Nice guys finish last, so the saying goes. Not strictly true, but certainly you could be forgiven for having the impression that the world these days is run largely by Sociopaths.
It is true, though, that if you are being so careful as to never step on any toes, you won’t get all that far in our cyber-connected world of eight billion people, because that’s an awful lot of toes. Somebody is going to yell ouch!
There is always a dissenting voice — someone, somewhere, who will criticise what you are doing or saying. It’s statistically guaranteed. If that stops you in your creative tracks, then no matter the brilliance of your work, the world will never have the pleasure of experiencing it.
This is where interpersonal resilience comes into play, meaning tolerance of disapproval or the courage to be disliked. Authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga wrote a book on exactly this topic.
As with most things, more is not always better. It’s a matter of degree. At the opposite end of the scale, with the maximum tolerance for disapproval, lies the Psychopath. He (usually) or she (sometimes) doesn’t care at all about our opinion of him/her.
I’ve built a model to illustrate. Which personality type are you? Perhaps more than one…
The People Pleaser is a vulnerable soul who finds disapproval distressing. They have the least courage to be disliked of the personality types.
Often thoroughly charming and sweet as pie, People Pleasers tag along humbly and act like they are fine with whatever others want to do. They lack confidence, feel guilt and shame easily, are very rule-abiding, and say “sorry” a lot.
People Pleasers may also be very caring, sensitive and supportive friends.
The People Pleaser tends to over-give. They are generous with their money and time, and give way in traffic when they don’t really need to. They generally put themselves last.
The People Pleaser backs down in negotiations, rarely expresses their wants or needs, and can’t say no. They have a mental playbook for what it means to be a good boy/girl.
People Pleasers have friends who love and appreciate them. They also have false friends who abuse their goodwill. They can fall into particularly damaging relationships with Aggressors and Sociopaths, to whom they feel inexplicably and powerfully attracted.
People Pleasers risk not manifesting their full potential and may earn less money than they should for the work they do.
Community Members are straightforward, responsible and conciliatory. They are balanced — neither overly sensitive, nor unresponsive, to critical feedback.
This is the salt of the earth character and backbone of society.
Community Members are willing to compromise but assert their own needs or hold ground on important issues. They are giving in relationships, but expect a degree of reciprocity. They work diligently for an employer without allowing themselves to be walked over. They consider others’ viewpoints constructively, with disagreement expressed respectfully.
The Community Member lives an everyday life, with stable friendships, a regular job or business, and good family relationships. They earn a reasonable wage proportionate to their skills and effort. They are generally liked and appreciated.
The Go-getter is bold, enthusiastic and optimistic. They have spark, confidence and creativity. They tend to be comfortable in the spotlight and are not overly concerned about what others think of them. They can be both grounded and inspiringly expansive, and are thus natural leaders.
Go-getters tend to drive business ideas or community projects. They work around obstacles to create constructive change. They listen to criticism but alter their behaviour only if needed.
The Go-getter negotiates strongly but prioritises genuine win-win decisions, because they are focused on the big picture and the future.
Go-getters do well in business and politics, and fall into leadership roles. They are often respected, liked and followed by many. They tend to earn an above average wage because they are contributing a lot of energy on behalf of their organisation or community.
Go-getters have stable friendships as well as building new connections all the time.
Aggressors are focused strongly on their own needs or perspectives. They have a lot of cut-through, getting what they want by dominating others. They feel limited empathy or concern for those who have to lose in order for them to win.
Aggressors are hunters. They are also defensive, protecting themselves, and sometimes others, very vigorously.
Aggressors are the pork-barrelers. They push their own interests strongly, trying to get more resources, attention or kudos for themselves, even if relationships are sacrificed along the way.
They dominate others in conversation, assuming their own views to be of greater importance. They tend to be argumentative, escalating disharmony instead of listening and compromising. Some aggressors are insulting, critical or demeaning, building themselves up by trying to make others feel lesser.
Aggressors may do better than most financially because they compete vigorously. However, they can also miss out on opportunities by treating allies poorly and alienating them. They can create bad energy and collect enemies.
