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The Sociopath as “The Missing Link?”

Is it possible that the sociopath is, in a sense, the missing link? Who is he? He is human but, in another sense, not quite human. Much like the Neandarthals, who were humans but not quite homo sapiens, and whom you’d have had a hard time differentiating from homo sapiens in a crowd, the sociopath may mix in seamlessly with the more fully developed human race.

Meaning, like the Neandarthal race of humans, he isn’t noticeably different, at least not by appearances, from his fellow homo sapiens. And yet he is different…he is missing something.

There is something primitive and underdeveloped in him. This is a very crude analogy, admittedly. Neandarthals weren’t more sociopath than their fully human counterparts, at least so far as I know.

And sociopaths are fullfledged homo-sapiens; we must give them that. And yet they hearken back, developmentally, to something more primitive, which isn’t to say, either, that the proto-human species were necessarily more sociopathic than ours.

At the same time, I don’t believe evolution would look kindly on a “species” of sociopaths. Not that evolution will look kindly, in the end, on the human race, which may destroy itself eventually, with or without the contributions of its minority sociopathic population.

But a species of sociopaths, by itself, would destroy itself, sabotage itself, in probably less time than many of the proto-human species died out. A species of sociopathic homo sapiens just would not last for tens of thousands, or millions of years.

It would be a cut-throat species and in its particular limitations—its particular interpersonal psychopathology—it would fail to adapt (at this stage of modern civilization) to the demands required of a long-existing species.

This would be an exploitative, impulsive, greedy, unempathic species; an “emotionally unintelligent,” “emotionally blind,” “emotionally uninsightful” species…all characteristics which surely would seal its shorter-term doom?

The sociopath is not a contributor, a builder; or what he builds he will destroy eventually, in any case. The sociopath is a “now” creature; not a patient investor.

If he’s a problem-solver, he’s trying to solve the problem of how to benefit, how to aggrandize, himself; he is not trying to solve problems that advance others, that invest in causes that don’t directly benefit himself.

The sociopath just isn’t a cooperative, collaborative member of society. He is a “solo” operator, out for himself. This is true whether he’s a more calculating, or more impulsive, type of sociopath. His aims, regardless, are fundamentally self-serving and gratification-driven.

His comforts, his satiation, carry (for him) so much importance, so much primacy, that even if they must come at others’ expense, this is just how it is. That’s the way the cookie crumples.

“To get what I want, what I need, which is preeminent, may come at your cost and, if that’s the case, well, that’s just too bad. That’s life.”

For the sociopath, his gain can come at your cost, and this is okay with him. He just isn’t troubled, like a nonsociopathic is troubled, to gain from your pain. It is his peculiar equanimity, in response to the distress he knows he’s caused you (and sees you in), that speaks to the essence of his sociopathy.

And so one might wonder, is the sociopath, in a metaphorical sense, a kind of missing link? Or maybe, just missing?

(This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is not to suggest that females are not capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.)



45 Comments on "The Sociopath as “The Missing Link?”"

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  1. shocknawe says:

    Ox Drover,

    Nicely said. Fortunately, we’re not ruled by our limbic systems, but the occasional fantasies sure feel good at 3AM…



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  2. Ox Drover says:

    Dear Shocknawe,

    Yea, sometimes I feel like that limbic system rules though! It has to be kept in check from time to time. LOL

    I’ve just finished a couple of books on extreme circumstances in which people have found themselves—Nazi prison camps, Japanese prison camps, life boat situations….and it is amazing to me what some of these situations do to the human spirits! One would want to believe that WE would be among those that kept their ethics, that kept their humanity, and didn’t become animalistic, “dog eat dog” psychopathic-like predators, and yet, we know that the most horrible and painful circumstances can make, it seems any way, almost any of us turn to clawing at our fellow man for the food, water or air we need to survive….to us actually taking it away by force from someone else and knowing they will die if we do so.

    I’ve always been fascinated by this kind of story I think, wondering just what I would do in that sort of situation. How would I behave in the arena facing the lions? How would I behave in the life boat? I thank God every day that I haven’t had to face those lions or that starvation…but at the same time I know that there are times I have failed to live up to my own moral compass in situations that are less difficult to “resist” I think.

    It is easy to hate someone who has hurt you…who continues to try to hurt you, to use you…abuse you and malign you…but we still have a choice how we will REACT even though we have NO control over how they act. Finding a balance between the anger that motivates us to protect ourselves and the wrath that promotes our own emotional implosion is sometimes a high wire act I think.



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  3. shocknawe says:

    Dear Ox Drover,

    I know what you mean. I knew a gentleman years ago who’d been captured and placed in a POW camp in Europe during WWII. His back was broken by a rifle butt wielded by a camp guard and his fellow prisoners stuffed him under the floor boards (with no morphine for the pain, by the way) because if the Germans found out they’d execute him. He remained crammed tight under the floor for six months, being fed scraps from the others, until the camp was finally liberated by the Allies.

