Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath

As I was cruising around the internet doing some research, I found this little tidbit that I thought might be good information for some.  There are a few terms that seem to get thrown around to mean the same thing and they are not.  There is a category of behaviors that falls under the DSM - IV grouping of personality disorders called Anti-social.  Under this heading there are several different qualifications and I thought it might be helpful to understand the difference between a few of them.  Word of Caution: You may be tempted to relate these sociopath characteristics to your unreasonable friends, family and folks. However, only an expert and learned individual can diagnose a person as a sociopath. Hence, refrain from jumping to conclusions. 
Difference Between Sociopath and Psychopath

There are very few differentiations between sociopaths and psychopaths. There are many medical dictionaries that consider them synonymous. Both, sociopaths and psychopaths are involved in antisocial behavior that is related to extreme violence. Though psychiatrists group sociopaths and psychopaths together, criminologists have given some difference between sociopaths and psychopaths.
Behavior of a Sociopath
Behavior of a Psychopath
Sociopaths are very disorganized people
Psychopaths are obsessively organized people
Sociopaths cannot maintain normal relationships with their family, friends and co-workers
Psychopaths tend to have normal relationships with the people around them and are even able to take care of old parents and get married.
Sociopaths are not able to maintain a steady employment or house.
Psychopaths are very successful career-wise . Their ability to organize makes them very likable and trustworthy among people. Psychopaths tend to understand the emotions of others, but they themselves do not feel any emotions. Thus, it is very easy for them to manipulate people with emotional games.
Sociopaths are found living at the periphery of the society. A study carried out with the homeless people of New York as subjects, showed that most of them were sociopaths.
Psychopaths are found living in large apartments and houses and cannot be distinguished from normal people.
Sociopaths are very erratic and unplanned with their acts of extreme violence. There inability to plan ahead and be organized, makes them leave trails of clues. This makes it very easy to identify and zero-in on them.
Psychopaths tend to plan for years before they carry out their act of violence. They plan every single detail of their crime and ensure that they remain undetected. This organized and detailed planning makes it very difficult to catch them.

Sociopaths tend to see their victim as an instrument to be used for personal gains. They try to dominate others and humiliate their victims. They have no qualms lying and it becomes very difficult for them to be truthful. This, makes them believe falsely about their own greatness and powers. It is seen that they can easily pass a lie detector test. They have problems keeping friends, show cruelty towards people and even animals, etc. They have no problems when they play havoc in the lives of others and break their dreams. They do not feel guilty about their act, instead play the blame game and make others responsible for their acts committed. They tend to have promiscuity, involved in child sexual abuse, rape and indulge in sexual acting out of all types. They tend to change their image very often and their life story so convincingly that it helps them avoid prosecution. 

Truly scary stuff....I believe that I have had a few individuals who had many of the characteristics listed here walk through the doors of my office and they are definitely a force to be reckoned with.  As human beings, we are used to dealing with a population who has self imposed boundaries.  We innately trust that people will just not do certain things but when those boundaries disappear, it can be very frightening.  It's similar to the trust that we have that our home is safe if we lock the doors, yet all it would take for a robber to get in would be to break a window.  We live behind the illusion that no one will do that, yet someone who has no boundaries and no conscience would have no problem doing that kind of thing.  For the most part, these types of individuals have no place in our society, yet 1% of the population is dealing with these kinds of disorders.  Women who marry this type of individual spend their lives trying to figure out what is wrong and often pay a very high price for doing that.

For those who ask the question, "Can they be helped?"   The answer is not often.  There are people in our society who have dedicated their lives to helping individuals with these kinds of disorders, but the most common obstacle is that the disorder itself causes them to believe that they are OK and the rest of the world is out of order.  They are superior and the rest of us are flawed....therefore they do not need help.  There are a few who have recognized that they need help, and once that happens it is a long, tenuous journey to a manageable life.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Trial

It is always a tragedy to me when I hear of a wife who is being convicted of a crime such as murder because she has been subjected to physical violence for quite some time in her relationship.  Obviously, the more appropriate resolution to a situation like that would be to leave before those kinds of situations arise, but I have to confess it breaks my heart to know that a woman who has been abused in ways we may not be able to understand is going to be put through a different kind of hell because she made a decision to stop the abuse.  Don't get me wrong, I do not condone murder or this kind of violence in retaliation.  Many times I tell abuse victims that if they can't get out of the relationship for themselves, get out before their spouse does something that they can't take back; something that will land them in jail.  Below is a question from a friend of an abuse victim that reflects this very thing.  It is a tragedy, something that can be prevented and should be prevented.

"A girlfriend of mine is on trial for the murder of her husband. She had been subjected to over 20 years of physical and emotional violence, but had never thought to leave because her family/culture/upbringing didn't allow it. Being isolated and new to the city, she didn't have any friends and an incident cause her great distress and she didn't intend to kill him, but things got out of hand, and he died. Although her children support her (while at time blaming her for not leaving and thus exposing them to abuse), her family and his are hostile to her for causing shame to the family. How do I best help her see that the domestic abuse was not her fault, that she did her best as a mother, and that healing is possible for the future? She is on bail and is monitored, so I don't know if she qualifies for support from domestic violence services. And since she is charged for several criminal offences, how do I tell her that this is not her fault?"

