Monday, June 8, 2015

The Sociopath Next Door

When I first started writing this post I wondered if it was weird that I go from one post about a yummy breakfast recipe or beach camping and the next one being about sociopaths. LOL. When I asked my friend, she gave me the best advice and said, "You need to be YOU."
So I am :) I hope you are ready to talk about Sociopaths! :)

Over the last few years really I have struggled with some philosophical/psychological personal belief questions for obvious reasons. A summation of which would be, "Is anyone actually truly evil?" and if there really is only a small percentage of evil people then, "How do supposedly good people do horrible things?".

On a recommendation I read a book called, "The Sociopath Next Door," by Martha Stout ph.d. I have to say, I am so glad I did. I actually couldn't put it down until I finished it. There was one brief section that goes into some Freudian background stuff, but once I got past that, I seriously couldn't get enough.

After reading this book I know for a certainty, that there are two sociopaths I have known in my life who in fact are members of my own family. They have wreaked havoc not only in my own life, but for numerous others I care for and many others who I have not even meet.

This book not only helped me to identify them and understand their behavior but to let go of the guilt associated with no longer having these people in my life. 

Did you know that 1 in 25 ordinary people have no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty? This doesn't mean that they always will be a murderer or a rapist, it just means that they could commit these horrendous acts, if it served their purposes and not feel a twinge of empathy for their victim. This is 4 percent of the human population.

What makes them even more dangerous is their ability to hide their true nature by being charming, intelligent, understanding, comedic or whatever act or facade facilitates their end.

The book really goes into the true nature of this person and how they get by in life, the effects they have on others and how they go on completely unsuspected and undetected tearing down the livelihood and sanity of those closest to them by being masters of emotional manipulation.

For them, life is a game of chess and winning is all that matters.

Whilst reading the book you get a very educated picture of how and why such people came to be and whether it is something that is inherited vs. a created condition (i.e., nature vs. nurture).

The author goes into the role such characters play in evolution and what purpose they may have been evolved to serve. For example, often such people are necessary in war type situation because they will be able to do things that others with empathy would balk at.

Throughout the book she presents ample scientific studies to back her findings.

An added bonus in the book, and perhaps even more interesting than learning about the sociopath was learning about the psychology of the human conscience and what causes it to fail in good people.

She tells of the power of the human conscience, how strong it is and the various studies done to arrive at this conclusion. Such as FBI studies of non-firing rates among law enforcement officers and separate studies on what it takes to get soldiers to shoot and kill people in war situations and how they have actually had to come up with certain protocols because killing is instinctively abhorrent to good people.

"Unless under the spell of a psychotic delusion, extreme rage, inescapable deprivation, drugs, or a destructive authority figure, a person who is conscience-bound does not -- in some sense he cannot -- kill or rape in cold blood, torture another person, steal someone's life savings, trick someone into a loveless relationship as sport or willfully abandon his own child."

She details a study conducted by a professor at Yale University who set out to pit the human tendency to obey authority directly against the individual conscience and the results are very telling.

In the study two men participate in the experiment. One is designated the "learner" and is sat in a chair in a room and is attached to an electric shock device by his wrist. The other person who they assign as the "teacher" watches the learner get wired up and then is taken to a different room where there is a large machine which has thirty switches and controls the voltage in increments of 15, going all the way up to 450 volts. There are also descriptors next to the knobs which say things like "SLIGHT SHOCK" and "DANGER SEVERE SHOCK".

The teacher is told to administer the test, which is essentially a memory test, when the learner gives the right answer, the teacher moves onto the next question and when he gives an incorrect answer, the teacher is told to shock the learner. The first wrong answer gets the lowest voltage of  shock and subsequent wrong answers are given a shock with an increasing voltage.

