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Sitting with the sociopathic client

Sitting with an antisocial or sociopathic client is an interesting experience—for a while, anyway, until it grows tedious…almost boring. There is the initial curiosity about, and fascination with, the client’s antisocial behaviors…their nature…breadth.

Perhaps there’s even a certain rubbernecking interest in the train-wreck of moral turpitude these clients present—with their staggering patterns of ethical and moral debaseness. Admittedly, it can be breathtaking, on certain levels, to behold the magnitude of their abuse of others’ boundaries and dignity, accompanied by missing feelings of accountability and remorse.

And the interest in the experience with such clients persists a bit longer when you are dealing with someone who is “intelligent.” There’s something just inherently more compelling, at least initially, about an “intelligent” sociopath who guiltlessly transgresses others in the gross, chronic way that sociopaths do, versus the less intelligent sociopath, whose intellectual limitations seem to dim, however unfairly, the spectacular nature of his violations.

But after a while, as I say, sitting with the sociopathic client, however intelligent he may even be, grows tedious. It’s not unlike the experience of discovering that someone you expected to find extremely interesting (and perhaps did, initially) is, at bottom, really a boring individual with little to say or offer. There’s something anti-climactically disappointing in the discovery of the individual’s gross limitations. 

With most sociopathic personalities, in my experience, this sense of disillusionment—of  of having to face the reality, ultimately, of their emotional vacuity—occurs in the work with them. As different in temperament and intelligence as they may be, ultimately sociopaths prove to be highly ungratifying clients to work with. This is because, regardless of their ability to talk the talk, they are, ultimately, unable to make themselves genuinely accountable for their actions, the fact of which, after a while, simply grows tiresome.

The sociopathic client just doesn’t feel, in a heart-felt way, so many of the things he “allegedly” is ready to own, or the reforms he is “allegedly” ready to make; and when this becomes clear—as it always does—a certain tedium, boredom enters the sessions.

This boredom, I think, arises in the recognition of the futility of making a real connection with the sociopath; also in the futility of his making any sort of real connection to the pain he’s caused others, and will continue to cause others, despite his superficial assertions of regret and remorse.

And so this is where the big yawns threaten to emerge with regularity. It’s the feeling of having your time wasted, which is exactly what the sociopath is doing. He is wasting your time, as he wastes everything from which he doesn’t derive a personally, selfishly compelling benefit.

It is that moment of untruth—that moment when it becomes clear that, no matter how verbally interesting and, perhaps, even engaging he may be, the sociopathic individual finally lacks anything substantive to say, feel, or aspire to. Lacking this substance, the possibly initially engaging experience with him yields, ultimately, to the sense of being futilely engaged with an emotional cipher.

That is, for a while his charisma, charm and engaging qualities, if they are present, may compensate for the missing underlying emotional substance. But there is a shelf-life for this compensatory entertainment before the tedium of his barren inner emotional life begins to weigh down the experience of him. There is a limit to hearing the same repetitive pronouncements of intended change, pseudo remorse and responsibility.

There is also a limit, beyond which it becomes increasingly oppressive to sit with the sociopath, who in one breath may claim responsibility for his violations of others, while in the very next withdraw his pseudo-assumption of responsibility and abruptly rationalize the very behavior that, only moments before, he seemingly repudiated?

This is the sociopath at work. Sitting with him can be an interesting experience. But as his particular, underlying emotional disability surfaces, the interest leads, surpisingly quickly, to a feeling of ennui…almost oppression.

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



309 Comments on "Sitting with the sociopathic client"

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  1. skylar says:

    Cathie,
    older people are the hardest to convince about sociopaths. They are set in their ways. But it’s hard for anyone to believe.

    What YOU can do is to read as much as you can about narcissism and sociopaths. This will help you “interpret” the behavior that you will witness from Frank. You will eventually be able to stay one step ahead of him, but it will take lots of time learning on your part. You will eventually be able to predict his behavior to some degree because they all act the same.

    Some one here posted the news story that the National Enquirer was able to uncover and disclose the Senator John Edwards scandal by hiring an expert on PD’s to do a profile on him. Armed with that and thousands of dollars in surveillance equipment (including satelites) they were able to predict his behavior and push him into a corner where he HAD to reveal “some” of the truth.

    I mention this story because it shows the power that knowledge about this PD, can lend to us. Be brave and start reading.



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  2. Ox Drover says:

    CATHIE—there is a great group of ladies in Auz that have successfully fought another con man like frank, get in contact with them IMMEDIATELY.

    Look on the left side of your screen for an article about “almost drowning with Andrew Harper” Get in contact with Rozzie she has a click-link on there that will put you in touch with her. She is an expert on how to get these creeps.

    Also, if you are gone a month you can bet your mum will be married to him by the time you get back. So work fast! Good luck. You also must be prepared to step back if you can’t convince her and just be there to help pick up the pieces when your mom hits the ground and he goes away leaving her broke and devastated. I am sorry for both you and her, but these people have NO CONSCIENCE. You and she are in my prayers.



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  3. cathie says:

    thanks for that, I will get onto it when I get home from work this evening.



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