Sociopaths rarely go forward with their lives with reliable, sustainable momentum; at best, they may zig-zag for a while with the good (and bad) luck of a gambler; or go sidways for a while, “seeming” to hold it together.
But eventually, the sociopath tends to go backwards. He is much like the person on a high-speed treadmill who, no mattter how hard he or she walks or runs, finds himself, sooner or later, drifting off the end of the machine.
His disordered lack of empathy, detachment from others, detachment from an emotional connection to the world that keeps the rest of us on fairly solid ground, giving us at least a chance to hit solid ground, and hit it running—the sociopath is missing this connection, and thus makes no consistent, sturdy contact with solid ground; his traction, ultimately, is tenuous and illusory.
The sociopath may “look” like he’s making progress (especially if progress is defined as his profiting, in some fashion, from his disrespect or abuse of others’ trust and vulnerability); in the end, however, his progress will be as superficial and unreliable as he is—finally, certainly in the vast majority of cases, he just makes messes of his own and others’ lives.
For this reason I don’t regard sociopaths—even so-called really sharp, predatory sociopaths—as generally very “smart” individuals. Most of them, as I’ve written elsewhere, and stress here again, are just “mess makers.”
Many end up in jail, and those who don’t, when they aren’t sowing havoc, are usually courting disaster and, at some point or other, almost always finding it.
Even the smoothest, most effectively calculating sociopaths, even allowing for those who are never apprehended–even these sociopaths lack the capacities that make for a life worth counting: the capacity, for instance, to love; give from the heart; sacrifice for others; and be counted-on in “crunch time” (which is to say, during times of real personal inconvenience).
The sociopathic individual doesn’t genuinely relish these experiences, although he may, as we know, mimic them superficially (and sometimes convincingly); but he doesn’t derive the pleasure to be experienced from a genuine investment in them.
His view of the world is not unlike the immature child’s who, on halloween night, approaching a bowl of candy left on a stoop, where the code of integrity is implicit (take one or two candy bars), instead grabs a fistful of candy, stuffing his pillow case with it.
The child then feels a bit giddy over his caper, heedless that, in the process of enriching himself, he has selfishly deprived other children of candy and, at the same time, violated the homeowner who risked trusting in his basic sense of fairness and respect.
It’s possible that this child on halloween may make his “grab” in a more impulsive, less calculating, fashion; or, he may have plotted his “grab,” and then executed it from house to house, even before putting his “costume” on at home, prior to hitting the streets.
In either case, take his mentality and now watch it never evolve, even as the boy grows into a man, and there you have it—an adult who thinks, and acts, like a sociopath…that is, a sociopath.
The forms of corruption and violation his personality can later express are many, but the underlying mentality is the sociopath’s. And it dooms him, in the end, to a troubled, troubling and unfulfilled life.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2011 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is strictly for convenience’s sake and not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors discussed.)