Research has suggested that some sociopaths may experience something like “sociopathic burnout,” characterized by a reduction in their antisocial behavioral output as they move through middle and older age. (This is a type of decline in production to be glad for.)
What this does not mean is that sociopaths “outgrow” their sociopathic orientation, anymore than a career thief outgrows his thief’s mentality.
“Sociopathic burn-out,” let me stress, is not to be mistaken for something as chimerical (and unrealistic) as the sociopath’s “personal growth.” One might be tempted to regard the aging sociopath’s “mellowing” as a signal of his perhaps, finally, “growing up;” of his acquiring perhaps, finally, a more mature grasp of his priorities; of his having learned, perhaps at long last, finally to appreciate and value his blessings (including you).
Don’t be deceived. The aging sociopath’s “mellowing” will have nothing to do with a maturation, genuine repentance or self-discovery process. In the end, it will be about “burnout,” and nothing more.
And “burnout” really isn’t so complicated. We all burn-out. All of us, as we age, lose energy, requiring, over time, that we grow more selective in the allocation of our decreasing energy reserves.
Accordingly, we might find ourselves, gradually, apportioning less of our energy to activities and behaviors that failed to tax us in our younger, indefatigable days.
And let’s not kid ourselves: The life of the exploiter is energy-draining. It may take a sociopath to chronically exploit others unconscionably, but it also takes a considerable toll of energy.
And so the sociopath, whose energy is as finite as yours, tires. As he moves past his prime, he finds that his shenanigans now come with a cost, a price, just as, at 40, or 50, you find that recovering from a bender isn’t as easy, as painless, as when you were 20, or 25.
Like the veteran Hollywood stunt man, the aging sociopath finds he can no longer pull off stunt after stunt without confronting an emerging reality: the satisfaction he gets from his outrageous stunts no longer necessarily (after all these years) supercedes the cost to himself, which grows bit by bit as he “ages” not out of his shallowness and lovelessness, but his energy.
The sociopath, in other words, hasn’t been humanized by age, merely depleted by age of the energy levels necessary to sustain his flagrant, sociopathic machinations.
And so, sadly, the aging sociopath will not, finally, come to love or genuinely respect you; he will not “evolve” a true, belated appreciation of everything you promised him that he foully besmirched in his previous immaturity.
Rather, increasingly fatigued and/or dependent, he will only value, as always and now perhaps more than ever, the convenience (if he’s lucky) that your companionship affords him in his now “mellower,” but really just more tired, incarnation.
(My use of “he” in this post and others is merely a convenience, and not meant to suggest that males have a patent on sociopathy. This article is copyrighted (c) 2009 by Steve Becker, LCSW. Thanks to TC for inspiring it.)