The Sociopath Next Door explains who sociopaths are and how they can harm and damage you (and society).
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Traits of a Sociopath
- Some People Are Evil: Don’t Make Excuses
- Power & Dominance Motivates Sociopaths
- Do Sociopaths Know They’re Sociopaths?
- Sociopaths Can Have (Some) Emotions
- When Normal People Behave Like Sociopaths
- Why Do We Allow Sociopaths As Our Leaders
- Authority Trumps Conscience
- Historical Sociopaths (Sexual) Conquests
- Covetous Sociopaths: The Worst Kind
- What Causes Sociopathy?
- Rules to Survive a Sociopath
- Why Do We Even Have a Conscience?
- Sociopaths VS Narcissists
- The Drawbacks of Being a Sociopath
- Real Life Applications
- Sociopaths are relatively common (around 1 in 25 in the US) and they are often difficult to spot
- Stop making excuses for bad people: some people have no conscience and you better know how to deal with them
- Sociopaths see the world as a big game where they want to attain power and domination
About The Author: Martha Stout is an American psychologist. She completed her psychology training at the McLean Psychiatric Hospital and obtained her Ph.D. at Stony Brook University.
She served on the clinical faculty of the Harvard Medical School and works in a private practice as a clinical psychologist.
Not all sociopaths are violent and go on a killing spree. Most of them are not that conspicuous.
Most of them live among you and I.
Traits of a Sociopath
The American Psychiatric Associations defines a sociopath someone who possess three of the following seven traits:
- Failure to conform to social norms
- Manipulativeness and deceitfulness
- Impulsivity and failure to plan ahead
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Recklessness, disregard for the safety of self and others
- Consistent irresponsability
- Lack of remorse
The author adds superficial charm, which allows the sociopath to seem a captivating, normal individual with the a gift of getting what he wants through social seduction or actual seduction.
The author makes the point that the real biggest difference between sociopaths and others is conscience.
Sociopaths don’t have a conscience.
After some personal research, some sources say that sociopaths can develop a bond and may feel hurt and remorse in hurting someone they have a bond with (contrary to psychopaths).
And WebMD says that sociopaths have a “weak conscience” (contrary to psychopaths).
Some People Are Evil: Don’t Make Excuses
Martha Stout says that we often make excuses for people committing crimes.
We say it was the family of origin, a poor background, or a lack of options.
Most people fail to even think that sometimes malicious sociopaths can hide behind a socially recognized authority to cause harm.
We wouldn’t think, for example, that a psychologist or a doctor might actively harm patients.
If it happens, we might even make excuses for them rather than think there there must be something wrong with those people.
Similarly, good people are often the first to think and say that we all have a dark side. And that given the situation, we are all capable of unspeakable things.
But the author seem to reject this notion.
Sometimes, and I couldn’t agree more with this, we hold back too much in simply admitting that some people are just evil because of a lack of conscience.
Stout is right. Some psychologist even went as far to say that “heroes” and evil are twigs of the same tree. That is not true, and if you’re interested check out my article Good & Evil.
Some people are just bad and evil. Stop with the relativism
Power & Dominance Motivates Sociopaths
The author says that sociopaths want to win and dominate.
They like approaching life like a big game where other people are like pieces on a chessboard.
Sociopaths crave control over others. When they can diminish others and make feel bad, the sociopath is happy.
Indeed, if you read “Confessions of A Sociopath“, the auhtor says she likes “ruining people”.
Do Sociopaths Know They’re Sociopaths?
Yes, but they see nothing wrong with it.
In fact, they often feel superior.
Well, I’m sure that many of them went through their lives for quite some time before realizing they were sociopaths.
Sociopaths Can Have (Some) Emotions
Sociopaths can feel emotions.
Sometimes they are envious of others for having a conscience and a wider breath of emotions and feelings.
And when they are envious of others, it’s possible they might want to destroy them.
The author says sociopaths feel “primitive affective reactions” resulting from immediate pain and pleasure and short term successes and frustrations.
Sociopaths do get into relationships, but they don’t really love.
They can learn to fake emotions, but don’t really feel them.
When Normal People Behave Like Sociopaths
Sometimes normal people can ditch their conscience.
Our conscience indeed binds to other people who also have a conscience. But in the presence of war criminals, sex offenders and terrorists, we often disconnect our conscience.
These “monsters” are depersonalized. They become “it”, and everything goes against them.
The depersonalization also happens when a “us VS them” mentality takes hold. And sociopaths who gain control of tribes, societies or nations can leverage to commit atrocities.
We become the good people, they become the “its”, the enemies we must destroy.
And everything goes.
Why Do We Allow Sociopaths As Our Leaders
Martha Stout asks how come over and over in history people allowed sociopaths to wreak havoc.
She says part of the reason is that the enemies become “it” when the rhetoric of the “monster on the other side of the fence” takes over.
Part is because we look around and see that nobody else is complaining (this is called the Spiral of Silence BTW), or we get resigned to “it’s just how it is” or “it’s how politics is”.
But most of all, The Sociopath Next Door makes the point, we are programmed to obey authority. Even against our own conscience.
Authority Trumps Conscience
The author introduces the famous Milgram experiment.
The Milgam experiment shows that a figure of authority giving us order can trump our conscience and make us do things that we wouldn’t otherwise do.
In the experiment two thirds of the participants administered highly painful electric shocks to people just because an authority-figure in a white overcoat insisted they did so.
Our inborn tendency to obey authority serves the sociopaths of the world very well, Martha Stout says.
And that’s why later in the book she encourages people to question authority more often.
Education is The Antidote
The author says that education is a good antidote to the tendency of blindly following authority.
