I wrote this post for my original Blogger version of The Overeducated Housewife on February 4, 2016. I’m reposting it today, because it included an old Epinions review of a very good book I read years ago. I anticipate that this post will be mostly reposted as/is– that is, minimal or no editing of the original content. At the time I wrote this piece, we were living in Stuttgart, and I noticed someone who appeared to be a bit of a sociopath. That hunch was confirmed the following year. I’m no longer in the Facebook group I mentioned.
A few years ago, I read a fascinating book by Dr. Martha Stout called The Sociopath Next Door. I reviewed the book on Epinions and have included my review at the bottom of this page for your perusal. It’s a very good book and I wish I had brought my copy of it with me to Germany. I am reminded of it this morning as I consider something that happened in our local community the other day.
A father posted about a scary incident involving his daughter. She was walking home alone when she was confronted by a strange man who said he wanted to talk to her. The girl said no and kept walking. The man continued to try to engage her, so she ran from him. He chased her. Fortunately, she was able to escape.
The father of this girl was very upset– livid, actually– that his daughter would be harassed this way on a military installation. Most people who were responding to his post were very kind and comforting. They commented on how scary the situation must have been for the girl and expressed happiness and relief that she was okay. The vast majority of commenters were outraged that this had happened in our community and were very supportive.
There was one commenter, though, who seemed to be taking a rather adversarial view. He questioned the father’s version of events. At one point, he even called the father a nasty euphemism referring to a certain part of the female anatomy. When he was called out for being so contentious, the trollish commenter changed his tone to one that was superficially more supportive. He commented that he himself has daughters and would be concerned about their welfare. Then, curiously, he asked the father if his daughter had been able to tell if the person who had confronted her was a grown man or a kid.
I had noticed this particular commenter before. He struck me as being intelligent, charming, and even funny. My initial impressions of him were somewhat positive to neutral. He didn’t make me suspicious. In fact, at first blush, he seemed likable. But then I saw him in action last night and my mind changed.
I’ll be honest. I hadn’t been paying strict attention to this guy’s comments, other than noticing that they had turned the mood of that thread noticeably pissy. The father whose daughter was confronted responded in a hostile way when the commenter asked him to clarify his daughter’s story. Then I saw the way he changed his tone and it seemed to me that he was trying to knock the father off guard.
A couple of ladies in another local group noticed some sketchy posts the commenter had put up in a different private group. The posts did not suggest that he was a concerned father of three girls or even someone who respects women. He posted a joke about how all of Taylor Swift’s songs are about guys leaving her and none were about blowjobs. He also posted a picture of a woman in tiny bootie shorts and no top. On the very tiny shorts was written “Fuck me like you hate me.” I took a look at the man’s Facebook page and the photo that appears at the top of this post was once used as his cover photo.
One of the ladies dared to ask, “Do you think maybe the commenter is the one who harassed that guy’s daughter?” I have to admit, after weighing the evidence and taking a good look at the guy’s comments, I kind of wonder that myself.
Let me be very clear. I have no idea if the commenter was the guy who harassed the girl who was trying to walk home. I also don’t know if he’s a sociopath or a narcissist. However, the things he’s posted are very suspicious. One thing I’ve noticed about narcissistic types is that they usually don’t really hide. They thrive on drama and get off on seeing what kind of havoc they wreak. All sociopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are sociopaths. The fact that the commenter had once used a photo with a caption about sociopaths is very telling, even if it could be explained away. Bill looked up the photo and said it came from Sherlock Holmes. Even so, my question is why would a normal person even want to suggest that they might be a sociopath?
According to The Sociopath Next Door, one out of every twenty-five people is a sociopath. Our local Facebook group has over two thousand people in it. Chances are good that there are a bunch of sociopaths lurking around in there. I, for one, am going to keep my eyes peeled.
And below is a reposted Epinions review I wrote about Martha Stout’s excellent book, The Sociopath Next Door. I wrote the review on January 29, 2010.
Last week, while I was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee looking for ways to occupy my time, I stopped by a Books-A-Million. If all else fails when I’m killing time, I can usually find some books to read so that I don’t go crazy. My stop at the bookstore looked like it was going to be unsuccessful until I happened to wander into the psychology section. It was at that point that I found the three books that have kept me busy for the past week. There, on the shelf, nestled between books about borderline personality disorder and narcissism, was Martha Stout’s 2005 book, The Sociopath Next Door. Since I’ve been doing some research about narcissism, I thought it was only logical that I do some reading about the narcissist’s close cousin, the sociopath.
