Three days ago Oprah mentioned the word sociopath during her interview with Lance Armstrong. As he answered her questions, she wondered about Lance's motives for all that he did, the destruction he caused, the way he struggled to articulate his well-documented actions the past several years.
This got me thinking whether he really is a sociopath. My understanding is that a sociopath lacks the ability to feel empathy or sympathy for other people. A sociopath is self-confident and yet a pathological liar-a toxic combination for sure. A sociopath can be exceptionally clever but couldn't care less what anyone thinks of him. To a sociopath the rest of us amount to nothing, worthless dolts. A sociopath exalts in his superiority over the ignorant people around him. Seeing himself as unique, he delights in deception and loves to brag and revel in his own glory. Narcissistic to the extreme, a sociopath is devoid of conscience. He exudes paranoia and is consumed by distrust.
Sounds like Lance to me.
During the interview, Lance struggled to explain why he did what he did. Maybe it's because he has something missing in his brain that would enable him to feel empathy or sympathy for others. Think about it: He's clever and manipulative. He's defiant. He's ruthless. He's all about himself and doesn't care who he tramples on-at least not until maybe last night. Or so he wants us to believe. He's into himself to a weird extent that I have trouble understanding, so much so that he has trashed his life. Most people don't make as many irrational decisions as he has. Why did he do this? He can't explain. The rest of us remain baffled and disturbed, even a little worried. To him-and this is very important--his actions probably have seemed rational.
There is a mental illness behind this. People who have these conditions don't want them and often can't understand them. Their mental defects blind them. If the defect didn't exist, they would more easily be able to understand, identify and cope with the defects. They wouldn't act the way they do because it doesn't make sense. They don't want to destroy their own lives by trampling on those of others.
Something deeply psychological swallowed Lance as he lied and lied, and attacked and attacked, doped and doped, and sued and sued, and won and won and won and won and won and won and won seven Tour de France victories. In the interview he seemed incapable of explaining why he lied and cheated. Maybe he was just being clever like a classic sociopath figuring we're all morons and he could manipulate us again. Maybe the whole performance was a ruse, his little game against the world in which he still thinks he's going to win; just like he was sure, as he confirmed in the interview, he would win all those bike races. It's one thing to want to win, and even to want to win badly.
This is pretty normal stuff in our meritocracy where winners receive most of the adulation, fame and money. But Lance took that need to win to someplace almost none of us have ever gone. Maybe no one ever has. He risked everything, happiness on Earth, his legacy for something pretty small by comparison: winning bike races. Sounds like a sickness to me. If that's the case, I feel sorry for him to the extent that maybe he can't control his actions because his brain is defective. Maybe, seriously, he's demented in some way. Is there something missing inside his brain? Maybe. Is he just a really selfish, mean guy? No, his actions prove he's much more complicated than that and worse than just that.
People with psychological disorders unsettle those who don't. These are invisible and intractable illnesses. They are often mysterious and insidious. They cause sadness and disturb everyone involved.
Under these circumstances, it's understandable and necessary for the more mentally stable to keep their distance from people like Lance. I wouldn't want my kids to ever meet Lance or be anywhere near him. I suspect many people feel the same way. He has descended into a social pariah.
Think about this: He flat out lied repeatedly to reporters whom he manipulated into gaining his trust. What is that? Normal people don't do that. It's no way to develop positive relationships, a better life. It's crazy but, again, maybe not the way he sees things because he's probably a sociopath. He pushed the accelerator down the path to his own destruction sort of like Thelma and Louse pushed the accelerator of their car and deliberately drove off the mountain cliffs to their certain deaths.
He risked his good name for no apparent benefit other than fame, riches and adulation for being the greatest cyclist ever. Maybe those benefits outweighed the risks Lance took to lose them all. Sadly, he did lose them all. Everything has come crashing down on him like a thousand tons of concrete.
The most unsettling question now is whether he has it in him to become even more infamous. For him and for us, I hope not. I wouldn't be surprised if he took his tragic downward spiral to a deeper level. I hope he finds peace and uses this experience to make the world a better place somehow. But I'm not holding my breath. Lance has taken this too far for anyone to trust him anymore.