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Why is it Cool to Think You're a Sociopath?
What is a Sociopath?
A sociopath is someone who is morally deficient, anti-social, and bereft of a tolerable conscience. They experience limited emotions, but completely lack remorse, guilt, sympathy, and empathy. They also respond to perceived slights with disproportionate retaliation, making them likely to descend into violent criminal behavior. However, it's quite possible for a sociopath to resort only to psychological harm. For example, sociopaths will often exhibit selfishness, intransigence, pathological lying, and other manipulative or controlling behavior.
Differences Between Sociopaths and Psychopaths
Sociopaths differ from psychopaths in a number of ways. While psychopaths have a biological or genetic cause for their disorder, sociopaths are a product of early social or environmental factors. These factors might include childhood abuse, a traumatic event, inattentive parents, or anything that could result in a child shutting down emotionally.
Do you think you're a sociopath?
As a result, sociopaths are likely to have developed several other traits that make them easy to identify. They commonly exhibit abnormal social behavior, including an inability to conform to social norms, unusual responses to the actions or emotions of others, difficulty forming relationships, and a tendency to withdraw from society.
While sociopaths find it difficult to understand or mimic the emotions of others, psychopaths are experts at appearing normal. They've adapted to their biological deficiencies by accurately faking the things they lack. Given that their mask offers better protection from the authorities, psychopaths are more likely than sociopaths to engage in criminal activity. Psychopaths also tend to lack fear, while sociopaths are merely suppressing their fear.
Why is it Cool to be a Sociopath?
As sociopaths are less likely than psychopaths to be criminals, and they're a social product rather than a genetic aberration, some people seem quite content with thinking of themselves as sociopaths. Many are definitely not sociopaths, but they like the idea of being one.
The remainder of this article will be a conjectural look at why this attitude is becoming prevalent. A number of psychological traits and cultural happenstances will be identified in an attempt to explain why people think it’s cool to be a sociopath.
1. The Sherlock Effect
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character that exhibits a number of admirable qualities, including genius-like intelligence, a desire to catch criminals, class, sophistication, loyalty to friends, and a kind of helpless innocence in social situations. Many viewers will either relate to some of these traits, or wish them for themselves. This desire to be like Sherlock Holmes is called the `Sherlock effect'.
Unfortunately, the character also describes himself as a `high-functioning sociopath' (see video below). Thus, Sherlock's role-model status results in many viewers also wanting to think they're sociopaths.
The Sherlock effect extends to other fictional dramas too. For example, Dexter was a TV show in which a sociopath channeled his impulses into killing criminals. He exhibited admirable qualities, such as meticulousness, professionalism, loyalty to his family, bravery, and a code of conduct. He was also good-looking, intelligent, and `cool'. His monologues during the show allowed viewers to get to know the character and his struggle with sociopathy.
Hannibal Lecter is certainly a less appealing role model, though, much like Sherlock, he also exhibited class, culture, and sophistication. Dexter and Hannibal added to their list of admirable qualities by helping the authorities catch criminals. They also showed remarkable sagacity to evade the authorities themselves. This `catch me if you can' mentality is quite appealing to the viewer, and often leads to a desire for the sociopath to evade capture indefinitely.
Sherlock Holmes: A High-Functioning Sociopath
2. Wanting to be Feared
Sociopaths are seen as extremely threatening and dangerous rather than indiscriminately violent. They only use violence when it's necessary, but when they do, it's horrendously brutal and calculated. Compared with psychopaths, sociopaths are attributed with a greater level of control over their impulses.
For this reason, people like to think they're sociopaths because of the "don't mess with me" veneer that comes with it. They want to appear restrained, but with a penchant for viciously smiting those who cross them. Thus, people call themselves sociopaths to deter others from doing them harm.
Like an aposematic frog or lizard, it is a defense mechanism that deceives attackers into not attacking. One must be highly sensitive or intolerant of abuse to employ such measures. Therefore, this reason for wanting to be a sociopath may be due to hypersensitivity or a history of being bullied.
Heed my Furious Anger!
3. Wanting to be Unique
Many people struggle to establish an identity that sets them apart from the crowd. Some search for an interesting religious or spiritual affiliation, such as Paganism or Scientology. Others adopt a rare political position, an unusual dress-sense, a bizarre hobby, or a quirky personality. The goal is to appear special, unique, and often, controversial.
This may be why some people like to think of themselves as sociopaths. A sociopath is a notoriously well known, yet extremely rare classification.
However, saying you're a sociopath isn't likely to go down well with your friends. While some people want others to think of them as a bit `crazy' or wild, this may be a step too far. Thus, this reason for wanting to be a sociopath likely stems from intrinsic rather than extrinsic insecurities about identity.
Hannibal Lecter: The Sophisticated Sociopath
4. Wanting Emotional Control
Emotional people are seen as vulnerable to coercion. Their tendency to `show their hand' is a weakness that manipulators can take advantage of. As sociopaths lack emotion, they're seen as invulnerable. This is an attractive trait for anyone whose extroverted emotions have gotten them into trouble in the past.
Essentially, people want to think they're in control. They want to be the manipulator, not a victim of manipulation. Sherlock Holmes, Dexter, and Hannibal Lecter are all exaggerated examples of sociopaths who are arch-manipulators.
The power and control exhibited by fictional sociopaths is not only attractive to people who lack these traits, but also to those who already display less emotion. For example, some people may want to explain and justify their outward coldness, exaggerate it, and brand it as an advantage.
Are Cool Sociopaths a Problem?
If people are reading this and thinking `society is going down the drain', then don't worry. If someone isn't a sociopath, there's nothing wrong with them thinking they are. They're probably just prone to some of the psychological traits or cultural trends described above.
Sociopathy is a serious disorder, so thinking you're a sociopath won't make you behave like one. As such, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with cool sociopaths appearing on our TV screens.
In summary, if you think you're a sociopath, it's probably because you've watched too much Sherlock or Dexter. Otherwise, it may be due to common psychological traits, such as wanting to be unique, feared, or emotionally bulletproof. Of course, there's always a chance that you are a sociopath. So, if none of these explanations describe you, I'd recommend seeing a psychiatrist!
© 2014 Thomas Swan