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Is Tony Soprano a sociopath?

Tonight, in the final episode of the HBO series The Sopranos, we find out what happens to Tony. Will he get whacked? Will he escape? Will he go into the federal witness protection program?

As a prelude, last week’s episode, called The Blue Comet, showed Tony as a man alone, losing his family, friends and even his psychiatrist. Early in the show, Tony’s shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, is at a dinner party with other mental health professionals, including her own shrink, Dr. Elliot Kupfenberg. The conversation turns to sociopaths:

Doctor #1: I Googled stuff on sociopathic personalities. Apparently the talking cure actually helps them become better criminals. It was fascinating. The study was by Yochelson and Samenow.
Dr. Melfi: Studies are turned around every few years.
Doctor #1: This other—I think it was Robert Hare—suggested sociopaths actually quite glibly engage on key issues, like mother, family …
Doctor #2: I seem to remember that from residency.
Dr. Melfi: Me too, and I’ve read Hare, but who’s a true sociopath?

As the scene continues, it is revealed that Dr. Melfi is treating Tony Soprano. Dr. Elliot Kupfenberg points out that she may face moral and even legal consequences for keeping him as a patient. Later in the show—after reading the study—Dr. Melfi dumps Tony.

Reasonably accurate

The dialog among the psychiatrists was essentially correct, although I’m sure Dr. Robert Hare was not happy about them using the term “sociopath.” He always uses “psychopath.”

Still, I’ve been to two of Dr. Hare’s seminars, and I’ve heard him discuss the research about talk therapy and sociopaths (psychopaths). However, I believe the research related to incarcerated men mandated to attend group therapy sessions. What happens is they learn the buzz words to manipulate their prison psychologists and parole officers. This allows them to get out of jail faster, or, if they re-offend, talk their way into reduced sentences.

Of course, many Lovefraud readers who have attended counseling sessions with sociopaths can relate to how they con the therapists. And the line about “sociopaths glibly engage on key issues like mother, family,” well, we all know that one.

For me, the best part of this scene was seeing a reasonably accurate discussion of the sociopathic personality in a mainstream TV show.

Is he or isn’t he?

Still, is Tony Soprano a sociopath? My first response is no. As those of us who have experienced sociopaths well know, they feel no guilt or remorse. Nothing is their fault, and they do not believe anything is wrong with them. So although it may be great television for a mob boss to go into therapy—not because he was ordered by the court, but because he felt the need—it is not going to happen with a true sociopath.

But in an article Friday in the St. Petersburg Times, Dennis Lehane, a writer for the HBO series The Wire (my personal favorite), says Tony Soprano is a sophisticated sociopath who fools everyone. And Allen Rucker, author of three officially sanctioned books about The Sopranos, says, “We were all the therapist being sucked in by the psychopath. One part of Tony has the sensibility of a poet and another part is the predator—which is why we love him.”

So is he or isn’t he? The sociopathic personality encompasses a range of behaviors, and Tony certainly has some of the traits. Or maybe he’s taken the personality disorder to a whole new level. Luckily, Tony is a TV character and we don’t really have to decide.

But the good news is that the media may finally be getting the idea that sociopaths are not all deranged serial killers. They’ve graduated to mob hit men. I guess that’s progress.



3 Comments on "Is Tony Soprano a sociopath?"

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  1. Benzthere says:

    And it reiterates even more. If sociopathy is so controversial and difficult to diagnose even by public figures and experts, then there is no need for me or other victims to fret endlessly about labeling it correctly. Does it really even matter?

    A good thing is, I see I’m not alone and instead of focusing on “them” maybe the focus will move toward more understanding and help for the victims and more importantly, stopping this abuse through knowledge and information. Without conscience even in varying degrees is evil, no matter the exact diagnosis.

  2. fmler says:

    Misuse of the term sociopath. The US military used this term/diagnosis as a means of getting rid of unwanted members. My experience is from my duty in the missile wing at Grand Forks AFB. The operations side of the wing was sending a young black airman to the maintenance side. The Capt in charge instructed me to start a “derog” file on this airman. I reasoned with the captain that the airman was not even with us yet. The captain said ok but the airman had been diagnosed as being a sociopath, I took a walk with this young man and told him they wanted to kick him out for being a sociopath. When I asked him if he knew what a sociopath was he said no! I was a white Tech Sergeant and I took this to the race relations office where I related this story to the white Staff Sergeant (NCOIC). We were in agreement that this was clearly a racial incident. The officer in charge of the race relations office, a black captain, came out of his office and told us to get off of it, he wanted that young airman out of “HIS” Air Force! To this day I wonder if THAT Captain knew what Sociopath meant. Today the US Army is using the the term “personality disorder” to cover Post Trauma Distress Order. Bob Woodruff reported on this scam on the Nightly news. This gives the Army a method to screw the soldiers out of their benefits and to even require them to pay back any re- enlistment they may have received! Woodruff’s interview can be seen on ABC.com OUTRAGEOUS!!!

  3. holehearted says:

    I guess I have a history with sociopaths. I dated a guy who told me he was a stockbroker and later found out he had just gotten out of prison for larceny.

    I stayed with him thought I guess I thought I was in love.

    Turns out he was into all kinds of crime, dealing drugs, guns etc. He was pretty good to me took care of me, when I was sick he spoon fed me, when I needed money he always gave it to me and he paid for my father’s funeral.

    But when I saw him pistol whipping some guy that owed him money, I almost puked. He came in afterwards and ate a sandwich like nothing happened.

    He was nice as long as I wasn’t questioning his lifestyle. He did hold a gun to my head once and threatened to gauge out my eye with a pen. Nice stuff huh?

    He was cheating on me I am sure.

    Anyway, I had the sense to get out of that relationship before too long. I changed my number, moved and generally ignored any emergency call messages on my vm.

    However one time I got a message and I knew it was something bad. I called back and found out that he died the night before — he just went to sleep and never woke up. Never really found out what happened. I did go to his funeral and there were hundreds of people there and tons of flowers. it was very sad to see him gone like that.

    I guess live by the sword die by the sword.

    When I hooked up wit the last sociopath, I should have seen all this coming. I don’t know.. I had a dream of my ex that died and he was telling me “He’s just like me..you have to leave…he’s just like me.” And then he smiled a sinister smile.

    Strange h?

    Anyway the point of my story is that is takes a special kind of person to be in the mafia. Either they are raised that way “in the family.” or they are born that way.

    To me Tony Soprano appears as if he was “raised that way” He had seen a lot of violence as a child and it was all related to this lifestyle. He seemed traumatized by it when he looked back in his therapy sessions. I think he saw his father murdered right?

    So that’s how he was raised but he wasn’t the typical “conduct disorder” child if I remember correctly.

    This is probably why he started having panic attacks and sought therapy for it.

    That’s my two cents.

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