Last night, I ran into an acquaintance. We talked about our Halloween costumes. I told him I’d be going as Clark Kent. I’d wear my Superman t-shirt and a white dress shirt and my Superman tie and some nerdy, horn-rimmed glasses and suspenders and…you get the idea. “So” said his son, very matter-of-factly “you’re gonna be Superman!”. What a kid. He saw right through my disguise. As children are wont to do.
Some people never take off their mask nor shed their disguise.
According to Martha Stout, author of the book, The Sociopath Next Door, 1 in 25 people–4% of the population–can do anything at all with no remorse. This is horrifying to me because as Christians, we profess to know the Truth. And if 1 out of every 25 people must necessarily lie in order to integrate with society, how does that reflect on the church as an influentially integral part of society? And how does that affect the other 96%? The innocent, honest people–Christian or non–who wouldn’t dream of doing anything to emotionally, physically or spiritually abuse anyone?
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Sociopaths, by their very nature, wear a mask all the time. At home. At work. Everywhere. Dr. Stout draws a fine distinction between sociopath and psychopath. They are not synonymous. Whereas the psychopath is more outwardly focused on causing harm and pain, the sociopath doesn’t let on with easily discernible actions what’s truly going on in the void that is their soul. She goes on to describe the sociopathic individual. She says that they’re smart enough to know how to manipulate and emotionally control others. But it’s something deeper and more sinister (and aware) that keeps them from seeking psychiatric help. In other words, they know they need help but refuse to get it. Of course, secular psychology is powerless to resurrect someone’s dead conscience. She admits as much and essentially leaves it at that. She believes through her practice and observation over the years that these people are born without a conscience. And this is where God comes in, because her prognosis for these people is grim. Whatever neurological deformity afflicts the conscienceless individual is not beyond God’s healing power. Whether they don’t have one or through neglect and lifelong wrong decision making, as Paul says “having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2), God can and will forgive them and heal any breach. Only He could do such a thing. “For charity (love) shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
“He restoreth my soul.” (Psalm 23:3)
The truth is, nobody likes a liar. Let alone loves them. Whenever someone gets that gut feeling that they can’t trust the other person–for whatever reason–then they (should) shut themselves off from the untrustworthy individual. And this is good. But as Christians, we have an obligation before the Lord to forgive and pray for that person. They may be a lost cause, working feverishly to endear themselves to anyone they meet. But God has already accepted them and made it possible through Jesus for them to receive healing and wholeness for their soul. Can you imagine the tortured existence someone would have to endure (I can) if they had to continually present themselves as honest and forthright, knowing full well at their very core, they were as deceitful as the day is long? The sociopath, says Dr. Stout, doesn’t care for such things. God has mercy and compassion for these broken people in spite of the havoc they wreak on strangers and family members alike.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
One thing I feel needs to be emphasized through all of this is the importance of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit when interacting with people who are sociopathic. If you feel the person in question is trying to manipulate you, by all means, don’t let them. Turning the other cheek, as Jesus said in Luke’s gospel (6:29), doesn’t mean that you let yourself be stepped on and strip-mined without your knowledge. The Holy Spirit in you will let you know if someone can or cannot be trusted. “Wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove”.
Dr. Stout closes with a message of encouragement for the honest reader. She says to take heart in the knowledge that you, yourself, are honest and feeling. But as Christians, it doesn’t stop there. If you perceive something unspeakable about someone, then pray for them and hold them up before the Lord. Imagine yourself in their place. Intercede for them–but don’t let them in.
Happy Halloween, er, I mean All Saints Day.