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Violence in sociopaths

Is every violent person a sociopath? Are all sociopaths violent? What is the relationship between violence and sociopathy/psychopathy? These are the questions we will think about here. I welcome your comments and stories.

In his book “On Aggression” Nobel Prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz expressed deep concern for the human race. He pointed out that other social animals have “releasers;” these are inborn signals that turn off aggression. For example, when wolves fight, if one animal turns over on its back, the fighting generally stops. The purpose of aggression in social species is simply to enforce dominance, so when the victor gets the signal it is dominant, the fighting stops.

Lorenz said screaming and crying act as releasers for humans as these tend to inhibit aggression. The problem for humans is that we have created weapons that enable aggression to occur at a distance so the natural releasers don’t have a chance to turn it off.

Yet we also know there are those who enjoy seeing other people suffer. In these individuals there is not only no mechanism to stop aggression, there is also a positive incentive toward violence. An extreme example of this is serial killers who seek out victims to enjoy the act of killing them. Some people are fascinated and mystified by the behavior of these serial killers, but actually the behavior is pretty simple to understand. I’ll explain it using two other pleasures with which you are familiar- eating and sex. These are two examples that illustrate the way the pleasure system works.

First, let’s consider eating. The purpose of eating is to nourish the body, but eating is also much more than that. Eating gives us pleasure and can even reduce anxiety. Why it is that eating feels good is likely connected to our need to overeat during times of plenty. Eating during times of plenty allows us to become fat and thus protected from famine. If eating stopped once the body was nourished, we couldn’t get fat. So to keep us eating more and more, Mother Nature made it an enjoyable act.

There are different was to get pleasure from eating. Foods that are sweet, sour, fatty, or meaty all stimulate different nerve cells. People also differ with respect to the pleasure associated with different tastes. Some people don’t like sweets very much and some people are repulsed by meat.

Now consider that sex is the same as eating in many ways. The “purpose” of sex is procreation, but it also strengthens social bonds, is pleasurable and reduces anxiety. We are prone to becoming “oversexed” just as we are prone to becoming obese. There are also different flavors of sexual pleasure.

The dominance system is another instinctive behavioral system just like the feeding and sex systems. The pleasures associated with the dominance system come in different “flavors.” One “flavor“ or pleasure associated with this system is winning at a competition. Whether the competition is a chess or baseball game, winning is a pleasure.

In social groups the dominant members are the “enforcers” as they get to administer rewards and punishments to others. Helping people can actually be a function/pleasure of the dominance system. Similarly, enjoyment of hurting others is also part of dominance. The alphas get to punish those who don’t do what they want and they take pleasure in inflicting this punishment.

What we see in some sociopaths is a type of “fetish” of the dominance system. Just like some people are excessively turned on sexually by underwear, some sociopaths are excessively turned on in the dominance sense by violence.

If you think about what I am saying you will see that there are two pathways to violence in sociopaths. The first is an immediate impulsive response to threats to their dominance. The second is a premeditated seeking out of the pleasure associated with hurting. Both of these occur and the presence of one correlates with the presence of the other because an over active dominance drive underlies both.

Lack of empathy is important to the development of the enjoyment of violence because a person who lacks emotional empathy, lacks the releaser Lorenz talked about so there is nothing to turn off the violence. But it is also possible that some sociopaths have a modicum of empathy that is drowned out by the pleasures of dominance.

The take home message for you is that if you are involved with a person who is preoccupied with dominance, control and manipulation you have to wonder what violence they are capable of. It is like the sexual pervert, you may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg. We just do not know how to pick out those sociopaths who lead secret lives in which they kill. If you know a sociopath who has a track record of violence, please assume the person is potentially very dangerous.



