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1 Beaverton Psychology- General

The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us


The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us Cover

ISBN13: 9780767915823
ISBN10: 0767915828
Condition: Worn Condition or Underlined
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Minds differ still more than faces.


Imagine--if you can--not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools. Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world. You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.

How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)? The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people-- whether they have a conscience or not-- favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dull-witted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by bloodlust and those who have no such appetites.

Maybe you are someone who craves money and power, and though you have no vestige of conscience, you do have a magnificent IQ. You have the driving nature and the intellectual capacity to pursue tremendous wealth and influence, and you are in no way moved by the nagging voice of conscience that prevents other people from doing everything and anything they have to do to succeed. You choose business, politics, the law, banking, international development, or any of a broad array of other power professions, and you pursue your career with a cold passion that tolerates none of the usual moral or legal incumbrances. When it is expedient, you doctor the accounting and shred the evidence, you stab your employees and your clients (or your constituency) in the back, marry for money, tell lethal premeditated lies to people who trust you, attempt to ruin colleagues who are powerful or eloquent, and simply steam-roll over groups who are dependent and voiceless. And all of this you do with the exquisite freedom that results from having no conscience whatsoever.

You become unimaginably, unassailably, and maybe even globally successful. Why not? With your big brain, and no conscience to rein in your schemes, you can do anything at all.

Or no--let us say you are not quite such a person. You are ambitious, yes, and in the name of success you are willing to do all manner of things that people with conscience would never consider, but you are not an intellectually gifted individual. Your intelligence is above average perhaps, and people think of you as smart, maybe even very smart. But you know in your heart of hearts that you do not have the cognitive wherewithal, or the creativity, to reach the careening heights of power you secretly dream about, and this makes you resentful of the world at large, and envious of the people around you.

As this sort of person, you ensconce yourself in a niche, or maybe a series of niches, in which you can have some amount of control over small numbers of people. These situations satisfy a little of your desire for power, although you are chronically aggravated at not having more. It chafes to be so free of the ridiculous inner voice that inhibits others from achieving great power, without having enough talent to pursue the ultimate successes yourself. Sometimes you fall into sulky, rageful moods caused by a frustration that no one but you understands.

But you do enjoy jobs that afford you a certain undersupervised control over a few individuals or small groups, preferably people and groups who are relatively helpless or in some way vulnerable. You are a teacher or a psychotherapist, a divorce lawyer or a high school coach. Or maybe you are a consultant of some kind, a broker or a gallery owner or a human services director. Or maybe you do not have a paid position, and are instead the president of your condominium association, or a volunteer hospital worker, or a parent. Whatever your job, you manipulate and bully the people who are under your thumb, as often and as outrageously as you can without getting fired or held accountable. You do this for its own sake, even when it serves no purpose except to give you a thrill. Making people jump means you have power-- or this is the way you see it-- and bullying provides you with an adrenaline rush. It is fun.

Maybe you cannot be the CEO of a multinational corporation, but you can frighten a few people, or cause them to scurry around like chickens, or steal from them, or--maybe best of all--create situations that cause them to feel bad about themselves. And this is power, especially when the people you manipulate are superior to you in some way. Most invigorating of all is to bring down people who are smarter or more accomplished than you, or perhaps classier, more attractive or popular or morally admirable. This is not only good fun--it is existential vengeance. And without a conscience, it is amazingly easy to do. You quietly lie to the boss or to the bosss boss, cry some crocodile tears, or sabotage a coworkers project, or gaslight a patient (or a child), bait people with promises, or provide a little misinformation that will never be traced back to you.

Or now let us say you are a person who has a proclivity for violence or for seeing violence done. You can simply murder your coworker, or have her murdered--or your boss, or your ex-spouse, or your wealthy lovers spouse, or anyone else who bothers you. You have to be careful, because if you slip up you may be caught and punished by the system. But you will never be confronted by your conscience, because you have no conscience. If you decide to kill, the only difficulties will be the external ones. Nothing inside of you will ever protest.

Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all. If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other peoples hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. In fact, terrorism (done from a distance) is the ideal occupation for a person who is possessed of bloodlust and no conscience, because if you do it just right, you may be able to make a whole nation jump. And if that is not power, what is?

