Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles critiquing what mental health bloggers are saying about sociopaths/psychopaths. Prior articles are: “CNN blogger on Ariel Castro,” and “Psychology Today blogger on psychopaths who care.”
Seth Meyers, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, wrote in a recent Psychology Today blog that he’s been commenting on TV about the Jodi Arias case. Apparently Meyers is on TV quite a bit— his credits include Good Morning America, Fox News, Jane Velez-Mitchell, The Early Show, Good Day L.A., 20/20, and more. The Jodi Arias case inspired him to discuss sociopaths in his post. Here’s the article:
Understanding the sociopath: Cause, motivation, relationship, on PsychologyToday.com.
Meyers believes sociopathy is a mystery. He writes:
Are sociopaths bad people? It’s easy to utter a full-throated “Yes!” for so many reasons, but the reality is that sociopaths don’t necessarily have malicious feelings toward others. The problem is that they have very little true feeling at all for others, which allows them to treat others as objects. The effect of their behavior is undoubtedly malicious, though the intention is not necessarily the same thing.
The problem with discussing this disorder is that sociopaths are not all the same. As I’ve said before, their behavior is on a continuum, and some sociopaths are definitely worse than others. So in some cases Meyers is right. My ex-husband, James Montgomery, fits the “not really malicious” profile. He didn’t try to destroy me. He targeted me, used me, and when I had nothing left, he just moved on.
But many sociopaths absolutely have malicious feelings towards others, and their destructive behavior is motivated by malicious intent. Examples would be the sociopathic parents who engage in vicious custody battles with their former partners. These people aren’t interested in the children; they are interested in crushing their partners and grinding them into the dirt. Regarding these people, Meyers is totally wrong.
Next Meyers explains the origins of sociopathic entitlement. He writes:
Where does the entitlement come from? It stems from an underlying sense of rage. Sociopaths feel deeply angry and resentful underneath their often-charming exterior, and this rage fuels their sense that they have the right to act out in whichever way they happen to choose at the time.
Again, Meyers is correct about some sociopaths, but certainly not all of them. I’ll use my ex-husband as an example again, this time to contradict Meyers’ statement. I did not see or sense a fountain of rage under James Montgomery’s charming exterior. Yes, at times he was angry, especially when I questioned or defied him. But he wasn’t entitled because he was angry; he was entitled because he was entitled. Entitlement is a core trait of the disorder.
Born with a predisposition
Meyers does mention that sociopathy is highly genetic, but then writes:
If, as the research suggests, sociopaths are born with a predisposition to sociopathy, it means that they don’t have total control over their behavior.
Sociopaths are not delusional and they are not slaves to their impulses. They are quite capable of regulating what they do — that is how they keep their masks in place, sometimes for years. So every time they engage in antisocial behavior, it is a choice. No sociopath should be let off the hook for illegal or unethical behavior because of the personality disorder. Sociopaths know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care whom they hurt.
Meyers closes his article by saying sociopaths are misunderstood. I agree with that, and he is one of the people who misunderstand them. Meyers is not totally wrong in his description of the disorder, but he’s not totally right either.
Sociopaths in clinical settings
Why is this? Why does this expert have a view of sociopaths that is partially correct, and partially wrong? As I said in the beginning of this article, Meyers works for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH), which is “the largest county mental health department in the country.” Here’s what the organization does:
Mental health services provided include assessments, case management, crisis intervention, medication support, peer support and other rehabilitative services. Services are provided in multiple settings including residential facilities, clinics, schools, hospitals, county jails, juvenile halls and camps, mental health courts, board and care homes, in the field and in people’s homes. Special emphasis is placed on addressing co-occurring mental health disorders and other health problems such as addiction.
Essentially, LACDMH offers services to people who come to them because they believe they have mental health problems, or they’re in trouble. My guess is that if Meyers comes across sociopaths at all, they’re either addicts or prisoners. He probably has very little exposure to the exploitative sociopaths that many of us have encountered—those who are not substance abusers and not doing time. These sociopaths would never show up at LACDMH, because despite all of their exploitative behavior, they don’t think there is anything wrong with them.
I hope Meyers doesn’t express these ideas on television. He would just be contributing to the widespread misinformation about the sociopaths who live among us.