Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sociopath or Psychopath?

As I plunge deeper in my attempts to understand the personality that drives people like Heidi Diaz, aka Kimmer, as well as those who hold to her side steadfastly, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that she is not the least bit worthy of that trust and devotion, I find myself engaged in a fascinating study into the human psyche.

First, the disclaimer: I am not labeling Heidi Diaz, nor any other person, as suffering from any particular personality disorder. That type of diagnosis is only possible after examination by a qualified professional, of which I am not. I do find some of these descriptions eerily reflective of the behaviors that Heidi exhibits. I share these observations simply for the stated purpose of stimulating conversation. In that vein, I continue.

The more currently used diagnostic term for a person exhibiting sociopathic behavior is Antisocial Personality Disorder. It started out in the 1800’s being referred to as “moral insanity”. I like that term, personally. It speaks more to the heart of the issue – a lack of moral constraint. In the 2000’s though, it seems to have become politically incorrect to speak about morality. Morality carries with it an underlying meaning of some greater authority – some defined right and wrong. Many people in this day and age prefer to think that morality – right and wrong – are subjective, defined and driven by the winds of change of the culture. I will openly state that I am not one of the many. I do believe in an absolute moral authority – found in the person of God, spelled out clearly in the Holy Scriptures. I add that only so my bias is clear from the beginning.

In the course of my research, I’ve come across a concise expression of why we fall for the lies of the person with APD, and why we stay commited to those lies. This is part of a much larger article, entitled THE PSYCHOPATH - The Mask of Sanity, found at http://www.cassiopaea.com/cassiopaea/psychopath.htm. I’ll be referencing this as well as other resources as I work through this whole line of thinking. Here is the rather lengthy quote:
What kind of psychological weaknesses drive people to prefer lies over truth?
This may have something to do with what is called Cognitive Dissonance. Leon Festinger developed the theory of Cognitive Dissonance in the 50's when he apparently stumbled onto a UFO cult in the Midwest. They were prophesying a coming world cataclysm and "alien rapture." When no one was raptured and no cataclysm he studied the believers’ response, and detailed it in his book "When Prophecy Fails." Festinger observed:
A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.
We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.
But man's resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.
It seems that part of the problem has to do with ego and the need to be "right." People with a high "need to be right" or "perfect" seem to be unable to acknowledge that they have been conned. "There is no crime in the cynical American calendar more humiliating than to be a sucker." People will go along with and support a psychopath, in the face of evidence that they have and ARE being conned, because their own ego structure depends on being right, and to admit an error of judgment would destroy their carefully constructed image of themselves.
Even more amazing is the fact that when psychopaths do get exposed by someone who is not afraid to admit that they have been conned, the psychopath is a master at painting their victims as the "real culprits." Hare cites a case of the third wife of a forty year old high school teacher:
For five years he cheated on me, kept me living in fear, and forged checks on my personal bank account. But everyone, including my doctor and lawyer and my friends, blamed me for the problem. He had them so convinced that he was a great guy and that I was going mad, I began to believe it myself. Even when he cleaned out my bank account and ran off with a seventeen-year-old student, a lot of people couldn't believe it, and some wanted to know what I had done to make him act so strangely!
Psychopaths just have what it takes to defraud and bilk others: they can be fast talkers, they can be charming, they can be self-assured and at ease in social situations; they are cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless. And even when they are exposed, they can carry on as if nothing has happened, often making their accusers the targets of accusations of being victimized by THEM.
I was once dumbfounded by the logic of an inmate who described his murder victim as having benefited from the crime by learning "a hard lesson about life." [Hare]
The victims keep asking: "How could I have been so stupid? How could I have fallen for that incredible line of baloney?" And, of course, if they don't ask it of themselves, you can be sure that their friends and associates will ask "How on earth could you have been taken in to that extent?"
The usual answer: "You had to be there" simply does not convey the whole thing. Hare writes:
What makes psychopaths different from all others is the remarkable ease with which they lie, the pervasiveness of their deception, and the callousness with which they carry it out.
But there is something else about the speech of psychopaths that is equally puzzling: their frequent use of contradictory and logically inconsistent statements that usually escape detection. Recent research on the language of psychopaths provides us with some important clues to this puzzle, as well as to the uncanny ability psychopaths have to move words - and people- around so easily. […]
Here are some examples:
When asked if he had ever committed a violent offense, a man serving time for theft answered, "No, but I once had to kill someone."
A woman with a staggering record of fraud, deceit, lies, and broken promises concluded a letter to the parole board with, "I've let a lot of people down… One is only as good as her reputation and name. My word is as good as gold."
A man serving a term for armed robbery replied to the testimony of an eyewitness, "He's lying. I wasn't there. I should have blown his ******* head off."
I think most of us can attest to falling victim to at least one person of this type. It is unnerving to realize how susceptible we really are to those without any sort of moral grounding. We can take solace, however, in the professional opinions that tell us that we actually are not equipped to protect ourselves entirely from being conned by such individuals in the first place. Well, we are comforted and alarmed at the same time. But at least it should relieve us of that overwhelming feeling of having somehow failed ourselves. Rather we need to acknowledge that having no consciousness of guilt can give one the upper hand when dealing with people with a healthy sense of trust in their fellow man.
Hopefully we don’t become so invested in what they are saying that we can’t emotionally risk pulling away.