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Guest Post: What’s the Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath?

"Where are we on this Jihad?"

--Bill Gates



Summary: A look at the phenomenon where people without compassion climb the 'career ladder' and hold on tightly to positions of great power

Here at Techrights we often have to deal with companies run by sociopaths. It's a lot easier to understand the corporate policies, e.g. of Microsoft, when one finally recognises that not ordinary people run things. Microsoft executive Brad Silverberg once wrote: "look what znix is doing! cut those fuckers off" (context here) and we can think of many others whose attitudinal problem is irreparable. There are other, equally rude rants from him and Bill Gates is not much better (privately, as eyewitnesses tell, he also bullies people and uses the "F" word).

Here is a quote taken from a relevant page composed last year:



The recent economic slowdown and transitions that companies are going through are creating a favorable environment for corporate psychopaths. This was just one of the issues raised by Dr. Paul Babiak at the Aftermath Foundation’s Web Conversation on May 19, 2015.

In his talk, Dr. Babiak, a leading industrial and organizational psychologist and co-author of ‘Snakes in Suits – When Psychopaths Go to Work,’ provided an overview of the modern-day corporate psychopath. They look and dress the same way as most business people, are charming, persuasive, charismatic, often fun to be around and, at first glance, seem to demonstrate strong leadership skills.

In reality, however, they are unable to build teams, have no respect for individuals, lack integrity and wisdom, and are only interested in their own success – not the company’s. The long-term damage to companies from psychopathic employees includes low morale, ill-informed decision-making, increased risk and reduced productivity.
 

A reader sent us an article which we thought is worth sharing, no matter who it can apply to.




 

What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

Some of these people rise to astonishing heights, but in the process they cause enormous damage. They can poison the workplace, putting the health of both their companies and staff at risk… …They are highly manipulative, discrediting others around them, deflecting the issue at hand when confronted. They will threaten and distort the facts, all the while presenting themselves as helpful and or working ‘for the good of the company’. They are very talented at hiding their true motives, while making others look incompetent, uncooperative, or self-serving. The only thing that counts for these people is to win. They prey on people’s emotional vulnerabilities.

Harvard Business Review “Is your boss a psychopath?” by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, 201

This is the result of some desk research into the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. We are not medical experts, so please read what we write with that in mind.

What do psychopaths and sociopaths have in common?

Until recently, many people used the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” interchangeably. Both denote an individual who can be cold, manipulative, at times charming, and kind of emotionless. They both suffer from something called Antisocial Personality Disorder (APS). Neither experience shame or guilt. They can be highly intelligent and have excellent people skills. They are frequently charismatic, even beguiling. They can be great speakers. However, they exaggerate what they’re saying, and distort the truth if it’s to their benefit to do so. They are comfortable with lying, if it helps them achieve their goals.

As the name of the disorder – Antisocial Personality Disorder – implies, these people are not a good fit with our society. They don’t share the values or principles of the majority of us. They don’t even share our respect for the law. They are quite simply anti-social. They are so different from us that we fail to understand them. We can’t work out how they function, what their triggers are. They don’t play according to the rules, and we do. Therefore, inevitably, we – and society – lose, if we fail to get a psychopath or sociopath under control.

What are the main differences between psychopaths and sociopaths?

The definition of a sociopath is still evolving. If you do your own research on the internet, you have to check the date of the information you retrieve. The more recent the information is, the bigger the difference you will find between psychopaths and sociopaths.

Current thinking highlights that psychopaths are generally very intelligent, often being the holders of university degrees, while sociopaths frequently have poor academic qualifications and are generally not considered as intelligent. Psychopathy, some say, is a condition present at birth, the product of genetics. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is a consequence of a person’s upbringing; sociopaths often have a pattern of abuse in their childhood.

Psychopaths basically have no feelings and no conscience. Without conscience, they lack an inner voice which could help them to control their behaviour in the absence of external controls:

Without the shackles of a nagging conscience, they feel free to satisfy their needs and wants and do whatever they think they can get away with.

Robert D. Hare, “Without Conscience”, chapter “Internal Controls: The Missing Piece”, 1999

Psychopaths don’t have a sense of right and wrong. They make their own rules and see themselves as above the law. They don’t grieve and feel neither guilt nor shame, nor remorse. They have no problem victimising people and will enthusiastically improve their own position at somebody else’s expense. Since psychopaths don’t feel fear, they are able to take extreme risks without worrying about them. They can be impulsive and act without thinking through the potential consequences.

