lf1

Critiquing expert views, part 3: Psychology Today blogger on understanding the sociopath

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.

Entitlement

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.

 



12 Comments on "Critiquing expert views, part 3: Psychology Today blogger on understanding the sociopath"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. anothervictim says:

    Couldn’t agree more Donna. I wish you could teach a class at every high school in the country or maybe do a TV show on Lifetime or something. I wish everyone knew what a sociopath really is and what they do. I know you wrote some books and that’s great, but I think that most people don’t find your books or this site until AFTER they’ve been used and abused by a sociopath and they figure out what just happened.



    Report this comment

  2. anothervictim – thank you. I do want to speak to students. If you (or any Lovefraud reader) are in a position to recommend me for a high school or college presentation, please let me know. Here is more information on the program:

    http://www.lovefraud.com/education/



    Report this comment

  3. blossom4th says:

    I agree with anothervictim.There needs to be more CORRECT information about sociopaths in the media.Then society could be educated properly about red flags;about helping victims and protecting them from being re-victimized by their abusers!Support systems could be set up,not only as far as therapy but “helping hands”,the friends that are needed.



    Report this comment

  4. newstepmom says:

    I often think about, with the stepkids I’m worried about and see the beginnings of dangerous/manipulative behavior choices, what about teaching self respect, and how to maintain that in circumstances that challenge what good parents should have instilled?

    I’ve read about enough self respect books for kids to know that plenty of adults find the most basic concepts as an eye-opener, which I know I was seeing in my 20s-30s, too, as I “researched” things like this. Refreshing those concepts it seems, ideally should happen throughout life. Start early, but don’t ever drop reminding yourself, I think, on maintaining self respect, and how to do so, healthily.

    I also find that the unhealthier the narcissist spectrum edge, the more defensive/resistant and less open eared and minded folks can be (and have been, in my experience) to hearing/acting on suggestions to treat others with respect, realizing one’s own feelings, and being kind to -themselves- by treating others with kindness in response to their attacks or cruelty.



    Report this comment

  5. janmc says:

    Thank you again, Donna, for posting this skewed perception of this personality! First, the quote: 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.

    People may not be “BAD”; however their planned, manipulated behaviors for self gain ARE BAD and hurt others. The opinion of this psychologist lacks the total picture: psychopaths are concerned with themselves. And, I question this practitioners authority to be interviewed as an expert.

    I know of a CA court case in a divorce proceeding having a court-ordered psychiatric sessions. After one year of sessions, the psychiatrist apologized to the woman, “I thought you were the psychopath; it is your husband; I owe you an apology; your husband is a very dangerous man, very clever and manipulative; get away…”

    I know of another case where 3 female ‘paths conned a community including law enforcement, prosecutors to help them with a con…of money able to cover their tracks … they know they are not right, they use the system/others to obtain what is wanted regardless of others….

    Psychopaths can be malicious…to degrees. Dr. Robert Hare, PHD is a leading expert in the field. Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, a UK researcher authored a book that is a quality read, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Let’s hear from experts!

    Thank you, Donna!!



    Report this comment

  6. Babs94540 says:

    I agree: the views of the real experts on psychopathy like Dr. Robert Hare and Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen (not the comedian, but they are related) need to be more widely known; I don’t understand why these guys aren’t being interviewed, like, every day by all these news media organizations.

    There are a couple of good documentaries on psychopathy that I’ve come across on YouTube, and Dr. Hare is in both of them, along with other psychiatrists and researchers who study psychopathy. These documentaries are very much aligned with your views on psychopathy/sociopathy, Donna, and my own.

    One of these is “I, Psychopath” and the other is simply “Psychopath”. They are in multiple parts on YouTube. There is a longer version of “I, Psychopath” that is around 90 minutes, as well as a shorter version, but the longer version is the best in my opinion.

    What I got our of these documentaries is that true psychopathy is so “other”, so alien to the way normal people perceive, think, and act, that its just really, really hard for us to even comprehend it. Also, I got from these documentaries that psychopathy can originate out of ANY familial background or setting; psychopaths can emerge from ordinary, relatively mentally healthy families, or from horribly abusive families, and everything in between. (The reason for this wasn’t explained, but my own personal guess is that its either a spin on the double genetic roulette wheel turning up multiple sets of double-recessive genes, or its a mutation.)

    I also got the strong impression from the “Psychopath” documentary that there is a reluctance to admit that psychopathy is basically not something that therapy can cure or even treat at this stage of our medical/scientific knowledge. Most of the psychopathy researchers and the psychiatrists who actually work with patients with psychopathy (in forensic settings) want VERY much to believe that SOME way can be found for psychopaths to be helped via therapy; the researchers who work with children and teens that exhibit “pre-psychopathic” traits in particular wish to believe this.

    But Dr. Hare states that at this point in time, psychotherapy not only does NOT work to cure or even mitigate psychopathy, it actually makes them *better, more effective, more successful predators*. Psychotherapy is like sending the psychopaths to acting school, showing them how to better utilize their delivery, facial expressions and body language to appear contrite, sincere, appealing, etc.

    Dr. Hare describes psychopaths as “intra-species predators.” He says that psychopaths regard their fellow human beings in much the same way that a cat regards a mouse. Other human beings are simply a source of supply for the psychopath. Other people exist to provide attention, caring, sex, and financial resources for the psychopath. There is no normal, human emotional connection at all. Then when the friend or conquest or spouse or business associate is no longer useful to the psychopath (or worse yet, begins to express needs and demands of their own) then they are simply discarded, sold, traded, or killed, and the psychopath moves on.

