Apr 02

“Sociopath: A Memoir” by Psychologist Patric Gagne

Patric Gagne, PhD, author of the new Sociopath: A Memoir had her suspicions about herself confirmed when she was in college. From the publisher: “She was told there was no treatment, no hope for a normal life. She found herself haunted by sociopaths in pop culture, madmen and evil villains who are considered monsters. Her future looked grim.”

However, with the aid of various types of therapy, Gagne did adjust. The approximately five percent of the population who also have sociopathic traits may feel heartened to hear this.

The genre of Sociopath: A Memoir is similar to the also-female-written Confessions of a Sociopath, addressed in this previous post. But, unlike that book’s author, this one not only fully outs herself by name but also is a trained clinical psychologist.

According to David Marchese, New York Times, Gagne had demonstrated “remorselessness, criminality and lack of empathy” before dealing with her eventual diagnosis and treatment. “The desire to destigmatize her experience and also to help others who may share it (Gagne previously worked as a therapist to those with the disorder and has also written about sociopathy) put Gagne on a path that led to ‘Sociopath.’

Her bio states the following about her current mission: “Today I am working to expand the definition of sociopathy to include its status as a spectrum disorder. Sociopaths are not inherently evil people. We suffer from what I believe to be an emotional learning disorder, one which is both relatable and treatable.”

Selected quotes from her interview with Marchese:

Sociopathy is a perilous mental disorder; the traits associated with sociopathy aren’t great. But that only tells part of the story. The part that’s missing is you can be a sociopath and have a healthy relationship. You can be a sociopath and be educated. That’s a very uncomfortable reality for some people. People want to believe that all sociopaths are monsters and that all monsters are easy to spot…

The way I experience love seems to be very different from the so-called neurotypical experience. My experience of love seems less emotional. If I had to explain what love feels like to me, I would say symbiotic. So, a relationship that’s beneficial to both people involved. Not transactional, not possessive, not ego-driven. Mutual homeostasis. It’s not that I’m unable to access emotions or empathy. It’s that my experience of those emotions is different….

My gift to my therapy patients was that I was able to lend them sociopathy: Why do you care? What does it matter? What do you need from that? That, I felt, helped them achieve things that maybe a nonsociopathic therapist couldn’t have offered.

Listen, everyone has a front-facing persona. Most people use that persona as a preference: a desire to be liked, a fear of judgment, wanting somebody to be friends with them. But sociopaths use it out of necessity, and that’s a really important distinction….

I like that I don’t have guilt because I’m making my decisions based on logic, based on truth, as opposed to ought or should. Now, there is a flip side. I don’t have those natural emotional connections to other people, but I’ve never had those. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Just because I love differently doesn’t mean my love doesn’t count.

Oct 14

“Confessions of a Sociopath”: Know Her?

[F]ascinating…part memoir, part psychological treatise, and entirely not to be trusted. Boston Globe, regarding M.E. Thomas’s 2013 Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

Whereas my last post was about sociopathy as a diagnosis (“The Sociopath Next Door“), this one focuses on an individual who says she has it. M.E. Thomas, the pen name of the author of Confessions of a Sociopath, has a website called sociopathworld.com. In addition to being a lawyer and Sunday School teacher, she self-describes as the following (Psychology Today):

You would like me if you met me. I have the kind of smile that is common among television show characters and rare in real life, perfect in its sparkly teeth dimensions and ability to express pleasant invitation. I’m the sort of date you would love to take to your ex’s wedding—fun, exciting, the perfect office escort. And I’m just the right amount of successful so that your parents would be thrilled if you brought me home.

From the publisher’s blurb:

As M.E. Thomas says of her fellow sociopaths, we 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.  Who are we? We are highly successful, non-criminal sociopaths and we comprise 4% of the American population (that’s 1 in 25 people!).

Selected Quotes from Confessions of a Sociopath:

I have never killed anyone, but I have certainly wanted to. I may have a disorder, but I am not crazy.

It was too late, though: I was already too smart for the therapist. Or maybe I was never amenable to therapy. Either way, I wasn’t going to change. I had already chosen to view the world as a set of opportunities at winning or losing in a zero-sum game, and I used every encounter to gain information to my advantage.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of my confidence is the way I sustain eye contact. Some people have called it a “predator stare,” and it appears that most sociopaths have it. Sustained eye contact can seem hostile, and so zoo visitors are frequently advised not to stare at gorillas, lest it be taken as a sign of aggression.

People sometimes say that we lack remorse or guilt like it’s a bad thing. They are sure that remorse and guilt are necessary to being a “good” person.

The closest analogue to a sociopath’s love is probably the love of a child: intense, accepting, selfish. And finally, like a child, the sociopath will be extremely loyal. A sociopath will never put you above himself, but if you’re worth it to him he will readily put you above all others. I confirmed this with my friend, that with regard to being friends with a sociopath, “the pros outweigh the cons.” This is not to say that my loved ones do not know who I am; most of them know me intimately and are well aware of the particular attributes that set me apart from them and most of humanity. In fact, many of the people dearest to me are extreme empaths, individuals who—with full knowledge of the tiny blackness of my heart—cannot help but place their soft, fragile hearts in my care. I reciprocate with my own brand of acceptance and devotion.

Oct 30

Sociopaths: Recognize Them 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 Stouts 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, it’s her who saying 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).