Antisocial Personality Disorder: The Sociopath Next Door’ve been reading The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout — an excellent and yet frustrating book about antisocial personality disorder. Stout’s engaging style and in-depth clinical experience with victims of sociopathic predators bring the subject to vivid life. The vignettes read more like suspense novels: as the character of the sociopath gradually unfolds, your sense of foreboding grows. You continue reading with a mixture of dread and fascination, wondering what will happen to Stout’s clients, whether they will extricate themselves from the manipulative grip of an unfeeling spouse or parent, whether the unsuspecting people who surround the sociopath will wake up in time. I found the book a gripping read.

It’s a practical book, too: Stout explains with great clarity how to recognize sociopaths, placing special emphasis on their efforts to arouse your pity in order to manipulate you. She has a set of thirteen rules for dealing with the sociopath, useful advice for the person who may be under the spell of someone with antisocial personality disorder. Although she doesn’t normally recommend avoidance as a coping device for her clients, Stout believes that steering completely clear of the sociopath is the most effect mode of self-defense. Because sociopaths have no “conscience,” as she describes it, there is no way to appeal to their sense of justice or fairness. Because they apparently lack all human feeling for other people (empathy), you can’t appeal to their compassion. Because sociopaths will do anything in order to win, once you enter into their game, you’re bound to lose. Her observations seem trenchant, her advice on point.

I found The Sociopath Next Door frustrating, however, because Stout lacks any concept of an unconscious mind. She takes the features of antisocial personality disorder at face value and doesn’t infer an unconscious mind behind them. Because she doesn’t appear to understand psychological defense mechanisms, especially when embedded in one’s personality, she never wonders whether an apparent characterological trait might have evolved to keep unwanted, painful experience from ever becoming conscious. Her explanation for why sociopaths are the way they are relies on studies of heritability (sociopathy as a part of one’s genetic inheritance) and social influence. In the end, Stout’s version of antisocial personality disorder holds closely to the disease model of mental illness codified in the DSM5.

Stout points out that socipaths are driven to win and take special satisfaction in making other people feel like losers. I’ve discussed the winner-loser dynamic repeatedly on this site, especially in connection with features of narcissistic personality disorder. The ruthless desire to win shows up where core shame is an issue; rather than feeling defective, damaged beyond repair, the narcissist (and also, I would argue, the sociopath) projects the sense of shame or defect into his victim and triumphs over it.

Stout also describes the sociopath’s feelings of envy, and how she may attempt to sabotage or destroy another person for having an attribute (beauty, youth) or a possession she lacks. Again, an understanding of unconscious shame would be useful here. As I described in this earlier post, unconscious shame, the feeling of internal damage or defect, gives rise to envy; this unbearable reminder of what we lack then leads us to destroy the source of it in order to escape that pain. For Stout, envy simply is; it has no unconscious roots, no invisible driving force.

Finally, Stout takes the lack of empathy at face value, as if it’s a built-in defect without a psychological explanation. But pervasive, characterological defense mechanisms can completely shut you off from your own emotional life, making it impossible for you to “resonate” with another person’s feelings: thus, the lack of empathy has its roots in utter detachment from one’s own unbearable pain. Of course, psychological explanations that depend upon psychoanalytic concepts aren’t much in vogue these days: an account that infers the presence of feelings we can’t actually see goes against the current “scientific,” medicalized view of mental health.

Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that none of the socipaths Stout describes was her client; she treated the victims instead. She never had the opportunity to get to know the socipath first-hand. It’s not her fault — as is well known, people afflicted with antisocial personality disorder don’t seek psychotherapeutic treatment; but most psychodynamic therapists have treated people who present with some of the features attributed to the sociopath, and in the process, we come to understand the origin of those traits in early childhood. Stout herself describes the conditions under which people who are normally empathic and conscientious become less so — e.g., when exhausted or under extreme stress. She might have extrapolated from there, imagining parental failures so pervasive as to completely stunt the development of empathy and conscience. In one of her vignettes, she describes a sociopath whose parents are megarich, self-absorbed, detached and completely unconcerned about their child’s antisocial behavior … and yet never makes a causal link!

Still, it’s a fascinating read, mostly because of her skill in recounting what happened to her victim-clients. Vivid portraiture and strong writing skills make the “sociopath next door” come alive. Her repeated and convincing argument that 4% of the human population suffers from anti-social personality disorder will make it almost impossible for you to view your world and the people around you in quite the same way.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. Why is it called “antisocial” though? I know one or two sociopaths (one for sure), and they are very much social, unless you know what to look for, then the cues are all there.

