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Sociopaths and Psychopaths: Have you no shame?

Shame, along with guilt, embarrassment and pride, is a moral emotion. Shame is the emotion we experience when we discover a defect in ourselves. The expression of shame is a submissive response. It is an acknowledgment to others of the defect and the decline in our status that results from the defect. This submissive response shows to others our attempts to conform, improve ourselves, apologize, and make amends.

Early experts in psychopathy documented that the absence of shame is part of the disorder. According to Dr. Cleckley, author of The Mask of Sanity, psychopaths are incapable of feeling shame. Because they do not feel shame, they blame everyone else for their problems. “The psychopath apparently cannot accept substantial blame for the various misfortunes which befall him and which he brings down upon others,” Cleckley says. “Whether judged in the light of his conduct, of his attitude, or of material elicited in psychiatric examination, he [the psychopath] shows almost no sense of shame.“

More recent researchers also recognize the fact that psychopaths accept no personal blame. Item 16 on the “gold-standard” psychopathy measure, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist–Revised (PCL–R), assesses a failure to accept responsibility for actions. Item 16 of the PCL–R identifies “an individual who is unable or unwilling to accept personal responsibility for his own actions (both criminal and non-criminal) or for the consequences of his actions.” Instead of accepting responsibility for his/her actions, the psychopath produces “some excuse for his/her behavior, including rationalizing and placing the blame on others” (Hare, 2003).

I have emphasized that the lack of shame and consequent blaming behavior of sociopaths and psychopaths is caused by their excessive dominance motivation. Sociopaths and psychopaths live for power and control. As dominants, they cannot afford to admit any weakness or error, not even to themselves. I want to share with you the results of two recent studies that demonstrate that a lack of shame correlates with clinical measures of sociopathy and psychopathy.

When I searched the scientific literature for studies of shame and psychopathy, I happily found researchers who not only investigated shame, but who developed a “social rank” theory of psychopathy. This social rank theory is very similar to my social dominance theory of sociopathy. Drs. Morrison and Gilbert studied men in a British prison. They found that sociopaths and psychopaths are more reactive to social rank challenge than are non-psychopaths. They related this sensitivity to challenge to the observed lack of shame in psychopaths. These authors also described two distinct groups with regard to shame and social dominance. Psychopaths feel dominant and believe themselves to be entitled to a certain special treatment. According to the authors, “(Psychopaths) assume that they are dominant and expect others to treat them as such.” If not treated as dominant, psychopaths feel socially threatened and behave accordingly toward “subordinates” who fail to show appropriate deference.

A second group of sociopaths who did not score as high on psychopathy measures, but who were still disordered, was also identified. This group secretly perceive themselves as relatively inferior in social rank and have lower self-esteem. However, these sociopaths are resentful of their perceived status, strive for dominance, and thus are sensitive to threats both from others perceived as dominant and others perceived as subordinate. This study is important because it shows that pathologic narcissism or extremely inflated self esteem is present in the most dangerous sociopaths who are identified as psychopaths by Dr. Hare. In fact, the major difference between sociopathy as described by The American Psychiatric Association and psychopathy as described by Dr. Robert Hare is the presence of extreme grandiosity and narcissism in psychopaths.

In another study, Drs. Campbel and Elison assessed psychopathy traits in a group of 286 college students (111 men and 175 women). You might wonder how common these traits are in college students. Of the 286 students, 52 scored in the high end on the psychopathy test. This means that about 1 of 6 people you meet in college has significant psychopathic traits. These traits do not define them as “psychopaths” by Dr. Hare’s criteria, since criminality is a requirement for the PCL-R, but they do identify individuals who have dangerous commonalities with Dr. Hare’s psychopaths.

Drs. Campbell and Elison found that people high in trait psychopathy have no shame. These researchers looked at five responses to shame: attack other, avoidance, attack self, withdrawal and adaptive. Psychopathy was specifically associated with the tendency to attack others or to withdraw in response to situations that would normally elicit shame.

Understanding that the lack of shame and the presence of blaming and withdrawal behavior in response to shame situations is part of sociopathy/psychopathy is important. Many people ask how they can tell if a friend or lover is sociopathic enough to be dangerous. I share these findings with you because I think shame can be used to identify people who are safe to be with. A psychologically normal person has an adaptive response to shame-inducing situations. This includes admitting mistakes and faults and trying to be a better person. If you notice someone is consistently unable to feel shame and blames everyone else for things that go wrong, be on your guard. Chances are that person is high in sociopathic traits.



17 Comments on "Sociopaths and Psychopaths: Have you no shame?"

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  1. alohatraveler says:

    Buzzibee,

    I was just thinking about this this morning. That all this Tantric stuff really attracts psychos. They claim that they are craving some kind of deep closeness and learn processes that are meant to bring people closer together but they can use them to feign closeness and depth with an unsuspecting person.

