What is Sociopathy, and What Can We Do About It?

Sociopathy (often called antisocial personality disorder) is a relatively new term in psychiatry. It can be found in people of all ages, from childhood to adulthood. It is a psychological personality disorder that develops as a result of external conditions in life, environmental factors. Children are particularly vulnerable, because a bad upbringing can have destructive effect upon their psyche and lead to this pathology. Child psychiatrist Professor Galina Viacheslavovna Kozlovskaya helps us understand the problem of sociopathy, and suggests how to prevent it from developing in our children.

—Galina Viacheslavovna, sociopathy comes from incorrect upbringing. What do you consider to be correct upbringing?

—The concept of a good or bad upbringing is something quite relative. Nevertheless, we can all understand to a certain degree what a good or bad upbringing is. It is reasonably wise, reasonably kind and reasonably strict. Through this type of upbringing, adults try to call the child’s hidden potential forward and allow it to develop to the fullest extent. If a child’s abilities are limited due to some incurable physical or psychological inadequacies, it is important to stimulate the functions he retains, in order to develop his personality, form his character, and bring his physical state to its maximum potential under these complex conditions. We also know many instances when people with physical disabilities achieve success in other areas that do not require great physical endurance—for example in music, or art. That is, a correct education does not mean we pretend the limitations are not there or gloss over them; we do not give in to the child’s caprices or be too condescending, for that could lead to harm. The process of education is actually a persistent cooperative effort involving both adult and child. It is a labor aimed at perfecting the child’s faculties and inclinations and his adaption to the outside world, preparing him for serious creative activity; after all, no matter what a person does, creativity can be present at the foundation. Even ordinary life situations, family life, and parenting require a creative approach and creative solutions.

—How does wrong upbringing appear?

—It can appear in various ways. First of all, there is a type called “Cinderella”, when a child is constantly oppressed and put down, and the adults make unreachably high demands, never acknowledging the child’s successes. He does not receive affection and gifts; he is poorly fed, slovenly, carelessly dressed. Such a child is in a state of deep emotional and physical deprivation. In this child’s upbringing, punishment overshadows condescension and praise.

Another type is the opposite of the first one, called the “family idol”. This child is allowed to do anything he wants, he is always expected to be the best, but this expectation takes a rather idiosyncratic form: no matter what the child does, in his parents’ opinion he is always better than everyone else. They never refuse him anything, and his egoism is strongly nurtured. Such a child can end up absolutely sure that the world revolves around him. He does not know what it means to work hard; he doesn’t know what it means to yield, to make someone else happy, to share.

The third type of wrong upbringing is hypo-care, when a child does not receive enough necessary help from people around him. To put it simply, no one works with him, and there is educational neglect or lack of care. There is also hyper-care, when the parents try to live the child’s life for him, do everything for him, protect him from all difficulties, and never let him grow up. This is also wrong.

—Could it really be that these very different types of upbringing can lead to one and the same result?

—Can you imagine that yes, they do. By puberty, when the personality is already formed and the youngster begins to enter independently into the outside world, the results of all four of these cases are about the same. These people are formed as asocial types; to varying degrees, but nonetheless…

—What characterizes this type of person?

—As a rule, they are not independent, are unsure of themselves, have great ambitions and great dissatisfaction. For example, the “family idol” demands special attention. But he doesn’t get it! Furthermore, he demands to be the leader but there are no grounds for this. He considers himself top dog, but is actually deficient in education or ability. He does not stand out from the rest in any way, but his presumption remains very great, and this causes him to feel offended and angry.

—And what about “Cinderella”?

—Well, unfortunately in real life “Cinderella” does not always find her prince who is supposed to reward her for all her deprivation. She often grows up to be a very bitter person, angry at the whole world. This person also expects some unrealistic successes, unconditional acceptance from everyone around her, and when she doesn’t receive it she becomes even more ferocious.

With both neglect (hypo-care) and hyper-care the child develops a negative relationship to his close ones and to the surrounding world in general. These people tend to get into conflicts; it is characteristic of them to be submissive to the strong and contemptuous of the weak. They try to humiliate the weak, saddling them with all their feelings of insult, presumption, and anger. To some this view of the relationship between educational measures and sociopathy may seem too simplistic, but in fact it is all very serious. It is precisely these types of approaches to upbringing that form personality deviations. In many cases this deviation is so entrenched that it becomes spontaneous, regardless of outside influences, and works like a constitutional, conditioned, inborn trait. A so-called “acquired” psychopathy is formed, which differs from a nuclear, constitutional psychopathy in that it is formed by the environment, and is not part of the person’s nature. This acquired psychopathy is that very group of sociopathy that is essentially created by society. As a rule, such personalities are dissocialized; they adapt poorly to ordinary human relationships.