    1. I think it’s because, although often charming and sociable on the surface, their underlying nature and impulses are antisocial — ruthless, self-centered and pitiless.

      1. Have you read the Steve Jobs biography by Isaacson? Would you consider Jobs a sociopath? I’m torn. He was sensitive, but what the book doesn’t reveal is if he used tears to manipulate.

        1. It’s on my reading list, and thanks for bringing it back to my attention. From what I’ve heard, he sounds somewhere on the border between NPD and APD — it’s all a spectrum anyway.

  2. Hi Joe, I think/ feel my ex-husband may be a sociopath.
    His behaviour was so ruthless,so cruel
    And without empathy. It is three yrs since we separated.
    Sometimes I wonder if I’m suffering PTS
    As it has been very hard to untangle myself from
    Him. Still, I find it painful to recall his behaviours.
    Our children, ranging from 16-28 have no contact
    With him. Which even though it causes them pain, I
    Feel is good. Because he just twists the whole story around
    And has no real awareness of how he hurts them.
    That I stayed with this person for 30 yrs still
    Confuses me. Why? Why did I stay? It was like a compulsion
    Trying to make him see how he hurt people. Yet he could be very
    Charming… I stay away now from any new relationship
    At 62 , it’s pretty hard to find a new ” romantic” connection.
    But also , I just don’t trust myself anymore.
    Maybe more time is needed. Get distance from him.
    To really understand what it says
    About me….

    1. It’s an interesting question, and one that I’ve been thinking about — what is it within ourselves that keeps us tied to the sociopath or the narcissist? I have some thoughts, not universal explanations, that I’ll save for another post.

    2. Dolima
      I feel sad that it took thirty years for you to spot that your husbandwas sociopathic. No doubt you will question your judgement but love is , as they say, blind.
      Our neighbour is a sociopath. His long time girlfriend, his first wife divorced him and took him to the cleaners, is under his spell. Seemingly the ordinary working family with two kids, they go about their business like every other family.
      Closer scrutiny on me and my wifes behalf has revealed a very different story however.
      They (he) take no prisoners, seemingly having no understanding of what is fair, what is right, what is acceptable.If he is challenged then its war, and if you wn, you will wish you hadn’t.
      My neighbours mask slipped long enough to arouse my suspicions. Not everybody can or wants to see it. It is a shame it toik you so long but at least you got there in the end.
      Goid luck in life

      Mark B.

  3. I must admit I was slightly angry when you explained why you believe sociopaths are not capable of empathy. You can attempt to explain it until “the cows come home” but that is not going to change a sociopath/psychopath.

    So they have deeply embedded shame… they can’t take it so they attack others. Boo hoo hoo… they’ll still destroy anyone who gets in their way. Sometimes when attacked you must fight fire with fire. I absolutely refuse to extend any pity toward a sociopath.

    Sociopaths are just too dangerous to be around. You can not treat them as a normal person. No one can change them. All a normal person can do is stay as far away from these defectives as possible. In the workplace, they must be identified and fired. It does not matter how they became defective, the fact is they are defective.

    Like you said, they do not come in for therapy. Sociopaths will remain the way they are until they do everyone a favor and die. Strong comment? Yes, until you consider the damage these types cause to innocent people.

  4. I wonder what it is that is of value in looking at a sociopath from the perspective of their history/emotions/unconscious. Is there more potential for treatment in doing so? Something in there for the treatment and healing of the victims? Is it mostly just interesting to do so?

    Sociopaths and therapy are a bit of strange fit I find. A lot of the issues with sociopaths and narcissists slide out of the realm of psychology and into ethics or even theology for some people.

    1. You’re right, sociopaths don’t come for treatment. But understanding their psychological makeup helps us to understand the ways they make us feel — that is, what they disown and project into us. It’s a useful tool for coping when we encounter them.

  5. Great article Joe. My mother was a sociopath and my brother is too. The damage sociopathic parents inflict on their children can make it very hard for them to physically and psychologically survive and the resulting impairments are staggering and heartbreaking.. I’ve heard there’s a genetic component to ASD but have found very little on enviornmental/developmental origins. Appreciate any other info you can share from this perspective. Personally I am trying to piece my life together after being raised in a sociopathic/narcissistic immediate and broader family and there are times it can seem to great a challenege to be the one voice of reason in a world of total insanity.