Or let us imagine the opposite extreme--you have no interest in power. To the contrary, you are the sort of person who really does not want much of anything. Your only real ambition is not to have to exert yourself to get by. You do not want to work like everyone else does. Without a conscience, you can nap or pursue your hobbies or watch television or just hang out somewhere all day long. Living a bit on the fringes, and with some handouts from relatives and friends, you can do this indefinitely. People may whisper to each other that you are an underachiever, or that you are depressed, a sad case, or in contrast, if they get angry, they may grumble that you are lazy. When they get to know you better, and get really angry, they may scream at you and call you a loser, a bum. But it will never occur to them that you literally do not have a conscience, that in such a fundamental way, your very mind is not the same as theirs.

The panicked feeling of a guilty conscience never squeezes at your heart or wakes you in the middle of the night. Despite your lifestyle, you never feel irresponsible, neglectful, or so much as embarrassed, although for the sake of appearances, sometimes you pretend that you do. For example, if you are a decent observer of people and what they react to, you may adopt a lifeless facial expression, say how ashamed of your life you are, and talk about how rotten you feel. This you do only because it is more convenient to have people think you are depressed than it is to have them shouting at you all the time, or insisting that you get a job.

You notice that people who do have a conscience feel guilty when they harangue someone they believe to be “depressed” or “troubled.” As a matter of fact, to your further advantage, they often feel obliged to take care of such a person. If, despite your relative poverty, you can manage to get yourself into a sexual relationship with someone, this person--who does not suspect what you are really like--may feel particularly obligated. And since all you want is not to have to work, your financier does not have to be especially rich, just reliably conscience-bound.

I trust that imagining yourself as any of these people feels insane to you, because such people are insane, dangerously so. Insane but real--they even have a label. Many mental health professionals refer to the condition of little or no conscience as “antisocial personality disorder,” a noncorrectable disfigurement of character that is now thought to be present in about four percent of the population--that is to say, one in twenty-five people. 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.”

According to the current bible of psychiatric labels, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association, the clinical diagnosis of “antisocial personality disorder” should be considered when an individual possesses at least three of the following seven characteristics: (1) failure to conform to social norms; (2) deceitfulness, manipulativeness; (3) impulsivity, failure to plan ahead; (4) irritability, aggressiveness; (5) reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; (6) consistent irresponsibility; (7) lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person. The presence in an individual of any three of these “symptoms,” taken together, is enough to make many psychiatrists suspect the disorder.

Other researchers and clinicians, many of whom think the APAs definition describes simple “criminality” better than true “psychopathy” or “sociopathy,” point to additional documented characteristics of sociopaths as a group. One of the more frequently observed of these traits is a glib and superficial charm that allows the true sociopath to seduce other people, figuratively or literally--a kind of glow or charisma that, initially, can make the sociopath seem more charming or more interesting than most of the normal people around him. He or she is more spontaneous, or more intense, or somehow more “complex,” or sexier, or more entertaining than everyone else. Sometimes this “sociopathic charisma” is accompanied by a grandiose sense of self-worth that may be compelling at first, but upon closer inspection may seem odd or perhaps laughable. (“Someday the world will realize how special I am,” or “You know that after me, no other lover will do.”)

In addition, sociopaths have a greater than normal need for stimulation, which results in their taking frequent social, physical, financial, or legal risks. Characteristically, they can charm others into attempting dangerous ventures with them, and as a group they are known for their pathological lying and conning, and their parasitic relationships with “friends.” Regardless of how educated or highly placed as adults, they may have a history of early behavior problems, sometimes including drug use or recorded juvenile delinquency, and always including a failure to acknowledge responsibility for any problems that occurred.

And sociopaths 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. Once the surface charm is scraped off, their marriages are loveless, one-sided, and almost always short-term. If a marriage partner has any value to the sociopath, it is because the partner is viewed as a possession, one that the sociopath may feel angry to lose, but never sad or accountable.

All of these characteristics, along with the “symptoms” listed by the American Psychiatric Association, are the behavioral manifestations of what is for most of us an unfathomable psychological condition, the absence of our essential seventh sense-- conscience.

Crazy, and frightening-- and real, in about four percent of the population.

