The Sociopath Next Door

I first read about The Sociopath Next Door on (where else?) a Salon article/interview with the author (I also read the letters to Salon in part criticizing the author’s work). The book didn’t contribute much more than the interview. The essential point is that about sociopaths are people who do not have a conscience and are unable to feel guilt or remorse about anything. They can do whatever they want without feeling bad about it. They are also unable to feel any of the higher emotions: love, empathy, happiness and instead are consumed by lower emotions such as anger and jealousy. Because they can’t feel the thrill of engaging in normal human relationships, they are often left to look for stimulation in other ways. These include alcohol and drugs but also human games.
What I hadn’t realized before is that sociopaths have very different motivations, some want wealth or power, while others are just motivated by playing mind games with others. What unites them is their ability to kill and hurt without any psychological repercussions. though the author only hints at it, I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Rumsfeld and Cheney were classic sociopaths. Oftentimes, by the way, they are able to seem quite charming and enthrall people.
The author presents several ways of identifying a sociopath, the one that seemed most interesting is that sociopaths often play the “pity game”, making others feel sorry for them and thus excuse their behavior. Yep, that might describe Bush as well.
According to the author about 4% of Americans are sociopaths (her methodology in arriving at that number is disputed by one of the Salon’s correspondents) which of course prompted me to look back into my friends and acquaintances and try to identify those who seem to meet the profile. Interestingly, I could only think of one person whom the sociopath criteria may apply to. She was a very charming and intelligent woman, a social activist of sorts and someone whom I’m sure everyone saw (sees) as an idealist. And yet, when pushed came to shove I found her ethics problematic, her behavior not quite in sinc with what she portrayed herself to be. I broke my relationship with her over an ethical issue, something which I’ve rarely done, but looking back it was more a question of my not really trusting her. I’m not a particularly good judge of character in most instances, but perhaps my insticts with sociopaths are not bad 🙂
The author goes into the advantages of being a sociopath, and she does touch the issue of genetics and evolution, but she didn’t do a good job linking the issues together. It’s clear that sociopathy has a strong genetic component (over 50% according to some tests), and also that it has adaptive advantages. Sociopaths are risk takers par excellence, which is often associated with reproductive success – at least as long as the frequency of the extreme-risk takers is low. Indeed, it seems quite clear (though the author didn’t explore this issue) that sociopathy is a frequency dependent balanced polymorphism. It would make sense that in less complex societies their ratio would be lower, as sociopaths seem to be at an advantage in large societies where reciprocal relationships are less important. The author does quote studies that show a much lower ratio of sociopath in the far east, but those figures have been questioned.
The author spends way too much time dealing with the issue of whether it’s better to be a sociopath, or rather, whether a normal person would chose to not have a conscience if they could. That seems such a non-issue to anyone with a conscience – of course you wouldn’t chose to not have one, your conscience is part of what makes you who you are – that it’s a waste of time reading through her (poor) reasoning on the subject.
In all, I very much enjoyed the book and I’d recommend it as an interesting and fairly quick reading.

2 Comments

  1. Suzie Rdgley

    I dated this person, this sociaopath. He was scary, creepy, shallow, manipulative, controlling & sometimes threatening. He did not love me, rather he attempted to OWN me. Anything bad that happened was MY FAULT. If he had a hangnail, it was more catestrophic than if a mack truck ran over me. When I lost my job & told him on the phone, between the sobs, he acted as if I had asked what he wanted for dinner. He made up a personality complete with photos, .life story and an email address. With that personality, he followed me around on the internet. The namewas Doug Smith. I was “friends” with Doug for 2 1/2 years. When things between George and me finally blew up, he admitted that he was Doug Smith. It was emotional tape. As Doug, he poked and prodded me about himself., asking if I really loved George, if I wanted to cheat on him, etc. He even forwarded emails to himself over to Doug and ones to Doug over to him. When he explained all this to me, it was unbelievably creepy and surreal. He is a scary monster. After I was no longer with him, I learned of his history, of beating his 14 month old son (confined to a high chair) in the face with his fists because he wouldn’t stop crying. His history was terrible. In his entire life, he cared for no one but himself. The people in his life, he attempted to control and OWN. As this book indicates, HE WAS INCAPABLE OF LOVE.
    If you know one of these monsters, get away any way you can. I did and I am very glad I did. I am not afraid anymore. And his life is nothiing but shambles. The universe supports the theory of what goes around, comes around. It is the great big cosmic GOTCHA. And it finally got him. He is old, crabby, nasty, hateful, friendlless and washed up.The only person who will even talk to him is his sister/brother- can’t be sure of gender– she/he is just like him. They tolerate each other so that she can make him work for her for nothing and so he can mooch off her financially. THEY DESERVE EACH OTHER. I am delighted to be out of it.

  2. Shona Hansen

    Honestly, I loved the book but I also found another site a person has devoted to describing the emotional pain of a sociopath. I tried not to laugh. And my story is a bit surreal as well. When I was a young preteen someone attempted to take my life and they are now very well-off financially and famous from their musical talents…I myself am musically inclined so i feel the merit is legit however the fact that they have not ever came forward to me is a direct indication of their lack of conscience ENTIRELY..this time laughing seems rather inappropriate. I would post more but fear legal retaliation. And Yes I am happy to have recovered this repressed memory, for sure.

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