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The sociopath’s imperturbability

The sociopath’s imperturbability has been widely noted. However, this is a generalization, not true of all sociopaths in all situations.

A sociopath around whom the net is closing, who recognizes that he’s played his last card and finds, alas, that the game is ending and that he faces inescapable consequences—sociopaths in this circumstance may feel forms of perturbability, like anxiety and worry.

But in situations where he perceives his security (however unrealistically) to be relatively unthreatened—especially where his grandiosity and sense of omnipotence remain relatively intact—the sociopath can be curiously imperturbable.

Imperturbable, that is, in the commission of his violating acts, as well as in the subsequent striking sangfroid with which he’ll brazenly perpetuate his deceit even when confronted with his flat guilt.

How do we explain this?

First, I pose a question: Have you ever played a really cruel practical joke or, if not, witnessed one (with enjoyment), that left its victim torturously duped, perhaps even mildly traumatized?

I’d suggest that the mindset involved in conceiving and executing such a prank, even the mindset (as a witness) involved in merely enjoying it, is temporarily rather sociopathic in several ways.

I stress temporarily because nonsociopaths will inhabit this state of mind only briefly and experimentally, and then, on the assumption that any suffering the prank causes its victim will be experienced as relatively fleeting and superficial.

But I use a “practical joke” analogy because I think it describes somewhat accurately the sociopath’s basic perspective in the world. Life, for the sociopath, is something like a big stage on which to perpetrate forms of ongoing deceit to suit his shifting agenda for comfort, convenience, tension discharge, and other gratifications.

After all, at the motivational heart of the “practical joker” is the driving question, Can I pull this off? This is a question, among others—a  kind of perpetual carrot, if you will—that compels sociopathically-oriented personalities.

And the socopath’s response to this implicitly posed question is felt, if not implicitly answered, as, “Of course I can pull this off! I can pretty much pull anything off! Watch me do it! Watch me get away with this!”

In other words, the sociopath’s cocky faith in his powers of chicanery nicely captures his inflated grandiosity and sense of omnipotence. To put it even more basically, the sociopath thinks he is good, really good. And in inverse proportion to how smart he thinks he is, he thinks that you are just as stupid.

This is the sociopath’s signature contempt, and let us not underestimate it: You are as stupid as he is smart.

In the end, the sociopath ultimately takes neither you, nor anyone, seriously. And it’s not that he chooses not to respect people. It’s not that he’s unwilling to take others seriously. It’s that he can’t.  And make no mistake: his inability to take people seriously, in an  authentic way, is a core aspect of his disorder.

Does the nonpsychotic sociopath, intellectually, know right from wrong? This is a frequently posed question, to which the answer is yes. Intellectually, the nonpsychotic sociopath is usually well aware that his behaviors are exploitive and violate legal and interpersonal laws and boundaries.

But the point is, he just doesn’t care. The sociopath just doesn’t take these laws and interpersonal boundaries seriously, because he doesn’t take you, or others, seriously.

And so this is where his imperturbability enters. When you don’t take others seriously; when, on some level, others are a joke to you; when a malignant contempt pervades your view of others, then you can have your way with them, you can use them for whatever purposes suit your immediate agenda. Moreover, you can cause them pain and outrage as you seek your own ends unburdened by normal feelings of responsibility, accountability and guilt, because you don’t just don’t take them seriously.

So you’re caught in a lie? So you’ve been busted? Big deal. So your denials are preposterous? Big deal. Let’s remember, you are slick and smart enough to convince any stupid person to disbelieve the indisputable evidence of your guilt!

And even if you can’t persuade them to give you a pass this time; even if they’ve busted you cold this time, and your normally reliable glibness doesn’t spring you from the present trap, so what? After all, there’s no shame or embarrassment to be busted by someone you don’t take seriously.

And so the sociopath’s imperturbability, in this light, can be seen as a natural byproduct of his malignant disrespect of, and contempt towards, others. It is a pathological imperturbability, not an admirable, enviable one. His is not the imperturbability of a “cool cat,” or an enviably placid temperament, or the imperturbability that can derive from a certain hard-earned wisdom, confidence and perspective.

No, the sociopath’s imperturbability is that of an emotionally, interpersonally sick individual who, at bottom, has no true emotional stake in others.

And so finally, in his relationships with others, what he stands to lose, through his exploitation, is felt to be as superficial, and dismissable, as anything he stands to gain.

(My use of male gender pronouns in this article is for convenience’s sake and not to suggest females aren’t capable of the behaviors discussed. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)



216 Comments on "The sociopath’s imperturbability"

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  1. JaneSmith says:

    Mike,

    I only just read your post to Kathleen from Feb 11, 9:34 pm.

    My heart raced with horror, shock and sorrow while reading your words describing the excruciating pain both families are feeling during this tragic time.

