Do You Know a Sociopath?
By Jennifer Toothaker
Most people have the misconception that sociopaths are serial killers or mass murderers, safely locked up behind bars? Dr. Martha Stout, a Harvard Medical School psychology instructor, believes psychopaths and sociopaths make up as much as 4% of our population, and there are “more sociopaths among us than people who suffer from the much-publicized disorder of anorexia, four times as many sociopaths as schizophrenics, and one hundred times as many sociopaths as people diagnosed with colon cancer.” In other words, about 1 in 25 people you meet are sociopaths. According to Rober Hare, leading researcher on sociopaths and psychopathic behaviors, “Only about 20 percent of prison inmates in the United States are sociopaths, though they constitute about 50 percent of the ‘most serious crimes’ (extortion, armed robbery, kidnapping, murder) and crimes against the state (treason, espionage, and terrorism).” This means that there are more sociopaths among us than there are in prison at any given time.
Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘What exactly IS a sociopath?’ A sociopath is essentially a person without a conscience, one who feels no remorse for wrong-doing, and is likely to be indifferent or rationalize the hurt they have caused. They are characterized as being habitually deceitful, irresponsible, reckless, and manipulative. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), a possible Anti-Social Personality Disorder diagnosis may be made if a person possesses at least three (3) of the following seven (7) characteristics: (1) failure to conform to social norms; (2) deceitfulness, manipulativeness; (3) impulsivity, failure to plan ahead or consider consequences; (4) irritability, aggressiveness; (5) reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; (6) consistent irresponsibility; (7) lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from others. Unfortunately for the average person, they are also often characterized as being very charming and charismatic, which is usually how they are able to gain trust and support. They may also have an inflated ego, believing they are “better” or “greater” than the average person and may take reckless risks with other people’s lives, money, or property.
It has been written by Benjamin Wolman, founder and editor of the International Journal of Group Tensions that “human cruelty increases when an aggressive sociopath gains an uncanny, almost hypnotic control over large numbers of people. History is full of chieftans, prophets, saviors, gurus, dictators, and other sociopathic megalomaniacs who managed to obtain support…and incited people to violence.” Think through our recent history of men such as Adolf Hitler, the Reverend Jim Jones, Saddam Hussein, Josef Kony, Pol Pot, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and others like them that have inspired others to murder for them. However, contrary to popular belief, most sociopaths are not murderers, and most generally use their manipulation skills on a less violent and massive level. You may encounter those without a conscience working in the next cubicle eating a stolen lunch from the community refrigerator, or a seduce-and-manipulate lover that empties out your bank account. You may find them as CEO’s of multi-billion dollar companies that ruthlessly pursue profits regardless of the consequences, or as the deadbeat boyfriend/girlfriend that won’t get a job or take care of themselves. Sometimes, you may find one in your neighborhood in the person that always starts trouble over nothing and seems to be looking for a fight. For some people, they are found in their own home, with the spouse that they thought they knew but became so cruel and callous after the nuptials or the child that hurts the other children at school and can’t be trusted around small animals. The emotional, financial, and mental tolls sociopaths can have on a person/family are tremendous and should not be underestimated.
At this time, there is no “cure” for anti-social personality disorder; no medication that works, no successful therapies. Most sociopaths do not seek treatment willingly and are especially resistant to therapy since they feel there is nothing “wrong” with them. Once you have identified someone as potentially sociopathic in your everyday life, Dr. Stout recommends the following rules to protect yourself and your loved ones: (1) Accept that some people do not have a conscience, do not feel remorse or guilt, and yet will not look like monsters; (2) In a contest between your instincts and what an authoritarian (teacher, doctor, minister, parent, etc.) says, go with your instinct; (3) When considering any new relationship, remember the Rule of Threes with regards to honesty: One lie/broken promise may be a misunderstanding, two is a serious mistake, and three means you are dealing with a liar. Remember deceit is a cornerstone of sociopathic behavior. Cut your losses and get out. (4) Suspect flattery. Flattery is extreme compliments which appeal to our egos and are almost always intended to manipulate. (5) The best way to protect you from a sociopath is to avoid him/her at all costs.
Jenn Toothaker is currently working on her Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology (Argosy University) after recently completing her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology (Wilmington University) and her undergrad degree in Art Therapy (Cumberland County College). She plans to continue her education to the doctorate level.... Jenn Toothaker is not a licensed psychologist and any information written in this article is not intended to give any diagnosis or mental health advice. Please consult a licensed mental health professional if you need additional information.