—Because ordinary human communications are built upon specific principles, upon the requirement to uphold human hierarchy, and what is most important, upon the necessity to work, to fulfill some kind of working responsibility. But sociopaths do not know how to do this—after all, the ability to work is the ability to be patient, when a person invests his efforts with the expectation of some future reward. And this reward does not necessarily have to be material. Much more important to him is the awareness that sooner or later he will achieve his result—he will learn to do something, create something, or something of that nature. If the need for labor is not inculcated in a person—labor being something that brings him joy while forced inactivity is perceived as punishment—then that person is deeply unhappy.

But not everyone realizes this. Many think that the main thing in life is to have a lot of money without having work for it, to be perpetually entertained. But the old maxim holds true that money cannot buy you happiness. You cannot buy true emotional and spiritual satisfaction with money. Comfort, the necessities of daily life, of course, you can buy for money. But that is not happiness. When a person is not swallowed up by thoughts of where he can find enough money to get his daily bread, other desires arise in him, other needs. In order to get them, he has to start working. If he is not accustomed to work but still has the desire to get everything quickly and immediately, he experiences disappointment.

—Are there many sociopaths today?

Alas, yes, there are. Modern society is such that there are many deformed personalities amongst the youth, who do not have what we call social and emotional intellect, which does not refer to the intellect that a person is born with—memory, speech, and other such things—but the intellect that is formed in the process of education. Emotional intellect is expressed in the person’s ability to understand the emotions of people around him, to sympathize with them, and give them emotional support. Thanks to this intellect, people like him. They see that he can be trusted with their troubles because he understands, and will not laugh at them. To the contrary, he will help them.

—And what is social intellect?

—Social intellect consists in a person’s ability to plan his future and his actions. Not only can he plan, but he can articulate these plans in words to himself and others. He can explain why he doing one thing or another, what his intentions are. A person who possesses social intellect is able to assess himself critically; he sees his own inadequacies and those of others, and can talk about them in a way that is not crude or blunt, but tactful, using his emotional intellect. Unfortunately, these refined emotional qualities are very underdeveloped amongst young people. We can see a phenomenon that is called in psychiatry “alexithymia”. It is the inability to express or describe in words one’s desires, responses, and plans.

—Could it really be that modern youth has such an underdeveloped gift of speech?

—No, the problem is not an underdeveloped gift of speech, but in not having the capability for self-analysis, or any discernment with regard to people, not being able to analyze one’s own or others’ actions. In my opinion, this is in great part the sad result of no longer teaching classical literature in the schools.

—And because children read very little, or if they read, then usually something frivolous or low grade?

—Absolutely. But the school plays a large role here. Earlier, as you may recall, children were taught to write compositions on literary themes, to analyze the heroes’ actions and characters. They were taught to understand musical compositions, to describe the mood that each piece of music expresses, to relate the images and pictures that come to mind while listening. The more complex a piece of music is, the harder it is to analyze the feelings inherent in the music. Nowadays this is almost never taught, and young people do not get the formation of a refined emotional inner organization that is necessary for compassion, for true creativity, for the ability to get along with people around them. Very many young people are left helpless in this respect, and they do not always even recognize the deviation of their actions, their social inadequacy, their sociopathy; which, of course, has not always reached the point of true psychological disturbance, but which nevertheless prevents them from being happy, because they do not find their place in the world around them and make unfeasible plans. For example, a nice teenage girl suddenly announces that she wants to become a prostitute because, as she sees it, that is a quick and easy way to make money.

—And all those girls who want to become models are singing that same tune?

—Of course! Note that there are much fewer young girls who say they want to become fashion designers, because they know that you have to work for this and know how to draw. But, so they think, it is easy to become a model. All you have to do is be pretty, put on fancy clothes and show yourself on the stage. But that modeling is in fact hard and thankless work never enters most of their heads. The lack of knowledge of life, even on the teenage level, is also conditioned by the lack of cultural baggage. The throwing overboard of classical literature from the ship of modern life has led to a situation where an enormous mass of modern teenagers have no normal, true values—the values of friendship, love, dedication, industriousness.

—Even worse—traditional, common human values are intentionally denied and mocked by mass culture.

—This also brings bitter fruits. If higher feelings and ideals are not formed, animal instincts prevail in a person. His desires are primitive, although the intellect is still intact. I know a girl who was dying to wear high-heeled shoes at the age of ten. It was her cherished dream, and when she turned twelve and her parents bought her a pair, she was in seventh heaven. She looked ridiculous in them, and her thin legs were not ready for such a burden (in fact it is not healthy to wear high heels at that age) but she was convinced that they transformed her into a beauty queen. Now she dreams of becoming a salesgirl in a boutique and wearing the most fashionable clothes. In spite of the fact that her family always read good books to her and took her to the theatre, neither she nor any of the other girls in her class are interested in any good books, no school subjects attract them, and they view all normal childhood and teenage interests with a kind of unchildlike cynicism. I would even say that their relationship to them is almost perverse.