Therefore, an Aggressor’s relationships are inevitably disharmonious. Usually they interpret relationship breakdowns as a reflection of the other person’s bad attitude or betrayal, rather than the natural consequence of their behaviour towards them.
Often Aggressors want to be loved and belong as much as anyone. However, because aggression is the antithesis of love, romantic partners (except People Pleasers) pull away to try to protect themselves and correct the unbalanced forces.
Aggressors may also be very effective and valued protectors. They ensure their community has the resources it needs and is safe from external Aggressors.
Sociopaths are ego-driven, fearless, Machiavellian and untrustworthy. Often charismatic and interpersonally skilled, they are calculating in relationships. A cold, dark personality lies beneath their social veneer, which reveals itself gradually over time, or intermittently.
Sociopaths are unethical and selfish, rejecting the moral boundaries of their culture. They feel little guilt about causing others harm or taking what does not belong to them.
Some Sociopaths have an intense, unsettling gaze, with emotionless eyes.
Sociopaths lie frequently to advantage themselves in business, money, sex or romance. They manipulate People Pleasers to perform favours or give them things for free.
They are risk-takers who are reckless with money, business, sex and health.
Attractive Sociopaths often use sexuality to manipulate and may have numerous partners, pursuing out-of-bounds relationships such as married or underage people. Whilst they can fall in love, they lack normal attachment to their partner, showing little care for their wellbeing unless it’s calculated to provide them a personal benefit.
Sociopaths usually bully their spouse, without concern for the moral unfairness of dominating another person or the distress it causes.
In business some Sociopaths use false good guy personas, hiding behind the facade of registered charities or spiritual organisations. They can’t be relied upon to honour agreements if they can get away with defaulting on them.
Everyday Sociopaths may take pleasure in petty power-plays, such as intentionally making someone wait an uncomfortable period of time, or speaking down to serving staff.
Big league Sociopaths are the kinds of people who think little of destroying fertile land on which thousands depend for generations to come, in exchange for 10 years of fossil fuel profits for a handful of buddies — and the bureaucrats who enable them to do it.
They are the ones who knowingly sell medicines or chemicals that harm their own communities, or financial products that impoverish or enslave them.
Many people have an experience of losing their heart, money, property, health or sanity to a Sociopath.
Most of the Sociopath‘s romantic, platonic and business relationships are disharmonious and short-lived, ending in a flurry of angry feathers. They are frequently tied up in some kind of contentious disagreement.
Romantically they pair up either with a fellow Sociopath (a partner in crime) or a very sweet-natured People Pleaser (an energy balancer) because these are the only personality types who will tolerate them.
Intelligent Sociopaths achieve seniority in business or politics through their fearless, unfettered self-interest and profit generation. They become CEOs, leaders of institutions, and leaders of countries.
Some Sociopaths are revered, building a large fan base of People Pleasers and Community Members who fail to realise they are being abused.
Sociopaths can get far in life (which is why they are still in the human gene pool) but also fall hard when the weight of disapproval eventually ejects them from the tribe — or their fellow Sociopaths and Psychopaths turn on them, as they are apt to do.
A Psychopath is a Sociopath ‘on steroids’. All of the above applies. Additionally, Psychopaths get a thrill out of hurting and abusing others, so they do it on purpose as a way of life. They have the most courage to be disliked of the personality types.
Psychopaths are ambitious and power-hungry, with remarkable arrogance. They believe in their own superiority — that they deserve unfair advantage, excessive money, multiple sexual partners, and the obedience of their fellow human beings.
Psychopaths are callous, ruthless, and without conscience. They are the global apex predator.
Psychopaths can have excellent interpersonal skills, almost hypnotically drawing people in. They fake nice very skilfully. Their darkness gradually reveals itself once someone is hooked and reeled in.
Some have a predatory gaze that’s even more pronounced than that of the Sociopath. It’s an intense, even seductive stare that makes you feel like prey — because you are.
