Aug 13, 2016

How can you tell if an apology is sincere? -Defining the sociopath

Well, I am in Nova Scotia now, here to collect my dog. I didn't think I would end up here, in all honesty.  After the harsh words and contact throughout the months of May-June, I believed I had been taken advantage of and was hurting.  Now I'm here, and Liam has been trying his best to make amends.  A lot of people in my life warned me to watch out for insincere apologies, or manipulation. Of course, I feel the need to protect myself, and I came here weary after the events that passed.
The last month or so I have been getting apologies via text, a couple of phone calls, some begging for forgiveness and whatnot. Of course I'm cynical, how could I not be?

I had believed to be in a relationship with a sociopath.  The technical term for a sociopath is a person with antisocial personality disorder, as outlined in the DSM-IV-TR. The term "sociopath" replaces the older term "psychopath" with which most people are familiar. This recognizes that their behavior causes distress to others (hence the prefix "socio") rather than causing psychological anguish, distortion, or confusion to themselves.  It IS NOT a physical illness or a mental illness, it isn't a defense in law. People with this disorder are not mentally ill or insane.
People with an antisocial personality disorder are possibly the closest there is to the concept of "evil" people. They are deceitful, exploitive, callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the rights and feelings of others (Donald Trump for example). The pattern of behavior can be so subtle and so hard to piece together that you can miss it. There is almost total ignorance in our community about sociopathic behavior. Most people find this behavior too hard to believe because it is so remote from how you can imagine yourself behaving. But it exists, and is probably more common than mot of us would like. Now, let's get one thing straight. Almost everyone in the world lives by sociopathic tendencies and/or has antisocial impulses:

  • cheating on your partner
  • not paying transit fair
  • honking or swearing in traffic
  • cutting in line
  • lying about who you really are to someone new
  • "borrowing" things forever
  • long distance calls on the work phone
  • cheating on taxes
  • telling white lies to cover our track or to avoid hurting someone
But mostly we curb these impulses and don't act on them. The capacity NOT to act on negative/destructive impulses is critical to a happy life, good relationships, and self-respect.  Occasionally, we DO act on our impulses, but we don't do much of it or do it often. Our conscience makes us too uncomfortable to continue lying, betraying, cheating, or stealing from others.  Our moral alarm goes off loudly. We recognize the need for a community to operate on the basis of trust, and we fear getting caught.
Above all, we recognize that our action is wrong, as it harms others. Our conscience is based on our ability to care about the feelings and rights of others as well as our own. This is why it's easier to lie on taxes than it is to steal from a friend. Empathy would make us uncomfortable because we wouldn't want it done to us. 
So someone isn't necessarily sociopathic if they have an affair, fudge the expense reports, or tell the occasional lie to protect themselves. These are antisocial and deceitful practices that have the POTENTIAL to hurt others, but they are within the normal range of behavior (as long as it's not a pattern). 
These are features of an antisocial personality disorder, based on the diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV-TR, and an individual need only show the 3 of the traits for a diagnosis to be made. Overall, their pattern is one of contempt for and violation of the rights of others:
  • breaking the law, even if they have not been found out or punished
  • being deceitful in that they either repeatedly lie, use aliases, or con others for personal profit or pleasure (for example; for sex, affection, money, or personal gain)
  • impulsive
  • irritable or aggressive and may frequently be involved in physical fights or assaults
  • show a reckless disregard for the safety of others, and sometimes of themselves
  • ongoing irresponsibility, for example, be out of work when they could find jobs, not honouring financial responsibilities (debts/bills), etc
  • lack remore, are indifferent to or rationalize having urt, lied to, mistreated, or stolen from another.
  • little or no guilt or shame about their actions.
Typical behaviors of commiting antisocial acts, behaviors that the society in which we live condemns. 

