Friday, April 6, 2012

The Sociopath Next Door: Book Review

Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door explains in common language why you think that creepy guy who lives next door may be a sociopath.

We use the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably, although Dr. Stout does point out an ongoing medical community discussion about one being the product of upbringing (sociopath) and the other being the product of heredity (nature). She doesn't dwell on the differences but asks the reader to use sociopath as the term for both. She is quick to point out that not all sociopaths are serial killers. In fact, her statistics of one in twenty-five Americans is a sociopath leads to that conclusion, since one in twenty-five Americans is not a serial killer.

She points out that many, if not most, sociopaths are "ice people," those who have no emotion. That is not to say these people do not display emotions, but they are not true. They are faked to make people feel sorry for them, trust them and want to help them. She cites behavior from a highly successful businessman who had no qualms about stealing from his friends and family, all in the guise of helping them. Think Bernard Madoff. Madoff wasn't upset that he'd run a Ponzi scheme that bilked his friends out of their life savings. He was upset about getting caught and losing everything.

Dr. Stout writes that sociopaths lack a conscience. No matter how they look like they care, they care about themselves and no one else. They will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and, occasionally, murder those who get in their way. Some have extremely high IQs; others have normal intelligence. Some manipulate others to get something they want; others do so to control their subjects. By identifying characteristics of those who lack a conscience, Dr. Stout guides the reader in how to protect herself from these predators.

We probably all have met sociopaths in our lives. They don't "sit right" with us. They don't treat us as we want to be treated, but they can be so charming that we have difficulty breaking their hold on us. They aren't all sexual predators or child molesters, or other type of abhorrent criminal. We work for them. We live next door to them. If we learn who they are and why they behave as they do, we can keep them at length. Rhett Butler aside, the last thing any of us wants to do is get involved with someone who doesn't give a damn.

Worth a careful read if you want to know more about people whose behavior "creeps you out."


  1. Really well-written review. The book sounds very interesting, and it sounds like it debunks some of the myths about sociopaths that I had, namely, that they're all serial killers. That statistic that 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath is scary! It certainly has me thinking about some people that "creep me out."

    I like your post about your process of "moving" out what must go from a draft. I enjoy learning how other writers do their thing.

    Good to find a fellow Virginian. SML is a beautiful area!

  2. Welcome to the blog, Tina. Gad, that sounds like something out of Star Trek. No, wait, that was the Borg. Similar. I hope you'll come back and comment frequently. And yes, SML is a terrific place to live and write. What do you write? And where?