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Alaskan reader, January 24, 2011 (view all comments by Alaskan reader)
This is the best book I have read on what a sociopath may be up to. I am a therapist and have recommended this one to clients, personal friends and other therapists. It describes a cross section of sociopathic personalities with stories to illustrate. Martha Stout has done such a great job in characterizing this group. This book has helped many and it can be especially helpful to someone who is in a relationship with a highly manipulative, not empathic person and just getting bamboozled. Suddenly, it can help turn on some lights for the person.
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JFanta, May 8, 2010 (view all comments by JFanta)

I give this book a 5 for importance. And, another 5 for content. And, another 5 for simply making up for what Shoshana wrote. I would give more 5's, but I want to write something else...

In response to Shoshana...

I read your post probably 6 months ago, initially, and just again looked at this area of Powells to find no one has responded to your writing. I did not have time to do so then. I am making time now!

So, in response to Shoshana... You are behaving as an academic, at best. You can obviously read a book and work through its possible short comings, but you are acting like you ARE AN ABSOLUTE REAL LIFE GOOF. And, I say that with about as much honest patience and respect as I can.

What I mean by this is that YOU, SHOSHANA, have OBVIOUSLY! NO! EXPERIENCE! with a sociopath. NONE!!!!

And, please do not tell me you have, because you would be completely delusional, as evidenced by the way you write about it. Academically delusional, if you are actually so trained.

SHOSHANA, you make many good points, and many may even be worth looking into. But, what is so vitally obvious is that YOU HAVE COMPLETELY MISSED THE POINT.

I imagine Martha Stout could very well write a paper to be read by others in the academic world, to present to peers, to submit for review for journals and the like, but this is AIMED FOR THE PEOPLE WHO WILL NEVER READ THOSE JOURNALS.

This book is marvelous example of a WONDERFUL SERVICE for and to humanity!

AND, SHOSHANA, the reason I KNOW you have no experience with sociopathy is that you would never critique something that is providing such an important service. Doing so proves you have no clue about what you are writing.

Actually, there are scenarios in which you might. I can only think of two reasons why you might. EIther you are a sociopath, or you have something to gain from critiquing this authors writing. Maybe, a personal agenda for publication, or whatever. If either of these do not fit who you are, then you positively have no understanding of what a sociopath is or does.

So, Shoshana, please allow the book to provide it wonderful service. Instead of wielding your obvious capability and intelligence in such ignorant and naive ways. Make no mistake, I am impressed with what you have written, but you simply have missed the boat on this one. Completely missed it.

NOW, to those who are interested in this book. And, perhaps, have been drawn here because you are seeking answers and understanding to experiences you have had, or friends or family have or are experiencing.... please DO READ THIS BOOK. I must include a caveat. I have given this book to a few family members, because to this point, I am the only one who has witnessed a sociopaths maneuvers that is affecting my family. It is the most heinous thing. It is confusing, mind bending, able to cause so much self doubt and family strife, because the sociopath plays off what the book refers to as the naivete of anyone who is not a sociopath.

The issue is that good people, meaning those who are able to feel empathy and even what we may deem as "love" for other human beings, only know what they know. They, by definition, never think a sociopath may even exist, because they do not think the way a sociopath can and does. So, they don't "see" it (sociopathic thought and behavior) as even being possible.

An example is my own mother, whom I gave the book to almost 8 months ago now. She has a mental block to even the possibility of thinking anyone in the world could be such a way that I am saying I have witnessed. I quote her when she says, "I choose to not look at the world that way."

For some reason I often remember a line in a vampire movie that says, "The greatest strength evil has is for you to believe it does not exist." I think it was "The Lost Boys." I side-gress...

What Martha Stout's book does is provide readable examples and ideas that may just help save the LIVES and THE MINDS of those who are experiencing sociopathy. She goes into how good people "cannot see it", and some reasons the field of psychology presents as to WHY. She does this by providing examples of other phenomena in the psychological world of study that allows for understanding why people are easily hoodwinked, fooled, manipulated, and the like...

It is a vital book to have. There are other publications that probably provide insights and examples, also.

What is important to get from this opportunity to read this book, is that sociopathy is a VERY MISUNDERSTOOD AND UNDERREPORTED phenomena. It eludes even the brightest people, simply because their frame of the "world" and the way they believe life to be, causes them to miss it completely. If you have absolutely no clue of what to look for, you will miss it even IF IT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE. It is very tricky. And, it took me literally years of repeated experiences to begin to make enough sense of it to say THIS IS WRONG. And, then it took me a lot longer to find information about it. Initially, I read IN SHEEPS CLOTHING, by George K Simon, a doctor in clinical psychology. It gave me a few initial insights about types of covert aggression and manipulation. He works with sociopaths in a prison, although most of the people in Martha Stout's book are on the streets right, in your work place, or living next door right now, and will never be in prison.

