“I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”
Harvard Psychologist Martha Stout spent years treating patients that suffered at the will of sociopaths. She then began studying the sociopaths themselves, culminating in this sort of “how-to” manual of spotting sociopathy in the world. That woman that cut you off on the way home, the boss that trampled his way to the top, that (ahem) elected official that seems to lack empathy; are they merely inconsiderate or are they sociopaths?
Four percent of humans (1 in 25) in this world are, in fact, sociopaths. They lack remorse and are incapable of forming emotional attachments to living (or non-living) things. We assume they are few, or rare. However Martha Stout has taught me that they are basically everywhere. Many assume that all sociopaths are cold-blooded killers, but that is also not the case. They are therapists, school principals, senators (presidents?), janitors, maintenance people, scientists, or any vocation you can think of. In order to better describe this, Stout gives us a handful of case studies, each being a culmination of many of her patients (and therefore can in no way be traced back to any individual in society). We meet “Doreen,” a psychologist who has zero qualifications or degrees but has charmed her way into many therapist positions caring for people that certainly deserve better. She loves manipulating people for sport while maintaining the reputation of being the nicest person her coworkers have ever met. There’s “Skip,” a high-powered businessman that maintains a presumably happy life with wife and children while sexually harassing women and climbing the corporate ladder with ease.
There are more, but that gives you a good idea of what to expect. Really, Stout describes the consistency found in sociopaths in all walks of life, giving some hints and tips on how to recognize their toxicity and how to avoid entanglements with them. Now this has the negative effect of me looking at everyone I’ve ever met with paranoia and distrust while trying to figure out how many sociopaths are currently living in a square mile of myself. But, it’s also very interesting to try and see the world from the eyes of someone with zero conscience (spoiler alert: look for charming, manipulative people that regularly want your pity).
The writing could get a bit repetitive at times (I believe she gave a definition of sociopath an approximate 800 times-slightly exaggerated), but it fit in well with my psychological interests and curiosities. I definitely found it pleasing enough to want to check out her other book, The Mask of Sanity.
You can download a sample or purchase The Sociopath Next Door by clicking here.