79 Comments on "Violence in sociopaths"

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  1. Treasure says:

    Style One,

    If you’re using Twilight as an example of “respectful” behavior, you need to look again. This is a tale of a 100 year old man exploiting a vacuous teenage girl. He acts mysterious, seductive. All conversations are about HIM and his “powers.” He breaks into her bedroom, upon which she invites him into her bed. He threatens her with vampirism and death, upon which she repeats, “I am not afraid of you.” And girls are taking this girl and this sick sick sick relationship, as a model for their own.

    There’s a large anti-Twilight contingent on the Net. These books and movies are classic examples of a psychopath controlling someone vulnerable.



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  2. jazzy129 says:

    I just finished reading Mary Jo Buttafucuoco’s book…Getting It Through My Thick Skull.

    I was very let down. First, thank goodness that Mary Jo made it through her own personal hell and was able to heal. Good for her, and she is a very strong lady for writing about it.

    But…her husband paid for her apartment and other bills after they were separated. He was a dick, but I just could not connect with her and the financial devastation and fear I felt after I kicked my sociopath out?

    Anyone read it?



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  3. fame2 says:

    my first ex -was a psychopath who used to abuse me. it was first mental, then sexual, then finally physical abuse (to a heightened degree) which enabled me to kick him out.
    I remember fighting with him once and he asked me if i were ever going to just (take It) give up fighting back. I remember replying that I wouldn’t.
    the most recent ex-physically tried to control me when i first moved in with him. out of (so i thought no where) he pushed me in my face. After this happened twice -I announced that if it occurred a third time, i was going to leave him and never come back. That stopped the physical abuse..but the threat of how he treated me…never left. if we argued about anything and I became more forceful than he liked, all he would have to do is look at me and threaten me with pushing me out (this time his) door.
    Knowing that most everything that sociopaths and psychopaths do is deliberate (except tell the truth-they deliberately don’t know how to do that…or wait, even be human)-the mere raise of the voice or look of anger or disgust, was enough for me to feel frightened of “perceived” or “real” (from past experience(s) violence.
    I have left both relationships.
    I am struggling with believing that the second ex is a narcassist and sociopath (he was kind enough to help me move from his apartment but not kind of enough to return things he took from me as I was moving).
    Violence seems always to be the ammunition of these creatures. In some shape or form, whether it be from the threat, to the actual physical (tests and actualities) abuse.
    I am still struggling with sociopaths in my life.
    They seem to be around me (or drawn to me) like the wind.
    I am sorry for anyone still dealing with this, and know that I am lucky.
    I escaped both situations, a little bruised, scared more emotionally than i’d like to admit. Still suffering with heartbreak and still hopeful that the truest love which I have for myself and the Creator will help to prepare me for the right man to share my fullest love with.



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  4. jazzy129 says:

    hello fame! I am so sorry that you had to experience the deceit and heartbreak that most of us have been through.

    One thing that surprised me was the statement that you are looking for another man so quick. You stated yourself that they seem to be drawn to you.

    I find that they were ‘drawn’ to me also…or was it my natural naivete? Not that that is a bad thing…personally I find it refreshing, like a child-like trust.

    However, a sociopath will zone into that…I was safe until I was in my late 40’s. A year and half after the spath, I myself am not ready to open myself up so readily to another relationship.

    After the sociopath…it’s now about YOU. Peace and hugs…goodnight.



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  5. shabbychic says:

    @fame2, sorry to read about the situations you were in, no matter what those men were, they were toxic to you, so glad you are away from them! Good for you for getting OUT!!! I hope you will stay with us here on LF and read the articles, lots of info on how to spot a sociopath. There is a book called Women Who Love Psychopaths that one of the blog authors wrote, it was a GOOD book!! Her name is Liane Leedom, M.D.



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  6. hopeful says:

    Liane, absolutely fascinating article. I knew there exists this enjoyment of hurting others, but I had never considered it in the ways you have described and it makes perfect sense. Very interesting.



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  7. ErinBrock says:

    Fame:
    With your last sentence shows……it will all come for you!
    You sound like your in a good mindset and best of all…..aware!

    Take goodcare of yourself andkeep walking into the light of healing.

    XXOO
    EB



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