I Am a Sociopath
Remorse is alien to me. I have a penchant for deceit. I am generally free of entangling and irrational emotions. I am strategic and canny, intelligent and confident, but I also struggle to react appropriately to other people’s confusing and emotion-driven social cues.
I was not a victim of child abuse, and I am not a murderer or a criminal. I have never skulked behind prison walls; I prefer mine to be covered in ivy. I am an accomplished attorney and law professor, a well-respected young academic who regularly writes for law journals and advances legal theories. I donate 10 percent of my income to charity and teach Sunday school for the Mormon Church. I have a close circle of family and friends whom I love and who very much love me. Does this sound like you? Recent estimates say that one in every 25 people is a sociopath. But you’re not a serial killer, never imprisoned? Most of us aren’t.
Only 20 percent of male and female prison inmates are sociopaths, although we are probably responsible for about half of all serious crimes committed. Nor are most sociopaths incarcerated. In fact, the silent majority of sociopaths live freely and anonymously, holding down jobs, getting married, having children. We are legion and diverse.
You would like me if you met me. I have the kind of smile that is common among television show characters and rare in real life, perfect in its sparkly teeth dimensions and ability to express pleasant invitation. I’m the sort of date you would love to take to your ex’s wedding—fun, exciting, the perfect office escort. And I’m just the right amount of successful so that your parents would be thrilled if you brought me home.
If you have had a manipulative and cruel boss, a neighbor who lives to annoy and fight over the most simple issues, watched in awe at the machinations of corporate robber baron CEO’s (such as Mitt Romney) that profit by destroying people’s lives without regret, or had a partner, friend, or intimate that seemed “not quite right” as they parroted human emotion but did not really seem to “feel” in the same way that emotionally and psychologically healthy people do, then yes, you may have encountered a sociopath.
The sociopathic personality is not necessarily the cartoon character of human evil such as a Hannibal Lecter or Jeffrey Dahmer. Those are easy marks, super predators that the mass media has played up in order to scare the public by fulfilling the mantra “if it bleeds it leads” that drives news coverage in the United States.
The sociopath is common and mundane. This is precisely why they are so dangerous. I am lucky in that after reading The Sociopath Next Door, I was able to make sense of one of my former work colleagues who lived to manipulate, lie, hurt others, and create chaos.
She was masterful because of an ability to make her behavior seem utterly and totally reasonable while making those others in her circle of sociopathic hell feel like we were the “crazy” ones. As The Sociopath Next Door details, such behavior may be cruel when viewed from an outsider’s perspective; it is nonetheless perfectly rational for the sociopath as a means of advancing his or her goals.
Psychology Today has a piece called Confessions of a Sociopath that is well worth reading. It is written by diagnosed sociopath M.E. Thomas and is excerpted from her forthcoming book.
Her conclusion is very provocative and mirrors some of my concerns about he who would have been president Mitt Romney:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream. Mormons believe that everyone has the potential to be godlike—I believe this includes me. Every being is capable of salvation; my actions are what matters, not my ruthless thoughts, not my nefarious motivations. Everyone is a sinner, and I never felt that I was outside this norm.
When I attended Brigham Young—where students were even more trusting than the average Mormon—there were myriad opportunities for scamming. I stole from the lost and found, saying I lost a book, but then I would take the “found” book to the bookstore and sell it. Or, I’d take an unlocked bike that sat in the same place for days. Finders, keepers.
But I am functionally a good person—I bought a house for my closest friend, I gave my brother $10,000, and I am considered a helpful professor. I love my family and friends. Yet I am not motivated or constrained by the same things that most good people are.
I don’t mean to give the impression that you shouldn’t worry about sociopaths. Just because I’m high-functioning and nonviolent doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of stupid, uninhibited, or dangerous sociopaths out there. I myself try to escape people like that; after all, it’s not like all sociopaths give each other hall passes to avoid harassment.
Despite having imagined it many times, I’ve never slit anyone’s throat. I wonder, though, had I been raised in a more abusive home, whether I would have blood on my hands. People who commit heinous crimes—sociopath or empath—are not more damaged than everyone else, but they seem to have less to lose. It’s easy to imagine a 16-year-old version of myself being handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit. If I had no one to love or nothing to achieve, perhaps. It’s hard to say.
America’s celebrity culture, hyper individualism, gross capitalist excess, and worship of greed encourages and rewards psychopathic behavior. Given their pathological narcissism, Millennials and the Facebook generation are particularly vulnerable to the rewards and delights of sociopathic behavior. And rich people, those captains of industry and social climbers, are also especially prone to cheating, lying, and other anti-social behaviors–moreover, such behavior is incentivized in many professions.
In the same family of anti-social behaviors, the corporation, if evaluated as an individual by a clinician, would be diagnosed as a “psychopath:”
America is a corporate market democracy. She is also an Imperial power. Thus a question: is the United States a sociopathic country? And what does this mean for her citizens who are not sociopaths?
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