Psychopaths never surrender – they will always viciously defend their position, lying to discredit anyone who disagrees with them. They are sure that they are never wrong. Because they are never wrong, they never apologise. They show no empathy, because they feel none. And they don’t understand that other people have rights. Challenge them at your peril, for they will use all their charisma and communication skills to make you look stupid.

Psychopaths are dangerous. They’re violent and cruel, and oftentimes downright sinister. They show no remorse for their actions, usually because of a lesion on a part of their brain responsible for fear and judgment, known as the amygdala. Psychopaths commit crimes in cold blood. They crave control and impulsivity, possess a predatory instinct, and attack proactively rather than as a reaction to confrontation …

Medical Daily “What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

(Not much, but one might kill you.)” by Chris Weller, 20141

Psychopaths often feel pleasure when they see others hurt – brain scans on prison inmates diagnosed as psychopaths have shown that the pleasure centres of the brain light up when the inmate sees images of someone in pain.

Contrary to psychopaths, sociopaths do understand right from wrong, but their definition of “right” can differ wildly from our own. One source cites Anders Breivik as a typical sociopath. It was clear in his mind that he was doing something that was “right” when he committed his atrocities in Norway in 2011.2

Sociopaths cannot reciprocate love. They take it and feed off it, but don’t give anything back. They put themselves and their own needs first. To get what they want, they do something called “sociopathic mirroring”. Basically, they simply imitate you and behave the way you do. You value them for this, because you like yourself, and so you like them. Psychopaths also trick you into thinking they share a common bond with you. They don’t. They are emotionally empty, but have the charm and intelligence to make you believe the opposite.

Sociopaths are prone to nervousness, distress and rage. Their deeds are typically sloppy rather than meticulously premeditated and planned. Deeds perpetrated by psychopaths, on the other hand, are often well-planned, and that makes it difficult to catch them out.

In his article in Medical Daily, cited above, Chris Weller concludes: “Psychopaths are fearless; sociopaths aren’t. Psychopaths don’t have a sense of right and wrong; sociopaths do. But both are equally capable of ruining lives and destroying relationships — not that they care.”

When the boss is a psychopath or a sociopath

Psychopaths are attracted by power, and they have the ruthlessness to make it to a high level in companies and organisations. Statistics vary, but there seems to be consensus that while about 1% of the population in general are psychopathic, the figure is much higher among executives. Psychology Today, for example, puts it at about 4%.3

Positions of authority give psychopaths the environment they thrive on. They can bully, manipulate and lie with little danger of negative consequences. With only their own interests at heart, they wreak havoc, causing damage to an organisation and its staff. They destroy wherever they go, and even have fun while they do it.

One of the biggest problems in dealing with psychopaths in the workplace is in recognising them as such. Their charisma and their willingness to lie mean that they are very convincing. People in a position to do something about a psychopath frequently fail to see the problem. They believe the lies. All the evidence in front of them is saying that the problem is with the people who are complaining, not with the person complained about. It can take years for the truth to come out, and sometimes it never does.

For many dealing with a true psychopath can be a deeply harmful experience. In addition to the emotional pain and anxiety they cause, if you stand up to them they may also do their best to destroy you – character assassination through lies and threats is a trademark.

The Independent, “Help! My boss is a psychopath”, by Xanthe Mallett, 20154€ 

World of Psychology suggests there are six things to look out for if you’re worried you might be working for a psychopath.5 If your boss is:



then he could be a psychopath.

Psychopathy is generally considered incurable and untreatable. Harvard Business Review hints that prevention is the best approach, that organisations should put mechanisms in place to stop psychopaths reaching positions of authority. For example, there should be a test already at the recruitment stage for signs of antisocial personality disorders. And there should be channels for sounding the alarm bells: “First, make it easy for rank-and-file workers to express concerns about colleagues. Have an ombudsman or an anonymous tip line.”

Solche Leute darf man nicht decken oder schützen, und man sollte schon gar nicht auf Einsicht und Umkehr hoffen. Solche Leute kann man nur feuern. Ganz emotionslos.”



Spiegel Online “Zeitbomben mit Schlips”, by Heiner Thorborg, 20156,7
________________________

1 http://www.medicaldaily.com/whats-difference-between-sociopath-and-psychopath-not-much-one-might-kill-you-270694

7 Translation: “You must not cover for or protect people like this, and you certainly shouldn’t hope for them to show any understanding or to change. The only option is to fire them – without emotion.”



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