Do sociopaths know they are sociopaths? is a very common question among people who have just realized that they are in an abusive relationship. Coming to terms with the idea that the partner they love may be abusing them is a major challenge to a person's reality. The victim is often shocked and upset that they had not seen it before and a logical step is to ask themselves if their abuser knows what is going on.
The quick answer is "Sometimes yes, and even if they don't, they know they are different."
Let's dig a little deeper...
Most people cannot give you an accurate answer to this question. They have some idea what a sociopath is based on movies, fiction and news stories. 'Most people' in this case also includes sociopaths themselves. Therefore, if they don't know what a sociopath is, they can't apply the label to themselves. For this reason, they may not realize that they are sociopaths.
However, they usually do know that they are different in some way.
Reading what sociopaths write about themselves and their learning as children, they often say that at some point they realize that their development is not the same as those around them. They notice that others are having these things called emotions but the emotions are foreign to themselves.
They may attribute this to various things initially, for example, they are slower than others or that other people are pretending in some way. Eventually they figure out that they don't actually experience emotions in the same way that other people do.
Now they begin to think of themselves as different to others. They think of themselves as a cut above others, as not limited by all that emotional stuff and as better decision makers because their decisions are based on logic and not emotions. (Remember that notion about the big ego?!?)
This allows them all sorts of flexibility in their thinking and behavior. Of course, they know the difference between right and wrong, it's just that they don't care. They know what they are doing to others, but once more, as long as they get what they want, it doesn’t bother them.
This group of sociopaths know they are different and they understand how to use this difference to get what they want, they just haven't applied the label to themselves because they don’t know what the definition of a sociopath is.
There is another group of sociopaths who definitely do know they are sociopaths. These can be divided into two groups, those who tell and those who hide or deny it.
There are some sociopaths who, when they know they have people under their control, will reveal that they are sociopaths. At the time when they do it, the victim is sufficiently dependent on the abuser that they often do not, or cannot, take action on the information.
Even some sociopathic cult leaders will claim they are sociopathic but then redefine what it means, making out that it's actually a good thing. Many of the cult members will actually laugh off the idea because they believe so strongly that the leader is benevolent, helping them etc. that it's too much to believe that he or she is a sociopath. It seems that the cult leader is testing the level of control he has over the members as well as giving himself an ego boost. It's as if he is thinking, "I'm even telling you what's going on and you are so manipulated that you can't see it... How good am I?"
And then there are the sociopaths who know they are sociopaths but they don't reveal this about themselves or they actively deny it.
Oftentimes, when a sociopath is challenged about what they are doing, when they are called out for being a sociopath, they will typically deny it. In fact, one of the first things they will do is a classic of the sociopath. Yes, you guessed it, they will accuse the accuser of being a sociopath!
When someone has recently realized they are in a relationship with a sociopath, because they are basically programmed to reveal everything to the sociopath, a common response is to tell the sociopath what they have learnt. The sociopath then does what they are good at and turns the tables on the victim and starts to accuse them of being a sociopath. This often causes even more problems and confusion for the victim who is desperately trying to make sense of what is going on in their lives. It takes the attention off the sociopath and sets the victim on a path of trying to figure out if they might be sociopathic themselves.
It can often be impossible in such situations to know if the sociopath knows the truth about themselves and they are just denying it to keep their reputation intact, or whether they firmly believe that they are not actually a sociopath. Trying to figure out which one it is can be a fruitless exercise because the sociopaths are such good liars.
You have to remember that most of them are not stupid and they usually know, but admitting it would mean they are responsible for what they do and they very rarely openly admit any wrong doing (that big ego again!).
Cult leaders will obviously deny that they are sociopaths if confronted by ex-members because they definitely can't have their reputation ruined, for obvious reasons. Just keep in mind that they are making a living from manipulating and abusing people and that does not happen by accident.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
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