Before the world knew him as “Killer Clown”, John Wayne Gacy epitomized what it meant to be a model citizen. In his free time, he would entertain children at birthday parties. Neighbors, friends, and family members described him as convivial and helpful; a guy you could trust. As we all know, that wasn’t true in the slightest. Gacy had what most psychologists would describe as sociopathic tendencies. That word- sociopath- now get’s thrown around so cavalierly that I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard someone describe the guy who cut them in line at Chipotle as “a fucking sociopath.”
A sociopath, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, is a person who “fails to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest…Purposefully deceitful, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.” A psychopath, similarly, is defined as “an unstable and aggressive person with abnormal behavior.” It’s difficult to distinguish between psychopath and sociopath, but I don’t think we need to be lumping average citizens into either category.
We really need to have this conversation again, huh? It seems like just yesterday I was complaining about the incorrect usage of a word that we’re all guilty of misusing: literally. But here we are again. Comparing people who “ghosted” on you to serial killers, child molesters, and master manipulators. You know, like L. Ron Hubbard, that dude who started Scientology?
That guy who you had a one night stand with has qualities comparable to Manson? Really? You sure about that?
Sociopaths are indifferent towards anyone and everything. Their personalities are malleable. What happened to just calling someone an asshole or a bitch? I hear men and women alike referring to their coworkers as sociopaths because they forgot to fill the coffee pot back up after they killed the last of the joe.
John Gacy. Ted Bundy. Jeffrey Dahmer. Charles Manson. All of these people could be described as sociopaths or psychopaths. Men who murdered (or had others murder for them) for sport and hid it with charisma, charm, and narcissism. You can’t just run around calling people sociopaths or psychopaths because they decided to put ketchup on their hot dog. That’s a little overboard don’t you think?
Remember back a few years ago when people started misusing the word literally in everyday conversations? I want to say that all started because of the movie “Clueless.” I haven’t seen it in years, but I’m pretty sure the three main broads in that movie were using literally in every other sentence. And if they weren’t doing that, they just gave off the vibe that they would. That fad has died down considerably since but I still hear people using it in its incorrect form frequently. It’s one of my pet peeves that isn’t really justified, but it bothers me to no end when I hear someone say that their friend who was angry “literally just blew up.” Nope. Your friend didn’t eat a bunch of TNT and blow up. He was just frustrated.
Literal and figurative language are two very different things. That joke you heard that made you say I’m literally dying right now? That’s not correct. Is this a little nit picky? Yeah, maybe. But just like we can’t use the word literally to mean figuratively, we also cannot use sociopath or psychopath to mean rude or deceitful.
We’ve all seen the columns on Elite Daily and Thought Catalog- “10 Signs You’re Dating A Sociopath” or “A Profile Of My Sociopathic Cheating Ex-Girlfriend.” The list goes on and on and on. When someone lies to you, that does not mean they are a sociopath. That means that they are a liar and maybe a bit of an asshole. Nothing more, nothing less.
The media sits back and is comfortable calling politicians, shady lawyers, and published authors sociopaths. They do this despite the fact that there are much more appropriate and apt terms like “liar” and “dumbass” sitting on the bookshelf collecting dust. But liar isn’t as sexy as sociopath is it? When I think sociopath I think of Patrick Bateman. He is the textbook definition of that word and we’re now assigning it to people like David Cameron and Ashton Carter? It’s such a glaring mistake yet it’s become so mainstream that people aren’t even batting an eye at it anymore. It’s 2016, and I shouldn’t have to walk around listening to people use words incorrectly when everyone has the Merriam-Webster app on their iPhone. Clean it up, guys..