In a conversation with a friend the other day, I described a certain person’s behavior as that of a “sociopath”. My friend said something along the lines of “wow, that is a little extreme,” but in reality, according to the definition of a sociopath – the association was spot on. What a lot of people fail to realize, is that just because someone is a sociopath, they aren’t necessarily a criminal. It is a word that conjures mental imagery of things like Hanibal Lector with that creepy, “stop being bitey” mask, or Jeffery Dahmer’s dead stare while he was being sentenced for killing and eating people. The truth is, according to Harvard Psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout – 1 in every 25 Americans is a sociopath.
What Qualifies Someone as a Sociopath?
Throughout the years, the definition of sociopathy and psychopathy were damn-near interchangeable. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the book that sets the standards for the classification of mental disorders has dropped both sociopathy and psychopathy for the broader classification of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APSD). The Mayo Clinic defines APSD as: “a type of chronic mental condition in which a person’s ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive. People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.”
They are Everywhere
A lot of common misconceptions with sociopaths are that they are criminals, murderers, or even easy to spot. Take for instance the example of M.E. Thomas, a lawyer and Sunday school teacher who wrote “Confessions of a Sociopath”. She says, “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…”
Again, according to popular social opinion, sociopaths are supposed to be murders and criminals, right?. Statistics show that that less that 20% of prison inmates, male or female, are sociopaths. When you compare that to the “1 in 25” estimate that I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of true sociopaths are among us. It is just like Thomas said, “…the silent majority of sociopaths live freely and anonymously, holding down jobs, getting married, having children. We are legion and diverse.”
The True Nature of a Sociopath
When you strip away all of the medical jargon and psychological theory, at their root sociopaths are manipulators. They support their inflated ego with lies. They blame others for their faults through an inflated sense of entitlement. They feign emotional responses to fit in. They completely lack any sense of remorse. They are impulsive – if it feels good, they do it. Sociopaths only tend to keep people around that they need for one reason or another. It is in their nature to pretend to be a friend, only because there is something that you offer them.
The tricky thing about sociopaths is that because of their lack of remorse, they don’t even realize what they are doing to people around them. That’s the #1 symptom of the condition. So, before you write someone in your life as narcissistic or self-centered, keep in mind that sociopathy hides in a lot of other negative behaviors.
Think about it this way, if you have dated at least 25 people, chances are that you’ve dated a sociopath. If you have 25 friends… If 25 people work in your office…
Then again, you could be that 1 in the 25.