    1. I’d want to know more about your mother’s background. Often there’s an understandable reason why the person has completely walled off and shut down all empathic connection with other people (and with themselves).

    2. As always, there are many insightful comments here. This essay, and your response to it, GreenEyes, especially hit home. I find myself strongly supporting Joseph’s view that delving into the potential psychological components at play in the full and complex “why” is critical to consider, even if the pragmatic answer remains to avoid sociopaths when possible. As you say, even for those who can cope, as you have, with severely disordered parenting, the damage is staggering and heartbreaking. My own mother had borderline personality disorder with narcissistic traits, and my father’s response was a long and slow descent into alcoholism. The damage *was* and *is* staggering and heartbreaking; to be the only voice of sanity amid family chaos from a very young age is a terrible burden! And yet, and yet, I am strong, and I have an intact and high level of empathy. I survived, and I continue to heal myself and thrive.

      To what Joseph and you say, what about those who are more fragile than we are in their own ability to withstand highly disordered parenting and chronic high stress, who likely have even higher adrenal-cortisol responses from day one, during brain and personality development, and perhaps even earlier, during fetal development? It seems highly possible that what Joseph says, pervasive characterological defense mechanisms against intolerable pain and shame, for self survival, then become core coping mechanisms so early that they snake through the developing persona and become part of its structure.

      At the same time, as there are gene flaws, variants, that lead to faulty organs of any other type starting in the womb, so too, can the brain organ be structurally and functionally defective from its inception. How unlikely is it that a defective brain would no have no negative impact the development of self? When there is no other explanation, this is likely it. However, we cannot afford not to scratch the surface, and in scratching the surface of many of those fitting along the spectrum of personality disorders, we’ll likely find traumatic and disordered parenting.

      I have to wonder if implied within the desire to understand is the desire for what so many of us who survived not-good-enough parenting wish would have happened: If we could recognize and spot the severely disordered, perhaps we could intervene to protect, shield, empower — dare I say rescue? — their children early before they, too, are so shamed, so hurt and so damaged.

      Thank you for this essay, Joseph. I do hope you will expand on previous essays and post again to address what keeps us tied to narcissists/sociopaths.

      Yours in healing,

      1. Lots of interesting ideas here, Catherine. I agree that “we cannot afford NOT to scratch the surface.” I’m always wondering why, and no doubt you’re right, that it has to do with my not-quite-good-enough parents.

  6. I think I’ve met a sociopath before. I say I think because as a victim it’s very easy to think the other person is the devil personified. It’s also easy to think that all other people who are not sociopaths are good. But sociopaths are not the only people who are greedy, selfish, egocentric and cruel.
    Sociopaths are at a great loss. Through the years my empathy has improved and I’ve found it to be one of the most useful tools to interact with other beings. I find it hard to imagine how unstable, unpredictable and lonely the world would seem without an ability to be empathic.
    As a victim of a person who may be sociopathic, I can say the worst injury is the wound to my ability to trust people. The less you trust, the less intimacy you can share and the lonelier you feel. Reestablishing that balance between trust and distrust is really hard and I think the main reason I’m interested in the subject of this book is to perfect my sociopath-radar so I can regain some of my ability to open up to people. But it’s like trying to find patterns in the darkness. Maybe I should embrace my vulnerability and take my chances avoiding the 4%.

    1. Stout has some very good advice for how to recognize the sociopath — you’d probably find her book valuable. She would also agree with you about the disadvantage of lacking empathy. She has a long chapter toward the end of the book that describes how sociopaths almost always end badly.

      1. I agree that the world is very lonely and difficult to navigate without empathy, but that is *why* people become sociopaths and start to manipulate and hurt other people. Which seems to pretty much take care of the problem for them. Isn’t the point supposed to be that they are *repressing* their vulnerability? When I repress something I don’t feel it at all, anyone who has had feelings come up and been told they were repressing them before would know that you really only feel them once they are un-repressed. Other people can ‘see’ them but that’s it. When we say sociopaths are “really, in fact , vulnerable” I think that’s more like a bid to try and get them to join the rest of society, rather than an actual fact. This is my point of view anyways.

  7. I think I suffer from some kind of anti-social personality disorder. It makes me feel sad that I find it so difficult to empathise with other people. I also feel a little frustrated at (what seems to me) to be the current vogue trend for bashing narcisstics/ sociopaths. I didn’t choose to be psychologically wounded by my parents, to have a borderline mother and a perfectionist father with a violent temper, yet people want to blame and shame you for something that wasn’t your fault. It seems no more logical than hating someone with Down’s syndrome for being defective.

