The “sociopath,” boiled down, is someone who routinely does, and takes, what he wants, unconcerned with the impact of his behavior on others. Nothing in my mind defines his essence more than this concise, factual description. He is rather unique, and thus diagnosable as a sociopath, to this precise extent.
Sure, we’ve discussed this before, but it always merits, in my view, fresh reconsideration. And so let me add, I think, an important caveat: The sociopath doesn’t necessarily feel he has the “right” to what he’s pursuing, or planning to take.
Rather, he doesn’t feel he needs the right. He just needs the want.
Simply wanting what he wants, with or without the right to it, meets his standard for laying claim to his quarry.
Because after all, you may ask the sociopath, “Did you have a ‘right’ to take that? To steal it?” And he may answer, with intellectual honesty, “No. I realize, intellectually, that I had no right to what I took.”
Which gets to the nub, the essence, of his condition: His” right” to what he wanted wasn’t relevant, didn’t even enter his thinking; rather, his wanting it was the sole factor necessary to support his comfortable, non-conflictual pursuit of it.
To sum up, the sociopath’s disordered essence is captured best in his pattern of taking, without remorse, what intellectually he may very well know doesn’t belong to him—he has no right to it—yet he takes it anyway.
To be clear: when I say that the sociopath intellectually can understand he may lack the “right” to what he’s taking, I’m not suggesting that he lacks a sense of entitlement. Quite the contrary: his sense of entitlement is all the more astounding for his intellectual awareness that he may lack the “right” to what he wants, yet still takes it. In doing so, he is exhibiting self-entitlement, and attitudes of contempt, in their gaudiest, most audacious forms.
One always must beware of oversimplifying complicated concepts. The sociopath’s disorder is complex on many levels. Yet on some levels the sociopath’s mentality isn’t so complicated at all. In some respects it’s pretty simple.
In this article I suggest the sociopath is, essentially, that strange, disconcerting, disruptive individual with a history, and pattern, of taking from others what doesn’t belong to him with an impoverished sense of shame and remorse. When you confront an individual with this history and pattern, you are dealing with a sociopath.
What he takes, and even how he takes it, are less relevant considerations that that he takes, with no right.
(This article is copyrighted © 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 and attitudes discussed.)