Sociopaths: How to Recognize the One(s) in Your Life

We do not have to be mental health professionals to identify the traits of the possible sociopaths among us. P.A. Speers, author of Type 1 Sociopath: When Difficult People Are More Than Just Difficult People (2015)

Jennifer Delaney, who interacted with a sociopath for decades, published a list of 25 possible traits (HuffPost) she can identify. Click on the article link for more details.

1. Seeks out Rescuers, Vulnerable, Gullible, Overly Loyal, and Dysfunctional People
2. Gets Those Around Them to Keep Secrets
3. The Truth Is Their Kryptonite
4. Like an Evil Energizer Bunny
5. Charms Those in Power and Hurts the “Little People”
6. Charming, But Only for a While
7. Pity, Pity, and More Pity
8. Manipulates You Into Letting Them Back Into Your Life After They Have Done Terrible Things
9. No Respect for Your Boundaries, Only Complies With Law Enforcement (Sometimes)
10. Senses Weakness and Hesitation
11. Mirrors Your Values
12. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
13. Constant Lies and Exaggeration
14. Lots of Promises, but no Positive Action
15. No Give. All Take.
16. Aimless and Looks for the “Easy Way Out”
17. Quick Temper and Violent
18. Blame Game
19. Accuses You of Their Actions
20. Criminal Record
21. Never Matures. Attracted to Superficial Signs of Beauty and Strength.
22. Feigns Empathy for Children, Animals, and the Elderly
23. Weak Intimate Relationships
24. Divide and Conquer
25. Drags Everyone Into the Drama

In her article Delaney refers to Martha Stout‘s 2005 The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. From the publisher’s description:

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath…

Publishers Weekly recaps the following info from the book:

Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient…

It’s highly possible that almost everyone knows at least one person who fits the bill. Self-admitted pseudonymous female sociopath M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013):

…(W)e are your neighbors, co-workers, and quite possibly the people closest to you: lovers, family, friends. Our risk-seeking behavior and general fearlessness are thrilling, our glibness and charm alluring. Our often quick wit and outside-the-box thinking make us appear intelligent—even brilliant. We climb the corporate ladder faster than the rest, and appear to have limitless self-confidence.

Although praised by some for its authenticity, Thomas’s book is hard to evaluate on such a level—after all, she says she’s a sociopath. As Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe, wrote in her review:

Talk about an unreliable narrator: Just what are we to make of a book by a diagnosed sociopath that functions alternately as a warning against sociopathy, an apologia for it, and an embodiment of its worst manipulative tendencies?

This intermittently fascinating, if rather disjointed, account is part memoir, part psychological treatise, and entirely not to be trusted…

Just like those other sociopaths you know (or see every day on the news, if you know what I mean).

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