This is a true story told to me by one of my University students. Marisol describes life with her sister, a sociopath:
My stepfather sexually molested me when I was eight. My sister who was nine, was also molested; I know because I saw him go to her. We never talked about what happened. When she was 20, I asked her and she denied it then admitted it happened to her when I said I saw him. My father was shot and killed when we were very young. He used drugs and had a bad temper, so someone shot him. My sister was always wild when we were growing up. We fought a lot and there wasn’t much affection in my family.
My sister has been sexually promiscuous since her teen years. I never had any friends because if she would find out that I had a friend, she would have sex with that friend’s boyfriend. My mother would say I had to stick up for my sister. But, my sister has sex with nearly every man she knows. When she sees a married couple, she wants what they have, so she sleeps with the husband. When he leaves his wife to be with her, she grows tired and drops him. My sister has been with all kinds of men, black, white and Puerto Rican. She becomes whatever that man is. When she’s with a black, she acts black. She’s white when she’s with a white guy. I don’t think my sister ever uses protection when she has sex, look she had a baby a year ago. I don’t know how she can do this to herself…all those men. According to a friend of mine, the men in the barbershop even talk about my sister. They have all had sex with her and think she’s good.
I left home when I was 16 because my sister convinced me that my mother didn’t want me. She often told me that my mother didn’t like me. My sister told me a lot of things my mother didn’t really say. My sister has two children that I worry about, especially her son who is seven. She switches men every few months, each time there is a new guy she says to her son, “This is your father.” Then when she gets tired of the guy, she gets rid of him and her son never sees the man again. She left her son’s father when he was in jail. Her son’s father has 8 kids and he only cares for two of them. My nephew has problems and my sister just ignores him. She is into her baby now. The baby girl is one. I don’t think she knows who the baby’s father is.
My sister spends all her money on the men in her life, while her children go without clothes and doctor visits. She never pays any of her bills. She has furniture from Rent a Center, she never paid then moved away with the furniture. She doesn’t feel she should have to pay any of her bills. She has a job. She keeps it because she lies to her boss and makes her feel sorry for her. She tells everyone that she is a single mother and that she has no family. She is a single mother, but we want to help her. My sister is not sorry for any of the bad things she has done. Instead, she lies to cover things up. It seems she believes her own lies. I can’t believe how much my sister lies. She doesn’t tell the truth about anything. My sister is beautiful and very nice. I keep thinking she is a good person, then when I think about the way she treats my nephew, I get mad. She says she doesn’t want him, but she won’t give him to us. She wants to be in control.
I keep thinking that my sister acts this way because she was molested. My mother says she has always been wild and difficult. Even when my father was alive, she was oppositional. I remember she did everything he told her not to do. Although my sister does not steal from my mother, she takes advantage of her. If my mother has a boyfriend, my sister will call him behind my mother’s back, and ask him for favors, even if he and my mom aren’t that close. Although my sister doesn’t admit to having any problems, she blames my mother for everything. My mother never showed us any affection. In my culture we believe that holding babies will spoil them.
Discussion of this Case
I believe Marisol’s sister qualifies as a sociopath because she has a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others that has been present since early childhood. She lies and is financially irresponsible. She is sexually promiscuous and has failed to care properly for her children. Her reported non-use of protection is evidence for her recklessness. Although there are no reports of physical fights, there is considerable relational aggression, which is more common in women. The presence of all these behaviors within the context of a life pattern of harming those who are closest to her defines her sociopathy.
My student’s story shows us the inability to love and power motivation of women who are high in sociopathic traits. She fails to bond with any of the men with whom she has relations. There is no compulsion to be with a specific special other; this compulsion is a necessary part of love. No one in her life is particularly special. She does get pleasure from affection and from babies. Unfortunately, her son at age seven is too old to be a source of pleasure and has been discarded. Her relationships are all about power and control. She uses both sex and money as tools for power and control. She doesn’t spend money on her children because this is caretaking. She instead spends money on men as a way of asserting power and control.
This case illustrates the many factors that create sociopathy. Poverty may have been an issue in this family. There is clearly a genetic, temperamental risk here. My student’s father was also a sociopath, and my student’s sister had all the temperamental traits at risk children have. The cultural practice of not showing warmth or affection greatly increases risk for some but not all children. My student asked me if I thought the molestation caused her sister’s problems. I think the molestation may have contributed to the sex addiction. My student asked me if there is any hope for her sister. I said that her sister would have to admit her sex addiction and her destructive patterns of behavior and work on change. My student replied, “She lies too much for that.”
You might be wondering about my student. Is she normal? She has the same genetics, the same mother and also was molested! My student illustrates the workings of the inner triangle. The inner triangle is ability to love, impulse control and moral reasoning. Marisol has had two long-term loving relationships with men. She also has a 10-year-old daughter whom she is very devoted to and cares for. So, unlike her sister, Marisol has ability to love. Marisol does have issues with impulse control. She has been arrested for fighting and states, “I have a very bad temper…I just explode… I have had to train myself not to do that…I don’t want to explode in front of my daughter.” By her own statements, Marisol demonstrates her moral reasoning ability. Impulse control can improve when a person is motivated to try. Love and morals provide this motivation. My student also has a desire to better herself. She is getting a bachelor’s degree because she wants to achieve and have a career her daughter will be proud of. She hopes her daughter’s life will be better and easier than hers has been.