One of the most disturbing facts to arise from my recent research into sociopathy is that sociopaths have a very strange idea of “fun.” Sociopaths like to plot ways to ruin people’s lives in their spare time.
According to a story published in late 2014, a serial killer from Brazil said he’d murdered 41 people—almost all of them women—for fun. Sailson Jose das Gracas, 26, said: “When I wasn’t killing someone I got uptight. I would pace up and down at home. Killing calmed me down.”
Police described das Gracas as “a psychopath,” generally considered to be at the most extreme end of a spectrum of dysfunction that ranges from antisocial personality disorder (APD), to sociopathy, to psychopathy.
Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy is typically thought of as the psychopathic poster boy, but experts point to Bernie Madoff as a better real-life example of someone on the spectrum. In a February 2011 interview with New York magazine, Madoff recalled asking his prison therapist whether she thought he was a sociopath. “You’re absolutely not a sociopath,” she reportedly told him. “You have morals. You have remorse.”
True, Madoff may indeed have regretted losing $65 billion for thousands of investors across the world, as well as betraying and disgracing his family so severely that one of his sons committed suicide. But to be able to manipulate all those people for a financial reward takes a certain degree of callousness, dishonesty, and irresponsibility that are intrinsic to sociopathy and psychopathy.
Most sociopaths aren’t killers. In her book, Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas—a self-described “cutthroat” attorney who sailed through law school without much effort, landed a position at a prestigious law firm, and then became a professor—says her favorite preferred sociopathic pastime is “ruining people.” Her book details the time she has spent going out of her way to toy with other people’s emotions.
“I know my heart is blacker and colder than most people’s; maybe that’s why it’s tempting to break theirs,” she writes.
Many sociopaths wreak havoc in a covert way, so that their underlying condition remains hidden for many years. They can possess a superficial charm, which diverts attention from disturbing aspects of their nature. They also can be extremely diabolical.
Sociopaths often target empaths—someone who is affected by other people’s energies, who has an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others, whose life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods—because they pose the greatest threat to detection. The empath is usually the first to notice that something is not right and express what he or she senses. As a consequence, the empath is both the sociopath’s number-one foe and an irresistible source of attraction. Empaths are often systematically targeted by sociopaths until the victims feel they can barely trust their own senses of reality—what some people call “gaslighting” after the 1944 film starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten. The empath’s responses and actions provide excellent entertainment for sociopaths, who use and abuse them for their cruel sport.
In Addiction Today, Drs. Jane and Tim McGregor wrote up the following case history which illustrates how sociopaths target empaths:
“At school, ‘James’ took a dislike to a classmate, ‘Sam’, who was sensitive and popular. He would mock Sam for auditioning for the school play or for getting upset over failing a test. The situation deteriorated when it became known that Sam’s parents were separating. Sam appeared to be taking it with fortitude, to the admiration of his peers. He also got attention and sympathy from the school staff, especially James’ favourite teacher: ie., the one he manipulated most easily.
“James decided on a plan of covert bullying. He started a whispering campaign implying that Sam’s parents were not splitting up, that he had said they were in order to seek attention. Sadly, this was all too successful and over the next few days Sam was met with silence and verbal bullying from his hitherto-supportive classmates.
“James continued his campaign, targeting Sam’s close friends over the next few days. They found themselves accused of misdemeanours such as sending offensive emails/texts. Then the ‘favourite’ teacher went on “leave with immediate effect” after accusations of assaulting a pupil. Where had the accusations come from? Guess.
“This case shows how deliberately sociopaths, from a young age, can target others. Taking advantage of people’s credibility and goodwill, James exploited the situation. With a more perceptive head teacher, this sociopath might have been found out, but he knew who to manipulate and how far he could go.”
In everyday life you are more likely to meet a sociopath or psychopath in a corporate boardroom than in a courtroom. According to Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap (former CEO of Sunbeam and notorious downsizer) effortlessly turns the psychopath checklist widely used by psychologists into a “how-to” manual for doing well in capitalism.
So if you’re an empath, chances are good that a sociopath will find you to have some fun.
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