    I can’t really be a “sociopath” though, otherwise I wouldn’t feel bad about my dark side. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    1. I think you’re probably right — some sort of struggle with shame and narcissism, but not sociopathic. I’m also frustrated with “the current vogue trend for bashing narcissists/sociopaths.” They just the latest whipping boys, with no real understanding for what drives them.

    2. I’ve read Stout’s book too, and I think I understand what you’re saying about blaming and shaming…but extreme narcissists/sociopaths make conscious choices to hurt other people. The harm they deliberately do to other people is their fault.

      My first encounter with a total NPD/APD person, though secondhand, nearly broke me — I was exposed to so much of his writing that I was sucked deep in. And it made me really wonder if there is such a thing as APD independent of NPD. His writings were full of detailed claims about having phenomenal wealth, being the best parent, having sex with supermodels or women who looked like supermodels, etc. etc. Meanwhile he was making too little money to pay income taxes and perpetuating every imaginable cruelty — physical, sexual, psychological, economic, etc. — on the real people in his life. And he did have a troubled childhood but…the belief that he was too important to obey any rules or take anyone else’s needs into account poisoned everything. He would have been pitiable if he hadn’t hurt so many people. As it is, I believe the world needs protection from him far more than he needs anyone’s empathy or help.

  8. I’ve read this book and remember walking away feeling slightly paranoid. I started wondering if everyone around me could have nefarious motives. I remember one word of caution from Stout was that sociopaths are often disarming, engaging and will compliment you excessively.

    I also remember her describing a sociopathic mindset as being the world or society against them. The sociopath, according to Stout, views life as a competition. One upping people around them is a sociopath’s way of knowing that they’re winning, and winning is all that matters.

    A new book by Paul Bloom called Just Babies is said to propose that babies are born with a sense of morality. I wonder if all babies are born with a sense of morality and sometimes environmental factors can produce a sociopath. If not, I wonder if genes such as the MAOA warrior gene play a role in early psychological development.
    I also wonder if babies who don’t exhibit a sense of morality have problems later on developing Theory of Mind.

    1. Thanks, Craig. I’ll have to check out that book. I tend to be suspect of scientific studies that supposedly “prove” the genetic basis for one disorder or another. I’ve learned to question the structure of the study; so often you find a built-in bias or design flaw.

  9. I feel frustrated with your dismissal of hereditary factors and with the idea that the best way to deal with a sociopath is to run. When I was a kid, there was nowhere to run and if any possibility presented itself, she cut them off and insisted they didn’t exist. Now she insists that no one mention MY name, but my freedom (however precious and joyful) will never be complete. When, when, when will we start protecting the children who are getting their minds screwed with. It might start by calling this something terribly flattering so the “sociopath” will submit to treatment. They’ll never admit to having something called a “disorder”. So now my daughter has married someone who has refused to talk to me for 2 years and she now finds me so judgmental (if you get my drift) that I am cut off from seeing her and my little granddaughter who loves me and whom I love. The tragedy has come full circle and I want desperately to see some progress, to find a way to empower children.

  10. I found the book fascinating, and would also like to think that people aren’t simply born this way. I just finished reading Jerry Bledsoe’s book about Velma Barfield, a “granny” serial killer who was executed in NC years ago. I interviewed Barfield not long before her execution, and am still puzzled by what to make of her. I didn’t see her as warm and sympathetic as most people reportedly did, even knowing what she’d done. I don’t know what to think.

    She did have a horrific childhood, and she developed an addiction to prescription drugs. But that doesn’t seem enough to trigger what she did at the same time that she was passing as a kind loving person.

  11. “lack of empathy has its roots in utter detachment from one’s own unbearable pain,”

    I haven’t heard this explanation for lack of empathy stated in this way before, but it rings true. I have a sister who is a sociopath and I can sense that this explanation of her lack of ability to empathize with others fits perfectly. I can sense her ‘unbearable pain’ and know her history, complete with its trail of tears, all too well. However, she seems to be trapped in her inability and sees no way out of it. I have been a reader of your column for a couple of years now and enjoy it very much. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Amanda. One of the difficulties we face in understanding sociopaths is that the very experiences that might humanize them for us is exactly what they want to keep hidden from view, both from themselves and from others. It’s entirely unconscious, with almost nothing to identify it — each the feelings that they project into other people. It’s different for you, of course, knowing your sister’s history.

