'Do sociopaths know right from wrong?' is a question most often asked by people who have just realized that they are, or were, in a relationship with a sociopath and they are trying to figure out what is going on.
The question arises because they were in love with this person, they believe that the love was mutual (at least at the start) and they haven't fully assimilated the fact that there are people who do not have emotions, who can lie more than they tell the truth and who can be deliberately cruel.
So let's have a look at some things that occur in such relationships to see if we can figure out do sociopaths know right from wrong.
A very typical story of victims of sociopaths is that the initial part of the relationship was amazing. The partner was kind, loving, caring, attentive, friendly, everything one could want. The victim believed that they had met their ideal partner and they quickly fell in love. Once a certain level of commitment was in place, however, things changed and the bad behavior started.
Over time, the good times got less and less and the bad times more frequent. The sociopath started out making the victim feel fantastic most of the time. After a while, these feelings were replaced with upset, fear, frustration, guilt. The sociopath switches to making the victim feel very bad as a way to control them. There are insults, criticism, screaming and shouting, belittling, humiliation, the silent treatment and so on.
The sociopath knows how to make you feel very good, and they know how to make you feel very bad. And they are not afraid to push either of these buttons at a moments notice to get what they want. In fact, when you are out of the relationship you will realize that you were on an emotional roller coaster most of the time while you were with them.
There are several points to note here that help to answer the question do sociopaths know right from wrong?
The first is the sequence of events. They trick their victims into thinking that they are nice people before starting the abuse. It's never the other way around. They don't mistake the order and start out directly abusing new acquaintances if they want to start a long term relationship with them. This indicates that they know the difference between acceptable, morally right social behavior and unacceptable, rude or 'wrong' ways of behaving.
This is further confirmed by another pattern of theirs. In public they present themselves as friendly, caring partners while they keep the abusive behavior for when they are at home behind closed doors. More than one victim has watched their partner in public putting on a show for their listeners while thinking, "If only they knew what he or she is like at home where no-one is watching!" Again, they are aware of their situation and whether they have to play a role or not and this further indicates that they do know the difference between right and wrong.
A third aspect of their behavior is the common practice of not accepting responsibility for any problems or anything that goes wrong or any of their behaviors that other people don’t like. The blame for those things is planted squarely on the shoulders of somebody else. (The 'look what you made me do' excuse.) They do, however, take credit for anything that goes well within 30 yards of them. They definitely don't get these situations mixed up, either. They are very clear about the things they got right and the things that they did not get wrong.
Sociopaths are known for isolating their victims from friends and family and any other support network that the victim may have. Why would they do this? They do it so that the friends and family will not be able to tell the victim that what the sociopath is doing is wrong. The sociopath knows that what they are doing is morally and socially unacceptable, or wrong, and they want to keep that fact hidden from the victim.
One of the common ways that they may do this is to make, for example, a friend feel uncomfortable when they come to visit the house. The sociopath deliberately acts strangely, or picks a fight with the friend or otherwise makes the friend feel awkward. The result is that the friend feel less and less inclined to visit and eventually just does not visit any more at all. In this way the sociopath deliberately keeps friends and family members away from the house. This indicates that they do know what good behavior is versus bad behavior and that they use bad behavior to achieve a specific purpose.
Sociopaths as professional manipulators are good at building trust in others. Many admit that they don't trust anyone themselves but they know exactly how to get others to trust them. A favorite is to do a favor for someone. They know that if they carry groceries or mow the lawn or lend a book that people will think well of them and like them. They fully understand that doing a good deed like this will get people to trust them.
They then take advantage of it in several ways, for example, by helping themselves to something out of the car, or when they are in the house they secretly open a window to let themselves in later on to steal something.
It would seem that they do indeed know the difference between right and wrong. However, because of their lack of empathy and lack of conscience they can choose to do wrong, bad or evil and it does not bother them.
There are more ideas and research evidence showing that sociopaths do understand the difference in this article on psychopaths here.
And you can read more about the profile of a sociopath, why it's difficult to see the signs of an abusive relationship, how controlling people do what they do, how to leave an abusive relationship and how to divorce a sociopath.
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