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The “feel” of a sociopath

I recently had clinical contact with a client who left me with the unusually strong, immediate impression of “schemer,” “slick,” “full of crap.” He was instantly, aggressively ingratiating—less, I felt, from insecurity, as from ulterior motives, as if he were angling, at the outset, for an edge.

I had the uncomfortable feeling I get around intrusive salesmen who leave you feeling like an “object” from whom to extract a sale and commission.

I should mention that he was glib. Glibness is a trait often associated with certain sociopaths. My client was so glib, as a matter of fact, that for the first time in a long while the word “glib” actually popped into my head.

When I say “glib,” I don’t mean just fast-talking, which he was. He was shallow, too. And for me, the combination of smooth, fast talking, underlain by shallowness, really captures “glib.”

He was something of a schemer, and it was fascinating to observe him deny or dismiss rife evidence of his historical deceptiveness, abusiveness and double-standards. And he did so with a striking lack of shame, and with much audacity, along with irritation (arrogantly conveyed) to have to even deign to respond to the history.

Now I’d like to shift gears (abruptly), and say something about the psychopath’s (or sociopath’s) alleged “look,” or “stare,” which has been described anecdotally in the literature. Its most obvious form is characterized by a certain crazed intensity (note some of the existing photos of Ted Bundy, and other serial killers).

There are also, I suggest, other, subtler forms of this look. In any case what this “look” transmits (in any of its forms) is something elementally predatory. It has an evaluatively predatory quality.

I suspect that many of you have had the experience of being watched in this way?
It’s more than a feeling of being scrutinized, because all of us scrutinize each other, and clients should be scrutinizing their therapists.

It is more, I think, the quality, or motive, of the scrutiny—again, a predatory aspect that engenders the experience of feeling invaded, and “sized up,” “measured” for ulterior purposes.

At bottom, this is a type of “look” that leaves one feeling watched, studied as an “object.” One experiences the “watcher” as if he or she is calculating, “How much can I have my way with this person? How susceptible is this person to my present interests in him or her?”

My client had this “look.”

He was a “watcher,” and as he watched me, I often had the disconcerting sense that he was less interested in what I had to say, or what I was saying, than in using the time I was speaking to further his evaluation of my vulnerability.

This feeling with, experience of someone, can be a signal. It can signal that something predatory is brewing, or occurring.

I’ve called this the “feel” of a sociopath, because sociopaths sometimes (not always) can stir-up this sensation in those whose paths they’ve crossed, or lives they’ve entered. To be sure, not all sociopaths evoke this experience; but some do, and it can be an uncomfortable, and not easily articulated experience. Depending on the circumstances, it can even feel flatteringly seductive (if still uncomfortable).

Take, for instance, a blind/first-date scenario, in which the exploitative-minded individual approvingly, hungrily, invasively and audaciously sizes-up his date, leaving her feeling flattered (hungrily desired) while at the same time uneasy?

This “sizing up,” “measuring” process too often belies not a hunger for love, and connection, but of acquisition, possession and/or conquest.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)



319 Comments on "The “feel” of a sociopath"

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  1. hurtnomore010 says:

    Most times instincts are definitely right. My advice would be to stick to it.
    Well, my dad is angry right now ay my little sister and I. He feels that we are being “disrespectful” and I think he just wants the drama. He’s mad at me because I texted him “Hey, I’m upstairs and I’m almost done with work.” He feels disrespected that I texted him Hey. He feels that he should get all the respects because he’s my dad. He decided to throw a show when we skyped my mother. He said” See, everytime she gets angry she walks away from me.” He kept going on and on about how I was disrespecting him. I feel that he doesn’t treat anybody particularly females right. He also doesn’t respect anybody’s boundaries. He took our vacation to South Carolina away because he felt “disrespected”. His girlfriend # 1 decided to talk to my little sister. We feel that she should stay out of it. She has no idea or does have idea who the heck she’s dealing with. My little sister went to apologize but I didn’t. I feel that it wasn’t disrespectful and that he is trying to make me look bad in front of my own mother. Luckily, she’s a smart woman and knows who’s she’s dealing with. I’m just so tired of putting up with his crap all the time.



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  2. sistersister says:

    Reading these responses, it seems that the physical effect of a socio/psychopath is more than just eye contact. Sex, for instance, is mentioned. But isn’t this how sex is depicted in the mass media? There’s a lack of intimacy, just lust and violence. And it’s supposed to be “normal.”

    Normal for whom? The only answer I can find is that it’s normal for people who have been raised in puritanical households, where parenting was some kind of S&M act of punishments given and pleasures withheld. People who don’t think that’s sexy are in the minority, in America at least. (For instance, I have never once thought of Madonna — a woman whose very name screams repressed Catholic — as sexy. Weird, huh?)

    And when I think of how that gets projected on the public stage, in political life, it’s pretty darned scary. When I hear unionized workers described as spoiled children, or see the glazed looks of adoration of people’s faces at the political conventions or amid calls for war, it’s more than my liberality that’s being insulted. It’s something very intimate and close. I feel that I am surrounded by a fickle mob. People who are not just politically but personally dangerous. They’re just equally dangerous to each other, so they cancel each other out.

    I have read, and it seems true to me, that sexual fantasies are often the opposite of who we are in “real life.” Like corporate big shots who seek out dominatrixes, or liberated women with rape/domination *fantasies*. I hesitate to send my sex-police into other people’s minds. But I have noticed a sincere, earnest, non-ironic kind of domination *reality*.

    Shocking how normal it has become for me to block out about 90% of the personalities of the people I meet. How, just to function and get things done, I have to “not go there.” I keep feeling out the boundaries of that, upsetting people slightly and then retreating.

    In short, a socio/psychopathic society. An S&M normal.



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  3. OxDrover says:

    Dear Hurtnomore,

    Darling, I know it is hard, but instead of focusing on your dad’s cries of how he is being disrespected, focus within yourself that YOU will be OUT of there in a matter of DAYS that can be counted.

    He is seeing himself losing the control over you. He is FEARFUL that you will go away and never look back so he is behaving unfortunately in the way that will MAKE YOU WANT TO NEVER LOOK BACK. He is trying to grasp some kind of control and he sees that he can’t and it is frustrating to him. It is a shame that instead of bonding with you when you will be leaving his room and making you respect and love him, he is actually pushing you to count the days like a prisoner counting their sentence before their release date.

    I suggest that you and your sister both NOT ARGUE WITH HIM no matter what he says. If he says the “moon is made of green cheese” don’t argue with him about it. You will never be able to convince him it isn’t because he MUST BE RIGHT in his own mind!

    He also MUST be in CONTROL in his own mind. So you cannot change, improve or fix him. It is just not going to happen.

    For the short period of time left, just let his words not pierce your heart, let them evaporate and at the end of each day say, only 45 more days (or however many) left until I leave.



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  4. Wini says:

    HurtNoMore, Oxy is right. Your Dad is using any arsenal in his bag of tricks to control and manipulate any and all given situations. It doesn’t matter who he controls or how he controls. It’s all about his need for control. Don’t give him that fuel he so desperately seeks. Smile any time he speaks with you and know, it’s not about you or your sister or your mom that makes him this way.

    Remember, doors swing both ways. As easy as it is to walk into his home, the same goes for walking out of his home.

    God Bless.



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