    The worst case scenarios are when the psychopath is also very physically attractive and very intelligent, driven by ambition, and sadistic/malicious. Those individuals do the most damage, because they’re, like, supernaturally charismatic. Such individuals can literally get away with murder, or with billion-dollar financial fraud. The less intelligent psychopaths, the screw-ups, are the ones who wind up in prison and get studied by researchers like Hare, but even Dr. Hare admits in the documentary “I, Psychopath” that he himself has been conned by psychopaths, more than once. They’re that good at it!

    Anyway, it would be awesome if these two REAL experts could get more air-time. We the public need much more information on psychopathy, more ACCURATE information, from those who aren’t afraid to tell it like it really is, which will allow us to not become prey for psychopaths.



    Report this comment

  7. Tea Light says:

    Babs you’re right of course, researchers in psychopathy are going to be invested in the possibility of treating or modifying the behaviour of the psychopath because, well many are no doubt well meaning people and humanitarians who optimistically want to find ways of mitigating the damage psychopathy causes; more cynically, researchers with ambition know it would make them wealthy heads of well funded research units and internationally read authors if they ” find the cure”.



    Report this comment

  8. Tea Light says:

    The documentary I Psychopath is as Babs will know about Sam Vaknin. Posters who have visited his numerous sites on narcissism should be aware that he is a diagnosed psychopath.



    Report this comment

    • Babs94540 says:

      Yes, “I, Psychopath” features Sam Vaknin as the main subject. Its a very ANTI-Sam Vaknin documentary; I’ve read that he’s tried to prevent it from being shown.

      The long version of the documentary shows in even more detail just how creepy this guy is, because he can be so charming when he wants to be and so nasty and abusive when he thinks the cameras are off.

      I agree that is is a kind of mirror-reflecting-a-mirror-reflecting-a-mirror level of mind-f**k, when Vaknin *admits* that he is a con artist who manipulates and uses people, and then proceeds to con and manipulate and use people. Its amazing. He does tend to trip over his own hubris, though; he’s a wannabe but not-quite-successful psychopath. He becomes really upset and nasty over his supposed “PhD” degree. The documentary-maker has footage showing Vaknin admitting on camera that he bought the degree from a diploma mill, yet at another point in the documentary Vaknin loses his cool over an interviewer questioning the validity of the degree.

      I hope I’ve made it clear that I am not promoting Sam Vaknin, I’m suggesting that this documentary has successfully “outed” him as a manipulative con-artist, so its an educational tool showing how psychopaths operate, how they sound, how they appear, etc.



      Report this comment

      • Tea Light says:

        Thanks Babs. I read the director of the documentary was pretty shaken up by his experiences being manipulated by Vaknin. Many posters have probably come across his sites – they are hard to avoid if you google narcissism- so knowing this individual is psychopathic is important if you are reading his sites. Stay safe online and off all!



        Report this comment

      • UnOccupy:Psycho:Paths says:

        Babs,

        I, Psychopath is hard to watch, but I owe my sanity to the film producer who produced this. Specifically after Sam has devalued this guy, It appears that he (Sam) then analyzes the technique that ‘bullies’ use. I am not sure if Vaknin did this deliberately or it was edited that way by the producer. He explains that they upset you so that you start producing adrenalin, then back off and repeat this until you are a mental mess. I have experienced this with my toxic sibling and it was my Aha! moment.

        Vaknin is clearly a high level narcissist and must be listened to with skepticism, but he has produced a great series of video you can watch for free on Youtube that have given me a treasure trove of insights. Specifically ‘Language as a weapon’ is worth total digesting. The implications go way beyond our own personal traumas with PD’s into global behavior problems. It is good stuff but be fore warned of Vaknin’s PD. I believe he truly is trying to create a body of work that will be helpful. I think he thinks that if he is not authentic in his body of work, no one will pay attention to him. The price he pays for the narcissistic supply of attention he gets from it, but it also makes it valuable. However, outside of his book and youtube presence, he has gone on record as calling Obama a narcissist. We all, most of us, have healthy narcissistic traits, and anyone who aims at and a acquires the office of POTUS would have to have enough of that to succeed, it is the good kind IMHO, not the toxic kind.

        But it is laughable that Vaknin reaches for the highest amount of narcissistic supply by calling the leader of the free world a narcissist when he himself is one and probably just looking for the biggest media payoff. He has appeared on a Lyndon LaRouche sponsored interview touting his presidential accusation. Still, his videos in many cases are accurate vignettes into the mind of this type of PD and can be very enlightening.



        Report this comment

        • Babs94540 says:

          But, see, this is EXACTLY why reading and listening to *anything* SV writes is a mind-f**k. He openly admits “I am a narcissist and a con-artist” and then proceeds to manipulate and con you ANYWAY. Its actually kind of amazing that this strategy works so well for him. (That’s where my “mirror-reflecting-a-mirror-reflecting-a-mirror-into-infinity” analogy comes in. The truth is mixed with hogwash and lies to con you; conning you is openly admitted as being the truth, which allows him to appear trustworthy which further allows him to lie to you and con you, etc. into infinity.)

          So, I personally would not read anything this guy writes, and particularly, I would not buy anything he’s written.

          I would not buy a Coke out of a vending machine that he owns.

          SV is a predator and manipulator and he’s used and hurt people; he even “experimented” on a fellow student in order to see if he could exert total mind-control over the boy, which made the boy near-suicidal, so, yes, even if he’s telling *some* truths, they’re only told in order to get you to trust him (because he’s being “honest”) so he can manipulate you into giving him money/buy his books.

          This is SO how predators work: they first get you to trust them, then they obliterate you.

          Just my two cents’ worth.



          Report this comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.