**5 Goodreads Stars**
I’ve read a lot psychological thrillers and murder mysteries, but I haven’t spent a lot of time reading the psychology behind why people are ruthless killers. Dr. Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door shines light on people who are sociopaths: not the sociopath who kills, but the sociopath who is manipulative, deceptive, cunning, emotionally destructive, and, at times, physically violent. Dr. Stout, a clinical psychologist, wrote this book after a lifetime of working with patients who have been affected by sociopaths.
Sociopaths, by definition, lack a conscience. They have no moral compass and no sense of guilt. They are self-motivated and self-interested, only concerned in using people to fulfill their own desires and wishes.
“When a sociopath identifies someone as a good game piece, she studies that person. She makes it her business to know how that person can be manipulated and used, and, to this end, just how that chosen pawn can be flattered and charmed. In addition, she knows how to promote a sense of familiarity or intimacy by claiming that she and her victim are similar in some way.” (Stout 90)
According to Dr. Stout, 1 in 25 Americans are sociopaths. So how do we protect ourselves from such people?
Dr. Stout argues that we should avoid sociopaths at all costs. If someone has lied to you three times, then assume they are a sociopath. If they have shared a pitiful story to gain your sympathy, be on alert.
Part of the reason sociopaths are allowed to run rampant in American society is because they cause their victims to question their own sanity and to feel as though they are the ones who are crazy. Sociopaths convince people who know their victim/victims that the victim is the one who is deceptive, manipulative, and dangerous. Consequently, victims often stay quiet out of fear of retaliation:
“Certainly she will hesitate to tell her story again, since trying to expose the sociopath casts doubts on her own credibility and maybe even on her sanity. These doubts, our own and other people’s, are painful, and readily convince us to keep our mouths shut. Over the years, listening to hundreds of patients who have been targeted by sociopaths, I have learned that within an organization or a community, in the event that a sociopath is finally revealed to all and sundry, it is not unusual to find that several people suspected all along, each one independently, each one in silence. Each one felt gaslighted, and so each one kept her crazy-sounding secret to herself.” (Stout 95)
For these reasons, Dr. Stout argues that victims must do everything in their power to separate themselves from those who exhibit sociopathic behavior.
This book was eye-opening for me. I especially enjoyed segments that discuss the history of world leaders who exhibit sociopathic tendencies. One of the questions that haunts me is why humanity – which compromises of mostly good people – tolerates and even complies with the demands of sociopaths.
“But history shows us also that a leader with no seventh sense can hypnotize the group conscience still further, redoubling catastrophe. Using fear-based propaganda to amplify a destructive ideology, such a leader can bring members of a frightened society to see it as the sole impediment to the good life, for themselves and maybe even for humanity as a whole, and the conflict as an epic battle between good and evil.” (Stout 59)
I flew through this book because it was accessible for non-experts. The case studies, in particular, were so compelling and frightening. They were just as terrifying as the suspense books I read!