The Sociopath Next Door
by Martha Stout PhD
This is a fascinating and quick read on a segment of the population
who cause of lot of emotional damage. While sociopaths may not often present
voluntarily for mental health treatment, their victims often do. As mental
health professionals we need to be able to recognize the sociopaths among
us, as well as the victims they leave in their wake.
Dr. Stout estimates that one out of every twenty-five people is a sociopath.
This is a huge number and means that all of us have encountered sociopaths
in our lives.
Dr. Stout describes sociopaths as people who have no conscience. Although
they can intellectually understand the difference between right and wrong,
they lack empathy, guilt, remorse, regret and take advantage of the people
they encounter. They are unable to love. We non-sociopaths tend to be
easy pickings for them, as we are playing by the rules and they are not.
Sociopaths will break the hearts and drain the bank accounts of those
around them. They are often charming and attractive, even charismatic.
They may be driven to dominate others or content to merely live off others.
Dr. Stout’s book helps us to recognize them and also provides practical
suggestions for how to protect ourselves from them.
Stout examines the evolution of the sociopath from the biological, developmental,
cultural and spiritual aspects. Her in-depth case studies of 3 sociopaths—
Skip, a ruthless businessman, Doreen, a scheming psychotherapist and Luke,
a parasitical slacker are unforgettable.
I found out about this book from one of my patients, Valerie. She had
been struggling with depression for many years and had confided to me
that she felt very conflicted and guilty about her adult son, Thomas.
As she described her son’s manipulation of her, I suspected Thomas
was a sociopath and I read her the DSM-IV definition.
However, Valerie was sure that this diagnosis could not apply to her son.
Later, she went home and did some research using the term sociopath and
found the book, The Sociopath Next Door. She said that reading this book
was like “lifting a heavy curtain”. Now she could finally
understand why nothing she had ever done to help her son was successful.
She could recognize how he had manipulated her with “crocodile tears”
to feel pity for him and repeatedly rescue him from his own irresponsible
Valerie came back to see me after finishing the book and said she was
now ready to set some boundaries with Thomas. She felt liberated from
her guilt and depression and finally felt like she deserved to be happy.
She bought extra copies of the book to share with other family members
and even with her son’s current girlfriend.
Reading this book is like a vaccination against sociopaths. You will be
more aware and less likely to succumb to their charm and manipulation.
Maggie Kenney, LISW