Oct 06

“The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout

The politician, small or lofty, who menaces the people with frequent reminders of the possibility of crime, violence, or terrorism, and who then uses their magnified fear to gain allegiance, is more likely to be a successful con artist than a legitimate leader. Martha Stout, PhD, The Sociopath Next Door

Lying for the sake of lying. Lying just to see whether you can trick people. And sometimes telling larger lies to get larger effects. Martha Stout, PhD, Interview Magazine

…(T)he best clue is, of all things, the pity play. Martha Stout, PhD, The Sociopath Next Door

This year’s Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door: How to Protect Yourself Against a Ruthless Manipulator by clinical psychologist Martha Stout was preceded by her groundbreaking The Sociopath Next Door (2005), the focus of this post.

From Publishers Weekly:

[Dr.] Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals…(A) sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse. Such people often have a superficial charm, which they exercise ruthlessly in order to get what they want. Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified.

Selected Quotes from The Sociopath Next Door:

Many mental health professionals refer to the condition of little or no conscience as “antisocial personality disorder”…This condition of missing conscience is called by other names too, most often “sociopathy,” or the somewhat more familiar term, “psychopathy.” Guiltlessness was in fact the first personality disorder to be recognized by psychiatry, and terms that have been used at times over the past century include “manie sans délire,” “psychopathic inferiority,” “moral insanity,” and “moral imbecility.”

Sociopathy stands alone as a “disease” that causes no dis-ease for the person who has it, no subjective discomfort. Sociopaths are often quite satisfied with themselves and with their lives, and perhaps for this very reason there is no effective “treatment.”

…(S)ociopaths are noted especially for their shallowness of emotion, the hollow and transient nature of any affectionate feelings they may claim to have, a certain breathtaking callousness. They have no trace of empathy and no genuine interest in bonding emotionally with a mate.

When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has. Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy. One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you can. Leaving, though it may be hard, will be easier now than later, and less costly. Do not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to a three-timer. Your valuable gifts will be wasted.

After listening for almost twenty-five years to the stories my patients tell me about sociopaths who have invaded and injured their lives, when I am asked, “How can I tell whom not to trust?” the answer I give usually surprises people. The natural expectation is that I will describe some sinister-sounding detail of behavior or snippet of body language or threatening use of language that is the subtle giveaway. Instead, I take people aback by assuring them that the tip-off is none of these things, for none of these things is reliably present. Rather, the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.

Oct 30

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).