  12. Fascinating read.

    Interestingly your observations reminded me of my therapy journey in a way. I can see my mother in the descriptions above – when talking this over at great length with my therapist over the months he has guided me towards having a better understanding of why she is the way she is. In the early days there wasn’t a single cell in my body that wanted to feel compassion for any reasons why she behaved the way she did. I just wanted to moan about her and have him sympathise and exclaim that he didn’t know how I’d coped being her daughter.

    I clearly remember after seeing my therapist for a few weeks I got very angry with him when he said something along the lines of, ‘it makes you wonder why a person would behave that way, what kind of upbringing they had, what needs they were fulfilling…’ I was furious, I told him I’d spent my whole life putting them first and my needs were never considered – I was in that room with him, paying him to be on my side, how dare he try to make me feel sorry for them…

    Now however I can clearly see how vital it is to understand the people we interact with – even if you can’t imagine ever behaving the way they have and can’t understand how anyone could do the things they do. My therapist described what I observed about his technique as being the difference between a passive listener/councillor and a therapist. The latter is the one that questions and probes and offers alternative paths… paths towards healthier mind-frames like forgiveness.

    One thought (without reading the book so I may be way off) – perhaps Stout could only afford to portray one side of the story so to speak – maybe there wasn’t the time/word limit for all perspectives? She possibly was trying to get the reader to feel favour for her clients rather than their sociopathic ‘friends’?

    Anyway, you’ve made me curious enough to go look at the book!

    1. I think Stout really believes what she says and lacks the conceptual tools to think otherwise about the anti-social personality. It’s a very interesting read, all the same.

  13. I’m still not feeling clear on the differences between NPD and sociopathy. I would love it if you would clarify in a post at some point in the future.

    Thank you for posting this and for your insistence that we need to look deeper.

    1. There’s less of a clear demarcation than the DSM would have us believe, but I think one of the main differences is that the narcissist cares what you think about him, how he is viewed; the sociopath really doesn’t care and just wants to manipulate you to get what he wants.

  14. I just want to echo your frustration with the medical/disease model of mental illness that’s so pervasive these days. I honestly believe that genetics/biology has nothing to do with someone becoming a sociopath – it’s all in the parenting and environment. Not a popular view I know- we’d rather believe they were completely ‘other’. I find myself disliking them as much as anyone else does but I know there’s far more to their disorder that meets the eye.

    But if they don’t come for treatment and they have children what is to be done about this problem? It’ll just go on ad infinitum. So sad and frustrating.

  15. “In the end, Stout’s version of antisocial personality disorder holds closely to the disease model of mental illness codified in the DSM5.”

    This is similar to related content on many of the popular psychology websites, and I agree–disappointing. I think the DSM model of Antisocial PD largely describes young men who grew up in chaotic families. I’m not saying that is an excuse for their behavior, but it’s not unusual for those who grow up in adverse situations such as (often simultaneously) drug-addicted mother, absent or abusive father, poverty/crime, no role models, to end up in the streets at a young age, followed by jail time. If you (I don’t specifically mean you, Joe) grew up in with a crack-addicted mother in a neighborhood of crime, where you always fear being shot, well, I don’t think you’d have graduated from MIT magna cum laude. The prisons house many of these individuals. There are always those who escape this fate, but I can’t help but feel empathy for those who didn’t choose to be this way. Isn’t condemning them, treating them as non-human doing to them what we accuse them of doing to us? That’s how I view “DSM Anti-social PD”.

    On the contrary, there are those who I view as sociopaths/psychopaths. Maybe they are born from a mix of nature/nurture. Like, you, I can’t imagine these concepts without considering the unconscious mind. Personally, I’d specifically like to know more about their object relations. One of my earliest memories is of catching my brother with his homemade ‘insect torture machine’ in the backyard. As sensitive as I was back then, I felt terror and ran to tell my mother, who I vaguely remember dismissing my fears. I can’t remember the rest, like most of my childhood. I did later find my mother was in denial about him, us, everything. In late years, I witnessed or found out things like that he tortured animals, toyed with the police, was sexually deviant, was wanted in several states, and had several imprisonments. He was also extremely intelligent, which makes him more dangerous. As a young adult, he stalked me and raped me. His own sister.

