[Vision2020] The Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door

Posted by Rosemary Huskey


Last night on the Auntie E and Brother Carl radio show, Auntie read some excerpts from the recently published The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School, Broadway Books, (a division of Random House) 2005. Dr. Stout maintains that one out of 25 “ordinary Americans” is without a conscience, i.e. sociopathic. Auntie read some of the identifying characteristics of this personality type on air. I wanted to share a few more with v2020 readers. Remember, very few sociopaths are serial killers or rapists, but they do effectively destroy lives in other ways.

“You [i.e. the sociopath] 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. . . . you do enjoy jobs that afford you a certain under-supervised control over a few individuals or small groups, preferably people and groups who are relatively helpless or in some way vulnerable. . . . 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. . . . 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. pg 3–4

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“One of the more frequently observed of these traits [sociopathic] 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 that 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.”) pg. 7

and most chilling,

“Sociopaths are infamous for their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions. In fact, a refusal to see the results of one’s bad behavior as having anything to do with one’s self — “consistent irresponsibility” in the language of the American Psychiatric Association — is a corner stone of the antisocial personality. pgs 49–50.

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“When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person’s forehead as you will ever be given.” pg.109

Dr. Stout, does not offer a hopeful outcome for these personality types — after all, they cannot acknowledge that they are the problem. Consequently, therapy does not provide insight or impetus for change. However, for the rest of us — the book is a useful tool to learn to recognize and avoid these folks.

Rose Huskey