie



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  6. LAMan says:

    Congratulations for surviving, Scoobie!! Stay strong.



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  7. bumblebee21 says:

    I recently discovered that my 23 year old cousin is a sociopath, we grew up together I always new she was different I just didnt know how..im so glad I found this site. I have been victimized too.

    But as for this topic I always thought they were like animals. My cousin has this weird ice cold stare that she does but if you look at it, its not like a cat its more reptilian like a alligator or snake before they attack. Its so striaght had consistant its very evil. Whenever she does it, it reminds me of a snake so I always thought sociopaths had reptile animal thing going on. Because they are animals that dont show any affection, tigers and other mammals do show affection especially to there young but snakes and other reptiles do not.

    Just my thought.



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  8. OxDrover says:

    Very insightful essay, Liane.

    I think you are so right about the fact that where the “rule of law” is not what governs a country, sociopaths DO become the rulers.

    Having spent a great deal of my life working with and studying animals, both wild and domestic, your explination of the dominance exerted in “group living” situations, such as wolves, elephants etc. as well as in the apes, is very good.

    I think in many situations now, even in our country, in the “gang culture” where there is no “rule of law” but literally the law of the jungle, where the biggest meanest macho guy in the group is the “leader” we are seeing more psychopaths rise to the “top” in these subcultures in our society, where these people do not even attempt to abide by the “rule of law.”

    As has been discussed in other threads here too, these psychopaths in these sub-cultures of western society are procreating faster than non-psychopaths.

    Thank you for this insightful post.



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