For example, they see the Three Musketeers as gangsters, or at least criminal elements, who fought against their own countries and against a woman. That is, they have turned the whole thing upside-down! From refusing our classical heritage comes refusing our traditional values systems, a traditional perception of world-renowned literary works. We could laugh at these ridiculous views if it weren’t so bitterly sad that a gang of people are growing up before our very eyes who will be quite alien from us in spirit and perception of life, broken off from classical culture and the traditional understanding of good and evil, honor and baseness, loyalty and betrayal. Even national heroes who were tortured and died at the hands of the enemy but did not betray their country are looked at fools. Strictly speaking, from the medical point of view, sociopathy is not a psychiatric problem. It is actually a social problem, and it should be treated not by doctors, but by society.

—What about criminals? Are they also sociopaths?

—Of course. That is, if they did not end up behind bars from some accidental or unwarranted reason. But again I would like to emphasize that criminal-sociopaths are not psychiatric patients and that is why they end up not in the psychiatric hospital, but in prison. From the psychiatric point of view, they can be described as people who are not entirely normal, but there are no medicines made for them other than a strict jail sentence and reasonable correctional measures. A sense of impunity will only deepen their sociopathy.

—Some might protest that losing your freedom is punishment enough.

—For many people of criminal character losing their freedom does not mean any inconvenience, but is instead an opportunity to live a sufficiently peaceful and comfortable freeloading life. It is not a punishment for them. Needless to say, prison should not be brutal or humiliating. Inhumane treatment, dank cells, and other such conditions are definitely unacceptable. But at the same time, it should be a serious experience of strict correctional work and responsibility. If we are talking about juveniles, then they should study in order to catch up with their peers. They need work therapy, because sociopaths, as I have said, do not know how to work, and they want to get everything right away.

—Are drug addicts sociopaths?

—I would put it this way: sociopaths are an at-risk group for drug addiction and other kinds of addictions, because many sociopaths have a very weak inner personality structure but a great demand for pleasure above all. So this weakness of character leads people to have recourse to the easier ways of receiving pleasure—to classic narcotics, and to the newer, as they are called today, non-chemical narcotics such as computer games and internet. Those people who cannot find acceptance in the real world are more likely to immerse themselves into cyberspace. In the virtual world they can call themselves by another name, create a new appearance and biography, and receive in this phantom self the acceptance that they so lack in reality. Unfortunately, psychological dependence on the screen turns into a physical one, and finally non-chemical dependence takes on the classic forms of drug addiction. As in drug addiction, you can observe a heightened tolerance, when the addict needs to sit ever longer in front of the computer, increasing his dosage, so to speak. He feels withdrawal pains when he is away from the computer and euphoria when he gets a new game. In the end there occurs a disintegration of the frontal lobe of the brain, the neocortex, which essentially makes us human—because it is the neocortex that “manages” the formation of our personality traits and our intellectual and creative abilities.

—Can raising children in a one-parent family also hide a threat of forming sociopathy?

—That goes without saying. A one-parent family is always dysfunctional. No matter how hard a mother tries to take on a double role, to personify both female and male role models, this is neither physically or psychological possible. Therefore, it is impossible to avoid some unevenness. The importance of the father’s role in the family has often been underestimated, but the father in fact plays a colossal role in forming a harmonious personality. It is not just a matter of how he educates his children, but even his very presence. The father’s presence in the family provides assurance not only to the children, but also to the mother. The double educational function (of both mother and father) are also beneficial to the child. There has so far been little research into this subject, but what factual material has been gathered enables us to assert that the father’s presence in the family plays a colossal role—especially for boys. It is no coincidence that there are more male than female sociopaths, and very many of them come from one-parent homes, or from homes where the father behaves destructively, giving the boy a bad example. Boys are in general more responsive to correct or incorrect upbringing, and therefore they more quickly develop deviational behavior under the influence of a bad example. But on the other hand, they are more easily corrected than girls.

—Can there be some kinds of inborn sociopathic tendencies in a child, or does it all depend upon upbringing?

—If we mean sociopathy, then it is all related to upbringing—that is, environmental influences. Psychopathy on the other hand refers to inborn tendencies. But incorrect upbringing also plays a formative role. If a child has a brain defect, a head trauma, suffered an infection, or has pressure in the skull, then bad upbringing will only make the problem worse. The preconditions must be treated, risk factors removed, and the parents should be educated.

