“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.

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