    When I first discussed this in therapy, I kept saying my parents ‘murdered’ him. I ended up with some type of dissociative disorder and never explored these forgotten memories, but ended therapy for other reasons. I don’t know if I should explore my childhood anymore at this point, terrified at what else I might remember. But the fact that I somehow end up targeted by these individuals leads me to believe I do need to revisit this.
    “Stout explains with great clarity how to recognize sociopaths, placing special emphasis on their efforts to arouse your pity in order to manipulate you.” Is that how I end up being targeted by them?? I somehow allow them to manipulate me?

    When it comes to the object relations of a sociopath, I initially think of my parents and brother–a child completely unloved and neglected, except when he was ridiculed or punished. A boy totally devoid of love….But I view this differently than the DSM Anti-Social PD, the list of symptoms of those who can be found in many in our prisons.

    I tend to free associate after reading your posts Joe. Thanks, I’ll probably pass on that book, but I might read The Betrayal Bond by Carnes.

    1. Thanks, Fawn. It’s nice to hear from a kindred spirit. One of the surprising aspects of Stout’s book was that — other than the one instance I mentioned, where she provided details of the sociopath’s background — she tells us nothing about their early object relationships. She takes an evolutionary view, arguing that there is some value for the species to have this type of remorseless killer when needed (as in wartime or facing external threats, for example). I found it far-fetched.

    2. I just wanted to add my profound sorry and sympathy for your plight, unbelievably shocking. Like (perhaps you) I can’t help but wonder if your parents could have prevented your brother from becoming evil had they at least tried to intervene.

  16. I have a sociopath who lives upstairs – so how do I get away from her when she’s gunning for me? I had already identified her as such but reading this has helped to resolve my suspicions and thoughts somewhat. For example, she works solo driving a rapid response vehicle as a first response EMT (paramedic) and her choice of career is somewhat at odds with her utter lack of emotion or empathy. This puzzled me somewhat until I see the title ‘The Narcissist as a Hero’. Also her sheer ability to do her job with no emotional strain is now clear – she isn’t having emotions, well certainly not ’empathetic’ or the usual range of human responses. I have known people who work as ambulance staff and they require an awful lot of resources and recovery skills for the things they have to deal with on a day to day basis. This one doesn’t bat an eyelid but then she doesn’t see people humanely. Unfortunately, she is under a great deal of pressure at the moment as one of her parents is dying and so is her dog (the only thing she seems fond of). This makes me extremely anxious that she will follow spew out more venom in my direction – something she has already done – amongst other things, she has deliberately created a situation in an attempt to directly harm my new kittens. That’s pretty sociopathic isn’t it? How do you ‘ignore’ the person who lives directly above you and who is hellbent on harming you (and / or your small pets)?

    1. Now there’s a problem. Stout describes a sociopathic woman in her book who terrorized her neighbor; the only relief came when she finally moved away. Sometimes, I think that’s the only solution.

    2. I am living underneath a sociopath who has been targeting me for several years now. Some days I am at my wit’s end.

  17. I bought the book and haven’t read it yet. I strongly believe my parents are sociopaths, a step up from narcissists. They have a lot of traits of a sociopath except my mother has no reason to be successful as she feels her “success” is from the television and what my dad says yet she tells us how she hates his lying and does nothing about it. My therapist can’t seem to make a connection with narcissus/sociopaths as her education is abuse/trauma and I know more than her!

    However, I told her I have the experience and you don’t. I see the behaviors of my parents daily, all of my life, but my therapist is hearing my side of it and told her never believe a narcissus/sociopath as nothing they say is the truth. I can see her believing everything they tell her….

  18. I read The Sociopath Next Door six years ago. I was not shocked that 1/25 people were sociopaths. I thought the number should be much higher as I have met many people who lack empathy and who also seem to be “gunning” for others.

    Felt like I could have written many comments here as I, too, have always felt I was “the only voice of sanity amid family chaos (besides my wonderful father who showed me the way) from a very young age is a terrible burden! and I have an intact and high level of empathy. I survived, and I continue to heal myself and thrive”. I knew I was not alone but some days it’s especially supporting to read that others are just like me.

    And here with my own lack of empathy, I agree wholeheartedly with Rich who wrote, “In the workplace, they must be identified and fired. It does not matter how they became defective, the fact is they are defective”.

    While I really enjoyed reading the book, I also learned a lot about sociopaths that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I will be giving it another read-through this winter as a refresher.

    Unfortunately in today’s world, I encounter a great many people who aren’t around me to help me but to harm me in one way or another. While I still love so much, I have an increased inability and lack of desire to trust people or want people in my life. Thank goodness I prefer quiet.

    Thank you for your thoughts on the book!

