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Good to Know: The Sociopath Next Door

The Only Sociopath You Should Love
The Only Sociopath You Should Love
Photo and photoediting by Cynthia Norris-Brooks

The Sociopath Next Door


Recently I read The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, Ph.d., and it is certainly a quick, entertaining, if disturbing book. Her premise, that 1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly have no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty, is correct, although the book does leave you feeling like there's one behind every tree. She does an excellent job of describing sociopathic behaviors and attitudes, and giving several examples of how they think and behave. Here's an Amazon link, although I bought my copy on sale at Barnes & Noble.
Unfortunately, there is no big giveaway hairstyle or religion that tells you who is who, but life has handed me enough of these individuals over the years to have some unique insight, which I now share with you. A few of them were so memorable, and persistent, that their antisocial statements and behaviors have stayed with me over time. I think of them as the "High Five." Some of their more chilling and outrageous quotes are included to illustrate some points. I hope you use it to avoid stepping into the tar pits that I've found myself in. Here's my Warning Signs:

1) Egregious Behavior Followed by Plays For Your Sympathy: Professor Stout mentions this in her book, as the closest thing to a warning sign that you will ever be given. And it is fairly accurate; someone who hurts you constantly and then thinks you should feel sorry for them over it is pretty clearly unable to empathize with others.

2) Lives Outside the Social Contract: While Stout mentions this, she doesn't elaborate far enough on the extent of it. Sociopaths have no regard for the social contract, only so far as they can manipulate it. They abhor traditional family values, mock the spirituality of others, disdain work, use sex as a weapon, to "get back," at someone, or to control and manipulate. One of the High Five reacted so horribly to some children's Bible stories that calling an exorcist seemed to be in order. Suspect Antisocial Personality Disorder first! This is not to say that Christianity is the only spiritual path, far from it, the problem was the extreme reaction to homilies about doing the right thing for other people.

3) Has An Evil Twin: Have you ever turned around and found someone smiling viciously at you in a way that was horribly foreign to what you thought you knew about that person? Did all the lies and deceptions suddenly fall into place? That's the look of the sociopath. They con, charm, and control. Where other people can have moments where they "bare their souls," and it is a true moment of spiritual bonding, the antisocial person doesn't have that. That icy stare IS the sociopath's "bared soul," devoid of the usual deception, cons, and charm. It is a decidedly reptilian moment.

4) Has No Social Media Presence In Their Own Name: This is for the older generations, I'm not sure about teens. The last thing the High Five and other suspected sociopaths want is friends and family all having uncontrolled access to comment on their behavior! They will however, be quite familiar with online hookup and dating sites.

5) Covert Hostility; Lying, Deception, and Spying: Bring up these subjects, and if he really comes alive, that's one of the signs of a sociopath. Suggest an opportunity to act in a deceitful, covert, spying manner, and it really lights up their dials.
6) Gaslighting Techniques: A 1944 thriller called Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, is about a young bride made to feel she is going insane by her charming new husband. Among other dirty tricks, Boyer arranges for Bergman to hear sounds in the attic while he is away, and the gaslight mysteriously dims itself. Of course, no one believes her, and her descent into doubting her own sanity has become an English idiom; "to be gaslighted." Sociopaths want you to doubt your own perceptions, and to simply do what they tell you to. More specifically, they want you apathetic and helpless, easy to use, dominate, and control. When they have taken everything they want, you will be thrown away.

7) Perversion, Sadism, and Kinkiness: Incapable of love and affection, and possessing an unusually low boredom threshold, sociopaths gravitate towards the kinkiest of thrills. At the bottom of it is a desire to control, deceive, and dominate. Sociopathic charm often takes the form of a sweet talking lover, but underneath that pixie twinkle beats a heart of solid granite. As a long term partner, he's extremely corrosive and harmful. He'll cheat, and undermine (gaslight) his spouse's confidence with all manner of subterfuge. He won't be satisfied until his partner is reduced to depression and apathy, and all dreams are gone.

This is a just a short checklist... While Stout's book was good, it left the reader with only one option; get away from the sociopath. That's good advice, if it can be done. If you're already involved, it's not practical, and effective management techniques are needed. There's nothing nice about being in the position of defending yourself against or being forced to manage a sociopath, but denial, fear and running away aren't effective. I found effective help in an unlikely spot; a book entitled How To Choose Your People, by Ruth Marshall. She's a Scientologist, and a follower of L. Ron Hubbard, which I am not, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. This book is about the Tone Scale, and what they call the Covert Hostility position on the Tone Scale is identical to what most of us have been calling Sociopathy, or Antisocial Personality Disorder. Happily, this book is about gentle and effective methods to handle difficult people while keeping yourself safe. Here's a link to Amazon, since you probably won't be lucky enough to pick it up for a dollar at a secondhand store. Again, I'm not a Scientologist, (although the way this country's medical situation is going, it may be a cost-effective option to consider) but if you are in a position where you absolutely must deal with a sociopath daily, then this is the most useful book you could have; consider it an owner's manual.