    I am speechless. I’m not a brilliant healer like Kathleen is, able to provide comforting and reassuring words of wisdom during times of extreme crisis and suffering.

    All I can say is I am so, so very sorry. My heart does ache for you, for your family, for Odalina’s mother and family.

    But mostly my heart aches for Odalina. That poor, young, lovely woman who is gone, brutally and savagely murdered for no damn reason except because the psychopath wanted it.

    I’m sick to my stomach knowing this. But it is the horrific, frightening truth. Reality.

    I wish it never happened and she was still alive and with us on this planet. She’s not. So sad.

    Another beautiful spark of life callously snuffed out. I weep for such a tragedy.

  2. OxDrover says:

    Dear Mike,

    All I can say on the post about you calling the cops is that it is SO frustrating to YELL FIRE!!!!! and no one listens, to yell HELP!!!! and the very people who should listen don’t.

    If it will make any difference to you, and it might—contact the newspaper and tell them your story of horror and the police not listening. Maybe it won’t do your loved one any good at this point, but MAYBE IT WILL SAVE SOMEONE ELSE!! Maybe that will be the GOOD that can come out of this.

    It is heart rending I can only imagine, I too and many people here have yelled HELP to the police and to others who DID NOT LISTEN TO US, and the results were bad as well, but each time this happens, maybe we can alert others so that in the FUTURE people (including the police) WILL listen.

    For me, the police DID listen, but because he had jNOT at that time committed any crime that could be proven, they could not pick him up and only by the grace of God was my son saved from his attack–but maybe this was what would force me into SEEING what was going on, to force me to realize my son was way too dangerous to be out of prison, and keep him in prison soo OTHERS would not die.

    Like Kathleen, I believe there is a “reason” though sometimes WE cannot see it, only the devestation, but HOLD ON as you and Des try to make it through this TERRIBLE time.

    I weep for and with you. God bless and a big HUG!

  3. erin1972 says:

    Steve hit the ball out of the park on this one-insane article, but in a GOOD way. This seriously struck a nerve with me. It was chilling to see my ex s’path’s blatant disregard for me. It was like Steve and I were staring my ex in the face. I totally see through A*** now. He is an empty shell of a human being. I re-watched the CNN segment that Sanjay Gupta did with my ex and all I could think was-PATHETIC. That SOB has done all he’s done to me and all these other women before me and to his wife-who took him back AGAIN and the freak is on national television being interviewed by CNN. No wonder he thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips!!!

    Best article on here so far-can’t believe I’ve been here over a week and am just reading it today!!!

  4. hottytoddy93 says:

    VERY DISTRAUGHT so please forgive long post.
    This is an amazing site & an INCREDIBLE article. I have felt so alone. Most people don’t even know what a sociopath is much less understand how they bleed you emotionally, physically, financially until you feel you are barely surviving each day. I feel like people think I am the “crazy one.” My husband and I married 4 years ago. He adopted my daughter. Looking back there were red flags all over, but I never really understood sociopathy (ASPD) until this past fall when I uncovered SO many lies..everything is a lie! Even asking if he stopped at the bank elicited a lie from him.

    I figured out he cheated profusely w/ MANY women over the yrs. He bolted the next day while I was in the hospital (never came to check on me or called hospital even when rumors swirled I had died). I weighed 75lbs, suffering from numerous diseases, organ failure, extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, you name it (gee, wonder why!)! He refused all of my calls. Ignored me completely after he left without warning. Both he & his parents (enablers in denial) filed restraining orders against me for calling to try to find him & talk to him. They have me wound up in such costly legal actions, criminal & civil. He filed divorce against me only 2 wks after leaving with no warning…a man who had never uttered the word divorce. I’m now dead broke. Filed bankruptcy last week as he left me with ALL the debt!

    Not surprisingly, when he left my physical condition rapidly improved. My emotional state, however, is a complete wreck. My daughter’s grades are falling, she has gone boy crazy trying to fill the void. I feel destroyed by the man. What’s worse is that I actually still feel like I love him! WHY? I must be out of my mind. I feel isolated because people just don’t get it. He has of course never apologized, has no guilt or remorse, just left when he got caught without any regard for anyone but himself. He’s now at his parent’s using them for all sorts of money…they paid his divorce atty over $8000.

    Btw, found out recently that he was diagnosed at age 23 w/ ASPD after his parents forced him to go to a psychologist. He had lied for 3 yrs saying he was in school while he took parents money. Told them day of graduation (after they had a huge, pretentious party planned for that day!) that he hadn’t been in class for 3 yrs! He had made up professors, classes, and fake grade reports all along while blowing their money. He didnt ever seem to care and never paid them back. In 2008 we received marital counseling due to his affairs. His psychologist told me a year later when he abandoned us that she believed he has ASPD! Now I have read so much & he fits it ALL to a tee…espec the pity play!

    So how do I recover? My life is a complete disaster.

