Were There a Few Sociopaths among Us?

M. Irons

Book cover
The term "sociopath" has been used by some in reference to the founder of the Assemblies, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. The book, High Risk: Children Without A Conscience, by Dr. Ken Magid, explains the origins of this disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), it's characteristics, the various manifestations, and how to recognize and avoid people like this. The most important section of this article is "Implications of Following a Sociopath".

Origins of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Characteristics of the Sociopath
Implications of Following a Sociopath

DSM-IV Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder

The DSM-IV criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder begins with the statement, "There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others." There follows a list of seven characteristics, of which three must be present. Here are several that are especially relevant:

(1) Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

(2) Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

(3) Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

(4) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

Unfortunately, examples of these behaviors on the part of Assembly leadership can be found on this site under Final Weeks and Personal Accounts.

Dr. Magid emphasizes the point that conscience is weak or lacking in people who have not experienced normal human bonding. They lack the capacity for empathy and they express little or no remorse for wrongdoing. Dr. Magid presents this disorder on a scale of severity, however, with some people being definitely sociopathic, but many others being effected to lesser degrees.

Origins of Antisocial Personality Disorder

According to the book, the cause of this defect appears to be a combination of genetic predisposition and failure to bond with other human beings, beginning in infancy. The bonding experience can be inhibited or interrupted to varying degrees, which produce individuals who are effected to different degrees with APD. Below is an extrapolation of Dr.Magid's continuum:

Very strong bonding produces people like Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer, who demonstrate the highest development of human conscience and attachment. 

The partially unattached child becomes the slick salesman or the unprincipled politician. These people have impaired conscience and may be somewhat afflicted with APD, but are not criminal and are still able to function in society. They are nevertheless dangerous. This might be the guy who doesn't hold down a job, and manipulates his wife to support him. This could also be someone who leads a cultic authoritarian group, but operates within the law.   

Those with very weak bonding become criminally psychopathic drug pushers, wife-beaters, and thieves. Such a person would also be capable of defrauding the IRS.

The severely unbonded, unattached become the serial killers and rapists.

Note that the category of "partially unattached" does not produce criminals, but people who are nevertheless harmful to others. Those who are "very weakly bonded" become criminals, although their criminal activity may be covert, as in the case of the con man. Both the weakly bonded and the severely unbonded fully meet the DSM-IV criteria for APD.

A criticism of a psychological approach is that it seems to weaken the individual's responsibility for his actions, with a view to treatment rather than accountability. It must be clear that Dr. Magid holds out no hope of change, (short of religious conversion), for adults who meet the criteria for APD. They are without conscience, they are dangerous, and they must be absolutely avoided. They are evil.

Dr. Magid shows a distinct correlation between the age of the child when bonding was interrupted, and the severity of the condition in later life. Infants who are deprived of nurturing care at birth, such as has been the case with Romanian orphans, never develop the capacity for love. He makes the case that even putting an infant in weekday day care may put the bonding process at risk and may produce children with some degree of weakened attachment and impaired conscience. Bonding can also be interrupted later in a child's life by an extended hospitalization, the death of a parent, divorce, drug use, incarceration, etc. Special effort must be made to counteract the weakening of attachment.

Dr. Magid makes the point that parents need to be informed about factors in a child's life that may contribute to an APD trajectory. These factors must be remedied, or at least compensated for.  He has a major concern about putting infants in day care with persons other than their parents. In the Assembly, children were very significantly effected, whether directly or indirectly, by non-family members. 

The developmental aspect provides the basis for looking at APD as a continuum of severity. This scale concept is a useful tool for recognizing people with less severe degrees of APD, both within and outside the Assembly frame of reference. The characteristic lack of remorse is especially relevant with regard to former Assembly leaders. This is an area where progress could be made to reverse the effects of APD. The article, Apology, gives some pointers on practical steps to take. 

Interestingly, the book makes the point that sociopaths often have sociopathic children. The most obvious likely factors would be failure to bond with the infant, and possibly inherited genetic factors. The formative influence of the sociopathic parent would seem to also be a significant factor. 

Characteristics of the Sociopath

Lack of Conscience

The central characteristic of a sociopath is a lack of conscience. Dr. Magid says, "These are people without a conscience, and they hurt--sometimes kill--others without remorse.....[They] express no remorse if caught in wrongdoing. They are aggressive, reckless and cruel to others. They leave in their wake a huge amount of human suffering. The pain psychopaths wreak on other human beings can be physical, or it can be mental anguish...We call them the 'Trust Bandits' of modern society. They steal our trust."

"Their mental defect--and it's substantial--manifests itself as a chronic inability to behave in conformance with social norms, to defer gratification, control impulses, tolerate frustration, profit from corrective experiences, or identify with others and form meaningful relationships with them.  The psychopath must have what he wants, no matter the cost to those in the way."