Also, I looked for psychologists to speak with and find a way to help my family. At one search, I contacted over 40 professionals (all Licensed psychologists) from ads that seemed like they may be educated in this field. When I wrote and inquired about their experience in covert aggression and manipulation (at this time I did not even know about or consider sociopathy), I received replies from all but a couple. Most of them said they have little experience, and about 12 replies said they could work with it. Upon the second contact and further questioning, all but 2 answered in specific ways that let me know they had any idea. When I visited one, she sat and listened, stunned by what I was saying. She had studied this in depth, but she did not feel competent to deal with it. Her advice was to find someone who was an expert with sociopathy. She said we would have to meet with the whole family and the sociopath, (whom, I haven't said yet, but is married to my sister). The psychologist said it has to be an expert skilled enough who can catch the sociopath in the lies and point it out right in front of everyone, or it would never work. She insisted that if I write a letter to my sister, it would make things worse.

Can you imagine what I am saying when I say this is serious business and very few people understand what it is?

FYI: I do not consider myself a person to get riled up by something easily...and this stuff had me astonished. I had me questioning all of humanity. Anyway...

The point is, it is so tricky and hard to catch, that it takes a true expert to do so. SOmeone with MUCH EXPERIENCE. They are so rare, that I have not found one psychologist that knows how to deal with it appropriately. And, I have met and spoken with many more since then. It only takes me a few questions to know if they even have a clue about it or not. It is that distinct and distinguishable.

How do we know someone is lying? There is no way to know unless you have concrete evidence otherwise. Emotions are easy to incite and manipulate, and good people are easy to manipulate by using their good intentions right against themselves. The sociopath has no problems, no inhibition and no internal (moral) resistance to manipulating, and they have probably spent their lives as a chameleon, using "emotion-like" behavior to influence those around them. They cannot feel emotion. It is physiologically impossible. But, they know when to act sad to get a response, they know when to act hurt or surprised. They know how to direct someone's attention to where they want them to look and what they want their victims to see and "experience". They know what people will predictable think and how they will react to situations. They know what buttons can be pushed. ETC., ETC. ETC. AD NAUSEUM... And, they use these skillfully to manipulate and get what they want.

Martha Stout writes a very important book for a very important reason. The book is not perfect, and I think this is so because she tried to provide so much general info of a very unknown subject to general public tastes and reading ability.

In the end, Shoshana may have made some decent academically based nit-picked points, or maybe she has made a glaring announcement that she knows nothing about sociopathy.

Shoshana says the examples are not complex.
= The challenge, certainly, is to make this even less complex so people can understand something they cannot even fathom. Can you say "baby steps"?

Shoshana says Martha Stout uses "out of date" references, all the way back to the 60's...
= I don't care if they are from 60 B.C., if they shed light on human behavior. And, in her book she does cover that this has been around since before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Hey Shoshana, do you have any clue how young, and in so many ways, obviously backwards, our world of "science" is?
Do you know how many questions and unknowns basic physiology has? So much less is the understanding of behavior!!!
Do you have any idea how young and un-evolved the study of psychology is? GET A CLUE.. A BIG PICTURE CLUE!!! [pretty please]

Shoshana says Martha Stout is out of "standard of practice" because she uses a DSM-IV, in stead of the DSM-IV-TR (text revision) and does not correctly quote the DSM-IV.
= The DSM-IV-TR changes only include descriptive text and a "handful of errors from DSM-IV", according to the Amer. Psych. Assoc. (APA).
= Besides, this is narrow minded nit-picking at best, completely missing even one single important point.
= Shoshana - you may be in danger of being academically stunted, intellectually removed from life itself.
= BTW, in your mind, if it is not in the latest manual, it does not exist? Do you have so much faith in your latest papers? How about information that has been chosen to not be included?
= Maybe most importantly, what about the fact that the DSM's come primarily from studies in mental hospitals, from their statistics, etc? THIS book writes about those people we will never find in these institutions (they are in the institutions of government and big biz). Don't you think it is possible they are never found in any statistics? With this consideration, and my own personal experience of (less than) 1 out of over 40 licensed professionals in the field even having a clue, I would not be surprised if the statistics of sociopaths are WAY HIGHER than even Dr. Stout assesses. The DSM-IV does not stand a chance of even remotely correctly recording this!
= Plus, it is in the way it is measured. Many people may be borderline sociopathic. How are those included in the % to be assessed?
= So, 2% or 4%, or whatever... all of it is a mute point when you consider the main point, which is that there is WAY TOO LARGE a number of sociopaths preying easily on society.