Martha Stout, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. She has served on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University for twenty-five years. Aside from being an experienced teacher and clinician, she’s also a very captivating writer. Using vivid examples presented in story form, she accurately presents a clear picture of what a sociopath is, constantly reminding her readers that they are much more common in our society than they might care to believe.
What is a sociopath?
Sociopaths are people who look just like you and me. The difference is, they have no conscience and no feelings, not even for their own psychological or emotional pain. They may be very good at acting like they have feelings, but acting is all they’re doing. They learn how to behave like a regular human being the way a normal person would learn a second language. Any tears they shed are “crocodile tears” and mean absolutely nothing other than to put on a convincing show. They’re somewhat similar to narcissists, except narcissists do have feelings for their own psychological pain and can get their feelings hurt. Sociopaths, by contrast, are completely cold and calculating. They will sell out their own mother or their children if it will help them get ahead.
How prevalent are sociopaths?
Martha Stout estimates that there’s one sociopath in every group of twenty-five people. That makes it more common than many major illnesses that we hear so much about in the media. And yet, a lot of people don’t know anything about this psychological phenomenon. Stout writes that we’re often too quick to dismiss antisocial behavior as a misunderstanding. Or we overlook it because we don’t want to “rock the boat”. Many Americans, as a whole, are often way too nice for their own good. Sociopaths count on that quality to further their agendas and get ahead.
Where can you find sociopaths?
Naturally, one can find sociopaths in prison, though Stout writes that most prisoners aren’t, in fact, sociopaths. The truth is, sociopaths really are everywhere. The ones that end up in prison are the ones who go too far with their aberrant behavior and get caught. Stout brilliantly provides examples that illustrate what typical garden variety sociopaths look like.
Take, for instance, that crotchety next door neighbor of yours who’s so mean to everyone and does everything in his or her power to make people miserable. Some people might dismiss that person as simply unlikeable. Stout demonstrates how, upon closer examination, that person might be a sociopath.
How about that spouse (or perhaps ex spouse) who is content to sit around all day and do nothing while you slave away at work and at home? Yes, it’s true that not everyone gets married for love. As Stout illustrates in another example, some people marry because it means they can stop pulling their own weight. If they have no appreciation for their partner’s work or conscience about their own sloth, they might be a sociopath.
What about that seemingly competent professional who is suddenly very publicly embroiled in a scandal over their credentials, or lack thereof? In one shocking example, Stout shows how a sociopath might get away with not quite being qualified for a job and how that person might use their position to belittle other people.
What causes sociopaths?
Stout explores what might cause someone to become a sociopath. Apparently, some factors are preventable while other factors aren’t.
My thoughts about this book
I really liked this book. Martha Stout has a very effective way of explaining the subject; it’s entertaining and informative. She not only explains what sociopaths are, she also explains how people might be able to spot narcissists and what they can do to protect themselves from them. Toward the end of the book, she also explains why it’s good to have a conscience. Sociopaths often die unpleasant deaths because of the terrible things they do to other people. They’re often either completely alone or they die violently, by murder or suicide. According to Stout, it’s somewhat rare for a true sociopath to leave this world in a mundane way, surrounded by friends and family. Strangely, I found some comfort in that revelation… wonder if that makes me a sociopath, too?
One negative I can come up with regarding this book is that there seemed to be a few sections in which Stout seemed to ramble a bit. A few paragraphs were a little longer than I thought they needed to be– she’d made her point and it seemed like she was reiterating unnecessarily. But even in those rare situations, the writing was interesting enough that I didn’t mind it so much. And I did learn a lot reading this book.
The other negative for me was that in a couple of chapters, Stout seeemed to be veering a little close to getting political and promoting an agenda. She mentions war and how it’s often based on “holy” principles, religion, and righteous indignation. I will agree that a lot of wars have to do with religion. But personally, I don’t think wars are all bad or unnecessary. It’s true that a lot of people die during wars and a lot of those deaths are senseless and tragic. But, in the same vein, a lot of people are also born because of wars. And in many ways, wars force cultural integration and innovation. She writes that until people start to recognize and contain the sociopaths in our midst, there will never be peace. I submit that permanent world peace is an unattainable goal. Even if world peace were attainable, I would think it would make things kind of boring here on planet Earth. Imagine how dull life would be if everyone were good and had honorable intentions… we wouldn’t need books like The Sociopath Next Door.
Anyway, I would definitely recommend The Sociopath Next Door to anyone who’s interested in psychology or thinks he or she may be dealing with a sociopath.
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