    After the war he came home and worked for a government contractor in the aeronautics industry, with German engineers and scientists who’d been “expatriated” by the U.S. government to guide it’s jet engine development program. He was known as a happy person, friendly to everyone he met. He was once asked if he didn’t feel bitter working alongside Germans and he replied, “That was war. I knew that for me to be fully healed from my injury I would have to move on or I would never get out from under that floor.”

    I’ve often tried to fathom how he not only survived such a harrowing experience, but went on to live a life of compassion and equanimity, though he lived the remainder of his life in constant pain.



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  4. Ox Drover says:

    Dear Shocknawe,

    I started turning around myself from the anger/wrath after reading Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s search for Meaning” which he wrote after being in the concentration camps. I worked with some people who had the tattoos on their arms, I never talked to them about their time in the camps, but I knew that was what those tattoos were about. I guess I was 19 or 20 at the time, and I started reading about WWII at that time. I also heard some stories from other survivors from Europe who were children in WWII, Italy etc. and it made a big impression on me.

    I have also read the stories of many people who were in the Japanese camps, and my egg donor knew a man who was on the death march in the Phillipines and I guess I am fascinated by it all. I want to be like Dr. Frankl rather than to let bad experiences ruin my life or to wallow in my self pity or anger for what I cannot control or undo. There are times I have been so angry it literally made me ill…and that isn’t a way to live.

    One other thing that finally helped me to “recover” from the overpowering anger/rage thirst for revenge was the story in the old Testament of Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. He forgave them years before he ran into them again when they went to Egypt to buy grain during the famine…but he did NOT trust them until he had tested them severely to find out what kind of men they had become since he had last seen them.

    Realizing that I did not have to TRUST the people who had hurt me even though I got the bitterness out of my heart toward them, helped me to recover. I don’t have to let these people or what they did to me get into a position to hurt me again. I don’t have to TRUST them just because I forgive them. (get the bitterness out of my heart) Plus, NOT all Germans were “evil Nazis” and so “branding” a whole group of people with the same stamp is not right or fair or reasonable either.

    I’m glad your friend was able to make the transition.



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  5. nothingleft2give says:

    its been a year since i broke free of my sociopath who i think i still love……..maybe im the crazy one? couldnt even grocery shop today because thats one of the million things that remind me of him. yes i have allot of good days and i know im better off but im having a day that the memories are vivid. i think its pms really. i have a great support system(the people he once alienated me from) but im alone today and im being haunted by the ghosts of a life he promised me…he who never really existed. all lies………will i ever recover?



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  6. Ox Drover says:

    Dear LEFT2GIVE,

    Yes, you will **WILL**recover. Knowledge is power, so learn and reclaim your power! There are so many people here who are living proof that you WILL get better, you will not only recover, but IMPROVE! God bless…and welcome to LF!



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  7. Tox Avoider says:

    >>By their nature, they are predators, viewing normal humanity as unconsumed prey.

    Imagine this as a great experiment in a big spherical petrie dish. There are bacteria in the dish. Four percent of the bacteria find 88 percent of the bacteria delicious. They have to conserve their energy so they know how to pick the least energetic delicous bacteria that don’t see it coming.

    The hungry bacteria just have some different DNA. They did not ask for it, and in the end all the bacteria die at some point.

    If the hungry bacteria were not given anyway to know that it was wrong to indescriminantly eat the delicious bacteria, they cannot be held responsible. I reiterate, the hungry bacteria were given great hunger and no mechanism to truly understand that they shouldn’t eat the delicious bacterial at will.

    The delicious bacteria are unfairly at a disadvantage that they seem to live like there is no bacteria capable of sashaying up and gobbling.

    Not really good and evil. It’s just a science experiment.

    >>The deficit in the brains of the Psy/Socs costs to much in terms of impact on the integrity of the whole to be tolerated.

    It is a science experiment.

    (apologies to Themelinda)

    By the way, I am delicious, but with a bit of a bitter taste;-)

    Sweet and sour?



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  8. FightAnotherDay says:

    jeannie812, you said, “It sounds like I am being a victim. But not really, cause Jim will get caught in his spider web.”

    As a victim who often gets anxious “playing dead” and pretending he doesn’t bother me, I have to ask,
    Has jim ever been caught in his web before?



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  9. neveragain says:

    Here is a video clip from Dr. Drew. Has anyone read the book? I hope all of America is not caught up in the mirror effect!!!!! What he describes in the clip sounds very much like ONE component of the psychopath/sociopath.
    http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/24/drew.mirror.effect.hln.cnn?hpt=C2

    It is funny…envy was never a feeling that has been mine. In fact I never quite understood it. I was so busy counting my blessings, which are many, but simple…..but the greatest pleasures in life ARE simple

    But for the short time I was in the p/s web, I began to feel envy, I got caught up in his sick way of looking at things. It is an awful feeling!!! Glad I’m out of that web now!



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