Robert Louis Mueller didn’t know there was such a thing as a sociopathic narcissist (301.81) until a management team of them took control over the large, nonprofit institution for which he worked. The newcomers were an odd bunch. The very first thing Mueller noticed was the pain (shame-pain) in the local leader’s eyes while speaking to gathered staff. It was a deep-seated pain of a dark, emotional, twisted sort. Even in the man’s initial “charm” phase, Mueller noticed he talked – not with - but at the employees, as if speaking from a distance and from a script. Both turned out to be true. Both turned out to be 301.81 tells demonstrating their “lacking a capacity for empathy” (LCE) which is at the core of narcissism: Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.81.
Although he was not yet aware of the correct term for them (“sociopathic narcissists”), Mueller first began his examination of 301.81s when he became an employee-side, union attorney working sexual harassment cases. He investigated alleged sexual harassers in the workplace; he collected data by interviewing witnesses and subpoenaing documents, and he examined and cross-examined 301.81s at hearing. There was a then-unidentified but certainly uncomfortable commonality among the accused.
In local university and law libraries, in the days before the internet, Mueller began his research on these characters. Neither he, nor it seemed anyone else, was getting to their core. Soon it became obvious that sexual harassment was a form of workplace bullying – albeit the former was explicitly illegal and the more generalized latter was often not. That work blossomed into Mueller’s first reference book, Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide (How To Transcend The Illusion Of The Interpersonal) (2008).
By then, Mueller came to realize that the “abusers” and “harassers” he’d been investigating were “narcissists” (301.81s), but in the book he advised against calling them that for several reasons, starting with the fact they lack the precision of a professional definition (such as in DSM-5 301.81). Modernly and colloquially, the word “narcissist” has devolved into near meaninglessness, now being recognized only as a common insult. Alternatively and also worse, in political environments like the workplace, many managements consider it a compliment. With all the drama they create, 301.81s are frequently applauded and even promoted by superiors who view them as productive, which is not always the case with supervisors. Evidence indicates however that these narcissists mistreat not only the employer’s Human Resources, but their resources generally.
The first difficulty Mueller encountered during his study of sociopaths was the great many definitions for “narcissist.” It takes Wikipedia 5,000 words with 50 references for its overview just starting with the original Greek myth of a youth, Narcissus, who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake, to his demise. Mueller needed a definition that was both precise and respected; he selected the formal definition published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) (2013). At its 301.81, they codified “narcissistic personality disorder” as broken down into its elements. Still, the best commentary on 301.81 is by non-psychologist and self-identified narcissist, Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., author of Malignant Self Love (1999). Not surprisingly, it turned out that the core of narcissists is their lacking a capacity for empathy (LCE).
Of course not all narcissists act out as antisocial sociopaths. Most are truly fine people. To explain the term “sociopath,” as all writers do, Mueller chose the dictionary definition, “a person suffering from psychopathic personality (e.g. 301.81) whose behavior is aggressively antisocial.” To him, that description seemed appropriate for most sexual harassers and violent criminals. When he researched the cannon of pre-science, traditional psychology, he found an enormous hole. The word “sociopaths” did not fit their larger ideological structure, so it appeared, in the US anyway, psychologists had done little or no work in the area.
As Mueller studied the issue, he realized that behaviors which are “aggressive antisocial” are not about “the interpersonal” as found in families and thus the domain of psychology, but rather a power-based phenomena, thus political, and too often, criminal. Rape victim advocates have understood this for years. Seeing the large differential between psychological doctrine and empirical reality, some in psychology have fudged the point by informally adding an adjective, “malignant narcissist.” Same thing.
From the beginning, psychologists and therapists unkindly criticized Mueller’s work as unhelpfully reinforcing the obvious “delusionality” of complaining employees. For them, as matter of principle, it was simply impossible for harassers, bullies, abusers, sociopaths, or “bad guys” to exist. Instead of investigating the multitude of evidence to the contrary, Mueller was advised by these psychologists to refer complaining employees to long-term therapy. The real problem, they said, was rooted in early childhood developmental difficulties (probably “daddy issues”). Being necessarily evidence-based, attorney Mueller knew that wasn’t right; when facts and theory diverge, evidence is the obvious choice. Mueller had to start from scratch - working from the data up, to build a fresh model.