  • directly unlawful behavior such as theft. Either subtle such as fraud or shoplifting, to more obvious such as armed robbery or embezzlement
  • chronic lying to a range of people
  • acting dishonestly withing a "system" in ways that are less obviously unlawful but gain them advantage, for example; claiming bogus experience in an interview, using contacts to gain entry into a position without the necessary requirements
  • forging signatures or documents (pretending to be someone else)
  • lying and using people dishonestly in relationships
  • serial infidelity
  • assault, which can range from bullying and intimidation to grievous bodily harm or murder with torture (but only SOME sociopaths are violent, not all)
  • sacrifice others to get what he wants, using others as a means to an end
  • demonstrates very little empathy, that is, recognition and concerns for the rights and feeling of others.
  • depersonalizes those he hurts, unable to feel genuine distress or concern for them as people, and afterwards rationalizes his dishonesty and the harm he has inflicted on others ("they asked for it", "why didn't they see it coming", "it was their own fault", "they threw themselves at me", "everyone does it")
  • doesn't experience much guilt, shame, or remorse (unless it will be useful to him to claim that he does feel them.) **** THIS IS THE TRICKY PART!!!! WATCH OUT FOR INSINCERITY****
  • quick to blame others rather than accept responsibility. when he is caught, likely to turn the blame on the people who have caught him.
  • poor impulse control
  • living on the edge, thrill seeker, usually involving antisocial behavior or exploitation of others
  • THEY ARE NOT INSANE. fully aware of what they're doing, knowing that it's wrong, but does it anyway.
  • often irritable, inclined to throw temper tantrums when thwarted
There are two types of sociopathic behavior patterns. Unsuccessful, and successful sociopaths.
The unsuccessful have very few skills/attitudes that allow them to be successful in society on their own merit and hard work. They lack skills and adaptive characteristics to enable them to become successful in society through honest effort, and they mostly get caught. They are either the irresponsible lawbreaker or someone who is sadistic and violent.  (ex: drunk driving or DUI's, harmful sexual behavior, not paying rent, leaving their children/not paying child support, absences from work, not bothering to find work/living on the system, stealing, drugs/alcohol abuse, multiple kids with multiple partners but not paying child support, usually repeat offenders. Violent being abusive, bullying, tortures animals, history of physical assault, etc)
The successful sociopaths are not "social losers" and usually do not have a pattern of violence.  They are cunning, clever, and have no moral principles. There are 2 main kinds of successful: the con artist, and the chameleon. The con artist successfully pretends for a short time to be something they're not, and after scamming their victims, disappear. (common scams are; bogus qualifications/credentials, overcharging old or naive people, selling products/services that don't exist, "Nigerian scams", get rich quick schemes, romancing lonely or vulnerable to get their money, stealing property and disappearing without paying rent, embezzling or stealing from employers after working hard to gain their trust). The chameleon changes to fit in the background they're in. May be just sociopathic but more commonly have a combination of antisocial personality disorder.  (ex: also have narcissistic behavior disorder). Can be described as arrogant and shows a need for adoration/admiration, fragile self-esteem, preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. The chameleons are completely egocentric and are ruthless. They prey on vulnerable people and exploit them for profit or pleasure. They will often be philanderers openly but unknown to their partner. They usually are mentally abusive, convincing their prey that they are going insane. Multiple partners are romanced and each is convinced the relationship is exclusive. Their process of lying and strategic manipulation gives them pleasure and a sense of power. They are very socially skilled and excellent liars.

WHY DO THEY DO IT?  Research is inconclusive, but most plausible explanations are the interaction of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors.
They show a greater than normal preponderance of EEG slow waves in their brain and, consequently, emotional situations may have less impact on them. Many seem to have higher levels of the "thrill-seeking" gene D4DR-7, and sometimes lower in dopamine.  Many are chronically under-aroused, have a presence of ADHD, and have higher rates of alcoholism.
There is often a history of abandonment or neglect, inconsistent parental discapline, lack of bonding with the parents, abuse from caregivers, witnessing of violent acts/criminal behavior, etc. (a postwar study of Nazi SS officers demonstrated that most had already displayed such antisocial tendencies before the war. These tendencies present at an early age allowed them to easily commit murders and their behavior was sanctioned and encouraged by their training and the command structure.)

Sociopathy cannot be cured. Usually a sociopath seeks treatment only in the middle of a legal crisis and then pressures the therapist to help them get the outcome they want, not actually modifying their behavior.  They fear intimacy, want control, cannot accept criticism, and believe (mostly) that nothing is wrong with what they do and that the problem belongs with others. This makes them a poor candidate for counseling and therapy. Those who display mild sociopathic tendencies may have some chance of changing IF THEY VOLUNTARILY SEEK COUNSELING for their behavior pattern.  Preparedness to seek help because of expressed remorse about harming others is a good sign.

Now let's talk about you! The reason they get away with it is because people are more trusting than they realize. People don't believe it when they see it. You lower your guard, and most people don't realize what has happened to them. No one person has the full picture... and others will cover for them.
Ways to protect yourself are these:  DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF. The sociopath WILL NOT CHANGE. They make promises, and will do ANYTHING to protect themselves or get what they want. Don't be fooled!  CHECK if you suspect, if you identify a possible pattern. Collect facts and keep records. Don't be hard on yourself if you get conned, few people can see through a sociopath.  Consider leaving the relationship/situation in the workplace.  Don't stop trusting people, but protect yourself! Be wary.  Change what you can, and change your thinking. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

I suggest starting by purchasing the book "Difficult personalities" by Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards. It's a very very informative book and most of the information I've posted above is quoted from this book.

