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The Sociopath Next Door - Martha Stout This is a book I found by listening to an interview by the author when I was researching information about manipulativeness, covert-aggressiveness, and lack of conscience after reading the book "In Sheep's Clothing" which I reviewed a few days ago. The good part about it is the lady really has years of experience with antisocial people and the people they damage. She's quite honest about what capacities aren't there in some people, and how difficult it is to change or heal this problem. She explained that 4% of people are antisocial, and that contrary to our stereotypes, most antisocial people aren't violent. She gave several case studies that gave a real feel for the variety of antisocial people there are. One was a hotshot executive type, another was in a helping profession, a third just wanted to lie by the pool all day and do nothing, and yet another was a family man who was secretly a drug dealer and philanderer. She noted the similarities and differences between them.

The author also gave the seven signs of antisocial personality disorder from the DSM-IV (listed below), and said if three or more of those characteristics are present then it's a reason for concern.
1. Failure to conform to social norms.
2. Deceitfulness, manipulativeness.
3. Impulsivity, failure to plan ahead.
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 another person.

There were also two other tests she mentioned. One is if a person lies to you once it could be an unusual situation. If they lie to you twice it could be a weakness. But after they lie to you 3 times it's a pattern of deceitfulness and you should give up on them and not give them more chances.

The other test she said is completely diagnostic of sociopathy is this: if when confronted with their aggressive or harmful behavior the person uses the pity play, in essence "I have so many problems, please feel sorry for me," then the person is definitely antisocial and you should simply leave them. She said don't waste your pity on someone who doesn't deserve it and won't benefit from your help. Save your sympathy for those who feel something. She said you aren't going to fix them and you aren't going to help them get better, to give up that dream.

She described how people usually don't tell others what they've learned about particular antisocial people in their lives because they doubt themselves (since it's so bizarre and hard to believe someone could be completely without conscience), and because they sound paranoid or delusional themselves when they try to warn others. So they just get away and leave others to find out for themselves. That's a problem. We need to learn how to identify these people and protect each other from them, especially protecting the weak and helpless from them.

Unfortunately, her only advice for people dealing with someone like that is to get away from them. She holds out zero hope that there could be any possibility of change or healing for the sociopathic person. She didn't say what to do if you happen to be the parent of an antisocial person, and are committed to helping them overcome their problems and become the best person they can be, to live up to their full human potential. I would have liked more information about what has been tried, what doesn't work, and what currently is the state of the art in treatment. I would have liked more information from the anti-social person's viewpoint, of ways to pursue goals that are creditable and worthy, ways to live that aren't destructive.

She also didn't do a very good job of differentiating between anti-social personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, attachment disorders, and the complex post-traumatic stress disorder that abused children generally have. All these diagnoses have a lot of symptoms in common. Apparently only APD is considered incurable. There are treatments, how effective I'm not sure, for all the others.

One time I watched my cat Mouse, who was living outside right before I adopted her, I watched her eat the back end of a chipmunk whose front end was screaming. I was horrified but unable to help or save the little rodent. I was traumatized by seeing that, but Mouse was completely unaffected, totally innocent. She did not personify her prey at all. To her it was exactly like a squeak toy, except perhaps tastier and more nutritious. There was no empathy there, no echoing feeling in her central nervous system that mirrored in any way the chipmunk's agony.

The idea that some people, for reasons unknown but most likely completely beyond their own control or choice, are simply irremediably unfit for human company is one my spirit wants to reject. It seems too unfair, too cruel. Of course, nature can be unbelievably cruel sometimes. I know that there are people who are simply amoral. Their actions may cause terrible damage to others. They may seem to us to be wholly evil. But in a sense they also are innocent. They are like a different species, perhaps. Like a tiger: they don't choose, they just are. Perhaps they are simply those who did not eat of the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

The most compelling and uneasily-fascinating part of this phenomenon she failed to address. Assuming we all learn the signs of sociopathy and identify early on who exactly among us is without conscience. Then what do we do with them? They've committed no crime (yet, let's say). They simply are. Can we imprison or banish them somehow? What is a humane and enlightened approach to treating such people? I really have no idea. I know my own choice is to believe in hope, believe in the possibility of growth and change, and to do my utmost to reach the person, to break through, to retrain the brain to build the connections that for whatever reason are not there.