The most common understanding of a sociopath is; “A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Probably the most widely recognized personality disorder. A sociopath is often well liked because of their charm and high charisma, but they do not usually care about other people. They think mainly of themselves and often blame others for the things that they do. They have a complete disregard for rules and lie constantly. They seldom feel guilt or learn from punishments.”
The above statement which was taken from the popular reveals the current and most common viewpoint of what a sociopath is. However, there is a great deal of confusion and a tendency to use it as a catch-all term for any kind of anti-social behavior.
It’s interesting to note that the majority of searches on Google concerning the term “sociopath” seem to revolve around trying to assess whether or not an individual (a child, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister or other intimate acquaintance) is a sociopath. Here is a sampling of actual search phrases that people are using:
- characteristics of a sociopath
- list of character traits of sociopaths
- sociopath profile
- cure for sociopath
- relationship with a sociopath
- i married a sociopath
- married a sociopath
- how to identify a sociopath
- in love with a sociopath
- child sociopath
The above search terms also reveal the desperation people have about the dysfunctions they find in others they are in relationship with. The problem is that all too often when someone we know; appears to be charismatic yet does not seem to care about our wants and needs, we may be quick to question if that person may be a sociopath.
It could be that a person who seemingly thinks only of themselves is simply exhibiting some narcissistic trait. Perhaps someone who demands attention and exaggerates their emotions has what’s known as Histrionic Personality Disorder. Or perhaps a person who shirks their responsibilities and blames others may simply be suffering from Responsibility Deficit Disorder.
Understand that we are not attempting to excuse or minimize the damaging effects that these people have on others around them but rather we are trying to open up your mind to another possibility.
Could it be, that most of the people we find extremely challenging and difficult to deal with are simply just extroverts in the purest sense?
The Confusion Over Extroversion
The first step is to accurately define extroversion as well as introversion. Unfortunately, pop-psychology has spun their own interpretation of Carl Jung’s extroversion and introversion notions to the point where an extrovert is now known as one possessing an “expressive and socially outgoing attitude” and an Introvert as one possessing a “reserved and socially seclusive attitude”. This has become a very pervasive and commonly held (albeit incorrect) definition of extroversion and introversion.
This wrong interpretation has also led to another unfortunate consequence namely, the idea that being extroverted is what everyone should try to be. The connotation is that extroverts are fun to be around, get things done, open doors of opportunities for themselves and others and are the movers and shakers of our society. Whereas, if you’re an introvert, well you should probably take a class or two to learn to come out of your shell because the whole world is passing you by.
This isn’t trivial. Since this incorrect understanding exists, is pervasive and because personality tests for employment are based on it, a person can find themselves passed over for a job they were perfectly suited for, given the wrong advice by a counselor, advisor or coach or even pursue an entirely wrong career path.
The Correct Definition of Extroversion and Introversion
Carl Jung defines the notions of extroversion and introversion simply as; “how we relate to the external world”.
Introverts prefer the internal criteria for assessing reality. They internalize the external world by weighing things against their own internal gauge and are preoccupied with promoting their own internal “well-being”. Being socially seclusive, shy or reserved has nothing to do with an introverted state of expression.
Extroverts prefer the external criteria for assessing reality. They take the external world at face value since they have no natural internal gauge. They are preoccupied with promoting their own external “well-being”. Being socially outgoing, gregarious or talkative has nothing to do with an extroverted state of expression.
To illustrate the difference between the two, sit an extrovert and an introvert down in a room and tell them both: “You did a great job!” what takes place next are two distinct reactions.
The extrovert will likely take it as “the truth” and walk away with a truly validated sense of competency knowing they did a great job.
The introvert however will walk away pondering and weighing the statement against their own internal yard-stick and may question your reason for making the statement such as: “Did I really do a good job? Are they just saying that to be nice?”
Contrary to popular belief, an extrovert is not simply a person who is friendly and outgoing.
In its simplest form, an extrovert is a person whose energy is drained by being alone and is re-energized by being with other people.
Extroverts tend to become easily bored when there is no one around. Given a choice, they would rather talk with someone, even a stranger rather than sit and be alone with their own thoughts for hours. They are extrospective and are stimulated by their outside environment namely by interacting with other people.
Extroverts have no natural internal gauge of empathy and are incapable of seeing reality from the position of another person. Thus, they can trample on the feelings of others with no forthcoming apology. That is, provided this “trampling” occurred within the confines of a socially agreed upon system, with socially known rules, regulations, procedures or laws.