  19. I want to ask a question – it’s based upon my recent experience with a man which has left me completely bewildered and devastated. I began researching as much as I could around PD’s and even became comfortable discussing ‘cluster’ traits. I don’t know whether this ex of mine is BPD, ASPD, NPD or, all of the above.

    It’s actually not important, but what I want to ask you about is your comment about how the author doesn’t extrapolate upon the idea that a lack of emotional/empathetic response could be viewed as being the result of overwhelming emotions in the pwASPD … my ex has massive panic attacks – he is on high doses of Xanex and has been for about 15 years now – he has these attacks – which present in both psychological and physiological form at least a few times a week. He has told me more than once that the only emotions that he feels are fear and lust and that he lives with fear every day (I could make a joke about the lust and him being my ex here, but I shall refrain). He refuses to feel love or to become attached to anybody, constantly triangulates his r/s’s and if a woman gets too intimately close, he withdraws sex … I am not the only one this happened to.

    So, my question is this: I have often wondered if the panic/anxiety attacks are a manifestation of the other emotions that he ‘refuses’ or, is incapable of feeling? These attacks are a core part of his identity – he carries medications everywhere, will have an attack or bring up his attacks when things are getting too emotional and serious etc … (basically, whenever he is triggered) but nobody else has seemed to have made this link.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    PS: We are not together anymore, he dumped me at the drop of a hat and went on a date with my replacement – who he had been shoring up for a week or so – on the night he dumped me .. he pretty much had to walk over my sobbing body to leave but ‘what he wanted’ was far, FAR more important than the pain he had caused … he did apologise, well, he apologised for ‘leap-frogging’ to another woman, telling me that he has always done that .. I could go on …

    1. From your description, I would say that he struggles with terror and disintegration, along with a sense of profound defect or damage at his core — in other words, shame. I don’t think he is “refusing” to feel or become attached. I think he is unable.

  20. One thing I did find interesting in her book too is that there is not just the one standard type, but there are 3 different types of sociopaths. It’s not just the “win all” type as she stated a lot in her book, but she also mentioned a driven by jealousy type, and the must-disturb-all neighbor.
    One thing I am trying to grasp as I am learning about this in school, is I feel like we are always quick to say sociopaths can’t empathize, a population in jail but not all in jail, have no conscience, chilling/annoying/difficult to interview and the like, but I would like to learn more about the differences of sociopathy in men and women, where age factors come into play, how it is a learned behavior vs. genetics, get a very good grip on psychopathy vs. sociopathy and why its still till this day terms and diagnosis used interchangeably, and I am also interested in learning more about how there are psychologists/psychiatrists saying that we can’t diagnose children with such a strong diagnosis, at least until the age range of 14-18, and then there are psychologists/psychiatrists saying that you can detect the diagnosis as young as 3.
    If there is any sources you can point to, by all means let me know. I am interested in working with families someday and want to learn about how partners with anti-social personality disorders affect the lives of families and if there is anything more that social workers, psychologists, or anyone within the umbrella of human services can do besides what is being done now. For granted, I know that sometimes people are just toxic, and they are not just within the anti-social cluster of the DSM (I also am aware there is a very distinct differences between tendencies and a diagnosis), but it really wouldn’t hurt for people to be aware, and also aware with the right information. It’s very difficult learning about this aspect of abnormal psychology sometimes cause it seems like everyone has something to say, and its all so different yet it is the same. There is so much anecdotal information about this, too.

    The other thing too, on the other side of the coin, learning to heal from knowing a toxic person in your life, whether they were sociopathic or not, could definitely use a lot more research and different kinds of counseling too. Overtime in my college career I have learned to be appreciative and dead-on about cognitive-behavioral types of therapy, but now I see how psycho dynamic is important, even if it is only handy for a synopsis, and even though it isn’t my favorite perspective (no offense!!) I even see how the neurological and biological views are important even though I have strong opinions about distribution of medication.

    The different psychological perspectives all still come together one way or another!! But the point I am trying to make is that victimology is just as trivial as sociopathy. There are people that are not here anymore because they were murdered, or are in permanent critical condition. There are so many different ways that a predator of any sort can alter someone’s life, and sometimes, when it comes to the victim learning to heal, it does take a lot more than just telling them “you’re going to be okay” or “now its over”. For granted, that is exactly what they need to hear, but they also need to learn especially about how just labeling an ex as a sociopath or a boss a narcissist and so on can only be so liberating. It’s a matter of accepting it happened, and knowing to be stronger for the next time, again, sociopath/whatever label or not. There is still 7.3 billion people in the world as of this year, and though the 4% population may have increased since Martha Stout’s research in 2003, that doesn’t mean we let the small percentage be a denominator in our lives.