So many discrepancies in this thought process of yours - you are acting narrow minded and missing the important ideas.

Query-Shoshana, what if Martha Stout is smart enough to write things that the academic will guffaw at, and the real experienced experts will approach her with what is important, simply because they see straight to the true value of this book for society. Maybe, she knows this is a game of understanding, and wrote the book for the greater good, despite people that behave like you, as if you know what you write about, when in fact you have no clue. Perhaps, she easily is predicting a certain percentage of well intentioned and inexperienced persons, such as yourself, will toot your horn and cause much distraction from the importance of her book, when you in fact are deliriously out of touch.

Shoshana says Martha Stout seems as if she is shouting... and overgeneralized and sensationalized.
= If you did not see exclamation in Dr. Stout's book, please read mine here = ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
= This is serious stuff. If you ever have the chance to personally experience, see people you love twisted and hurt, and you don't use a few !!!! then you may not be able to feel. This is sociopathic.
= As far as overgeneralized, I find this is possibly true for this book, but I chalk it up to her attempting a shotgun 'shot' at helping people understand by giving them a generalized view. This is so much more helpful for something you cannot even see. The best way to get an idea is to have many examples from many different angles, so that you may get some holistic viewpoint, and then perhaps arrive at some insights. Again, this is OUTSIDE most peoples awareness, much less, belief system. If you get specific, you miss many of the sociopaths that slide between the cracks. In fact, I think it should have been more generalized. In my case, my father read the book and then came to me with the "signs to look for" from the book. None, of these were readily apparent, so he said he does not see them. I asked him if any of these signs applies to the nurse example toward the beginning of the book, which is probably the closest example in the book that I have to my experience. He said "no", and I said that this book is a general one, appealing to masses. It has to be generalized. My father is a smart man, a highly accomplished academic by training himself, being a college professor and then administrator. He read the book and still is caught up in the "academic" way of looking for "list of signs", as written in the book, just as the book said. So, it became so specific, it began to be a problem for allowing my own father to understand these things. Behavior is elusive. It is hard to write about as it is hard to describe. And, someone's intentions are impossible to know other than through their behavior. I think you too, Shoshana, are fooled by your own intellect. Sociopathy is something of which you have no understanding yet.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout uses the word "insane"...
= Not sure how to respond to this. There is major mental abuse in sociopathy. It is the M.O. of the sociopath to use lies and doubt to keep people off balance and then influence them as to what to think. At least in my experience. When you trust someone, they can influence you, and do. It is as simple as that. They use your very sanity, in regards to what you 'know' to be your 'reality', goodness in the ways of your intentions, emotions, and so forth, against you. Insane is a very soft word to use.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout poses rhetorical questions and answers with reference how "we" all agree...
= Number one, please be specific to what you are referring.
= Number two, I am easily leaning toward the "we" all agree as being most possible truth, when considering what you have been writing so far. And, having read the book.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout does not differentiate between sociopathy and passivity plus entitlement.
= Probably true. And, know that it is a very difficult and, so much more importantly, AN INDIVIDUAL, case by case scenario. It is one of the most faulty lines of thinking to try and say everyone is one way. Everyone, and undoubtedly every case, is absolutely unique. The idea is to provide insights on behavior that may be applicable in any one case, not completely describe one thing as being THE case.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout does not give substance abuse or other possible etiologies enough attention
= This is a book about sociopathy.
= Also, I personally vote that sociopathy is a LOT more pressing problem than drug abuse or any other etiology, for that matter. A LOT more. Name an etiology, and I am happy to describe why sociopathy is more dangerous and elusive. Also, I would postulate that sociopathy is a causative factor for many other "etiologies". One's "reality" IS your sanity. When this is messed with, anything can happen, physiologically, mentally, emotionally, etc. The mind is intimately related with the body. Science is telling us one's thoughts affects the physiology, and vice-versa. A sociopath disregards not only wellness, but life itself.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout equates sociopathy with evil.
= Is a shark evil? Perhaps, if you are in a tank with a hungry Great White, you may view its intentions as evil. But, we may also agree it is just what the shark "is". Can't hate a shark for being a shark, you just want to stay out of the waters when a ferocious human eating machine is ready and willing to tear you to shreds. You know I mean literally.
= With a sociopath, it is the same thing, but you cannot distinguish this shark from all the other good people around you. This shark will bite your leg off and then act as though they are coming to your rescue. Or, ferociously attack your loved ones, and then cry out in the most CONGRUENT and believable way that that loved one attacked them. So, it creates turmoil within "the herd", and no one knows it is happening. It is a hiding and crafty disease.
= Evil may be a word that needs to be defined, but, unless you are a sociopath yourself and cannot feel, then you would most certainly delineate it as evil.
= See House, M.D. Season 6, Episode 11, Titled "Remorse". Sociopaths have different brains than the rest of people. They literally are physiologically different. And, this is genetic. In the House, M.D. episode, the writers brilliantly wrote it in a way that nails both the sociopath and the victim. Please write me to discuss, if you so desire.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout castigates sociopaths for not following the "rules", but wants others to not follow the rules and this is "contradictory'.
= No, it is not. You are missing the point. And, while I am thinking about it, this is a MAJOR piece of evidence that you have no idea what a sociopath is or does. You speak exactly like every other naive person who is trying to logically rationalize their understanding of this. You simply do not understand.
= The problem is "normal" people have societal morals, or whatever you want to call them, that allows for the people of a society to work together by agreed standards of what are the particular society's rules. And, the sociopath plays outside those rules and will beat you every time if you try to only play inside the rules. If you play by common agreed upon rules, you will be trounced on by someone who does not have the same restrictions, mentally, emotionally, morally, etc. So, it is the problem. The sociopath should play by societies rules, but that would make them not a sociopath. Those surviving the game, may just have to fight fire with fire and play outside the rules or get out of the game altogether to survive at all, which is easier said than done.
= Also, BTW, the Pd and MMPI stuff is entirely in the discussion because of this same misunderstanding.

