Friday, April 22, 2011

S. Sociopaths & serial bullies. Workplace bullying

This is my post for S in the 2011 A-Z blogging challenge. 
Sociopaths
Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is the current term used by clinicians to refer to what most of us refer to as sociopaths or psychopaths. The condition is considered in part to be "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of the rights of others.”

Some professionals estimate that about 4% of the adult population could exhibit these symptoms. Many never commit crimes, or if they do, they aren’t convicted because of their skill in manipulating superiors and their general deviousness and outstanding ability to lie and twist the truth. Many bullies behave in similar ways to a sociopath.

A sociopath lacks interpersonal, social and empathic skills.  They may be described as being silver tongued; the can learn to talk the talk, but are unable to consistently walk the walk. They will persistently and aggressively deflect attention away from their own failings onto the target/s while appearing to be extremely busy and needed by other departments. (There is a checklist at the bottom of this post.)

Genuine heartfelt empathy is lacking, expressions of remorse, concern or respect are shallow and glib.
Sociopaths learn to reflect traits of empathy,
but the emotion is shallow and fragmented.
Psychopaths 
Whilst the professionals debate the definitions and differences between sociopaths and psychopaths, many non professionals consider that psychopaths are less interested in learning to show compassion and that the sense of feeling inadequate and insecure is lacking. 

Years ago I worked in a teaching facility for difficult teenagers where I heard one boy describe a vicious street fight. He expressed no emotion at all about the victim who was being kicked repeatedly and violently in the head. He described the bloody situation analytically, dispassionately, chillingly, and with apparent pleasure. The other students were very aware that he wasn't like them and were disturbed by his description, even though they were all living with violence themselves. Some were fearful, others wary, but none wanted to be involved with him and his callous coldness.  This behaviour may have been psychopathic (Please note, I am not a clinician and am in no way making a formal assessment).

Serial bullies
As adults, bullies of all kinds are extraordinarily skilled at deflecting questions, comments or concerns away from themselves. To the observer it’s uncanny how smoothly and seamlessly this is done. People describe being stunned at how the bully seems to be able to anticipate and say what is needed in any given situation.

The bully will often protect anyone accused or suspected of sexual abuse and will frustrate or obstruct investigations into that person. Complaints will go unrecorded and uninvestigated. It is extremely difficult when the bully is the person to whom any complaint must pass through, and incredibly frustrating when information about a bully or sexual predator is not passed up line. The bullying supervisor becomes angry when anyone goes above them to report serial abuse. They enjoy the power of being a gatekeeper and use it to their own ends by filtering information coming up and down.


Bullies are very clever at creating conflict between those who would otherwise pool negative information. They like to divide and conquer. Bullying can be a cover for a deep fear of being found out for being incompetent. They hate to be held accountable but may be able to deceive and evade responsibility whilst manipulating co workers into looking foolish. In reality, they have low self esteem and poor interactions with others. If you have high or normal self esteem you have no need to bully.
The serial bully seems to be able to avoid responsibility for their actions
(Photo: Eastside Gallery. Berlin 2009)
Bullies fear exposure of their inadequacy, immaturity and insecurity. They want to dominate or control and have never learnt how to interact with others normally. The manager who is proud of being "tough"  hasn't learnt how to manage maturely and wisely. Some bullies revel in attention seeking behaviour and like to be the centre of attention, they may overdramatise to be noticed and constantly refer to how busy they are - they need to be noticed. Many are emotionally needy, and are unable to act like normal, mature adults.

When recruiting
Employers who are recruiting should always check qualifications and references extremely carefully. Sociopaths, psychopaths and serial bullies are shameless in their ability to lie and deceive to gain a position of trust. Some have been known to recruit allies to pose as respectable and reputable referees by giving misleading information and false names and contact details.

The bully may appear angelic to some
people, but NOT to the target.
Check list
Have any of these terms been used about any of your co-workers?
If so, it's possible they may be a bully.
  • callous, cold and calculating, conniving, clever and cunning
  • devious, disinterested
  • won't negotiate
  • ruthless in the extreme
  • scumbag
  • slime
  • snake in the grass
  • tough manager in the extreme
  • twofaced
  • unreliable
  • untrustworthy
  • wolf in sheep's clothing
  • scheming
  • obnoxious

This website gives a layman's checklist of qualities to beware of in the sociopath or psychopath.

Do you have any stories to share? 
What words would you add to the checklist?

Here tomorrow: Targets & Teachers



There are many outstanding resources on line. A few I find useful are Bullying. No way! an Australian resource for teachers and students, CASSE and a UK site Bully On Line. This is in no way an exhaustive list, and each country will no doubt have equally good or more relevant websites. If you're being bullied please seek advice from a professional health care practitioner experienced in this area.


Over at jumpingaground I'm spending the month Drabbling using alliteration, often with an environmental theme.
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4 comments:

Grandpa said...

I always considered psychopaths to be more dangerous than sociopaths.

I was terrified of bullies in school, as we were brought up to be nice and gentle to people.

I think both the sufferers and society are benefiting from your series Sue.

Grandpa
Life on The Farm

sue said...

Grandpa, I couldn't agree more, and when you're brought up to behave responsibly it's extremely hard to know how to handle bullying, even as an adult.
Thankyou so much for your support Grandpa, I really appreciate it.

Tony Payne said...

Excellent post.

sue said...

Tony, thankyou.