Why Sociopaths Win By Losing

In The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout raises the following excellent question: “If sociopaths are so focused on their goals and so driven to win, then why do they not win all the time?” She goes on to explain that, basically, sociopaths are losers: “For they do not [win or succeed in life]. Instead, most of them are obscure people, and limited to dominating their young children, or a depressed spouse, or perhaps a few employees or coworkers… Having never made much of a mark on the world, the majority are on a downward life course, and by late middle age will be burned out completely. They can rob and torment us temporarily, yes, but they are, in effect, failed lives.” (The Sociopath Next Door, 188)

I think that Martha Stout, Robert Hare, Steve Becker and many other experts on sociopathy are right to say that sociopaths play games in life and aim to win.  They’re also right to observe that sociopaths generally don’t win because they tend to sabotage every relationship and endeavor by cheating, lying and engaging in other destructive behavior. But all this assumes that psychopaths have the same conception of “winning” that normal people have. It’s true that psychopaths lose in life by normal standards. But, as we well know, psychopaths lack normal standards and perspectives in pretty much all areas of life. They don’t view “winning” in the positive sense of achieving success–be it successful long-term relationships or professional endeavors–but rather as causing others to lose.

To offer one noteworthy example, from a normal perspective, Hitler and Stalin are the Big Losers of history. They’re evil dictators who trampled over countless human lives in their march to absolute power. But keep in mind that their goal was not governing strong nations in general, as was arguably Napoleon’s goal. These two totalitarian rulers wanted to achieve total control over several nations: and the entire world, if possible. Total control can’t be achieved without the subjugation, and even the annihilation, of any dissenting voice; without the inculcation of fear; without violence.

Sociopaths would rather win by becoming notorious for their crimes rather than famous for their achievements. How else can one describe the motivations of serial killers like Ted Bundy and so many others, who take pride in violent crimes and the ability to get away with them (at least for awhile)? Fortunately for the rest of humanity, most sociopaths aren’t world dictators or serial killers. However, looking at these prominent examples helps us understand better the distorted logic of sociopathy. It’s an “I win if you lose” mentality. In their own warped perspectives, sociopaths win by destroying other human beings and their social institutions, regardless if that enables them to achieve anything in life or lands them straight in prison.

Perhaps a sociopath’s only fear is being unmasked as evil, because that exposes the nature of his game. As Harrison Koehli eloquently puts it, “[Psychopaths] hang on to their masks with such conviction because they are predators, and without them, they cannot survive… To let down that facade would reveal that they are little more than unfeeling intraspecies predators that feed off the pain and suffering of others and thus destroy their chances of feeding. Even a psychopath is aware of the consequences of such a revelation. His ‘dreams’ of a boot forever stomping on the face of humanity are crushed.” Unfortunately, for as long as there will be people protecting, colluding with, and covering for sociopaths, these parasites will continue to feed on us, even if it means the destruction of both predator and prey. Sociopaths play a very dangerous game, whereby they win by losing. 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

Investigating Psychopaths

Since psychopaths are pathological liars and their every interaction with others is self-serving and strategic, even seasoned investigators and forensic psychologists have great difficulty dealing with them. Basically, they’re always faced with the liar’s paradox yet still need to get useful and true information from them.

Katherine Ramsland (from trutv.com) wrote an excellent article about how investigators deal with the inevitable obstacles and difficulties they encounter when attempting to retrieve true information from psychopaths about their crimes. I’m pasting part of her article below:


It’s not easy to know when to trust someone who has already exploited trust as a route to torture, rape and murder. Psychopathic killers view their victims as objects, useful only as pawns in their own personal game, and they thus have this advantage: they feel no remorse. They’re callous, manipulative and resistant to therapy, and when they choose to communicate, they have their own agendas, formed in self-interest and calculation. What we may accept as a “confession,” they may view as bait. Their motives take shape within a framework that has no equivalent in the normal world. That’s why we can’t just accept what they say at face value.
Gary Leon Ridgway 

Gary Leon Ridgway

A special agent from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit interviewed Gary Ridgway, who had initially confessed to 71 before settling on the official toll of 48. She had this to say: “I can’t think of any behavior on its own merit that would indicate that someone is telling the truth or exaggerating. It’s not that I wouldn’t believe them, but I’d like to get basic verification first. In my opinion, many of these people have an egotistical need to control and manipulate, and some like to be bigger and badder than the other guy.”

She points out that not only might they lie to exaggerate or dupe investigators, but, paradoxically, they might also conceal murders they committed. They don’t want anyone to know about their early feeble, halting attempts or the mistakes they made. If they lose a potential victim, they claim they intended to.

It’s hazardous to be gullible, especially for investigators hoping to close a case. They might inadvertently reveal details, allowing offenders to play them for fools. As well, they may expend limited resources. However, there are hazards in dismissing these offenders, too, notably that they may stop providing details that can solve crimes. The bottom line is this: even skilled investigators may not spot a clever liar with a selfish agenda. Detecting deception takes time, patience, a bit of sleuthing, and the corroboration of facts. Above all, it requires the ability to avoid a rush to judgment that may result in mistakes, such as those made with Lucas.

While psychopaths appear to use the same language as normal individuals, they have their own inner logic. They calculate the world around them in terms of self-gain. They are society’s vampires. They may be intoxicated rather than repulsed by the idea of targeting humans and picking them off, because it makes them feel powerful. Their agendas have no analogues in the normal world. That means developing a careful mode of communication. In this person’s perception, almost any response could be the “wrong” one.

John Wayne Gacy 

John Wayne Gacy

Former FBI profilers John Douglas and Gregg McCrary have conducted prison interviews with psychopaths such as John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 young men and buried them under his house, and Mark Hoffmann, a brilliant forger who tried to escape debt by killing people with bombs. These criminals have no sense of the damage they’ve caused. To urge them to express regret is pointless. They might do so, but only as a manipulative tactic.

There are three important things to keep in mind when talking with psychopaths: clear goals, firm boundaries, and awareness of their triggers. In other words, keep your purpose in such communications up front, while also watching for the psychopath’s manipulative tactics (charm, deception, deal-making) and for what will keep him (or her) talking as opposed to shutting down. It’s tricky, and getting it right generally requires extensive exposure to the person. No matter how many letters Hess or others write to a killer like Browne, only those who have lived with him on a daily basis know him well, and even they can be fooled.

You can view the rest of Katherine’s article on the link below: