Monday, January 7, 2008

The Sociopath Next Door

By Martha Stout, PhD

Through out my life I've occasionally observed behavior in certain individuals that completely threw me. Lies told with amazing ease, subtle back stabbings and pointless acts of meanness. Not frequently, but often enough to freak me out a little. When I witness these types of behaviors, I always wonder the same thing; how do those people sleep at night? The answer, frightenly enough, according to Dr. Stout, a clinical psychologist, is that they probably sleep pretty well. I was under the misconception that sociopaths were extremely rare. Apparently this is not the case. Dr. Stout, and she does have lots of research to back this up, contends that 4% of the population are completely lacking in conscience. 1 in 25 of us never experience shame, regret or guilt. They can behave in any manner they choose and never feel badly. This is because they do not feel anything in the emotional sense.
In "The Sociopath Next Door" Dr. Stout paints a chilling picture of the everyday sociopath. Just like normal conscience burdened people, their tastes and desires are varied. Not everyone lacking in conscience becomes a killer, but she does advise that they are all to be avoided. Drawing on her years of treating the victims of the shameless, Stout outlines the commonly seen behaviors of sociopaths and illustrates them in several composite case histories.
Although at times it reads a little like a textbook, that's probably unavoidable being the type of material it is. It is for the most part a fascinating read. I found myself chilled by the familiarity of some of the behaviors she describes. What really scares me is that these people are frequently great actors, as they had to mimic emotions they did not feel starting in childhood to fit in with everyone else. Because of this, they know how we tick and know exactly how to manipulate us. In addition to being a captivating read, this book may help you keep a few less monsters in your life.