Now that you have some of the facts, let me tell you my story.

As I previously posted, I was in a relationship that turned sour. Looking back on the patterns and the outcome I concluded that I was in a relationship with a sociopath, and had been conned.  When I found out, he had his temper tantrum and lashed out at me, making it "my fault" as identified in the information about sociopaths.  After about 2 months, I started to receive apologies.  I had to be wary, of COURSE, so I mostly ignored them.
I decided to keep the peace mostly because I wanted my dog back.
The apologies were consistent, and I just kept my mouth shut.  I tried to figure out what I could do to authenticate them.  How do you know if a sociopath is apologizing sincerely? THEY DON'T. However, looking at the details of antisocial behavior, my situation didn't quite fit the mold.
He is definitely a result of his environment. He is kind, thoughtful, and generous, even without personal gain. A lot of his behaviors were antisocial, however. In his past he'd been known to change his identity (multiple times), he had a string of old social media accounts that every year or two he would discard for the next. Usually as a result of lies being discovered and him being called out.  His temper was short, his lies were non-stop, and it presented itself as an uncontrollable "tick" that he couldn't stop, even though he claimed he wanted to.
Towards the end of the relationship, he began to tell stories about me to his colleagues, family, and friends, making me out to be toxic, and literally flipping things around 180 degrees accusing me of lying, infidelity, using him for personal gain, etc. The stories were so outrageous, but everyone believed them. And for him, this was reinsuring that his stories were valid, he was validated, and his response was justified.  Of course, this kind of damage is irreparable. But he's come to me now asking for an opportunity to make amends.
How can I start?
I decided for my apology, I wanted to see his ability to empathize. Because, well, words are just words. IDGAF that you're sorry. DOES NOT FIX THINGS! I want to see ACTIONS.  I came to collect my dog and I decided to save a file composing ALL email communications between us that were hurtful...  I also saved all the text message communications from him during the time prior to and post our relationship (for about 2 weeks).
I told him that I would hear what he had to say... and it was brief, and pretty much what he'd been trying to say via text message (which I think is the worst form of communication, btw). Basically this: "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I acted out of anger and it was wrong. I want to make it up to you. I'll do anything to fix this. Please tell me what I can do. I want you in my life." to sum it up.
How can you fix something that has been so deeply shattered? Fact: once trust is broken, especially repeatedly, you cannot have it back. Trust is something that takes a long time to gain and a moment to lose. This is just the way it is.  Also, when you disrespect someone you love, what's stopping you from doing it again?  I am wary, I am skeptical. Of course I am.
I requested that he took my emails, we sat down face to face after he got what he wanted out on the table, and I asked him to read me TO MY FACE every single word he wrote hiding behind his phone. He was teary eyed during the entire ordeal, and each sentence that called me a "bitch" or a "whore" he choked and couldn't spit the words out. I held his face to mind, told him to look me in the eye, and repeat each hurtful phrase.  It took quite a while to get through it all, but we did.  There it is, there is the empathy. The shame. The regret.  Does this mean the apology is sincere?
His side of the story: His fear and insecurities built up so strongly that he lashed out in the end.  He was scared, angry, and believed stories he heard.  Still doesn't make it right, he knows, but he is sorry and wants to fix things.  He has been seeeing a psychologist twice a week, working on his own issues.  His transition is 2 years in, and though he's making great progress, he has a lot of work to do.
Now looking at the "can you cure a sociopath" facts: IF ONE SEEKS HELP OF THEIR OWN ACCORD AND NOT FOR PERSONAL PROFIT OR GAIN, THIS IS A GOOD SIGN!!!  I didn't ask him to do this, it was a personal choice. He has been playing along with my requests, willing to own up to his actions. Willing to tell the truth to the world, which will cause him personal grief and this is definitely not normal for antisocial behavior.
Now it's just a matter of time, waiting to see whether or not he follows through.

I got my apology. I have forgiven him. But I have not forgotten. Will it ever be fixed? No, probably not. Will we ever be in a relationship in the future? I can't say yes or no to that. I only know that through all this, I have learned that I am no longer willing to give second chances. I will not tolerate lies, deceipt, disloyalty, or disrespect, EVER AGAIN.  I am going to continue to live my own life, with the plans I have made. And maybe one day down the road, he will heal and grow into a beautiful human being.
I only know one thing: I truly believe he will never hurt anyone again, like he hurt me.  That's my gift to the world, and perhaps his saving grace.

I hope he finds happiness in what he does.

And I am so happy, I have my baby back.