  5. OxDrover says:

    Dear Hottytoddy93,

    I am sorry that you got mixed up with such a faker! And actually, I am sorry for his parents as well, because willingly or unwillingly or knowingly or unknowingly, they are enabling him to do othe kind of things he has done and WILL DO AGAIN, to wreck lives.

    PEOPLE ON THIS BLOG DO UNDERSTAND AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Stay here and read more, learn more, and one step at a time, start to recover yourself and your own power over your life. It probably feels right now like you are powerless, but you are not, and you will survive this—if no other reason than to SHOW THE ARSEHOLE HE CAN’T KILL YOU! ((((hugs)))) and God bless you.

  6. silvermoon says:

    ht93,

    IF YOU HAVEN’T AGREED TO THE DIVORCE SETTLEMENT-YET, YOU ARE NOT STUCK WITH THE DEBT.

    KEEP RECORDS OF EVERY NICKEL YOU SPEND! IT WILL COME OUT IN THE WASH!

    How has he got you wrapped up in criminal charges?

    You need to get the diagnoses in writing from the therapist you work with and from the earlier diagnosis or you need to get your attorney to depose his parents about it!

    Sounds like his parents will pay his bills so if you include attny fees and court costs go to him in the settlement, you should be able to get some help.

    You can prove that he lies and begin to untie what he has done to you.

    Just because he does horrible things, doesn’t mean you have to lie down and LET HIM WIN.

    Welcome to LF.
    Hugs too!

  7. ErinBrock says:

    HT93:
    Welcome and im glad you found us here at LF.
    We DO understand, we DO ‘get it’……
    I suggest you read around the articles and some of the postings and you will no doubt, connect with some of us!
    We’ve been there….some still there…..we are all in different stages of the journey…….and we all want to support eachother offering hands up.
    You will find much validation here and support…stick around!

    It’s tough…..I won’t lie…..but in the end….it’s a journey of self evaluation and strength. We learn so very much about ourselves and learn what brought us to ‘today’……in order to have a brighter future. It’s out there……we just gotta work for it!

    Keep your strength, believe in yourself and stick around for support!

    XXOO
    EB

  8. flowerpower says:

    Love LOVE this article. My particular “jokester” had nailed the Forrest Gump/Gomer Pyle routine ..”Goh–leee! I am just too nice to be a threat to a dad gum thang”. It worked on me.

    Flashback to when my ex and I attended pastoral counselling and in his best aw shucks, golly gee whiz good ol’ boy routine, he looked at the counsellor and said wide eyed, “she is just so much smarter ‘n me and it makes me feel so bad, can you help me learn some thangs?” Then when he was given some advice…”aw I was jus’ jokin’”.

    All the while this is going on, he is sneaking around with different women with the help of some good ol boy buddies…snickering and high fiving. But is “too dumb” to know how to work a computer, phone, camera..yuk, yuk how could I be a cheater??

    Romans1:29,30,32:, “they are gossips, slanderers, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways of doing evil. They are senseless,faithless,heartless and ruthless…they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them.

  9. DUPED_IN_SOCAL says:

    Thanks for the mind stretch today, Steve. I just read your article.

    There is another aspect to the ‘getting caught’ part that you have forgotten to address. The part where they get so violently angry that they try to kill you. Do we say then that they know right from wrong as well?

    The glib s-path KNOWS he/she is a sick person who needs help but refuses to do anything about it, thinking that their illness will just get them through any legal/moral issue that comes along. I know because I SAW IT and DO SEE IT.

    They actually think they can do whatever they wish and get away with it. If not, they will spin some more webs to make the unaware person think you are crazy and being vindictive. That has been the case in my situation.

    When the spath gets caught, red handed and there is no conceivable way for them to skirt around the evidence, THEN they become violent and THAT is the time we should be looking over our shoulders until the storm passes by. They retreat or they try to harm you. Or both. Mine is in retreat at the moment but I know he has been heavily contemplating what charges I am bringing.

    I am NOT going to let someone that has purposely tried to kill me and admitted doing so, with a laugh in their voice, get away with it. I am not going to make it a focal point in my life but I am going to make things justified. I can promise that as I promised him.

    They DO feel fear. Fear of that which is stronger than them. Anyone who is stronger than they are they end up hating because they can’t control them. That is a big focal point for them, having that control.

    I believe that when we have read about ‘possessed souls’ we are reading or hearing about spaths. The spath I have dealt with over the years is a dangerous person. Not just in the manipulation but in the threats of physical harm and violence. If he can do these things to me, he can do them to anyone. I have never been anything but an Angel to that man and he has never done anything but try to destroy me.

    The ‘show’ is over.
    It’s in the past and time to move forward.
    I have been spathed and in the end,
    the spath was spathed.

    Thanks Steve for sharing…
    I agree with you so much.

    DUPED

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