Sociopaths who posture as insightful and self-aware are some of the most dangerous predators around.
When I use the terms pseudo insightful and pseudo sensitive, I’m referring to the sociopath’s manipulative efforts to seem some combination of vulnerable, self-aware, sensitive and compassionate.
For some sociopaths this deception is conscious, while for others it is so seamlessly woven into their modus operandi as to feel (for them), at least in the moment, almost authentic.
Even the normal individual, low in sociopathic traits, may struggle to distinguish his deception from authenticity when finding himself “performing” in a mode in which he feels masterfully confident and comfortable—for instance, pitching a sale; or making a presentation, or speech.
But what factors make the sociopath’s “insight” and “sensitivity” pseudo versus authentic?
There is, first of all, the manipulative function of the sociopath’s pseudo sensitivity. Authentically insightful individuals use their insight and self-awareness not merely to better protect themselves and their interests, but also to better understand themselves and others.
Sociopaths, however, always wanting something from others, oriented as they are to wanting to take something from others, use their “pseudo” insight and self-awareness for exploitive purposes.
For instance, the sociopath’s interest isn’t to get to know and understand you better for purposes of increasing his depth of connection with you; rather, his interest to establish unobstructed access to you is about positioning himself to take something from you that he wants—whether you’re ready to offer it or not, and whether it’s in your best interest to offer it or not.
In other words, the sociopath is never interested in you; he is always, and only, interested in what he can take from you.
This applies also to the sociopath’s invitation to appreciate his pseudo display of vulnerability. This may take the form of his “startling sensitivity” and self-awareness. If he reads you correctly—as someone, say, who values vulnerability and substance—then he may regale you with “apparent” evidence of his capacity to be wounded; to manifest sensitive emotions; to position himself as someone who’s “in touch” with his feelings.
As always, how much he believes his performance in the moment (versus consciously recognizing it as bogus or manipulative) varies from sociopath to sociopath and from circumstance to circumstance.
Paradoxically, a more “self-aware” sociopath will recognize his fraudulence better than a less self-aware sociopath, who may be more prone to denial, self-delusion, and the belief that, at least temporarily, he really is the role he’s playing.
Regardless, sociopaths play the “self-aware,” “vulnerable” card (consciously or not) ultimately for grooming purposes—specifically, for purposes of softening your defenses and encouraging, coaxing out, your vulnerability.
This is because the less guarded, the more disarmed you are—in a word, the more vulnerable you are—the greater (the sociopath calculates) are his chances of taking from you what he wants.
Now let me apply some of these ideas to a hypothetical, real-life scenario: Let us say you are on a blind date with a very charismatic, charming sociopath. There is seemingly very intense chemistry. He watches you in a very flattering, lusting way, feasting his eyes on you all night. He tells you how attractive he finds you, that he’s mesmerized by you.
Now he isn’t necessarily lying. He could be lying, we know that, in which case his manipulation is that much more blatantly and manifestly sociopathic. But it’s also possible that he isn’t lying—that is, that he feels, in the moment, that what he’s telling you he feels is true; or, that he’s convinced himself that everything he’s telling you is true.
And so his sociopathy can’t necessarily be traced to his lying, because in this instance he may not perceive himself as lying, and, in a certain sense, he may not be lying. His sociopathy, rather, can more accurately be identified in his underlying, preexisting agenda which, in our hypothetical scenario, come hell or high water, is to “nail” you.
He made this his mission the moment he laid eyes on you and found you sexually attractive enough to make this his intention. He feels quite thrilled—perhaps even a little giddy and delighted—that you’ve proven attractive enough (in a sense, cooperative enough) to elicit his lust, which now enables him to pursue his agenda with you.
I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only agenda our hypothetical sociopath could be pursuing with you. It’s possible that he (or another sociopath) might play things differently, by approaching his interests with more or less patience; more or less calculated, disguised subterfuge.
And it’s possible that our sociopath, or a different sociopath, on this same first, blind date, might have an entirely different set of intentions, warranting a very different approach to meeting them. For instance, he or she may be a golddigging sociopath—a financial predator—less than a sexual exploiter.
However, this is what my hypothetical sociopath wants in this particular situation; accordingly, he’s going to pull out all the stops to land you in the “sack” or, one way or another, land himself in your pants.
Because all that matters—and in essence, what it always and only boils down to—is what he wants.
And so our sociopath, on meeting you and establishing his sexual interest, feels glad, elated, even excited that you bring something he wants. He may feel, beyond that, primitive gratitude that you haven’t disappointed him in this respect. Nothing, after all, could be more depresssing, more boring and less tolerable than, on his having met you, his discovering that, alas, you have nothing to give him that he wants.
Incidentally, this experience—his experience—of your uselessness elicits any number of possible reactions, including irritation, resentment, utter contempt, annoyance, and excruciating disappointment and boredom.
It is bad enough (for you) that you are only, and will never be more than, an object to the sociopath. However, for the sociopath, the fact that you are always only an object to him isn’t necessarily a problem; it is when your usefuleness as an object has run its course that the sociopath is most displeased and agitated, and when he is most likely to unmask himself as the cold, heartless person he is.
However, in our hypothetical scenario, as we’ve established, you do indeed have something he wants: he finds you gorgeous. And so in his relief, in his gladness, in his heady gratitude that you have something he wants—something that he can now can set about taking—a psychological transmutation occurs.
The sociopath’s gratitude, on discovering that you have something he wants, becomes primitively transmuted into a form of idealization—of you!
And in his primitive, corrupt idealization, the sociopath is prone to convincing himself, and you, of the sincerity of his ebulliant flattery and appreciation. So much so that when, as previously noted, he tells you he’s mesmerized by you, he may mean it, or think he means it, and he may seem and, indeed, be sincere when he says this.
But what mesmerizes him is you-the-object, not you-the-person. He is mesmerized not by the substantive you, but by his fantasy of what he imagines you will give him, or what he’ll soon coax from you or, if necessary, take from you.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2010 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake, not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors discussed.)