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Why we don’t know about sociopaths

I’ve spoken to many people who have had their lives shredded by sociopaths. They are traumatized about their physical, emotional and financial injuries. They can’t understand how someone can cause them so much pain, and be so callous about it.

A statement I hear frequently is, “I didn’t know such evil existed.”

Why don’t we know about sociopaths? I think there are several reasons:

1. Mental health professionals can’t agree on terminology and diagnostic criteria.

These disordered individuals are referred to as sociopaths, psychopaths or people with antisocial personality disorder. Which is the right term? It depends on whom you ask.

Dr. Robert Hare, the guru of the disorder, uses the term “psychopath,” which he applies to people who meet the criteria of his Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).

The American Psychiatric Association uses the term “antisocial personality disorder,” and the definition is vague, unwieldy, and open to interpretation. This professional body has no diagnostic criteria for a psychopath.

For more on the different terminology, see Psychopath or Sociopath? on Lovefraud.com.

The point is that the professionals are in disagreement and disarray. So where does that leave the rest of us? How are we supposed to figure this out when the professionals can’t come to an agreement? More importantly, how are we supposed to educate others when the basic facts—what to call the disorder and how to identify it—are so cloudy?

Here on Lovefraud, many of you refer to these predators as P/S/N — psychopath-sociopath-narcissist. It works among those of us who know what they look like. But people who have not had the experience of being defrauded, devalued and discarded don’t get what we’re talking about. The awkward terminology makes trying to explain our experience even more confusing.

2. The media won’t write about sociopaths.

When it comes to sociopaths, most journalists don’t get it. I am comfortable making that statement, because I was once a journalist who didn’t get it. And it seems that journalists don’t even want to get it.

Many people have told me that information about sociopaths should be in women’s magazines. I agree. In fact, I’ve tried to get their attention.

I am a magazine journalist. I was the original editor of Atlantic City Magazine, and I’ve written for other publications. I know how the business works. To pitch a story to a magazine, you first study the publication to determine how it serves its audience. Then you craft a story idea to match the publication’s approach. Then you send a query letter to pitch your story idea. Then, when the magazine accepts your idea, you write the article.

Since 2005, I’ve sent 18 query letters to magazines such as More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, New Woman, Self, Health and Psychology Today. I tried a range of approaches to bring attention to the problem of sociopaths.

Every single query was rejected.

Personally, I think the magazines are afraid of touching anything that sounds “nasty.” But publications face another problem—defamation lawsuits.

Media lawyers don’t want the publications or broadcasters they represent to publish anything that may lead to a lawsuit. Here’s what they tell their media clients:

  • Don’t accuse someone of a crime unless he has confessed or been convicted.
  • Don’t say someone has a physical or mental disease unless you have proof.
  • Don’t accuse someone of being incompetent or dishonest in his occupation.
  • Don’t say someone is unchaste, especially if it is a woman.

Sociopaths commit crime, are portrayed as having a mental illness (although it is actually a personality disorder), are dishonest at their jobs and are downright promiscuous. Saying any of it could cause legal problems.

This is apparent in the case study on Lovefraud.com about Ed Hicks. The victim in the case, Sandra Phipps, received a lot of media attention, because her ex was married seven times, and committed bigamy four times. Every time she was interviewed, she said, “In my opinion, Ed Hicks is a sociopath.” Usually the newspapers wouldn’t print her quote.

Sandra was even on the Dr. Phil Show about her case. When the show was taped, Dr. Phil himself said Ed Hicks was a sociopath. The lawyers cut it out.

See Call Ed Hicks a bigamist, but not a sociopath.

3. Hollywood sensationalizes the disorder.

Most people believe psychopaths are serial killers. Deranged, diabolical murderers. I think this is a direct result of how they are portrayed in movies and on television shows.

The classic, of course, is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which had nothing to do with a psychopath. More recently, the TV show Dexter is about a serial killer who channels his violent impulses to only kill people who deserve it. Many describe the Dexter character as a psychopath or sociopath. I don’t know what Dexter is, but he wouldn’t be diagnosed as either.

Read Psycho movies add to the confusion.

