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The serial killer and the scam telemarketer? Cousins? Or brothers of a different species?

Let’s compare sociopathic types and ask ourselves what, if anything, they share in common? How deeply related, deeply connected, is their sociopathy? Are they close cousins, blood brothers or, perhaps, brothers altogether of a different species?

Let’s compare the classic, mythical sociopath, the serial killer—whose violent predations have been widely documented, if not sensationalized, in the media—with the arguably less glamorous, more insidious sociopathic type, the scamming telemarketing sociopath who fleeces senior citizens of their assets?

What do these personalities have in common and where, perhaps, do we find divergences between them?

Let’s begin with what we might argue these sociopathic types share in common, starting with the broader suggestion that both these types of sociopaths will have deeply exploitive predilections.

I think we can add, directly, that they’ll share a grossly defective capacity to feel empathy and, even more importantly, remorse.

More than that, they will likely share an intellectual capacity to understand that their behaviors transgress the basic conventions of respect for others’ dignity and safety. And they will also share, importantly, a striking, pathological disregard of, and indifference towards, the fact of their bald transgressions of these basic standards of conduct.

I’d also suggest that both the sociopathic killer, and the sociopathic telemarketing scammer, share a mentality characterized by their feeling absolutely entitled to the gratification they seek, however driven their need is for a specific form of gratification.

Accordingly, both these types of sociopaths will rationalize as acceptable, if not  necessary, the infliction of damage on others (“death,” in the case of the serial killer), for their victims possess something these sociopaths want, and feel they must have.

And, most critically, they will share the twisted notion that what their victims have, that they (the sociopaths) want, belongs to them.

Having identified some of the commonalities between these personalities, let’s see where, if at all, we might identify possible divergences between them, and what these divergences could mean?

Is is reasonable to suggest, for example, that most sociopathic telemarketing scammers would simply be incapable of engaging in a serial killing process?

Let us assume this proposition is true—that no matter how twistedly comfortable the sociopath is who can callously scam elderly people out of their retirement assets, he is likely incapable of engaging in a process of assaulting and strangling, say, prostitutes in a string of seedy Atlantic City motels?

If true, what does this mean? If the latter sociopathic type arguably finds the proposition of murdering prostitutes as unappealing as the non-sociopath, then how closely, if at all, is he related to the serial killing sociopath who engages in these murderous behaviors?

To be clear: We have the scamming sociopath who might say, and mean sincerely, “Not in a million years could I ever do what that serial killing freak psychopath does? I can’t even relate to it!”

He might say this, and mean it, with as much confidence as the nonsociopath would say and mean it.

Therefore, does this make him a closer cousin to the nonsociopath, or to the serial killing sociopath? To whom is he more closely related, by virtue of his plausibly sincere repudiation of the serial killing sociopath’s behaviors?

I don’t see this as an easy question to answer. On one hand, I think an argument could made that this contrasting scenario, which may have validity, makes the scamming sociopath closer cousin to the nonsociopath than the serial killing sociopath.

On the surface, the serial killing sociopath seems to be expressing his “sociopathy” at such extreme, grotesque, violent levels that even lower-level sociopaths might struggle almost as genuinely as the nonsociopath to grasp, to relate to, that particular expression of this disordered mind?

But then I say, Hold on. Not so fast. Let’s not make too fast a case for too much divergence here? The commonalities, after all, remain; and they are compelling commonalities.

I have written elsewhere that some sociopaths may simply not be comfortable with blood…or perpetrating violence directly, in a gruesome fashion.

But does this necessarily make them less sociopathic?

Any more than a butcher, who spends his time carving-up hides of beef all day, is any more sociopathic than the individual who would find that occupation horrifying?

For some sociopaths their declining to perpetrate direct violence may reflect nothing more than their idiosyncratic disinclinations and revulsions, which in and of themselves are unrelated to sociopathy.

When we refer to the sociopath, therefore, we come back, ultimately, as always, to a mentality—a mentality from which certain attitudes and behaviors can be generally anticipated, but not always specifically predicted?

What can we predictably expect from these mentalities in general? For one, some very diverse behavioral expressions of their disorder, ranging from the serial killing machine to the telemarketing scammer, neither of whom would necessarily derive much gratification were they to substitute each others’ exploitive behaviors.

In between, we can expect a general range of attitudes and behaviors reflecting a shocking disregard of others’ space, boundaries and dignity, with the equally shocking missing experience of remorse for the impact these transgressive behaviors have on their victims.

This is why, ultimately, I conclude, for now, by suggesting that the serial killer and telemarketing scammer, while divergent animals in certain respects are, in fact, more closely related than the behavioral manifestations of their sociopathy might indicate?

Whether they are brothers, first or second cousins…this might be debatable. But they are blood relatives, to be sure.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake and not to imply that females aren’t capable of the attitudes and behaviors discussed.)



29 Comments on "The serial killer and the scam telemarketer? Cousins? Or brothers of a different species?"

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  1. neveragain says:

    The most useful thing in this post I think is this GREAT summary of the traits:
    will have deeply exploitive predilections.

    a grossly defective capacity to feel empathy and, even more importantly, remorse.

    an intellectual capacity to understand that their behaviors transgress the basic conventions of respect for others’ dignity and safety. And they will also share, importantly, a striking, pathological disregard of, and indifference towards, the fact of their bald transgressions of these basic standards of conduct.

    share a mentality characterized by their feeling absolutely entitled to the gratification they seek, however driven their need is for a specific form of gratification.

    will rationalize as acceptable, if not necessary, the infliction of damage on others (“death,” in the case of the serial killer), for their victims possess something these sociopaths want, and feel they must have.

    And, most critically, they will share the twisted notion that what their victims have, that they (the sociopaths) want, belongs to them.

    Powerfully right on!



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  2. jeannie812 says:

    To Kim,

    Thank you for your kind words.



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