Shoshana says Dr. Stout does not include "admitting it" in her steps to deal with a sociopath.
= The largest problem with this one is, because most people don't know what a sociopath is, they don't believe you. This is what happened in my case anyway. It does not matter that I mention it, people cannot fathom it exists.
= This again is along the lines of your understanding. A sociopath is not simply someone who WILL blackmail you if they can. It is so much more than that. It is not just being mean. It is being nothing but meanness, because it is not "being mean" to a sociopath, it is just being a way that achieves a desired end. The only justification is to get what they want. There are no barriers otherwise. Can you fathom what this mentality would be like? I think you can't. I cannot and I have been face to face with it many times.

Finally, you arrogantly and condescendingly (seeming so, anyway) say " You enjoyed the... musings and attempts..."
= This is the same kind of ridiculous, excuse me, ignorant, type of attitude I have seen with regards to sociopathy. You have completely no experience with this, as is evidenced by every point you make and in the way you make every point. You are educated enough to seem (and in fact, be) intelligent about a subject, as you quote this and that. And, it all seems really good. But, you're completely outside of any ability to talk about this book. It is so unfortunate for the many people who may have been helped by reading this that read your review and chose not to read it. I THINK EVERY SINGLE PERSON ALIVE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I think every person needs more insight on this so very pervasive sickness to society and society's potential.

I speak to you, Shoshana, as I am speaking to everyone and anyone who thinks they understand this. It is one of those things. If you are not sure if you understand it, then you absolutely do not. If you are absolutely sure you understand it, then you just might be onto something. There is no mistaking what it is. There is no mistaking the fact that it is an entirely different understanding than almost any paradigm you have come to know or believe. It is, by definition, outside of your awareness, unless you are a sociopath and think like a sociopath. Or, have come to an understanding through distinct and direct interaction.