—What kind of education?

—Parents of such children are often unable to create the right framework of behavior for them and involuntarily encourage the development of their pathology. Many underestimate the role of work around the home. They do not understand how important it is for the child’s harmonious development to put away their own toys, help mother clean the house and prepare food. They need to be given tasks they can handle and be held accountable for fulfilling them scrupulously, and not haphazardly. This inculcates a feeling of responsibility. Of course, we mustn’t deprive them of their childhood play, but it should not be the only source of their joy; they should also feel the joy of other successes, and not just from games. True, in pre-school years music, sports and art are also taught through games, but even here the child should be made to produce real results, and he shouldn’t be praised simply because he showed up at the class. In this process even the smallest successes should be encouraged because achieving something new has to come through the recognition of success and learning to handle failure. It should be explained to the child that failure is a natural thing, that everyone has failures, and he must not give up when he encounters them. Parents must discern their child’s talents and try to develop them. The child must also make an effort.

—You would think that these are just simple things, but in fact you could say that they are preventative medicine against sociopathy?

—Yes. Parents these days often forget about seemingly simple things, because the mass media and certain “experts” throw them off course. There should be social and medical centers created for parents who are having trouble raising difficult children. In these centers children are taught using special methods to make friends, cope with their fears and conflicts, and overcome difficulties.

—How should parents behave with teenagers?

—This is now one of the most complicated questions. The period of puberty passes relatively smoothly if the youngster has an interest in some productive activity. There used to be here many groups where psychologically deformed youngsters could receive outside help. They were set up to tackle social problems and not medical or psychological ones. But in fact, a parallel preventative treatment took place, and this often corrected sociopathy. Interesting activities like modeling airplanes, building radios, driving automobiles, camping, etc. distracted boys from aimlessly wandering the streets, helped them to form male qualities. There were many free sports teams, theatre studios, chess and other groups that children and teenagers gladly attended. When children have aims beyond their regular schoolwork, it usually helps them to avoid the threat of sociopathic personality formation. Creating such circles and promoting their participation in them can be a great help to youngsters as they pass through this rocky stage of growth.

—How would you advise women who have married and then suddenly realized that their husband is a sociopath? After all, the signs that you have mentioned—the tendency to oppress the weak, irritability, aversion to labor, computers or alcohol dependencies often manifest themselves after people are already living together, and not during courtship.

—It is best to try to discern these signs as soon as possible before marriage, and avoid binding your fate to such a person. There is no sense in fostering any illusions—it will be very hard to live with him. But if the final step has already been taken, you need to show wise patience and try to bring your husband out of this rut in which he found himself due to a wrong childhood upbringing. But this is only possible with great love; after all, we love people not for some reason, but just because we love them.

—Even against all reason.

—Yes. In this case we can hope for a gradual correction of personality deformation, because sociopathy is after all an acquired condition. That means that it can be corrected. But while showing patience and love, you mustn’t let the sociopath off the hook. A wife should not take all the responsibilities on herself, including earning money. To the contrary, it is absolutely necessary to place the sociopath before some higher tasks—not sky high, but according to his strength. To a certain extend she has to work with him as with a little child, encouraging him and praising his successes, helping him to cope with failures. By far not all women are able to handle this, because most want to see their husband as a strong support and not just another little child. Therefore it is much better to approach marriage seriously and not bind your life to a sociopath. These people with their lack of discipline, instability, capriciousness, stubbornness, and unconscious desire to always be number one can ruin the lives of his wife and their children.

—If I understand correctly, it is characteristic of the sociopath to not accept his own guilt, to be uncritical of himself. Women often say that their husbands do God only knows what at home, categorically refuse to seek help for their problem, and do not want to work out a normal family life.

—Yes, this is how they manifest that very lack of social intellect characteristic of a sociopath. If stricter social demands were made on such people, the number of sociopaths would noticeably decline. Only it is important that these demands be proper and not lead to his trying to support the family through immoral means, such as stealing.

Society has to be demanding of its citizens. But at the same time, it should help them to create conditions for honest work and a normal, moral life. For example, in our society there used to be voluntary but forced treatment centers that included labor. Despite what our current liberally inclined leaders now say about them, they gave good results.

—Some are now talking about introducing similar treatment for drug addicts.

—I hope to God it happens. Incidentally, drug addiction is often cured in monasteries and Orthodox communities, where there are strict requirements of discipline, labor, continence, and at the same time, a participation in true values, lofty goals, and real—not surrogate—spiritual joys. This is precisely what sociopaths need like they need air.

Tatiana Shishova spoke with Galina Kozlovskaya
Translation by OrthoChristian.com

15 мая 2012 г.

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