M.E. Thomas is the adopted pen name of a law professor who wrote a new book titled, “Confessions of a Sociopath; A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight.” In it, Thomas describes her life — she was raised by catastrophically inept and selfish parents — and how it changed once she realised that she wasn’t simply different from everyone else.
She was — and still is — a sociopath: someone who lacks the ability to feel or sympathize with others.
Thomas and her publisher granted Business Insider permission to excerpt the section of her book in which Thomas describes how she first discovered she was a sociopath.
It took an early life crisis — her career collapsed and she started abandoning her friends — to force Thomas to ask what was wrong with herself.
Eventually, she sought the help of a mental health professional who gave her a formal diagnosis of sociopathy. (We published an early version of that diagnostic test here.)
How did I eventually come to think I was a sociopath? With all of the benefits of hindsight I can see that there were plenty of signs. But it took a professional and personal collapse in my late twenties to make me care enough to investigate.
My family likes to joke about my inability to stick to one thing for longer than a few years. High school was a little bit of a farce but I tested well enough to become a National Merit Scholar. In college I majored in music on a whim. I chose percussion because the core requirements were split to cover four instruments, and I didn’t have the attention span to focus on just one. I chose to go to law school because it was one of the few graduate programs without prerequisites and I needed something to do. I tested well on the LSAT and got into a top law school, despite having the GPA of someone who, though clearly intelligent, is easily bored.
After law school I was hired as an attorney at a self-described “elite” law firm. All of my colleagues were recruited from the top of their classes at their top 10 schools. I barely made the firm’s grade cutoffs, and I had graduated with honours. We were supposed to be the best of the best, and the firm charged a premium. Just two years out of law school, my base salary was $US170,000 with a double bonus totaling $US90,000 and I was in a lockstep pattern of significant raises every year I stayed. But I was a terrible employee.
I have never been able to work well unless it directly benefited my mind or my résumé, no matter how lucrative the work was. I spent most of my effort in dodging projects and scheduling my day around lunch appointments and coffee breaks. Still, when I got my first bad review I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I eventually got called into my supervising partner’s office and told to shape up or ship out.
I didn’t shape up. I interviewed with other firms and got an offer from a similarly prestigious firm that paid more, but I wasn’t interested in continuing to be a well-paid paper pusher. I was meant for greater things than being a junior legal associate; I was sure of it. A couple months later I was out on the street with a banker’s box of personal belongings, waiting for a friend to pick me up.
Around this same time, a close friend’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Whereas she had once been a pleasure to be around — intelligent, wise, independent, and insightful — she was suddenly emotionally fragile and beset by family obligations. I was exhausted by trying to accommodate her, and I felt that I was suddenly putting more effort into the relationship than I was getting out of it. I decided to cut off all contact with her. At first all I felt was relief. Eventually I missed her, but I had expected that, and I tried not to let it bother me too much.
I spent the next couple of years receiving unemployment insurance checks. My family was worried for me. They wondered what I was planning on doing with my life. But I never had those sorts of existential crises. I always live in two-year increments. I figure anything beyond that is just so uncertain that it can basically be disregarded as a possibility.
This compounding of losses was unusual for me, though — even my two-year plan seemed bleak. I found myself at loose ends, directionless and, I had to admit, fairly mindless. I had squandered a prestigious and lucrative job in my chosen field. I considered going to business school, but for what? To repeat a cycle of success and devastation for the duration of my life? I had heartlessly put aside a friend in her time of need. How many more relationships did I have to destroy? I knew these were not the actions of a normal person, and I began to admit
that my life was not sustainable. If I wasn’t normal, what was I?
With a ruthlessness I usually reserved for other people, I stripped away my own artifices to discover who I really was. I realised that all my life I had been trying to be like the chameleons I had learned about as a child in my big book of small reptiles. The social part of me had evaporated, making it apparent that all of my efforts to entertain were designed to sit on the very outer surfaces of me, separate and apart from what existed inside. And those insides — they were impenetrable. I had never liked people to look at me; I wanted to be the only one doing the looking. But now I realised that I never bothered to look closely at myself.
I had grown accustomed to believing my own lies. I would fixate on moments that made me feel normal. A monster would not cry at a sad movie. Her heart would not break from a lover’s departure. So my tears were proof that I was normal, as was the pain in my chest, about which so many songs have been written. How could my heart be broken if there was no heart to break? It had been easy to convince myself that I was not the one with the problem.
It is one thing to lie to others, but I had been lying to myself for years. I had become reliant on self-deception and forgotten who I was. And now I didn’t really understand myself at all. I wanted to stop being a stranger to myself; for the first time in my life, that bothered me enough to want to do something about it.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas. Copyright © 2013 by M.E. Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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