DSM-IV and why I use the term sociopath

I received the following comment on another site. The tone is perhaps questionable but the points and implied questions are quite reasonable.

“. . . following Siegel’s and Schore’s writings, I have good reason to suspect that we’ll find abnormalities in the right orbitofrontal cortical regions of true psychopaths. And BTW “sociopath” is an older term, not in common clinical usage. Psychopathy isn’t in the DSM-IV either. Hare tried to get it into DSM-V but I don’t think he managed. The closest the DSM comes is Antisocial Personality Disorder, but criminal psychlogists, following Hare’s lead, do measure and define psychopathy with the Psychopathy Checklist (Revised form), and consider it essentially a subset of ASPD. Also if you’re familiar with Raine’s work on brain scans of criminals (e.g. convicted killers), you’ll know that he turned up some interesting abnormalities (mostly frontal & prefrontal) in those populations.”

1. Brain function and structure are not my area, but I’m not surprised it’s a fruitful area of study. I’m more interested in behavioral observations that anyone can make and take into account.

2. I use the term sociopath because it’s less pejorative. I find that the word psychopath is so pejorative people simply won’t consider that it might apply to people they know. However, I may be forced to use the more common equivalent term.

2. Concerning the DSM-IV, I have no respect for it whatsoever. ASPD confuses faux psychopaths with actual psychopaths. It also doesn’t allow for the existence of successful psychopaths who can pass for normal at will. Robert Hare: “. . . most individuals with ASPD are not psychopaths.”. Hare article on ASPD

(I post here and there, sort of as advertising. These posts, mostly very short and written very quickly, can be found, if anyone is interested, by searching for “pathwhisperer” google search.)

4 thoughts on “DSM-IV and why I use the term sociopath

  1. I know this is 3 years old but I’m going to comment on it anyway.

    I never really understood what was meant by “lacking empathy” until I read
    Cleckley’s book a few weeks ago. “A psychopath lacks empathy” does not really say it. I had a psycho friend (Steve) who walked into the town bar (the town was pop. 10,000). A woman, drinking at the bar started blowing everyone (another psycho, no doubt). Steve was so appreciative that he put her butt on top of the pool table and ate her. Of course, the next day the whole town knew about it. But because Steve was psycho, he was not capable of being embarrassed even though the whole town expected him to be.

    It’s as though Steve does not own the emotion, embarrassment. Steve can feign embarrassment but that’s as close as he can get. Therefore, if you get embarrassed in front of Steve, Steve is incapable of empathizing with your embarrassment because he does not own that emotion himself. I could be totally wrong but I really think this is the manner in which Psychos lack empathy.


  2. I thought I’d expand on my comment above. Very often, sociable sociopaths are viewed as being exciting and uninhibited — for example, the sociopath Anna Nicole Smith. All the men who showed up saying, “hey, maybe I’m the father” might have had reason to wonder. Sex for a sociopath is no more than playing doctor is to a six year old, there is no soul involvement or soul intimacy. Boredom is the problem, but apparently not for her. Playing doctor with an 89-year old J. Howard Marshall for a chance at $800 million — easy choice.

    I don’t know if one in a hundred of her acquaintances realized she was a sociopath. Or someone might say, “well, she’s not very antisocial.” Let’s look at that. I’m sure she carefully thought out her attack on the Marshall fortune. She was also an incompetent parent, with her son paying the ultimate price. It was reported that she then sold the last pictures of her son for six figures. This would not at all be surprising. It would be a mistake for someone to say, “OK, she fooled me, but I’d see through a antisocial or violent sociopath.” I suspect that’s not true.

