Like many of you, I am very grateful for a few friends who acted as sounding boards as I processed my experience with a sociopath. The best talks have been with my exercise partner who is also a former Federal agent. About 2 years ago on one of our walks we discussed what it must be like to be inside the skin of a sociopath. Both of us tried to imagine what their inner world is like.
On that walk we both connected with ourselves and each other in a way we hadn’t before. The connection happened as we reflected on what it must be like to live a life without love. I realized that my sense of myself as a continuous person over time is based on the people I love and the values I have a passion for. Everywhere I go I carry with me a sense of duty, love and connection to my children and other loved ones. My dearest ones are always inside me. The fulfilling of duty to them gives life purpose and direction.
According to Dr. Cleckley, the first psychiatrist to really study sociopaths, the disorder produces an incapacity for love that is “complete”. Furthermore Dr. Cleckley states in his book, The Mask of Sanity that even those who have an “incomplete manifestation” of the disorder completely lack the capacity for love.
Without love to give themselves a sense of feeling and purpose, sociopaths are prone to boredom. They have to keep filling their lives with excitement and also abuse substances to fill the gap.
Sociopaths live in the moment because they lack the loving human connections that give everyone else a sense of continuity of person and purpose.
Sociopaths also have no true self because instead of being based on loving connections, their sense of themselves is based on who they can dominate in the moment. If yesterday they had to assume a certain identity to get over on person A, today they may have to assume another identity to get over on person B. This assumption of identities is not a problem for them because the goal is not loving or meaningful connectedness. The goal is the pleasure of the get over. They will become what they must to accomplish that goal.
I’ve been struggling over whether or not to include a section on “identity” in my next book. I am trying not to get too psychologically technical. But it might be helpful for victims and family members to reflect on identity and understand why sociopaths lack a stable sense of self. I am interested in your thoughts about that.
Since some of you indicated you wanted me to tackle an explanation of “borderline personality”. I’ve been reading on the issue of identity. On page 213 of “Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism” psychoanalyst Dr. Otto Kernberg says the following:
The normal integrated self and its related integrated conceptions of others guarantee a sense of continuity throughout time and under varying circumstances. They also guarantee a sense of belonging to a network of human relations that makes life meaningful, and they guarantee the ordinary “self feeling” we take for granted…
He also says that absent loving connections:
… pathological subjective experiences of a painful and disturbing nature develop. Among these experiences predominates a sense of emptiness and futility of life, chronic restlessness and boredom..In typical cases, it is as if this emptiness were their basic modality of subjective experience from which they attempt to escape by engagement in many activities or in frantic social interactions, by the ingestion of drugs or alcohol or by attempts to obtain instinctual gratifications through sex, aggression, food or compulsive activities…
I hope you will spend what is left of summer reflecting on your own loving connections. As you contemplate the meaning of these connections and their importance to your sense of who you are, consider your own “self-feeling”. Realize that you have yourself to give yourself in intimacy to another either friend, family or lover, while the sociopath you know has nothing to give anyone.