The Mistake of Choosing a Person Who Doesn’t Have a Conscience

Photo illustration by Vadim Bogulov / Unsplash

Some of us are not aware of people who lack a conscience—those who lack empathy for others and cannot tolerate differences between themselves and others. Our lack of awareness is sometimes prompted by a misguided fear of being judgmental of others and an over willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt.  The fact is that some people simply lack the capacity to be compassionate to others, just like some people cannot see what their vision does not allow them to see. Some people are morally blind to others and their incapacity can cause major problems in a relationship. There are big differences between rattle snakes and garter snakes. Neither creature deserves to be hated but we would be well advised to know the differences between these two reptiles. So, it is OK to be judgmental if we are trying to protect ourselves from major injuries and it is wise to know how to handle different creatures in God’s creation.

You may wonder how people without a conscience can be compared to rattle snakes. Actually, the brain of a reptile is significantly different from that of a mammal. Snakes can be cold blooded and typically lack the capacity to have nurturing relationships with others. They don’t nurture their young and typical look at other creatures as either prey or predator. As mammals, we do have close relationships simply based on emotional affiliation with others. When we look at the world like a rattlesnake we simply use others to benefit ourselves with no regard how others are affected by our behaviors. We lie and cheat for our own self-gain. Those of us with reptilian brains simply act without compassion for others. We are still part of God’s plan but lack compassion in terms of hurting others. This is why it is wise for us to make safety checks when we are relating to others. We all need to learn the differences between rattlesnakes and garter snakes and Easter Bunnies.

Danger of people without a conscience

We all need to learn the differences between rattlesnakes and garter snakes and Easter Bunnies. When we are close to another person, we rely on that person to keep us safe. We don’t want our heart broken by our partner through infidelity, financial manipulation, or broken promises. We depend on our partner to know when they’re hurting us through our partner having a conscience and doing the right thing even we when are not watching him or her. This ethical rule is what builds trust and safety. Unfortunately, when a person lacks a conscience, they lack healthy guilt and are willing to do bad things to us as long as nobody is watching. They trick and lie to us to maintain the illusion of faithfulness and trust. When caught red-handed they make us feel crazy though denial, intimidation, and anger. This phenomenon is known as gas-lighting. Unfortunately, because we ourselves don’t want to know the real truth of our faulty relationship for fear of losing our partner, we go along, sometimes for years, living with a rattle snake and believing our partner is merely a garter snake and is being misunderstood. Unfortunately, hiding from the truth does not make life safe for us. There is an enormous difference between a garter snake and a rattler. Eventually, to our horror, the truth comes out and we are irreparably hurt. Often the hatred we have towards ourselves for being so foolish is even worse than the hurt of what our partner has done to us. Many of us get traumatized for life from sleeping with a rattlesnake!

SEE ALSO  Indifference: How to Cope When Someone You Love Is Indifferent to Others

Why are we so blind to people without a conscience?

Many of us, about nine in ten of us, do have a conscience. If we see an older person struggling to cross the street while struggling to carry groceries, we might be inclined to offer our services. We may tend to think that nearly everybody else would do the same. Our optimism towards others may discipline us to think badly of others and we may be blind to social indifference in others. Some of us may wish to think the best of others because we are scared to think of all the cold people in the world. Some of us are naïve in this regard—we put the rose-colored glasses on with everybody that we meet. Unfortunately, good-hearted people like this are too frequently the targets of users and manipulators. Being a kind person in itself is no protection from users and abusers. Just like it is always wise to lock your door before leaving your home, it is equally prudent to know when others have a conscience and when they couldn’t care less. Indeed, people who are cold to others often have compensatory skills that scam people, trick others into unwisely having favorable impressions of them, and being imposters in their relationships overall. They are masters at charming others and looking good, frequently a lot better than any one of us. Don’t be fooled by impressions. Get to know the real person behind the façade. Each of us are responsible for our own safety and taking off our own rose-colored glasses. Sadly, some of us are so desperate to have a friend that we keep deceiving ourselves and we keep wearing those glasses.

How do you tell when a person is a rattlesnake?

Just like it is always wise to lock your door before leaving your home, it is equally prudent to know when others have a conscience and when they couldn’t care less.Pay attention to how things are going between you and another person. If you idealize your friend who primarily only talks about himself and almost never asks how you are doing, if your friend continuously wants to impress you and is disinterested in what you’re up to,  if it’s assumed that you will be paying for lunch due to your friend’s lack of funds, and if your friend has almost no memory of or is indifferent to close people in your life, then you likely are in trouble as you are in the presence of an uncaring person who will be willing to take advantage of you in a heartbeat. This is especially true if your friend gives you the feeling that you are lucky to be in the presence of such a special person and that you are lucky to be up to his or her standards. Somehow you may feel that you really don’t exist or matter around such a person and you wonder why you even got together with such a person. You also may tire of his pity party and how you should feel sorry for him for all the bad things that happen to him so unfairly. You may be inclined to offer your help to such a friend, but your assistance will regularly be declined by your friend. Overall, you may wonder why you ever got together with your so-called friend.

SEE ALSO  Indifference: How to Cope When Someone You Love Is Indifferent to Others

Why am I writing about people who lack a conscience?

I am aware from my practice that helping people with their marital problems becomes almost an impossibility when one or both partners lack the capacity to put themselves in each other’s shoes. Heartfelt listening and compassion are the hallmarks of careful marital repair. When couples lack these qualities, they almost have to first learn how to have compassion for each other and for everyone else first. Learning to have compassion is an arduous task best learned in the first three years of life. Trying to do that later in life is like trying to help an illiterate person to read for the first time in adult life. It can be done but not very likely to happen, especially when neither partner has any assurance that it can ever be done successfully. Most marital counseling with partners who lack compassion for each other is a patchwork of incomplete healing and the gains in the work are at best temporary and disappointing. This is exactly why it’s best to choose a partner who already has good character in the first place. People of good character who have chronic conflict can much more easily resolve what is broken in their marriage.

Selecting a potential President should be done as carefully as picking a life mate. If your candidate lacks compassion, can never be wrong, and uses the office primarily for self-gain, he will make a very poor candidate. Chances are that person only cares about himself and would easily feel you are expendable. Such a choice is totally different from the person with a history of public service. It’s not how a candidate looks on the outside but who he is on the inside that counts the most. Character is way more important than image. In fact, if you select a self-centered candidate chances are good that our whole country will be turned into a dictatorship of people who don’t matter. Choose wisely as the lives of your children and grandchildren will be determined by this coming election.

“Then sings my soul, My Saviour God to Thee, 
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee, 
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

John H. Driggs, L.I.C.S.W is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul, MN and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990). He can be reached at 651-699-4573.

Last Updated on May 8, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *