“Our default understanding of humanity is gonna be that everybody has some good in them. The research that Dr Robert Hare and Dr Martha Stout have done have really turned that around to say that 4% of human beings don’t have a conscience, they have no remorse for their behavior, and they actually look for opportunities to cause harm to others”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
Once we realize how grossly abnormal the psychopath or sociopath’s inner state and toxic behavior towards others is, the next obvious question becomes why? Why do psychopaths behave the way they do towards others? What motivates their behavior?
The bottom line is that psychopaths are severely psychologically disordered people, but rather than deal with their own internal disorder in holistic and self contained way, they project their own toxicity onto others, making their lives a misery as well as their own. They make their own problems other people’s problems.
All of the different ways of explaining why a psychopath behaves in the toxic way they do towards others are basically just different ways of restating this fundamental point. Let’s look at this issue of a psychopath’s motives from some slightly different angles.
Psychopaths & Sociopaths Are Driven by Envy
The psychopath is an envy ridden personality, seeking to have what others have, but even more destructively to take away from others what they themselves can never have out of spite. This is the definition of envy and drives so much of the psychopath, coming from their psychological “smallness” as they can see in others the traits and qualities they don’t have and never will have.
This is where there can be an interesting “yin-yang” dynamic with the psychopath and the high quality person, with the psychopath often alternating between fascination and envy as they attempt to move into the person’s world.
Initially, they often hold a fascination with the person they are targeting, seeing in them traits they want to have themselves. This may be material or psychological qualities like vibrancy, wealth, fame, popularity, virtue and so on. They seek to get close to the person in the hope they can somehow absorb these qualities for themselves.
This is where the shallowness of the psychopath comes into play, since they think that by simply being around the person, they will somehow soak up the traits they want from the other person.
When they realize it isn’t that simple, they quickly disengage and detach from relationships, often switching to envy and attempting to destroy the person in the process – the mindset switches to “If I can’t have it, I’m not going to let you have it either”.
“The problem (with psychopaths in relationships) comes down the line when they realize ‘No, it’s not working. I can’t just put the coin in and install (these traits and virtues in the other person), so I’m off!’ And their relationships are typically short”.
Sociopaths And Boredom
Another crucial motivation for psychopaths and sociopaths is boredom. The internal psychological state of these people is characterized by an extreme, relentless boredom which they seek to alleviate by creating drama, conflict, or any other form of stimulation.
This pattern is especially common with the sociopath, which is a slight and subtle variation from psychopath but with lots of overlap; see our article on the differences for more on this. Sociopaths commonly seek to harm others to relieve boredom. Here are some examples of this:
- The sociopathic boss who works long, boring shifts which exacerbate his pre-existing inner boredom. To liven his days, he loves to create drama and conflict. Some examples:
- Turns every conversation into a conflict and argument completely unneccesarily.
- Every innocent question and inquiry is turned back on the person, as if they are somehow questioning the sociopath, when they are not.
- Deliberately creates situations that they know will annoy people just for the drama of the conflict and the chance to argue their way out of it by gaslighting and invalidating the victim.
- Plays people off against each other by covertly spreading lies, malicious gossip, and deliberate provocation and other tactics and then sits back and enjoys the show as other people are set against each other. This tactic serves two purposes – it gives them some entertainment and also takes the focus off them as the person causing all this.
- The sociopathic thug/street criminal is feeling bored one night and starts up a fight with an innocent passer by, just minding his own business, just to get himself “livened up” and stimulated.
In more general terms, the psychopaths or sociopath needs constant stimulation and immersion in the world to cover up their own internal boredom and emptiness. This explains many of the their traits, including rampant hedonism, shallowness, lack of inner life and introspection, and refusal to face any downsides or bad times.
A Desire For Power & Control Over Others
“There is no doubt that if (the psychopath) had come from cold, indifferent, unloving parents, who kept on using the will to power to destroy and humiliate him, then he’s very likely to be forced into submission, and then become a disciple of the will to power.
He may become a disciple of the master-slave dynamic, because he’s trying to find the power that he was denied. He’s trying to exercise it on other people. He’s trying to be the master before he can be mastered. You’ll read this in numerous books on the subject….these specialists are always telling you that these guys want to kill before they’re killed. They do see the world as a very frightening place…..
….these are people who really want revenge on the world, because they think the world has hurt them. And in many cases maybe they’re right”
Unslaved Podcast – see here
Another fundamental driver of the psychopath or sociopath is an unending thirst for power and control over others. We have covered this in more detail in our article on psychopaths as control freaks.
This lust for power comes as a compensation for a lack of order within their own minds, and often as a replaying of scenarios within their own early lives where they were denied power and humiliated.
Thus the psychopathic character is one who is constantly scheming, working, and conniving to gain power and control over others. In every single interaction they are trying to find ways to dig into people’s boundaries, find weaknesses, secrets and flaws, to gain more power over them.
They are experts at “interviewing” and reading people, very deftly able to get more trusting people to open up and reveal things about themselves they can use against them later. As we have said before, there are no agenda free, innocent interactions with a psychopath; they are always up to something.
This is why it is so important to get away from them, since over time you will find your own mindset becoming more suspicious and closed off as you constantly try to ward off their constant invasiveness and intrusiveness.