The cultural image of psychopaths and sociopaths makes education even more difficult. Yes, some of these disordered people are bloodthirsty killers. But only a tiny fraction of them, at the highest end of the PCL-R, match the profile. Far more run-of-the-mill sociopaths exploit, abuse, cheat and defraud, but stop way short of killing.

So educating people about sociopaths is an uphill battle. First we have to overcome their currently skewed image, delivered by Hollywood. Then we have to overcome the confusion in terminology and diagnosis in the mental health field. Then we have to convince the media to deal with the disorder, and the people who have it, accurately.

Sigh. This will take awhile.



222 Comments on "Why we don’t know about sociopaths"

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  1. zimzoomit says:

    I feel certain that readers up here will eventually find my profile, about my ex (who I think is a SPATH), on womansavers.com. (Here is one comment I posted recently, under my profile, without his name, of course, since names are not allowed up here): “Often, I thought those gifts of jewelry he gave me or bought for me were like “antecedent” or “premeditated” guilt gifts, for something that would “assuage” his guilty conscience [if he even has one] for when he was about to abuse me sexually/psychologically/spiritually. Or it may be that, on the side and behind the scenes, he is partaking in his other life [possibly sexing men or swingers! ..or advertising for same activities.] One example was when he took me on a day trip to D.C…, said we would possibly visit galleries.., a book store, etc. Well, once we were in D.C., on the way to a book store he knew about, he bought me some silver earrings from Afghanistan, with green agate in them, from a street vendor. It was only a few minutes after that that we arrived to that “book store” he knew about. The book store turned out to be a GAY VENUE..a GAY BOOK STORE, unknown to me, before we arrived. As if things were not bad enough, after he told me “it is over”, .. possibly on that same day or days later, he told me..ADMITTED that, in his youth, he used to meet up with gay guys [I believe he said this happened in movie theaters, parks, bookstores, porn rental places..or any of the above or combination of same] for sex. It was AS IF HE WAS LAUGHING AT ME..to say, “ha ha..you never knew..pulled one over on you, did I not?” [He] will possibly tell you I am loco or that I am just angry because he does not want me. DO NOT BELIEVE HIM. His first wife gave me her phone number, had me call her, and she told me who/what he really is, which aligned with what I already learned about him, from many painful years living with him” He hid his “other side” very well..hid it for 8.5 years..this is WHY, I think, WE DO NOT RECOGNIZE SOCIOPATHS or know who they REALLY are.



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  2. zimzoomit says:

    I still experience moments (sometimes as long as an hour) of anxiety, where I think, the only way I will get “total closure” or “total relief” is if, say, the Lifetime movie series owners would offer to pay me to release my true story to them, as if it were a book. That is just how I feel.



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  3. zimzoomit says:

    Wonder how many others up here feel likewise.



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  4. kim frederick says:

    yeah, that closure thing. It haunts you.
    It gnawed at my gut for a really long time. NEEDING it.
    Relief only came to me when I accepted that I would never have it, in the traditional sense. Paradoxically, I found closure in the lack of closure. I had to let go of that need, or It would devour what was left of my life.
    It took a long time to get there, however, and I’m certain that I had to experience that lack of closure for every second that I did.



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  5. zimzoomit says:

    I also, whenever I experience those “anxious” moments, find myself compartmentalizing those feelings, so that my S.O. of more than 10 years, since my ex (my S.O. is, to me, TRULY MALE..not a FRAUD or PRETEND MALE..partner of years..is LOYAL..so far has never cheated on me) will never know those levels of my anxiety, for I fear, if he knew, he would think of me as “damaged goods” because of my ex (who I define as a SPATH).., so wish that he will never think of me that way. I am a very direct, very honest human being..have spoken my mind, usually, all of my life, to EVERYONE, per my opinions/values. I never had to “hide” anything from anyone, and continue to do so, since my ex (SPATH, I think, and who was the only individual who, I allege, had me “keep silent” about anything, especially per the “abuse” factor/levels through which he put me.)



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  6. henry says:

    Hey Kim Your above comment about closure is so friken true – there aint none till your just done with it – kinda like trying to understand them, it’s futile so why fry our brains over it. It does take time to get there tho – a long time but I am there.



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