Not because education per se educates us to being better human beings, but because someone who regards himself as an equal to the authority is less likely to blindly follow that authority.
Indeed, when it was an ordinary man instead of a scientist to order the electric shocks, the obedience went down from 62.5% to 20%.
Note: our obedience also depends on how physically close we are to the figure of authority.
The farther away the figure of authority, the less people is likely to obey, for example to a “fire” order.
Historical Sociopaths (Sexual) Conquests
The author talks about sociopaths conquerors of the past, like Genghis Khan.
Once they conquered a new city the Mongols sometimes slaughtered the local population and had sex with the local women.
The authors say that 8% of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry the same Y chromosome. That’s 16 millions of people who live today as a result of Genghis Khan’s legacy of genocide and mass rape.
Covetous Sociopaths: The Worst Kind
Covetous sociopaths are sociopaths who crave other people’s belongings.
Not just things though, but they can be jealous of success, intelligence or looks.
These people believe nature has slighted them, and if they can’t enjoy what others have, neither should others be able to enjoy them.
And retribution becomes their goal.
Sometimes the victims have done nothing against the sociopaths, so most people, sometimes the victims included, are incredulous when a sociopath is attacking or sabotaging them.
What Causes Sociopathy?
Sociopathy is partly inborn. Up to 50%, to be precise.
What the other factors are, we don’t know too well as of today, but these are some likely causes:
1. Childhood Abuse
Some research went into childhood abuse, but the results are inconsistent.
Childhood abuse does not seem to cause sociopathy.
3. Attachment Styles
Attachment styles have also been explored.
And a complete lack of parental care can cause incredible neediness (anxious attachment style) and inability to form intimate relationship with others.
People with a total lack of parental care do have something common with sociopaths, but they are not Machiavellian, charming or charismatic.
They are simply indifferent and hostile (read Romanian orphans and get the book for more information, this was appalling and eye opening story).
4. Local Culture
Marta Stout says that the overall culture has a strong influence on the incidence of sociopathy.
Eastern regions, with a more social culture of collectiveness, have much fewer sociopaths than the West, where the culture is more individualistic.
For example, in Taiwan less than 0,2% of the population can be diagnosed as sociopaths, VS 4% in the US.
Rules to Survive a Sociopath
Martha Stout introduces 13 rules to deal with a sociopath:
- Accept that sociopaths exists
- Trust your instincts above what people say
- Don’t give yourself too openly to those who haven’t gained your full trust
- Question authority
- Suspect flattery
- Don’t mix fear with respect. If they try to scare you into something they’re not good leaders
- Don’t try to beat them at their own game
- Cut contact
- Sociopaths play the pity game: don’t let your conscience succumb to people without a conscience
- Three times a lie or a cheat is a pattern: let them go
- Don’t help them hide their true nature
- Don’t allow them to lower your self esteem
- Focus on yourself: living well is always the best revenge
Why Do We Even Have a Conscience?
The author wonders why do we even have a conscience when being conscious-less can be an advantage for the individual?
This section was a bit too off topic for me, also because it’s very well covered in other books and branches of research.
Sociopaths VS Narcissists
Narcissists are half sociopaths.
They can feel their own emotions, but have no awareness of other people’s emotions.
They lack empathy.
Narcissists suffer because they want relationships, but have difficulty in forming and maintaining them since they can’t empathize.
Sadly, narcissists make for terrible parents.
The Drawbacks of Being a Sociopath
Sociopaths are often hypochondriacs, get easily bored and often get addicted to drugs.
It’s also not easy for them to obtain the success they want as they cannot sustain heavy workloads for the long haul.
This is why sociopaths are rarely in a position of power. Sociopaths lack the staying power needed to get to the top power position.
They go for the easy shot, the big heist, the shortcut. And of course, that rarely works.
When they get to the top of business organizations, they often do it by managing to disguise the amount of work they do or that they have done.
See more information about sociopaths in business organizations here:
The lack of conscience, turns out, also make for poor decision making.
Sociopaths are short-sighted and impulsive and learn little from mistakes. They often end up financially broke.
Real Life Applications
There Are Bad People Among Us
Keep your antennas up.
And learn how to act with these people.
This is one of the tenets of this website, too.
Don’t Second Guess Bad People Too Much
Good people makes too many excuses for inexcusable behavior.
A wonderful book, but it gets lost in unneeded detours.
The Freudian superego, the Milgram experiment, theology… They didn’t fit the topic too well.
Same for the stories used as examples.
Untestable Clinical Diagnosis to Dead People
The author assigns sociopath diagnosis to a lot of historical despots or dictators she has never met. Like Gengis Khan, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Caligula and Benito Mussolini.
I’m Italian and I don’t think that Mussolini was a sociopath. But it’s hard to say. And that’s the whole point: the author makes those diagnosis sound way too easy and obvious.
Martha Stout Question Go Deep… Deep Into Human Soul
Why do we allow sociopaths as our leaders, to wage war, kill and destroy on their whims, games of dominance and thirst for power.
Interesting Look on (Manipulative) Cultures
The author makes the point that Western culture accepts manipulation and mind games in the name of success and individualism. That can make the environment more sociopath-friendly.
I really liked “The Sociopath Next Door”.
Not only it reinforced my understanding of sociopathy, as I wanted, but it also helped me further clarify who The Power Moves serves.
This website also serves the victims of conscious-less people.
And it reinforced my belief that in this world we need ultimately good people who know how to be ruthless when the need to stand up to sociopath-like foes arises.
This book is between 4 and 5 stars.
Only because I’m conservative I went for 4, but it’s otherwise highly recommended.