    I read all kinds of stuff about Tantric ideas and it all sounded fine to me but I though this was meant for people who truly love each other and want to be deeper… and not to be used to create a phony sense of closeness.

    My Bad Man incident happened in Maui where there are a bunch of flakey foo-foos pretending to be Tantric this and that… healers, psychics, goddesses and whatever. I will be VERY careful about anyone that starts talking about all that foo-foo stuff in the future. And to think, I used to think that all sounded nice and had books on that stuff on myself. They are in trash now.

    Healthy people don’t need to bang drums or skip naked through the forest to create an authentic loving bond with someone they love.

    Aloha… E.R.

    P.S. HAHA! “Sexual Healing” is playing on the radio right now…
    I just noticed.

  2. buzzibee says:

    alohatraveler … touche’ … although there could well be many authentic spiritual folk out there with genuine desires to form those close bonds there are many who are ‘foo foo’ … and the foo foo ones will be the first to tell you that there are many foo foo people out there. The New Age movement promises so much but the bottom line is that with the new age teachings and concepts you are not required to answer to a higher authority like a priest or pastor who is suitably qualified to instruct, guide and lead. Most of these New Agers oozing this love stuff are flitting around, forming their own conclusions and ultimately creating a religion of their own making. How wonderful, read a few pages on the internet, make your own deductions, appoint yourself as a spiritual person and you don’t have to answer to a higher authority … THEREIN lies the haven for psycopathy!!

  3. alohatraveler says:

    Buzzibee,

    YUP! You got it! :o) I think we are saying the same thing.

  4. Fighter says:

    The victims on our site? One of their cyberpaths is a big shot at his Jewish temple and even used his friendship with his rabbi to smear his victims when they caught him. He still maintains a website about (get this) politics & ethics. This same man (aka “gridney”) was posting about encounters with hookers on an online board, posting for casual sex encounters online and sent pictures and movies of his privates to possible victims!

    Another was a church elder, married 3 times, found out he had 5 girlfriends, a wife and a possible illegitimate child somewhere. He tried to sue the person who exposed him by standing up in church and “asking for forgiveness.” Did we mention he’s still passing a serious STD around?

    The list of those sociopaths saying they are religious, involved with their churches, temples, etc, teaching Bible study or having online blogs about ethics is endless. It shows they have no shame to use God in this manner. Oh wait… they think they ARE God!

  5. Fleeced Ewe says:

    I think ‘mine’ was an N. http://www.narcissism.operationdoubles.com/

    He held me in oppression, for 15 out of 20 years, using religion. Why? because I had a heart who desperately wanted to please God. But, “god” was who I was really pleasing!

    About 3 years ago, (7 years after fleeing the fraudulent “marriage”) I was sitting with an wise, old Christian woman while reflecting on my life with him.

    “But he laid on his face for hours and prayed over the years…I saw him! and I never had that kind of ambition!”
    “Honey, devil worshipers lay on their face and pray.”
    “BUT, he read the Bible through, and I have not.”
    “The demons were there when it was written.”
    “Well then tell me, why he memorized volumes of scriptures and could quote all the references…I can never remember where they are, without a concordance!”
    “I’ll tell you dear: he had a need to know them well, in order to use them against you. Let ME ask YOU this, DID HE HAVE THE LOVE OF CHRIST?”

    From that day on, I have learned the difference between ‘religion’ and the love of God.

  6. buzzibee says:

    “Did he have the love of Christ?” Excellent question!! Even if we aren’t Christian or have any religious standing we all have a pretty good idea of what “the love of Christ” means. All psychos are be able to feign a Christlike/Spiritual appearance… but they give themselves away eventually. Psycho’s are EXPERT actors and actresses and through their lives they learn how to mimic human emotions because it prompts a response in you and gets them what they want.

    I spoke to a man whom I believe is a genuine spiritual healer. With my now tainted view of all things spiritual I relayed a little of my story to him. He listened for about five mintues, put his hand on my shoulder and with a softness and compassion in his eyes said “My dear, in every encounter, we have to assess our own feelings. In other words, how does that person make you FEEL. Not what a person tells us how they feel, but how we feel in their presence. We all have intuition and gut-instinct and we all tend to ignore those at times. People could very well make you feel great for a while but on the whole and in the longer term, how do they make you feel.”

    Does their ‘story’ equal their lifestyle? Does their ‘talk’ equal their ‘walk’? My psycho’s walk and talk are as far apart as the East is from the West and that was the most confusing thing when the well constructed illusion began to fall apart. There was a mad scramble to justify words and actions and in that scramble the excuses, lies and deception got bigger and more ridiculous.