    Years ago at a job in another investment bank, we had a co-worker who I believe belonged in a mental hospital — I would be happy to testify at an involuntary commitment hearing for his commitment. Of all the tens of sociopaths and handful of pseudologues I have known, only two or three, in my opinion, belonged in mental hospitals for the criminally insane. This individual was reputed to be, and in my opinion was, an equal opportunity blackmailer of married women and married or closeted gay/bisexual males and a Dress Gray rapist (he would only rape straight males who were smaller than him and who he figured would not want a public trial). Dominance was the name of his game, but he knew when he could get away with rape and when he should seduce. Neither blackmail or rape are technically crimes if the victim doesn’t press charges. For him, and other sociopaths, such crimes are crimes without consequence. I consider him the single most destructive sociopath I have ever met. However the vast majority of co-workers thought he was A-OK (though a very small group disliked him on instinct almost instantly (I was not one of them, however, I came to my opinion slowly)). Only the victims and a small number of us realized what he was.

    At one point, I was talking to a Senor Vice President of HR regarding him. She flew off the handle, screaming that the firm had 15,000 employees and of course psychopaths worked there. Then after a moment, she collected herself and regained her self composure. This was a big “aha-moment” for me. Her reaction told me (or confirmed) that sociopaths recognize each other, that they defend each other (i.e., that they have self awareness and a group identity), and that it is actually difficult for them to pass for normal at will — it is a very big effort of will that can slip in an instant. It was clear that sociopaths live in a pejorative universe — she interpreted my discussion of this individual as an attack on sociopaths and she just had to respond.

    I had seen something very similar in an interview of David Hampton (of Six Degrees of Separation fame) by Keith Morrison. David Hampton (who was the conman on whom Six Degrees was based) was bragging about what a great liar he was. Keith Morrison then told him he was nothing but a “god-damn liar.” David then threw his glass of wine in Keith’s face. A non-sociopathic liar might have continued his bragging with a “Yeah, what about it” type response. But David Hampton could not not respond to the emotions behind the term, god-damn liar. The emotional pejorativeness was like a red cape to a bull, a challenge that could not go unanswered. (I saw this interview in a Bill Kurtis production, Justice Files or American Justice, titled Diabolical Minds. This is to the best of my recollection, I have never been able to track down this Kurtis TV production since.)

    As a side note I once saw David Hampton at the W72nd St. subway station. I’ll never forget the unpleasant look he shot me, either he didn’t like being recognized or perhaps I was staring at him.


  3. Thanks for the comment, sorry for the delay in responding.

    I try to stay away from formal definitions lest one confuse the definition with the reality. Definitions and words, themselves, are only a stab at capturing reality — I prefer keeping definitions more fluid. Yet obviously there has to be a way of identifying a subject of discussion to ensure that participants are discussing the same thing. So let me give you my informal definition of sociopathy.

    Their over-riding quality is a complete lack of empathy for others’ emotions. Others are seen as pawns to be manipulated and preyed upon, remorselessly, without mercy. It is also an across-the-board arrested development disorder. These individuals are undeveloped morally, sexually, personality-wise — literally in every way.

    Furthermore there is a continuum here, they vary from those who can’t avoid criminality, who can’t hold a job, who can’t even make a pretense of parenting (some are so extreme that they can only be described as “aliens masquerading as humans” ) to those who can hold responsible jobs, maintain stable marriages and be seemingly dutiful parents (which actually they are still not, responsible parenting (soul nurturing parenting) is simply beyond the sociopathic biological arrangement). What they all hold in common is the basic lack of empathy for others and viewing others as fools to be manipulated or preyed upon.

    In terms of the crafty individual you described, it sounds very well like she could be sociopathic. In my experience they are often very dogged in the pursuit of their stratagems. Sociopaths are also much, much more common that generally realized.


  4. I guess I’ll have to book mark your blog and see where this goes.

    I don’t know the arguments with DSM-IV. It’s a standard where some kind of a standard is needed. But then, I’m not a professional.

    There once was a very crafty person whose goal in life was to find someone she could push to “go postal”. I’m thinking she would be a sociopath. She was obsessive and immature.

    So, what is your formal definition of sociopath?


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