The learner is actually an actor in-cahoots with the experimenters and the "teacher" is really the one being tested. During the experiment the learner becomes increasing uncomfortable with the level of shock he is being given, first he grunts, the next level he screams that they are becoming painful and at 150 volts he asks to be released from the experiment. As the shocks become stronger, the more desperate the "learners" protests become. At 285 volts he gives an agonized scream.

The experimenter sits behind the "teacher" and gives him gentle verbal prods such as "please continue" or "the experiment requires that you continue", etc.

This procedure was repeated forty times with forty different subjects including postal workers, teachers, manual laborers, engineers. People representing the gamut of educational levels, some were dropouts and many had degrees.

The goal here was to see how much shock they would administer to a screaming and pleading stranger simply because an authority figure told them to do so.

You would think most people would refuse to do it. It seems obvious right? I mean who could shock someone when they are screaming and the knob says "DANGER"!?

Not so...

This is what actually happens: Thirty four out of forty continue to shock the learner (who is strapped to the chair) even after he asks to be released from the experiment. This is 86%.  In fact 25 out of the 34 (62.5% of the total test group) never disobey the experimenter at any point all the way to the end of the sequence at 450 volts!

This experiment was repeated with several variations such as using women instead of men or women and men and several combinations thereof, having the test subjects not actually have to turn the knobs but just be in the room and read out the questions. In the later variation 92.5% continued to participate in the test up to the highest level of shock.

It's sad what this says about the power of authority over human conscience and goes a long way in explaining all manner of evils. Combine the above 86-92% with the additional 4% for sociopaths and it can feel pretty depressing. It is also very eye opening.

What about those who were not so easily swayed by authority? Well you will have to read about that in the book!

It goes into what this means as a society and how we can exist as conscience-bound individuals in such a world.

One last note that was one of my favorite parts of the book as a mother was when it talks about how we are taught in the society to ignore our spontaneous reactions to unconscionable behavior. We are taught not to rock the social boat.

I am actually kind of ashamed because there have been a few times when another child (who was having trouble controlling their own emotions as young children often do) has hit Winnie, or pulled out her hair, or pushed her hard and Winnie has yelled at them loudly saying "No!" or "Stop!" or "Don't push me!" On more than one occasion I have been embarrassed or hushed Winnie and told her not to yell, or have said, "You are fine" when in fact I should have allowed her to to stand up for herself and should have fully supported her. I hate that I didn't do this.

"A part of healthy conscience is being able to confront consciencelessness. When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are not strengthening her prosocial sense; you are damaging it -and the first person she will stop protecting is herself."

I never want my daughter to learn to not protect herself. It does make me proud that she knew to do this naturally.  Lesson learned.

"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." -Einstein


  1. Downloaded this book to Kindle today!!! Thank you for the post!!!

    1. Awesome. Thanks for visiting the blog! Hope you enjoy the book!

  2. I think that much of what is called conscience is actually the product of training -like a dog is trained not to shit in the house and will then have a 'conscience' and feel guilty if it has an accident. People have a policeman in their heads as a result of pain conditioning. Ted Kaczynski discussed "socialization" - You might find his treatise "Industrial society and its future" interesting on that subject. Consider how society changes as a more or less uniform block - for example, in the 1960s, homosexuals were imprisoned and society agreed with that. Today, a person is considered a "hater" if they object at all. How could it be that the majority changed their minds in tandem if they are not programmed? When I went to high school in the 1980s we were allowed to smoke - at 13! Today, people will think your a criminal if you give a 13 yr old a smoke. Society is programmed into its values to a very large extent. In any case, the majority of humans are followers of authority - I think nature intended this. A society of beta males, for example, would not even be a cohesive society. Organized society relies on 'rule followers'. But it means that as technology advances, increasingly a very small handful of men will control billions of humans - even controlling their thoughts. As they already do. Have you ever googled the term "Sheeple"?
    James Blair - ex-scientologist

  3. sorry - I meant "alpha males" not "beta males" in the previous comment. Beta males are what we do have

  4. regarding that Einstein quote; check this out