The Psychopath’s senses need constant stimulation to avert boredom. They are continually active with work, entertainment, or seducing new sexual partners. They are always looking for something more or better.
Psychopaths are violent, either directly or indirectly. They rape, torture or kill. These are the terrorists and warmongers, and the people who abduct women or traffic children. They sell drugs or armaments that kill and maim in exchange for profit or power.
White-collar Psychopaths sometimes reach great heights in business or politics, and build tremendous personal wealth. In turn, the people being ‘harvested’ by the Psychopath can lose their lives or be severely harmed physically, emotionally or financially.
Eventually many Psychopaths end up in prison, but incredible harm can be done to a great many people before this happens.
A match made in hell
Given enough time, a sociopathic business or political leader’s team will come to comprise only of other Sociopaths and a few People Pleasers, because no-one else fits in. Community Members leave in horror once they realise what’s going on. Go-getters can last a while if they are determined to stay and do some good (thank you) but they have to play with a very steady hand.
This sounds terrible, so how did we get here?
There’s every chance that a bunch of People Pleasers in HR let the Sociopath in, or at least failed to compel them to leave when they had the opportunity.
In politics, Sociopaths are often voted in, because they are brilliant manipulators, promising salvation to the very people they intend to harvest for personal gain.
This natural lock-and-key pairing between Sociopaths and People Pleasers — between villains and victims — is also the reason that the most disagreeable people sometimes have the most delightful, forgiving and agreeable romantic partners.
The sweet spot
In human psychology, extremes are rarely functional. Although some valuable things can come from the manic determination of the Psychopath (Hitler built great roads, I hear) their total impact is of course devastating.
The two most functional personality styles, which thankfully make up most of humanity, are the Community Member and Go-getter. In fact, classical economics, a head-in-the-sand model that ignores humanity’s most consequential foibles, is based on an idealised society comprised exclusively of these personality types.
Unfortunately, that’s not realistic.
There will always be Sociopaths and Psychopaths to contend with. There are about 100 million of them in the world currently, working very hard, and taking risks that most of us would never dream of, to get what they want.
This is something which, as a global community, we really need to get a much better handle on. We need strategies that decisively filter these people out at all levels of business, media, politics and law, instead of promoting or voting them into positions of disproportionate individual power.
The larger our communities are, and the more global our governance, the more exponentially dangerous this becomes, because larger populations harbour more extreme Psychopaths in the tail ends of their bellcurves.
If you are a People Pleaser, I’m sorry to say you are no match. You may find yourself easily controlled by these bullies and manipulators, like a nervous puppet with your strings being pulled.
It’s really a shame that the most charming among us, the People Pleasers, get such short shrift. But whilst morally unfair, it is also natural and inevitable.
What it does mean is that if you are a People Pleaser it’s you who has the most to gain from cultivating more courage to be disliked, so that you can bring your gifts to the world. It is very possible to learn your way around the fear that holds you back from blossoming into a fully-fledged Community Member or Go-getter.
I know this because I have guided several people on this journey and seen them succeed.
Even if you picked up your habits from People Pleaser or Sociopath parents, both of whom teach children that they must walk on eggshells in order to feel worthy or safe, it is possible to drop the kowtowing habit and build a sturdier way of being. This is because…
Social resilience is as much a skill as it is a trait.
In case you are worried about ending up at the other end of the spectrum — selfish and heartless — don’t be. I can confidently say that’s not going to happen. So, lovely People Pleasers, put your worries aside and start building your courage to be disliked, because the world needs you.
Terminology This article uses the words Sociopath and Psychopath to make a distinction of degree: – A Sociopath is manipulative, remorseless and deeply selfish. They don’t care if they injure, kill or impoverish others. However, these are collateral effects of their emotional detachment and selfishness, rather than their core motivation. – A Psychopath even more profoundly harms others and does it in a purposeful, intentional way, because they get a kick out of it. In psychiatry this distinction is not usually made. Psychopathy is the only word used to describe the gradations of callous lack of empathy that characterise both of these variants of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD).