Is sociopathy a perversion? If yes, a perversion of what? And if it is a perversion, does this compel us to revisit the sociopaths’ culpability for his transgressions? After all, perversions imply antisocial, irrepressible impulses. If an impulse is irrepressible, or unsuppressible, how culpable is its expresser?
I think a good case can be made that sociopathy is a perversion—a perversion of personality characterized by the unsuppressible tendency to exploit others.
It’s not so much a question of the sociopath’s sanity: most sociopaths, by criminal standards, are sane. Then again, so are most kleptomaniacs.
When I refer to the sociopath’s unsuppressible tendency to exploit, I mean unsuppressible in a characterological, more than compulsive, sense. The sociopath, that is, appears characterologically to be driven to perpetrate incursions against others’ space and security.
While I think that sociopaths, like most transgressors, can exercise, on a case by case basis, some selective choice in determining when next, and whom, to violate, I do not think that sociopaths, in the bigger picture, can control their exploitive tendencies any more than saints can control their beneficent tendencies.
I regard it as inevitable that the sociopath will violate others and, unless stopped, violate repeatedly.
In my view, many wrongly interpret the sociopath’s capacity for situational self-restraint as suggestive of what ought, therefore, to be the sociopath’s capacity to cease his exploitation more broadly.
But I stress—while it’s true that most sane individuals, including sociopaths, can exercise some suppressive control over the expression, timing and direction of their antisocial tendencies in the short-term, it does not follow that they can maintain their self-regulation in the long-term.
The sociopath’s peculiar and profound self-centeredness, along with his inability to genuinely care about the harm he inflicts on others, explain why his exploitive tendencies, in the long-term at least, will demand expression.
Yet one often hear variations on the theme, “You know, when he’s not being cruel, deceptive and self-centered, he’s really a good guy.”
Or, “When she’s not scamming seniors out of their life savings, she’s got really good instincts.”
Carrying this logic a step further, it’s like saying, “You know, when he’s not raping women, he can be a quite tender, trusting lover.”
I commonly work with clients who see the refractory period separating the antisocial displays of their partners as tantalizing evidence of the latters’ “real personality;” of their “true potential” as partners/parents/friends; of how they’d be “all the time if they could just work through their demons.”
This is “enabling” thinking, steeped in denial and fantasy. It reflects the desperation to want to believe in the underlying goodness of the antisocial mate. One insists that with just a little more time, a little more forgiveness, a little more patience, one’s partner will recognize, finally, what he or she has been jeopardizing, and will finally properly value his or her mate, family and blessings.
Sometimes religious/spiritual individuals, for whom faith and forgiveness are integral to their identity, are especially prone to this self-delusive thinking. Their endurance of countless lies, deceptions and betrayals feels less about self-compromise than the fulfillment of their higher values.
They may harbor the hope, and faith, that their travails, if endured uncomplainingly and for long enough, will result finally in vindication—for instance, this will be the time he really sees the light!
I call this “reform-aholoc” thinking—that is, believing with a kind of blind faith in the antisocial partner’s capacity for reformation.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)