Sociopaths and their Deceptions
© 2018 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Sociopaths, also known as those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), are some of the most dangerous and deceptive people you will ever know. Yet they also can be some of the most charming. That’s why they are often known as “con artists.” In this article I will give some of the basics of understanding sociopaths, including how they may deceive people in legal disputes.
People with ASPD make up 3-4% of the adult population, with men representing about 75% of those with this disorder, according to the DSM-5. (American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.) While many are criminals with a pattern of antisocial behavior that gets them put in prison, there are many others who are in all walks of life with no criminal record at all. They may be CEO’s of businesses, investors on Wall Street, politicians; or mafia bosses, drug dealers and petty thieves who haven’t been caught yet.
Drive for Dominance
The theme for this disorder is dominance. They want to dominate people to get things from them: money, investments, cars, houses, sex, access to other people, their reputations; and power and control over other people just for the sake of it. In the process, they often violate the law and/or harm other people. Some may enjoy harming other people, while others just don’t care about others who might be in the way as they get what they want.
Many people consider sociopaths as similar to young children, who just want what they want and they want it now! They are generally impatient, seek excitement and are known for extreme risk-taking behavior.
They can be very irresponsible in terms of business deals which they don’t honor (and never intended to). They may frequently have traffic violations and try to get away with them (such as not paying traffic tickets or driving without a valid license). In families they often don’t work regularly and fail to pay their debts, including child support. “They may neglect or fail to care for a child in a way that puts the child in danger.” (DSM-5, p. 660.)
Lack of Empathy and Remorse
One of the most frightening things about this personality is that they lack empathy for others and lack remorse for their harmful deeds. They are very comfortable lying to people and taking advantage of them. For these reasons, they can be ruthless in their pursuit of whatever it is they want.
Also, for these reasons they can sound very credible and are often taken seriously when they are really lying and conning. People need to seek corroborating evidence before totally accepting what they say.
Compared to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
Narcissistic personality disorder is perhaps the most popular personality to talk about these days, and there are many people with this disorder (about 6% according to the DSM-5). There are a lot of similarities between NPD and ASPD, including self-centeredness, charm and lack of empathy. “However, narcissistic personality disorder does not include characteristics of impulsivity, aggression and deceit.” (DSM-5, p. 662.) Therefore, constant lying would tend to indicate a sociopath rather than a narcissist. However, there are some people with both personality disorders, which is sometimes call malignant narcissism. This combination can be particularly vicious and dangerous.
Involvement in Legal Disputes
Because of their antisocial behavior, sociopaths are often involved in criminal activity. But they can also be involved in civil lawsuits because of fraudulent business deals, failure to pay debts, theft or damage to property. They also appear in family law and probate/estate matters.
Bernie Madoff is one of the most infamous business leaders who was found guilty of bilking billions of dollars out of people to fund his extravagant lifestyle. He was never caught—he turned himself in when his scheme was about to fall apart after decades of deception. His family was devastated and truly appeared not to know about where the money came from. His wife no longer talks to him and one of his sons committed suicide. This deception is not surprising, given that people with this personality generally trust no one and put up a fake image to everyone around them—even their spouses and children.
There are now many stories of ASPDs marrying ailing elderly wealthy people in order to get access to their estates when the person is alive and control of their estates when the person dies.
Sociopaths in Family Law Cases
Sociopaths can be very physically abusive in families, whether of the spouse and/or the children. Their partner may seek a restraining order against the abusive person. However, it’s not unusual for the abusive partner to be more persuasive in court, because they have a lifetime’s experience blaming and lying about other’s behavior. Their victims are often very distraught and disorganized in presenting their concerns and therefore not believed, even though they are telling the truth.
On the other hand, since sociopaths can be such con artists, they have a pattern of falsely claiming to be the victim of their spouse when they are not. This is very confusing in family courts, as concerns of abuse are very common these days and taken very seriously. Sociopaths are skilled at making credible-sounding false allegations against their spouses. In many cases, family law professionals (lawyers, counselors, mediators and judges) immediately believe the antisocial person and quickly tell their spouse to stop taking advantage of them and may make rulings against them based solely on the antisocial person’s story.
Three Theories of the Case
In order to limit the success of antisocial personalities in court, one must consider that there are at least three theories of any case involving allegations of bad behavior by the other party:
Theory A: The person with the alleged bad behavior is truly acting badly.
Theory B: The person making the allegations is acting badly and the other is not acting badly at all.
Theory C: Both people are acting badly.
Since sociopaths are so skilled at lying and conning, making false allegations in family court may be quite common, but many professionals may not realize it. Since it took years for concerns about domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse and alienation to get much attention, it is now hard for many professionals to accept the possibility of false allegations, or know what to look for.
In short, one must be alert to the existence of sociopaths in our society and to their ability to fool almost everyone. They appear more commonly in legal disputes than most people realize, including legal professionals. In cases of conflicting accounts of events, especially abusive behavior, one must have a very open mind to the possibility that an allegation may be totally true, totally false or a combination of both—and that the person who is making such allegations may be a sociopath.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.