    Authentic and real people don’t have to prove themselves to anyone. They are who/what they are and we accept that or we don’t. It is NOT our responsibility to rescue them, or any adult, until we have helped ourselves first. We have all been targets of their sick games and needs. We’ve been food to the lone wolf predator because they chose us … they sniffed us out and chose us because we were caring, giving and nurturing. Most, if not all of us were low in self-esteem and ‘doing’ for another person made us feel like we were making a contribution to something that made us a better person and gave us self-acceptance or validation. Therefore we were perfect targets. We show compassion and even pity and that’s what they latch onto.

    As a general rule of thumb, I have noticed there are two things to watch for;

    (1) Reciprocation. Sociopaths cannot fathom reciprocation in humans. They are selfish. Test them … do something and assess their level of reciprocation. Do they return a favour? Don’t form a conclusion on one incident. Test them on this a few times.

    (2) Weakness/Illness. They will not care for you if you are sick because lacking empathy means they cannot ‘feel’ for you. They will usually tell you to take a pill and go to bed. We, on the other hand would fetch, carry and pamper them back to health … they won’t. Again, test them .. even if YOU have to fake it. I’m not encouraging lies and deceit here but this is a pretty good test for a specific purpose.

  7. apt/mgr says:

    In my experience and years of living, 57, I have been duped by the best of them. I truly believed that my marriage was as a direct result of God’s working. Maybe it was, but it might have been me running ahead of Him, but God did bring something so wonderful from it, and that’s my children. They are a-ok and that’s only because God gave me the ability to shelter them from the worst of the episodes.

    I believed, too, that no one else could be going through what we were. It’s comforting to read these blogs and know that none of us are alone.

    We were a church family. My husband taught Sunday School for many years. We would put on our church clothes and faces, but it was a facade. Once we got back into the car to go home, we all, my 2 daughters and myself, would sit in our respective places and stay silent. Most times the tension was so thick you could feel it covering you. If I would have just known all those years ago, that I wasn’t to blame and he really does have a problem, I could have spared my children and myself a lot of grief. But we do live and learn and he didn’t kill me, as a lot out here aren’t as fortunate.

    There are many who can fake almost anything. I thought he was feeling the same things I was. I heard a very good sermon on that, entitled “Dead men walking”. That pretty much describes it. No empathy, or sympathy. At least for me. My husband could give it to others, but not me. I saw so much hate in his eyes for so long, that once I finally got out working, I was afraid to make eye contact for fear I’d see the same thing in other’s eyes that I always saw in his. He could turn his emotions on and off to suit the occasion. If the calendar called for it, he could rise for the occasion. I prayed for years that God would allow truth and I’ve finally gotten it. I went through years of dark despair, but now that I’m on the other side, it was worth it. I’ll never fully understand, but I’m better for it. Much stronger.

    My husband faked heart attacks, imagined he had bone cancer, sure he had a stroke, etc. If I had something wrong with me, he did too. I fell and dislocated my shoulder and tore tendons, rotator cuff. Walked around and worked for a whole year with one arm. Had to have surgery and lots of therapy. But the week after the accident, my husband just happened to throw something into the truck and tore something in his shoulder. He did the doctor thing and they had him take therapy, but I think most saw through this. He mirrored most everything. I realize that now. He wants attention and I no longer give him that.
    I think they do things to get the effect and if we react, then we still care.

    I had a male friend who did the same thing. His problem was kidney stones. He had so many they could have built a wall with them. Because I didn’t react, he no longer gets kidney stones. It’s hard for me to understand how grown men, who’ve lived longer than I have, have this insatiable need for attention and use ailments to get it. I would react and give attention to something positive that included me.

    It amazes me just how many out here I can relate to. There’s an epidemic of men with retarded emotions. Lots of excess baggage, but yet they’d have the nerve to blame it on the woman and her time of the month. Reading these blogs is helping me daily to get over the men who’ve been in my life. Makes being alone so much saner. I’d much rather be alone and have peace and contentment than to be with someone who sees no value in me, but wants me around to use me for sex and services. A waste of precious time.

    As far as them being wonderful Christians, if they don’t have the true love of Christ and don’t exhibit true Christ-like emotions, on all occasions, then I’d say they are faking it too. Not to pass judgment on them, but just to feel safe from them.

    As far as reciprocation goes, it usually doesn’t unless there’s something in it for them. Won’t initiate a happening, unless it keeps them in the focus. A sad commentary for a life lived. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’m stronger and so much wiser.

  8. pollyannanomore says:

    I had a couple of those experiences too – wouldn;t take prescriptions for flu but would be “dying” from it. He also purported to be mildly religious – I t hink this is so people think he has good virtues. He also had several medical problems he refused to seek treatment for – he preferred to pretend to ‘suffer’ so I would feel sorry for him.

    It amazes me how similar all these stories are!

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