Lack of Empathy

Sociopaths "are suffering from a wrong outlook upon the world, a wrong estimate of their own importance and the importance of other people...They perceive people as pawns to be pushed around at will. Trust, love, loyalty, and teamwork are incompatible with their way of life. They scorn and exploit most people who are kind, trusting, hardworking and honest." These people lack a sense of guilt and have no feelings about their victims, but they are adept at acting as if they care. Dennis Rader, the St. Louis serial killer, chillingly described how he gave one of his victims a drink of water before he strangled her. Charles Manson said of himself, "I can't put a finger on when I became devoid of caring emotion." 

Appearance of Normalcy

Most sociopaths do not appear to be criminals.  They are able to succeed, at least for awhile, in high-functioning roles in society. Dr. Hervey Cleckley, author of Mask of Sanity, as quoted by Dr. Magid, describes this ability of the psychopath to appear normal:

"....Even the most severely and obviously disabled psychopath presents a technical appearance of sanity, often one of high intellectual capacities, and not infrequently succeeds in business or professional activities for short periods, some for considerable periods...[However] they do not succeed in the sense of finding satisfaction or fulfillment in any ordinary activity." 

Implications of Following a Sociopath

There is evidence in many articles on this website that the founder of the Assemblies, and perhaps others, exhibited behavior that fits the profile of a sociopath (see links below). This comes as no surprise, but what must be considered is the impact this may have had on people in the group.

Sociopathic Role Model

The role of the sociopathic leader as chief role model was a major way people were effected. People were conditioned to accept such persons as normal, and even ideal. Men modeled themselves after this type of character disorder in their roles as husbands, fathers, and shepherds of God's people--stifling their consciences and normal empathy as they learned to exercise extreme control. 

Effect on Character

On the level of personal character, the sociopath-as-the-ideal might partly explain why well-intentioned people in the Assembly demonstrated less and less conscience. Sociopathic leaders--having very weak consciences themselves (or none)--trained us to silence our consciences. Seemingly good reasons were given to do so, the modeling was there, and it was prudent for reasons of self-preservation to go that route.

Effect on Teaching and Practice

The teaching and the practice of the Assembly was developed to accommodate, even idealize, non-attachment. Normal bonding was blocked at every turn. The intense pace of life was focused on "corporate" involvements. Personal relationships were denigrated. Teaching on marriage and child training emphasized authority to the detriment of attachment. The toll on Assembly marriages and families has been huge. 

Effect on Children

Mothers were taught to decry and eschew "mother heart". Mothers were taught to hush their infants at six weeks and start spanking at about three months of age. So Assembly babies had about three months of bonding (limited, however, by schedule) before physical pain was introduced in the parent / child relationship. It seems probable that some Assembly kids developed attachment problems even in their first year of life. 

Effect of Deception

The phenomenon of the sociopathic leader may also help to explain how we were deceived--sociopaths are extraordinarily convincing.  "Even in early years, young psychopaths contain at least two sides to their personalities. The outside, superficial mask is often a likeable character...capable of making short-term friends easily." Psychopaths are "frequently very animated, compelling, almost hypnotic....A curious trait that psychopaths often have is extrasensory perception about others and the ability to pick out personal vulnerabilities with uncanny accuracy. This information they store for later use" (Magid). Although they lie continually, it is often very difficult to pin them down.

Effect on Former Leaders

Former leaders were trained by precept, example and negative consequences to silence their consciences at certain points. They were also trained to not apologize for their actions. Many of us have been groping our way back to connectedness with people by apologizing to those we have hurt. Former leaders who are still moving along the sociopath continuum are persisting in functioning with a lack of conscience, a lack of empathy and a lack of remorse. 

So far as is known, perpetrators in the situations described in Rachel's StoryKristin's StorySome Questions for Mike Zach, and Judy Writes to Verne have not expressed remorse or offered meaningful apologies to the principals involved, namely Judy Geftakys, Rachel, David Michael, Rebecca, or "Kristin".

There may have been some excuse for it at the time when things came to a head and the Assembly system imploded. It was as true for leaders as for members that their whole world was turned upside down. But it is hoped that at some point former leaders will be sufficiently recovered to take responsibility for their actions. Both thorough, meaningful private apologies, and public repentance, which includes making themselves available for contact, are essential. This website and the Assembly bulletin board, where the stories of their abuse are published, are now the most prominent venues to make public apologies. 

Meaningful apologies do make a difference. Jon LeG., in Encouraging Developments from Omaha (published on this website on March 10, 2003) reported on the apology he received after his story of mistreatment in Omaha was published. In some cases it is possible that apology has been attempted, but the recipient has not received it as sincere or sufficient. The article, Apology, deals with why this happens and how to remedy it. It gives the essentials of a meaningful apology.

If meaningful public and private repentance are not forthcoming, it may be evidence that some of these former leaders are sociopaths and we should all beware. They could be capable of reviving or starting another destructive cult. 

Further reading on sociopaths and narcissists  »

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