This is also why psychopaths tend to gravitate to positions of power in society, being quite highly concentrated in the higher levels of society like high level business, politics, banking and media, where they can exert control and influence over others.
In a lower level setting, they often manifest as the nightmare, micro-managing, control freak boss, watching over every single worker down to ridiculous detail and creating an oppressive atmosphere for everyone else.
The Lack of Empathy, Guilt & Remorse of the Psychopath
Another defining characteristic of psychopaths that sets them apart from the rest of humanity is a complete lack of human emotional qualities like empathy, guilt and remorse. Put simply, psychopaths don’t feel bad about the horrible things they do to others, and in fact get pleasure and enjoyment out of it.
Empathy is a crucial fail-safe that stops normal people from harming others, since we feel bad when we do so repeatedly and on a serious level. This is empathy kicking in, telling us we would not like to be treated ourselves this way, so why should be treat someone else like this?
Psychopaths lack this emotional brakecheck of empathy, and so can do whatever they like to others, without feeling a thing. They are cut off emotionally from the impact of their actions on others, which means they can just keep going, digging into someone’s boundaries with increasingly outrageous behavior, and they feel nothing of the distress they are causing.
The lack of guilt and remorse adds to the emotional coldness of the psychopath, where they see the entire act of charming, manipulating, devaluing and discarding someone as merely a game they view with a detached coolness and amusement.
You will often find psychopaths joking and smirking about the horrible things they have done to others. Sometimes they do it openly; other times they realize intellectually they need to conceal themselves, and so feign sincerity and remorse when it suits.
See also our article on duping delight, where psychopaths “leak out” grins and smirks, as they cannot help but give away the pleasure and amusement they get out of deceiving and controlling others.
Psychopaths & Projection
Psychologically, so much of the psychopath’s toxic behavior can be brought back to the fundamental concept of projection, which in simple terms is the attribution to other people traits, qualities and flaws which are actually in ourselves.
It is a defence mechanism to conceal things we don’t like about ourselves. For example, a rude person may accuse others of being rude. Most of us do it to some extent. Interestingly, it can also happen in reverse, where we project onto someone else virtues that we have but which they actually don’t have, and psychopaths also like to take advantage of this as we often idealize them and the fake bond they try to create with us.
However, a psychopath projects their internal posion out to an extreme degree, more than any other personality disorder. This is why you will observe a common pattern with a psychopath where nothing is ever their fault, even when it clearly is. Literally all responsibility for everything and anything bad is disowned and put onto other people instead.
To use a good M Scott Peck analogy, if you think of personalities as a spectrum from the neurotic on the left hand side, (where they always assume they are at fault) to the character disorder on the right hand side (where they always assume the world is at fault), then the psychopath sits right at the far end of the right hand side, where literally everything is someone else’s fault.
The concept of projection also incorporates blame shifting, another very common tactic of psychopaths and sociopaths and another method by which they gas-light their victims, eroding their identity and self esteem to the point where many people have lost all trust in their own perception after being caught up in relationships with these people.
The psychopath here is offloading everything about themselves they don’t want to face onto others, and their use of this defence mechanism is so extreme and well ingrained that they often do so to a very convincing degree, lying, denying and invalidating their way out of situations even when they are caught red handed.
The Incomprehensibility of Evil
As a closing thought on this, we should also put forward M Scott Peck’s view on evil people from his famous book People of the Lie – see our books section for a link. He suggests that there is basically something incomprehensible about evil people that normal people will never truly understand or relate to.
What he means by this is that the behaviour of psychopaths and sociopaths, as well as their entire existence, can be seen to be just plain pointless and absurd, especially when we step back from the minutiae of daily interactions with them and just look at their behavior from a bird’s eye viewpoint.
First of all, there is a relentless dishonesty in psychopathic characters, hence the title of Peck’s book. They lie when it serves them to get out of situations, but they also lie even when they don’t need to, even about small, insignificant daily things which don’t make a difference, like saying they were at the gym when they were eating at KFC. They lie just for the sake of lying.
They also more generally live closed off, frightful, shallow existences, often obsessed with lower level politics, drama and backbiting, never seeming to move past this, even in their fourties, fifties and beyond. They have no vocational aspects to their identity; they remain shallow, hedonistic, manipulative and one dimensional right the way through their lives.
Things like these are just one of numerable things psychopaths and sociopaths will do that will make you scratch your head and ask “Why? What’s the point?”. As a human being with a normal range of emotions and some aspect of a deeper side that wants to know what we are all here for and strives for some kind of purpose, even if just to parent children, there is something about these disordered types we cannot relate to.
In this article we have tried to provide some answers as to why psychopaths and sociopaths behave like they do, but however many angles we approach it from, there will always be something about the psychopathic mindset that seems pointless and silly to normal people, when we really step back and look at it. Scott Peck was right about this.
That said, the psychological damage they cause to others is very real, and not something to be laughed off. Much work is still to be done on getting the general population to more easily spot these predators, but when we do spot them, these characters are to be avoided and escaped at all costs.
See our Resources page for links to the most popular and definitive books on psychopaths and sociopaths.