A new book called “Confessions of a Sociopath; A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, written by pseudonymous author M.E. Thomas, describes what it’s like to be a sociopath — someone who lacks the ability to feel or sympathize with others.
Sociopaths can be sexy and beguiling; they take risks the rest of us don’t and come across as bold and exciting. Socially, they are often leaders, the life and soul of the party.
The downside is that they regard others to be used, don’t feel sympathy, empathy or guilt, and are often one step away from becoming what psychologists used to call psychopaths: criminally vindictive types whose only motivation is to take advantage of weaker people.
In her book, Thomas describes many disturbing episodes from her own life, including the time she let a baby possum drown in her swimming pool because she couldn’t be bothered to fish it out with the net. In another chapter, she describes a recurring dream in which she kills her father with her bare hands — because she hates him.
Thomas is also a successful law professor, has children, and teaches Sunday school. Or so she says — grandiose lying is one of the characteristics of being a sociopath.
Psychologists have changed the diagnostic definition of sociopathy several times over the decades. It used to be called being a “psychopath.” Sociopath is the newer term. More recently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition has renamed the condition “Antisocial Personality Disorder” and reduced it to seven main characteristics.
However, the first researcher to name the concept of psychopathy was Dr. Hervey Cleckley, who published a book titled “The Mask of Sanity” in 1941, Thomas writes.
Cleckley noted that psychopathy was difficult to diagnose precisely because it presents itself without the obvious symptoms of mental disorder. Psychopaths and sociopaths are often a bit too rational.
In her new book, Thomas says Cleckley’s 16 behavioural characteristics hit home. “Nowhere else have I recognised the sociopath inside me more than in Cleckley’s clinical profiles,” she writes.
Here are Cleckley’s 16 characteristics. Ask yourself if they apply to you.
For sociopaths, the answer to this question is yes.
For sociopaths, the answer is no. They're super-rational, coldly so.
Sociopaths are rarely nervous or anxious. They aren't scared of risk.
Sociopaths are comfortable not telling the truth when it suits them.
Sociopaths may have 'inadequately motivated antisocial behaviour,' according to Cleckley.
Sociopaths think they're smarter than everyone else, but they take risks the rest of us would not and don't learn from punishment.
Sociopaths don't experience emotions the way the rest of us do.
Interestingly, sociopaths often have to fake their reactions and responses to the rest of us in order to get through their days without being 'spotted.'
Sociopaths engage in 'fantastic and uninviting behaviour with drink and sometimes without,' Cleckley says. Thomas adds that sociopaths often crave (meaningless) sex more than the rest of us, too.
Sociopaths have difficulty holding down jobs. (It requires long-term obligations to others.)
There's no surefire way of self-diagnosing yourself as a sociopath, as sociopaths also tend to lie in tests like these.
But if you recognised yourself or others in these questions, you might want to seek professional help.
Thomas points out that many sociopaths do not want to end up in prison, or as psychotic outcasts. They can use their skills to be successful in business, in ways that less single-minded people cannot.
They're just not your friends, is all.
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