Not everyone in psychology agreed with the traditionalists. He learned from Judith Herman, M.D. in her seminal work, Trauma and Recovery, that most traditional psychologists (it’s hard to believe) didn’t regard domestic violence as real for the same reasons. That is where the problem began. Again, the supposedly abusive spouse or parent was, they thought, guilty of nothing except for maybe having some communications difficulties. And again, the complainant needed therapy. Lots of therapy. Professional psychologists looked into the workplace through the subjective perspective, in small offices very far away from the evidence. Trained in marriage and family therapy, they mistakenly transferred what they knew about interpersonal family dynamics into the workplace, and these were often involved, but there was so much more to it: the objective world of production, paychecks and profits. For Mueller, the question that haunted him was: how could they be so blind?
The very best overview of psychologists’ aversion to the inquiry was written by Zurich psychiatrist Adolf Guggenbűhl-Craig. (1980) in his book, Emptied Soul. There were historical and, of course, professional reasons for their blindness. All of it was out-of-date and all wrong. Knowing this for decades, Mueller was unable to find an alternative theoretical framework until the early 2000s when in the hard-sciences, neuroscientists and psychiatrists were able use their relatively new, fMRI brain scanning machines to look literally inside the heads of sociopathic 301.81s. That is when Mueller’s observations began to come together as the fresh model it is today.
It turns out that the management team of sociopathic narcissists who invaded Mueller’s workplace, and who rather explicitly and proudly taught Mueller the basics of 301.81, were “true believers.” As is often the case, 301.81s come to dominate organizations because they fight for high status ranking more than anyone else. Once in charge, in steps, they shift the organization’s mission from providing services or manufacturing, to propagandizing what is for them, the obvious brilliance of 301.81 thinking. It’s called, “mission creep.” In this case, in the pursuit of personal status – their antidote for their usually suppressed “shame-pain.” It’s as real and as intense as any other pain. As “true believers”, they frequently require their subordinates to accept their doctrine. If that sounds a lot like traditional psychology, that is because, it is.
Now with the advent of President Donald Trump, use of the word “sociopath” has become ubiquitous. Today it regularly appears as a word in the media despite the protests of traditional psychologists. That’s a step forward. But it is understood by very few. Mueller intends for Sociopaths As Villains to teach the public, through the work of other writers, how to identify 301.81s in general and sociopathic 301.81s in particular, even in their early charming phase, before they can do harm to healthy others or their organizations.
For our purposes, sociopaths are termed, “Sociopathic 301.81s.”
“Narcissist”: At root, narcissism is an utter lack of a capacity for empathy (LCE) but is defined with precision by the American Psychiatric Association in its DSM-5 at 301.81, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”
“Sociopath”: Webster’s: “A person suffering from a psychopathic personality (e.g. 301.81), whose behavior is aggressively anti-social.”
Not all narcissists are sociopaths
– But all sociopaths are narcissists.
Authors (Narcissists, 301.81s)
Excellent authors on 301.81s include: (1) Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited (2001), is a self-aware 301.81 and perhaps the most perceptive of 301.81 commentators; and (2) Sandy Hotchkiss, author of Why Is It Always About You: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003). While the genetic markers for 301.81s were not then known, hers is a groundbreaking and popular book in which she certainly grasps the flavor of the 301.81 experience for healthy others.
Excellent authors on sociopaths include: (1) M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions Of A Sociopath (2013), is a self-aware, high functioning, attorney sociopath and perhaps the most perceptive of sociopath commentators; (2) Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, author of The Emptied Soul (1980), was a Zurich psychiatrist who in his short, readable book outlines the historical development of the study of sociopaths and who as early as 1980 understood its tension with traditional, pre-science psychology; and (3) James Fallon, author of The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain, is a judicially-recognized sociopathy expert who describes the organic underpinnings of sociopathy made observable with fMRI, brain scanning machines and who lets us into the complexities of his own congenitally malformed, “sociopathic” yet prosocial brain with its implications for him and his family.
Definition of Terms
This model necessarily accepts the “plain English” definition for “sociopath,” one who engages in “aggressive antisocial behaviors” (Webster’s). Likewise, it accepts traditional psychology’s and thus society’s established definition for “narcissists” (DSM-5, 301.81 criteria) directly and indirectly derived from the understandings of Sigmund Freud’s Germany in the 1930’s.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
Now in its fifth edition, DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association. It catalogues psychological disorders for clinicians, health insurance companies, the legal system, etc., in the US. Internationally, there is also International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), produced by the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to “narcissistic personality disorder” (DSM-5 301.81), DSM-5 includes other “personality disorders” (sometimes termed “character defects”) such as: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline (controversial), avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.