In The Sociopath Next Door, author Martha Stout, ph.d describes the sociopathic or psychopathic personality and descrubes the current theories that attempt to make sense of this disorder.
According to Stout, sociopathy (also known as antisocial personality disorder) occurs in four percent of the population. In other words, one out of twenty five people fits this profile. We are are likely to have met at least one and probably more — if we are not one ourselves.
Stout reports that sociopaths do not have a conscience. Therefore, they feel no empathy for others. They are unable to love and they feel no guilt. They know the difference between right and wrong, but their only consideration would be whether or not they are likely to get caught. The motivation is all about power and manipulation. They could be the colleague who sabotages your project just for fun, or the spouse who philanders incessantly, or the corporate executive who climbs to the top through apple polishing those above him and disparaging those below him on the corporate ladder.
It is difficult, almost impossible, for those of us who do have a conscience to imagine being this way. Perhaps that explains why it is so difficult to identify a sociopath when we encounter one. In many, if not most cases, sociopaths continue to create their havoc unchallenged due to their uncanny ability to manipulate and to charm and because other people simply can’t believe that their actions are deliberate.
All too often, the beleaugered victim of a sociopath is blamed or ridiculed because others do not believe that the victim is telling the truth or is portraying the situation accurately. Even victims sometimes doubt their own reality and wonder if they were somehow to blame or somehow misunderstood.
Sociopaths, says Stout, exist in all occupations and in all levels of society. The majority are not violent or criminal. The Ted Bundys and Adolf Hitlers of this world are sociopaths, true, but most people fitting this profile live more mundane lives.
Stout examines the genetic vs environmental theories that strive to to explain how this disorder occurs and why. She also postulates that sociopathy may have had survival value along the lines of “survival of the fittest”.
I found the book to be informative and thought provoking. Stout has researched and analyzed well. She does a good job of describing how sociopaths interact with others and the effect they can have on others.
The book misses the mark, I think, in the sense that it portrays sociopathy as all or nothing. I may be wrong, but I believe that psychologists use a sliding scale to determine sociopathy. In other words, all of us have some sociopathic tendencies. The issue is not “if” but “how much.” Stout does not mention this but seemingly regards the disorder as “all or nothing.”
I also questioned Stout’s conclusions that in the long run, those of us with a conscience make out better than those who lack one. It is true, of course, that historically, and in the present, some sociopaths have met their just rewards through executions, jail time, societal shunning and so forth.
Nevertheless, I would be willing to bet that a fair number of these folk get through life just fine, alebeit at the expense of others.
I am not saying this is a good thing, and I am not saying I would want to be one of them. I am simply saying that if a sociopath is clever enough to avoid “getting caught”, then probably many sociopaths make out just fine.
But read the book for yourself. Its a good read.