It is about "street smarts", or true experience. Do not think you can read a book about it and understand it. You cannot. That is the tough part about all of this. But, read Martha Stout's book so that hopefully you can see it when you are confronted by it. There is true genius in the way she is writing this book. I do not know how she could have done a better job at presenting, step by step, a general manual that is presenting enough angles to clue the unknowing and allow those naive souls the opportunity to glean insights about this disease. Hopefully, you have gleaned ideas and insights enough to detect a sociopath some day. Perhaps, it is even makng your life and relationships better.

The largest importance of your critique, is that it is precisely acting as great example of how someone behaves when they do not know a thing about sociopathy.

Additionally, I think it is very important to point out that there is a good chance many of our "leaders" are sociopaths. If you have smarts and the ability to do whatever you want, and have no regard for others, you can go very "far". Farther than many good people would ever consider, because they are able to empathize with others.

Empathy just may be the most precious gift e have. And, key to our truly sustainable future as a collective whole.

I believe the importance of this book is touching this magnitude.

And, I believe, from the tone and layout of this book, that Martha Stout, PHD, has a personal understanding of sociopathy.

It is a darn good and important book.
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Shoshana, January 25, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
+ Case studies illuminate the range of expressions of sociopathy

- Overgeneralizations abound, factual errors, contradictory interpretations of behavior

I rarely pan books. Even when I was reviewing for Publisher's Weekly, I tried to emphasize the good points of the books. It seems irresponsible to identify good points in The Sociopath Next Door without pairing them with their caveats. This is unfortunate, because Stout's case studies are vivid and, while not particularly complex, illustrate a range of expressions of sociopathy in familiar contexts (home, work, and relationships).

I also don't usually write giant question marks or rebuttals in the margins, or have cause to circle egregiously inaccurate statements. My copy of this book is highly marked up. In recent years, only Edward O. Wilson's Concilience: The Unity of Knowledge has evoked comparable frustration and disgust, and in fact I put it down after only a few chapters. Rather than go into exquisite detail about my many notes, exclamations, and Post-its, I will try to summarize the major flaws of Stout's book, with an example of each.

1. She casts doubt on her accuracy by using outdated references. While she has a few (mostly non-psychology) references from after 2001, the majority are references from the 1990's, and some hail from the 1960's. I'm all for an historical perspective, but research on cortical functioning from 1962, if still considered accurate, should be backed up by more contemporary studies. Most surprisingly, on page 6 she cites DSM-IV as the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. As a psychologist in practice, she ought to be well aware that the current edition of DSM, DSM-IV-TR (Text Revision) was published in 2000 (that's 5 years before her book was published). She is out of standard of practice. Further, the information she cites, apparently from the DSM, is incorrect. Stout asserts that the rate of antisocial personality disorder is 4% (p. 6, no citation given). She then moves into a discussion of the DSM criteria for this disorder. I don't have a DSM-IV handy at the moment, but as luck would have it, I do keep a DSM-IV-TR in the house. It reports the rate as "about 3% in males and about 1% in females" (DSM-IV-TR, p. 704). That would be a prevalence rate of 2%, or 50% lower than her assertion here and throughout. She also characterizes this disorder as "a noncorrectable disfigurement of character" (p. 6). DSM-IV-TR reports that it "has a chronic course but may become less evident or remit as the individual grows older.... there is likely to be a decrease in the full spectrum of antisocial behavior...." (DSM-IV-TR, p. 704). Even if she doesn't agree with this conceptualization, she needs to clarify the dispute, and take measures not to appear to suggest that DSM is the source of her information. Egregious errors like these immediately make me question the quality of her scholarship.

2. It is over-generalized and sensationalized. She uses the word "insane" to describe all sociopaths, including those who are parasites rather than aggressors. If her contention is that lack of conscience equals insanity, this ought to be a more central premise, and more clearly explored. Though she avoids exclamation points, at many points the book still reads as if she's shouting.

3. She poses rhetorical questions and then answers them with reference to how "we" all agree with her assertion. We don't.

4. Overgeneralization, part 2. She does not adequately differentiate between sociopathy and passivity plus entitlement. While she does describe some differences between sociopathy and narcissism, she does not explore many other reasons that a person might be construed to be sociopathic, but actually be something else. She glosses over the cycle of violence model in which being abused as a child may cause the person to abuse others as an adult, failing to delineate why a person with complex PTSD or Borderline Personality Disorder might engage in behavior that appears sociopathic, but isn't. She does not address autism spectrum disorders and their possible relationship to, or confound of, her definition of sociopathy. She notes the high rate of sociopaths in a prison population, but does not address the high rate of ADD in the same population, or explore whether these are alternative, overlapping, or coincidentally occurring characterizations of the same people.

