Updated 16 October 2014

Karma and conscience

What is karma? Who has it and who doesn't? We look at the psyche of sociopaths vs. those who have a conscience.

The word karma is bandied around new-age movements as often as most of us have a cup of coffee, yet few of us really examine what karma actually is. Now don’t get me wrong, every self-respecting guru in training knows that karma is all about the idiot who treated you badly getting back what he or she deserves, without your actually having to do anything that might put you behind bars.

So you can hang around the sidelines just waiting for the bomb to drop on the cretin and nod your head philosophically, when it does (with a hint of compassion) and say, “well, that’s karma!” However, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Instead, the offending person seems to grow from strength to abundant strength, while we, the wronged, seem to be paying off their karma. How is this? It does not seem fair!

The truth is that karma is created when we go against our conscience. If we have no conscience - no karma. No matter what we might do and whose lives are ruined along the way. If we don’t feel bad about what we have done, we won’t pay karma. The more we evolve, the more our conscience evolves and the more we have to accept the burden of consequences of our actions when we go against our conscience. This is what being conscious is all about.

Both conscience and conscious derive from the same Latin root word conscientia/conscius meaning “knowledge” or “knowing.” So to be conscious or fully knowing, we must have a fully developed conscience. Each life time we come back and through experiencing the pain, our actions have caused others, we develop a sense of what is right and what is wrong.

From this perspective a sociopath - someone who is defined as having a complete absence of conscience, is the lowest or newest of souls and will not pay karma, until in another lifetime a conscience has developed. One in every 25 people is a sociopath according to physiologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, which means the chances are pretty likely that you would at some time have had some dealings with a sociopath.

Sociopaths will defraud “friends”, destroy relationships, abuse others, invade boundaries, all without the slightest conscience and what is more get away with it. People just can’t believe that the nice guy next door could do something like that, which is exactly what the sociopath capitalises on.

Often, because of their ability to feign conscience and emotional responses, a sociopath will wreak havoc in your life without your realising what is happening and very often with your feeling sorry for them. When you say the word psychopath or sociopath, most people imagine Hannibal Lector or some crazed killer with a chainsaw. Yet the vast majority of sociopaths never get to see the inside of a prison - only 20% of prison inmates in the USA could be classified as sociopaths, yet this 20% accounts for over 50% of serious crimes committed, such as murder, kidnapping, rape, terrorism etc.

How they affect you
What effect could they be having on your life? For the most part little, unless you happen to be more closely involved with them. Then the effects can be devastating. Robert Hare, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia says, “Everyone, including the experts, can be taken in, manipulated, controlled, conned, and left bewildered by them. A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone’s heartstrings.”

From this perspective, a sociopath - someone who is defined as having a complete absence of conscience, is the lowest or newest of souls and will not pay karma, until in another lifetime a conscience has developed.

How can they be identified?
The best protection you have against a sociopath is knowing what to look for so that you can identify a possible candidate, before they run slip shod through your life. A sociopath will appear completely sane, may have been very successful (although usually for periods) in business or their profession and appear highly intelligent.

However, knowledge of the characteristics of a sociopath helps you identify one and avoid unnecessary heartache. They are likely to be:

  • Charming and self-confident (to mask an inner lack of confidence).
  • They are attracted to professions where they can dominate, such as teachers, preachers and gurus.
  • Glib, have a sense of humour when it comes to belittling others and love telling intriguing tales about themselves and their exploits.
  • Able to appear to be warm and compassionate yet they can switch off leaving you confused.
  • Project that they are more intelligent than they actually are.
  • Shallow emotionally.
  • No conscience.
  • Love being the centre of attention and adulation
  • Manipulative of others and perhaps have a desire to dominate
  • Believe that they are superior to everyone else and have an air of entitlement.
  • Lie often.
  • Throw tantrums.
  • Exhibit parasitic behaviour i.e. live off the fruits of other’s labours.
  • Offer false promises and redemption, wooing those they feed off into accepting the status quo.
  • Extremely sensitive to their own health while ignoring the needs of others.
  • They get bored easily and desire constant stimulation.
  • They often fall into addictive behaviour.
  • Refuse to accept responsibility
  • They create feelings of guilt in others.
  • They are impulsive, irresponsible and are not interested in formulating any realistic long-term plans.
  • They cannot feel genuine empathy for others.
  • They fear those who might see into them or expose them.
  • Have an ability to make others feel sorry for them.
  • Like to be in charge of others who they often abuse.

Other side of the spectrum
If these then are the characteristics of a new soul, one who has no conscience, then a soul with a high degree of conscience (knowledge) would have transcended these traits, and would be inclined to:

  • Have self-confidence that comes from a sense of knowing they are.
  • A divine spark rather than an ego-related sense of self-importance, as such other people will be drawn to them.
  • They may speak well and have a good sense of humour but never at another’s expense.
  • They may be excellent story tellers but the stories never expound their own egos, but rather are told to demonstrate some teaching.
  • Genuinely warm and compassionate.
  • Are extremely wise but seldom feel the need to speak their wisdom unless asked.
  • Profound emotions.
  • Hugely developed conscience.
  • Steer away from being the centre of attention and often shy away from the public eye and dislike adulation.
  • Fully accepting of others and have no need to dominate or control.
  • Air of humbleness.
  • Always remain in their truth.
  • Are calm, peaceful and tranquil.
  • Accept that all fruits are given by God’s grace and therefore remain in constant thanks for what they have.
  • They operate with complete integrity.
  • Extremely sensitive to the needs of others.
  • They are never bored - life is stimulating.
  • They work to overcome any addictions.
  • Accept responsibility.
  • They fully accept others for who they are.
  • They are highly accountable, spontaneous and live in the present and while they may have long term plans, they are not attached to the outcome of these plans.
  • They feel genuine empathy for others.
  • They are open and unashamed about who they are.
  • Have no need to play the victim, no matter what has transpired.
  • Have no need to be controlling others or have followers.

If we can accept that a sociopath is simply a young soul, as we have all been, then we won’t waste energy getting caught up in the belief that their behaviour is a personal affront. They simply provide a lesson we need to grow from, as undoubtedly we in the past have provided to others. We also won’t waste energy desiring retribution, because as explained it won’t come (not until they develop a conscience) and we won’t waste time and energy trying to change them. They simply don’t see that they need to.

Rather let’s focus on the attributes of the second list and work to develop these and so hone our own conscience and become wiser in the process. - Ann Gadd

Ann Gadd is author of The girl who bites her nails and the man who is always late, 2006 published by Findhorn Press, ISBN1-84409-073-6 and Healing Habits published by Kima Global 2004. She also runs transformational art workshops and is an exhibiting artist. This article first appeared in Renaissance Magazine 2005. or


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