These established systems and rules are necessary in order for the extrovert to have a sense of security and are used by them as an artificial gauge by which they can determine what to do or not to do in various circumstances.
Extroverts believe what has been presented to them as fact must be true. In moments of anger or frustration they have no problem in revealing private information they believe to be true simply to make a point or to win an argument.
When it comes to intimacy their non-empathetic nature can be a source of frustration since they can’t easily “read” others. They cannot feel the moment and connect with it. For them much of life is a sort of game with specific rules for specific situations where a deeper sense of connection with humanity is beyond their grasp.
Misunderstanding the Extrovert
Extroverts tend to over process what they are about to say which enables them to bypass emotion and remain objective which in turn can be interpreted by others as withholding. This over processing can also stop them from accurately conveying their true emotional state resulting in further misunderstandings.
Additionally, because of this over processing they make what they feel is the best decisions for all involved in the moment therefore they often do not feel shameful or guilty over too many things which can have negative consequences for their relationships.
When extroverts do finally speak their mind and let their emotions loose it is a veritable explosion. It is as if the dam just broke and all that has been suppressed over hours, days, weeks, months or years flows over. This ”dam” is a self-imposed psychological boundary the extrovert has interpreted from what they feel society or culture says is and is not an acceptable way of expressing ones emotions. However, the bursting of the dam is a moment of intense emotionality which is necessary for their psyche to come into balance. To an outside observer the extrovert has just lost control and is exhibiting borderline pathological symptoms.
The Importance of the Extrovert
Extroverts are essential for our community. They have the capacity to hide their inner feelings until the time is appropriate. Extroverts excel as surgeons, lawyers, ER nurses, airline pilots, police, soldiers or any other positions of intense responsibility or authority, where any immediate emotional reaction would be a liability.
For example, a police officer must be able to detach themselves from fear in order to follow through with what needs to be done in the moment. It is not that the officer is unaware of fear but rather their natural disposition and objectivity enables them to be detached in the moment. However, after the intense situation is over they will typically be openly expressive about it.
Now imagine if your husband, wife or significant other exhibited the same lack of emotional display in the middle of discussing something emotionally significant or intense for you? In that moment, you may find yourself pondering the idea of whether or not they might be a “sociopath”.
Contrary to popular belief an introvert is not simply a person who is either shy, withdrawn or anti-social.
In fact, being shy has very little to do with being introverted. Shyness carries an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety with it that both introverts or extroverts can suffer from.
In its simplest form, an introvert is a person whose energy is drained by being around other people and is re-energized by being alone.
Introverts are concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking and exploring their thoughts and feelings. An introvert may have good social skills, may enjoy and seek out frequent association with friends and family but after being with people for any length of time they need time alone to “recharge.” They are introspective and are stimulated by their inside environment namely by their feelings and the meaning and understanding those feelings provide.
Often an introvert’s topic of conversation revolves around ideas and their deeper meaning and not what they might consider to be trivial, shallow or small talk.
Misunderstanding the Introvert
When introvert’s want to be alone, this is not by itself, a sign of sadness, depression or anti-social behavior. Generally, it simply means that they need some time to be alone with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they really like and are extremely comfortable with, can prevent them from the necessity of being quietly introspective.
Introversion and a lack of being assertive are not connected. Introverts use their energy of moral standing to direct and generate results. Often they are the “movers” and “shakers” in society since they are very well connected and in touch with their passions.
Since Introvert internalizes the external world they are not likely to become police officers or EMTs. Their emotions are just too deeply attached to the external environment. For them, reality comes at them with intense emotional interpretation that a policeman or EMT cannot afford to express in the moment of handling an emergency.
The Importance of the Introvert
Introverts are essential for our community. They are our inventors, creators, innovators and writers which contribute to our overall social philosophy of life. They sympathize as well as empathize with others in such a way as to elevate our life experience. They live a very full life connecting and relating to others. Generally speaking introverts make the best actors, salespeople and counselors.
In The End There is No Preferred Way to Be
Neither being an extrovert (extrospective) nor being an introvert (introspective) is preferable to the other. It’s simply your style of viewing and making sense of the world around you. However, knowing “who you are” as well as “who you are not” can make an enormous difference in your life. It helps tremendously in communicating with others and in improving relationships. It can aid you in finding a comfortable niche in society eliminating the guess work from who you “should be” and what you “should do” in your life.
With regard to whether or not you might be living with a sociopath…well…we think you should leave that determination up to a skilled professional.