5. She seems almost oblivious to the conscience-dulling, judgment-impairing effects of substance abuse, which she mentions only in passing (on p. 105, for example, she raises and then dismisses it out of hand). Stout seriously undermines her argument by citing statistics on sociopathy, then describing behaviors that may have varied etiologies, and ascribing the lion's share of distasteful interpersonal behavior to sociopathy.

6. Stout describes sociopaths' higher mean Pd scale scores on the MMPI, which is all well and good. She does not mention that psychologists and police also have higher means on this deviancy score on the MMPI than does the average person. So does a person with a history of illegal sunstance use, even if they've stopped. So does a gay person or anyone whose behavior does not toe the social line or has caused them to stand up to even unjust authority (more on this below).

7. She equates sociopathy with evil. This is problematic if, as she asserts, the research suggests a high heritability for sociopathy. Is evil genetic? Apparently she believes that it is.

8. Statements such as this make me want to hurl the book across the room: "...hundreds of thousands of brand-new Americans are now living the insecure existence of unwanted children simply because a physical appetite eclipsed their parents' consciences for just a few minutes in each case" (p. 54). Has she never heard of rape or coersion? Of failure to use adequate birth control for religious reasons? Of poverty and its effects on both birth control and the means to raise a child?

9. She castigates sociopaths for not following the rules, but one of her admonitions to people trying to resist sociopaths, whom she sees as gravitating to positions of power and control, is not to follow the rules. Not only is this contradictory as expressed, but failing to follow the rules of an authority, even if that authority is a sociopath, will earn you a higher score on the aforementioned Pd scale of the MMPI.

10. In her "Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life," she does not mention an important rule that, if followed, would have decreased much heartache an damage in her extended case studies: If you discover that you have been compromised by a sociopath, admit it. Nobody wants to admit their bad behavior, indiscretions, or blackmailable offenses, but be a mensch and take the rap. I would argue that covering for a sociopath (or your own bad judgment) keeps you vulnerable and perpetuates the offender's power to negatively affect others. I think, if pressed, Stout would say that people who allow themselves to be coerced in this way are not sociopaths because they feel shame. This is cold comfort to whomever the sociopath next compromises or harms.

I enjoyed Stout's philosophical musings and attempts at theory-building, though I don't agree with all of them. The weakest chapter by far is the Introduction. A good editor could have helped her make this tighter, though I would still disagree with some of her basic premises.

If you want a good book on personality disorders, you'd do better with the David Shapiro's classic text, Neurotic Styles. More empathic toward its subjects, this was the work that led to the codification of "personality disorders." It is well-written (though you may disagree with some of *its* basic premises) and substantially warmer, though more formal in tone.
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Product Details

Stout, Martha
Broadway Books
Martha Stout, Ph.D.
Mental Illness
Psychopathology - General
Psychology : General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.00x5.28x.56 in. .42 lbs.

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The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Broadway Books - English 9780767915823 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The Sociopath Next Door is a chillingly accurate portrayal of evil — the decent person's guide to indecency."
"Review" by , "I recommend this book, especially to those who think they may be vulnerable to sociopaths. It contains good stories, useful advice and clinical and scientific nuggets."
"Review" by , "One in 25 Americans is a sociopath — no conscience, no guilt. It could be your mean boss or your crazy ex. [The Sociopath Next Door] is an easy-to-follow guide for spotting them."
"Review" by , "A fascinating, important book about what makes good people good and bad people bad, and how good people can protect themselves from those others."
"Review" by , "A remarkable philosophical examination of the phenomenon of sociopathy and its everyday manifestations....Stout's portraits make a striking impact and readers with unpleasant neighbors or colleagues may find themselves paying close attention to her sociopathic-behavior checklist and suggested coping strategies. Deeply thought-provoking and unexpectedly lyrical."
"Synopsis" by , Not just confined to criminals, sociopath behavior affects one in 25 people, in which that person possesses no conscience. Harvard psychologist Stout explains how to recognize and deal with sociopaths who do not possess the ability to feel shame, guilt, or remorse.
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