Is Lance Armstrong A Sociopath?
In my review of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I noted that Armstrong seemed to fit the classic profile of a sociopath.
To my eye, he appeared to be a pathological liar who lacks remorse, is manipulative and superficially charming, and who fails to take responsibility for his actions. But he showed emotion on the second night of the interview, which made me wonder whether my original analysis was correct.
Reader Mary Fletcher Jones, owner of the Virginia-based public relations firm Fletcher Prince, says that I was.
“You hit the nail on the head, Brad. Sociopath. Classic case. The only reason why I know that for sure after watching the interview is because of the books and articles I have read about sociopathy, and the surprisingly consistent way they express themselves and handle challenges like this. It helps them get to the top, but they also have spectacular falls, when there is this collective “oh my god” realization of people realizing the extent of their…illness? Deviance? I have yet to figure out if this is a character defect, a mental imbalance, or a combination of both. At least, it is possible to say: yup, that’s it! That’s helpful to all of us, because we’re bound to encounter a Lance Armstrong in our own lives one day, and at least this interview will help us recognize him or her.
He has a functional inability or significant impairment to experience guilt in the way most of us understand it. Anyone can appear cool and reserved on television but there is a difference. Sociopaths lie, and lie well, and they do not feel shame about it. They do not have the same physiological responses to lying as other people. They have an impaired ability to feel as other people might, empathy. They fail to take responsibility or recognize the consequences of their actions. They don’t show anguish over what they have done. You can see this in taped murder confessions — there is the same detachment.
I think Oprah did us all a service by recording this interview that goes WAY beyond any interest we might have in the integrity of professional bike racing.
Sociopaths can have feelings for their family members and other people. I know that caused you some doubt when Lance talked about his family in the interview. They can express pride and affection, for example. But it’s a different kind of relationship and there are other troubling aspects to it. For example, they typically aren’t good caregivers when family members are ill, becoming distant, detached, seemingly uncaring, or even angry.
One scenario of how a sociopathic father relates to his wife and daughter is explained in The Sociopath Next Door. Anyone who listened or observed this man (I believe he was a university administrator) would feel he loved his family and was just like anyone else, and it wasn’t until an event happened that the daughter realized how sociopathic her father really was.
Sociopaths snow virtually everyone, even family members, because we are wired to think of people thinking and reacting as we do.”
I don’t profess to have the expertise to diagnose a sociopath, but everything I’ve read confirms that Mary’s conclusion is correct. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments, Mary!
Finally, I try to stay away from “question mark journalism,” in which I throw out a question (“Is Lance Armstrong a sociopath?”) without having the evidence to answer it conclusively. But in this case, Armstrong was confronted directly with that term by Oprah Winfrey during the interview. He didn’t deny the charge.
Click here to see my full review of the Lance Armstrong – Oprah Winfrey interview, including video of one key exchange.
I came to the same (very uneducated) conclusion about Arnold when he was on 60 Minutes a few months ago. Did anyone else feel that way?
Dawn, I thought the same thing about Arnold. Of course none of us are trained psychologists. Still, it doesn’t change that it’s a bit tough watching people cause so much harm and not recognize or seem to care.
Lance Armstrong not only doesn’t seem remorseful, he lacks empathy. I read his biography and remember feeling sorry for his wife (and being surprised when they divorced).
I couldn’t live with either man. Both accomplished so much yet who both hurt the people closest to them and are so unaffected by that fact.
I think you should be careful labeling anybody with a term like sociopath. It can be considered slander, especially since neither you nor Mary Fletcher Jones are psychologists/psychiatrists. What you could say instead is that Lance exhibited sociopathic tendencies. It’s one thing to describe actions (narcissistic, egotistical) and another to classify someone (narcissist, egotist).
I agree with you that it’s important to stop short of labeling someone with a diagnosis. Please consider:
1. I used all sorts of hedge phrases for that reason, including: “I don’t profess to have the expertise to diagnose a sociopath,” “seemed to fit,” “To my eye.”
2. Remember that Oprah also used that term in one of her questions; Armstrong didn’t deny the charge – and if anything, seemed to indicate it could be true.
3. “Slander” refers to oral statements, but I get your point regarding “libel,” which refers to written ones. In the United States, public figures must show the person making the statement knew it to be false or had a reckless disregard for the truth. I’m pretty sure I’m on safe legal ground on that one.
All of that said, I’m usually uncomfortable going as far as I did in these posts for the reasons you stated. I often think of members of Congress diagnosing the late Florida woman Terry Schiavofrom hundreds of miles away, and don’t ever want to fall into a similar trap. But for the reasons stated above, I’m confident I didn’t.
Thanks for reading!
I see your point. I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, although I studied psychology in college. I have known some bona fide, diagnosed sociopaths. I have known them very well. Well enough, I feel, to know another one when I see one. Because of my experiences with them, I taken the trouble to read up on sociopathy. So, that’s what I base my opinion on.
In an informal forum, I think I’m safe expressing a reasonably informed opinion without worry of incurring a charge of slander or libel. I don’t think my statement was reckless or unfounded, and it certainly wasn’t malicious. The worst is that people will think I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I can live with that, if what I have to say helps even one person.
Which was my point: not to attack the character of someone I don’t know but to offer a potentially helpful observation to an audience of communicators who work in business settings. A sociopath can rise to the heights of his profession without a lot of the people being the wiser. Communicators are bound to encounter one, sooner or later, and there are PR challenges associated with that.
Sociopathy is one of those conditions that has very clear-cut attributes and behaviors that, in my opinion, are not easily explained as another condition. There is not a lot of gray area there. Of course, like anything, there are degrees.
I take your point about slander or libel. In many cases, I think the person should be given the benefit of the doubt. In this, case, wow, there is a lot of evidence. Perhaps I’m comfortable stating my opinion because I’m just as comfortable admitting I’m wrong, when proven wrong. I’d much rather be wrong, in this case. It is a horrible condition to live with and it brings misery to everyone connected to the person.
I felt Lance was a sociapth long before I watched his interview. He’s hurt many, many people along the way.
I am a sociopath and I recognized him as one immediately.
Entirely Truthful? A real sociopath would never, ever commit to being one?
He is a sociopath. No doubt. Because he doesn’t feel anything, he forced the whole peleton into submission. Best/worse moment: the shuh-moment after bullying another runner.
Also he forced all his team mates to undergo the complicated doping program he undertook. To silence them & also so they could do all the work and make him win. Seven years winning The Tour in a row? Dubious. Never done before? Some years you do, other years you don’t.
And I’m from Holland and I LOVE the tour.
[…] probably do it again. Immediately when we heard this quote, we thought of a post from the blog of “Mr. Media Training” Brad Phillips, who had posed the question …” after his Oprah appearance in 2013, and we can again see the same personality at work here. […]
Read Armstrong’s books. I had real doubts about him many years ago, after reading his books. I think he unintentionally reveals more there than he thought. There is an essential coldness there. There is a man trying to be “like everybody else” and not quite pulling it off. This comes through even with the ghostwriter intermediary.
There is a sociopath in my ex family…….hence…ex family.
Lance Armstrong IS A SOCIOPATH!
Sociopaths can show emotion when it is beneficial to their cause and image. It is all part of their game.
Sociopathy is not a mental illness. Sociopaths know exactly what they are doing.