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A sociopath, or ‘person with anti-social personality disorder’ behaviour lacks empathy. They lack the ability to understand what someone else experiencing adversity or hardship is going through. They can’t relate to your pain because they are too wrapped up in themselves.

While a psychopath is seen as more cold-blooded, cold-hearted and manipulative, the sociopath may be more impulsive and erratic in their behaviour. They can find it hard to hold down a job or maintain personal relationships.

So, would sociopathy protect you from burning out which is the outcome of being exposed to chronic and unmitigated stress?

It’s difficult to know. The only reference I have found in relation to burnout and psychopathy is that in older age, psychopaths can “burn out” from some of their violent tendencies, which is different from the term burnout used in reference to the occupational syndrome defined by the WHO.

Because while their emotional responses may be stunted and few, a sociopath can form a relationship with others like them i.e., another sociopath.

Lacking emotion doesn’t mean a sociopath doesn’t express their feelings like crying, looking happy or expressing grief.

But these are all performed at a superficial level for their advantage.

You may have noticed when you’re anxious, your heart pounds or your palms get sweaty.
A sociopath doesn’t experience the physical aspects of their expressed feeling.

You understand the abstract concept of love or awe.
A sociopath recognises the words and their meaning but doesn’t experience them.

What they can experience and use to their advantage is anger and rage. What is perhaps most fascinating about sociopath is that while they don’t feel emotion themselves, they can elicit it in those around them. They are highly skilled in this, meaning you probably won’t have noticed what they just did that made you cry and that their ‘show’ was all an act. 

While burnout can be highly damaging to an individual and place a huge burden on them, their families, and colleagues, why would you even consider trading places with someone who is unable to fully experience our spectrum of emotion?

Because emotion provides us with data to help us to make better sense of the world.

Acknowledging your sadness for the breakdown of a relationship.
Feeling frustrated that all your attempts so far haven’t brought the outcome you seek.
Experiencing intense happiness in witnessing a happy couple getting married.

These emotions help you to accept your reality and spur you to take action to bring about change if needed.

Emotions and feeling trigger connection. The release of oxytocin elicits trust and safety.

Which would you rather have? Control over, and being real in your emotional response to a situation, or to be the sociopath playing games in their own world with no remorse or conscience?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

On Sunday, June 19th, I’m speaking at the Disrupted Festival of Ideas at Perth State Library and this is the topic we’ll be talking about (in part). It would be great to have your company. To find out more and register to attend (it’s free) you can do so here.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Jenny is a Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician, author, coach, and workplace health and wellbeing specialist. Her latest book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

2 Comments

  • Jackie McRae says:

    HI Jenny,
    The information you provide is really interesting & I enjoy reading the newsletters.
    Burnout is such an issue currently and it will be a multi pronged approach to help people for sure.

    I felt moved to comment on this one as I felt it was a little blaming.
    Also I’m not a fan of labels as there are many aspects to a person.
    An individual may have sociopathic tendencies (or not) and I feel there is a continuum.
    The way it is described here doesn’t give any hope or option for change in ones behaviour.
    Anyway just my thoughts.
    Thanks again for writing these though, always thought provoking.
    Kind regards

    Jackie

  • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

    Thanks so much for your comments Jackie.

    Agree, that sociopathy is a continuum and labels are tricky.

    I was being deliberately a bit provocative with this piece. Apologies if this came across a bit strong. However I think it is fair to say that in terms of leadership there are many in those positions who have more sociopathic tendencies which can be detrimental to those who work for them.

    Also those I have met who would class themselves as sociopaths/psychopaths have shown no interest in changing their behaviour.

    My aim is to highlight the issues surrounding burnout and encourage conversation around how we can all make burnout redundant.

    Best wishes
    Jenny

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