    You mention the word sociopath to a lot of people and they are very quick to recall things like Hannibal Lecter and thinking it is a person that’s dangerous. There are also people out there that claim that they are a sociopath, write these memoirs and create their own websites that I find extremely ridiculous. Even though I have a long way to go until I get my PhD someday, I know the last thing a sociopath would ever do is admit that they are one or advertise that they are one. That is not exactly how they glorify themselves, ever, and that is not the point. It’s like sociopathy is starting to be more common in a sense that it is the new excuse or way to be cool and bluntly, that’s just not viable. That’s like saying they’re barsexuals, basically.

    Either way, if there are any sources you could direct me to I would really appreciate it, and I hope I did mention some points. I think that either way people who destroy the lives of other people one way or another should not be a matter taken lightly, we all deserve the best and as difficult and complex as sociopathy is, or anything within the cluster or spectrum of ASPD. There are a lot of times that sociopathy can lead and have lead to victimology and even though it seems there is no magical way to fix the left hemispheres of the brain making sociopathy so (not yet anyway), we still need to learn and realize that conscience wins all, and I also think that psychologist Philip Zimbardo makes excellent points in his book “The Lucifer Effect” about how good people turn evil, and how we have to take the initiatives to be hero’s.

  21. I just ran across this discussion/site. I read the book about 4 years ago. I got interested in the subject having been a victim. I also read “Snakes in Suits”– the workplace version.
    Stout’s book addressed on this site is a roller-coaster indeed.
    What comes to mind is Stout rightfully pondering sociopathy on a continuum — and describing differing degrees. She discussed the more mild form to go on to posit that the ones who goes on to murder—the difference being perhaps a ‘blood lust’ as she called it.
    Which causes me to wonder— taking your theory, Joe, of the ‘unconscious mind’ or the perpetrator being ‘out of touch with his own pain’…..Joe, would you then call the homicidal sociopath (skip semantics–psychopath)….perhaps being due to the same out of touch with himself? The degrees of sociopathy were interesting–is what I recall most.

  22. Joseph,
    Thank you for your very interesting and informative posts and articles!

    I am trying to evaluate if my GF, whom I will call Mary, has some degree of psychopathy/sociopathy and if her expression of intimacy/closeness to me is, in fact, mostly manipulation (whether conscious or not).

    Mary absolutely clearly exhibits the following signs of “Paranoid Personality Disorder”:

    (1) She tends to think that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive her, even if little evidence exists to support this expectation.
    (2) Has preoccupation with unsubstantiated “conspiratorial” explanations of events immediate to her (in everyday life).
    (3) Reads hidden meanings in the innocent remarks.

    (4) Has combative and tenacious sense of personal rights out of keeping with the actual situation.

    (5) She is impulsive , stubborn, and argumentative.

    I regularly observe her idealization and devaluation cycles with respect to other people (and myself) as described here:

    From time to time, especially when she is disturbed, I observe the lack of empathy toward me, my children, my mother.

    I would be willing to justify negativity personally toward me with my selfishness, which however does not favorably explain the lack of empathy toward my mother and children. O, perhaps, Mary sees them as competitors?

    She lives and works in a stressful environment (which I see as “mitigating circumstances”).

    Finally, I, am of “soft character” and myself, probably have some degree of Borderline PD and co-dependency.


    1. I’m not big on diagnosis, but it’s clear that your GF is severely troubled. The lack of empathy shows up in all of the so-called personality disorders, and I would place her along that spectrum.

  23. I assume that, in general, an emotionally unstable and impulsive person is not necessarily lacks empathy and conscience.

    So, when dealing with such a person how to see if s/he genuinely has
    empathy and conscience VS just mimicking that in order to pretend being “good” or (worse) deceive/manipulate?

    Additionally, I assume that if a person has a “strong character”, able to resist influence and set boundaries, it does not indicate presence or luck of empathy and conscience.

    How to not mistake such a (presumably good) person for a selfish and not co-operative (presumably bad) one?

  24. Excellent point. Another thing that I have noticed is that people are acting more anti-social, even with the advancement of all the social media these days. It is interesting how there are more personality disorders with people.
    Much more impulsive and addictive behavior I have seen from the the people around me, including some close friends and even family. This is one of those topics that will get even more attention as time passes.

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