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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Sociopath in Your Life. A book review.

Have you identified the Sociopath in your life?

I know that I’ve identified at least one in mine. I’m not big on self-help books. In fact, I rarely read them. My tastes usually go toward more brain candy than brain enrichment. But a friend that used to be a co-worker gave me a copy of Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door. It’s not exactly intended as a self-help book, but it certainly helped me. I'd tell you more of the personal side of this particular story... but the person I'd talk about is a little too litigious.

The main point of this book is that Stout suggests and believes that 4% of the population or one in 25 people are sociopaths. What’s a sociopath? The basic definition is someone with a social disorder or the lack of conscience. Wikipedia has a pretty good run down of antisocial disorder here and I think most of us are familiar with the term by now.

Television and popular novels have used sociopaths over and over again. They are a perfect tool to create a compelling criminal or monster. A person that can steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the elderly without any remorse; A person who can quietly spread lies just to watch someone break down in tears and question their very reality; A person that can look at a child in a busy restaurant and just pull the trigger – these are frightening people. They are people we can’t understand. These examples are ones that some of us have heard about in the news or from stories… but the scarier truth is that many sociopaths are never seen for what they are. This book helps make the reader aware of what people who lack a conscience are really like, how to recognize them and what they are capable of.

From The Sociopath Next Door:

“Do Sociopaths understand what they are? Do they have some insight into their nature, or, instead, could they read this book from cover to cover and fail to see themselves reflected? In my work, I am often asked these kinds of questions, especially by people whose lives have been derailed by collisions with sociopaths whom they did not recognize until it was much too late.”

Personally, I found this book fascinating on several levels. As a writer always looking to better understand human psyche, this book gave me the clues to developing a sociopath as a character. As someone who had been derailed by a sociopath – it helped me understand why sociopaths behave the way they do. It opened my eyes and allowed be to bury the hatchet on a few issues that continued to linger with me. As someone who likes to learn new things and understand more about life in general, this book was intriguing.

In the book Stout provides insightful examples of sociopaths. She describes people that are realistic and believable. I was sure I had met people just like the ones she was describing. It was an awakening to read the characteristics and underlying guidance mechanisms of sociopaths. She also touches on the science and neurological aspects of the disorder – again, simply fascinating.

The key, which is so difficult to grasp, is that sociopaths truly do not care. They are willing to do anything they can think of to get what they want. They make the pretense of caring. They develop amazing skills for acting and manipulation. Stout also includes why sociopaths may have a place in society, what to look for and most importantly – 13 rules for dealing with sociopaths in every day life.

“1. The first rule involves the bitter pill of accepting that some people
literally have no conscience. These people do not often look like Charles Manson or a Ferengi bartender. They look like us.”

“At present, Socipathy is “incurable”; furthermore, sociopaths almost never wish to be “cured”. In fact, it is likely that, building on the neurobiological configuration of sociopathy, certain cultures, notably our Western one, actively encourage antisocial behaviors, including violence, murder, and warmongering. These facts are difficult for most people to accept. They are offensive, nonegalitarian, and frightening.”

Now, I’m sure one of the reasons I found this book so interesting and helpful was because I had experienced an encounter with a person I could not understand; and I could not make peace with myself until I understood what had happened and why. I recommend this book to:

- Anyone who has ever wondered about people without a conscience
- Anyone going through a breakup of an unhealthy relationship (abuse, neglect, etc)
- Anyone that has been scammed by a “con-artist”
- Anyone who has asked the question, “how could he/she do something so cruel?” When confronted with a crime or situation that just seems unfathomable.
- A writer who wants to do some research on a sociopath for a character.

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Blogger Gus said...

There is, of course, an internet quiz for this like there is for everything else:

Are you a Sociopath?

I score pretty low, but higher, I am sure, than I would have when I was young and idealistic. Does this mean we become more ruthless as we become older? I think that often the answer is yes.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Eternal said...

Married to one (divorce in process). Buying the book.

8:54 PM  
Blogger mamalujo1 said...

I think this is something I've always wondered about, lately with more direction and specificity, but your wording has focused me even more. I'll be going over to Amazon and giving it a closer look. Thanks for the information.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Juliness said...

Interesting. But now will you start looking at everyone you encounter through these particular glasses and begin diagnosing them? (Only asking because I probably would...)

6:54 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Yep, it's very hard for society in general to understand that there does exist the truly irredeemable.
Fortunately, some sociopaths set their sights really low, ie. they are not all serial killers, there are degrees in the condition just like any other.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

The most damaging, self-esteem-shattering, hurtful, relationship I ever had was with a sociopath. Awful. Really really bad.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I read the book and I'm certainly the type of personality that someone might describe as a little judgemental... but I don't find myself labeling folks as sociopaths. At least not in seriousness. It just helped me understand a few things that I couldn't understand before.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book helped me figure out why my marriage failed. My husband's father was an alcoholic sociopath who killed himself the weekend I suggested that we take time out from visiting our parents. My husband was in school of Architecture and because of time, our only social life was our parents. Athough my husband didn't seem to blame me at the time, his workaholic life and strange accusations now add up to the effects of his abuse as a child and his father's ultimate revenge. His father, by killing himself that weekend, made sure that he destroyed as many people as he could. He succeeded in ruining our happiness, our marriage and our future together. Don't get involved with any addict.

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just ordered the book. I finally got out of a relationship with a man who is by the very definition a sociopath. This man was more violent than I thought sociopath's were from when I first started doing research into the illness. I thought I was crazy. Afer reading other stories and how extremely similar they were to mine, I am relieved to know it wasn't me. I was able to walk away (run actually) and build a wall that so far he has not been able to break down. I look forward to reading this book.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father is on death row. He was a white collar "con man" that turned violent after serving some time for fraud. He is responsible for 4 different murders. Is there someone on this site doing research?

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a relationship with a sociopath for about 2 years. I think it can be just as hard when they are highly functioning and low on the scale, but nevertheless still hurtful and impossible to continue in a relationship with. Sad because you can see the person he could have been and would have been if not for this terrible mental illness. I still miss him, and it grieves me to know that he can't feel the same.

10:08 AM  
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10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having had my life completely derailed by a sociopathic sibling, I bought Martha Stout's book.

The only way to "get" the sociopath's threat is to live through it.

I've tried to identify some red flags:

Consistent disrespect
Invasive behavior

By the way, Martha's right: do NOT try to explain yourself to a suspected sociopath, find common ground, or make peace. And don't trust anything they say or do.

They want to see you fail because they enjoy it more than anything in life.

8:23 PM  

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