As a counselor I am limited as to what kind of response I can give, but within that scope it is hard to address the kind of pain that is coming from both sides of this question.  My previous article dealt with what it is like for family and friends to be on the outside of an abusive relationship looking in.  This is a prime example and my answer is below:

"I'm sure your friend is quite distraught and it is always a difficult thing to work through when one person dies at the hands of another.  Not only is she dealing with the trauma of the domestic violence, but there is a certain kind of trauma that comes when an individual takes the life of another.  Very difficult things to face and work through.

What she needs to understand and heal in herself is probably going to come on a long journey.  Domestic violence victims are usually individuals who have very low self esteem to begin with and it only gets worse after years of abuse.  It sounds as though the two families are more concerned about how they look as opposed to what has happened to her and that is more than likely why she stayed in such a situation.  The message from the family is that she doesn't matter...its all about looking good on the outside...she has been living with that message daily for her whole life.  Learning a different message will take time and effort.

I am not a legal expert and this is not legal advice, but general information to help you understand some concepts. Although I am unfamiliar with the laws in Australia, here in the US, among other things, there are 5 criteria that are used to determine whether deadly force is warranted.  When women here are convicted, usually, it is because they have reacted violently and killed their abuser after he has stopped beating them or threatening the time he may be walking away afterward.  At that point the threat of harm has passed and that is one of the criteria that has to be in place.  If that is the same where you are, then it is hard to separate what is fault and what is not.  Was her judgment faulty, perhaps...was she not aware of what the law stated, more than likely.  There is a certain amount of responsibility that she may have to accept; however.....she is in no way responsible for the abuse that was perpetrated against her.  Getting her to understand that she is not responsible for another person's actions or feelings is a huge concept that will allow her to forgive herself and move on.  Understanding that most abusers have emotional and/or mental problems themselves can bring some understanding to the situation.  There are many factors that may have been at work here, but the key to her ability to heal is information, support and encouragement on a personal level.  She needs to understand that she is valuable and has worth.  Abusers erode whatever truth the victim has about that until they give up believing it.  But you need to understand that if your friend allowed herself to stay in that situation, she has some emotional issues to deal with herself.  Emotionally healthy people don't put up with abuse and don't stay in these situations.  Her greatest enemy was staying in denial.

My recommendation would be for you to visit my blog at and download or copy a few of the articles there having to do with why it is so hard to leave, stockholm syndrome and any others that you think may apply.  Information will be her friend at this time and the more she gets, the better understanding she will have.  She will be dealing with a lot of grief as well, which is a process she must go through to resolution.  Additionally, on my website  (  on the LIBRARY page there is an article called "the cycle of domestic violence" which she may find helpful.  Please feel free to download it and give it to her.  Abuse counseling is the best thing for her and in her present state of mind, she may not be up to doing the research it takes to find services so you may need to do that for her.  In the end, encouragement and unconditional love will serve her well.

I wish you all the best as you walk with your friend through this very hard journey."

Many women who continue to stay in relationships that are physical or relationships that continue to progress have to understand that they are not only putting themselves in danger, but they are endangering the abusive spouse as well.  We would hope that these individuals would get help to deal with their anger and their abusive behaviors, but if they land in prison they probably won't get the kind of help they need.  No one wants to see this kind of resolution to an abusive situation so this is something to think about, seriously and often.  

As with the cycle of domestic violence is a predictable pattern, the escalation of abuse has a pattern that is just as predictable.  It starts with holding the victim down or blocking their way out of a room or from leaving the area to get to safety.  It progresses from there.  Below is a list that is placed in order of increasing danger:
  • Holding down, blocking, pinning
  • Pushing or shoving
  • Shaking or jerking
  • Slapping and bruising
  • Throwing objects
  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Black eyes, cuts, chipped teeth
  • Burning with hot drinks, cigarettes, etc.
  • Causing serious falls
  • Choking
  • Severe beatings
  • Broken bones
  • Hitting with objects
  • Back injuries, paralysis
  • Internal injuries
  • Use of weapons
  • Death
Many women who come to me often say, "He just choked me once....he threw an object at me, he pushed me down."  They say these things as if the action was no big deal or it isn't serious because it was only done "once".  However when you look on this list, these actions are very close to the point where serious injury becomes an issue and eventually death if it is allowed to continue.  October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the local abuse organization created human cutouts that were placed in honor of the women who had been killed as a result of domestic violence.  These 12 silhouettes represented only a small minority of the individuals who have been lost to domestic violence.  It is a sobering statistic to contemplate and even more sobering when one realizes that it is only denial that stands between a victim and safety.