Martha Stout, Ph.D., advises that sociopaths are more common than most people realize. In fact, Stout says that sociopaths comprise four percent of the population, which essentially is one out of every twenty-five people. While the prison population has its fair share of sociopaths, many if not most sociopaths are on the streets because their “crimes” are not recognized by the criminal justice system. As a result, the remaining ninety-six percent of us encounter sociopaths on a regular basis even though we are typically not aware of it. Unfortunately, sociopaths can devastate and damage lives of people because sociopaths essentially lack a conscience.
Sociopaths are conscienceless individuals who lack the ability to feel emotions such as love, caring, regret, social and familial responsibility, and perhaps most importantly, remorse. Sociopaths view the world as their playground, and they target people who they can swindle, dominate and control, and they do so to achieve their personal goals. The goal of Stout’s book is to educate the general public about sociopaths, and The Sociopath Next Door serves as a guide to understand how sociopaths work, how to identify them, and how to avoid them and not be affected by their ruthless behavior. Stout has her own clinical practice, in addition to being an instructor at Harvard, and she specializes in providing therapy for individuals who have been “damaged” by others or certain experiences, and her patients include those who have been victimized by sociopaths.
Stout explains how a person must have certain characteristics to be classified as a sociopath. However, she explains that sociopaths are often charming, gregarious individuals. People tend to be drawn to sociopaths and therefore are often unaware that they are at risk. Many describe sociopaths as having certain “energy” to them that the rest of us do not possess or that they are simply incredibly nice and caring people, when in reality sociopaths are emotionally “ice cold” and do not care about anyone except themselves. Sociopaths come from all walks of life and easily can be a family member, a coworker, a business partner, a “friend,” and even a spouse or partner.
Most people are unaware that a sociopath has victimized them until it is too late. Their bank accounts may be drained due to acquiescence to the sociopath’s enticing but risky “business venture,” they may be permanently discredited at work due to a sociopath’s lies about them, they may find themselves in an empty relationship without love, and so on. The possibilities are almost endless depending on the type of sociopath, as their personalities differ, but they all have the same driving force: to achieve their own personal agenda without thought or care to whom they take advantage of and damage in the process. Stout’s goal is to help us prevent this from happening to us by being able to identify a sociopath in our daily life.
It is difficult for most of us to envision what a sociopath really is because we cannot relate to a person who does not have a conscience. Therefore, Stout provides three examples of sociopaths. Skip is a rich, highly successful businessman who has a marriage that he keeps for “appearances,” and his ability to be cruel is unfettered, beginning from his childhood “play” of blowing up frogs to his breaking a secretary’s arm as an adult. Doreen lied about her education and credentials and paved her way to being a top administrator at a psychiatric institute, and part of her daily agenda is to damage coworkers whom she views as professional threats to her. Finally, Luke has a lower-key personality but is nonetheless a sociopath who marries a woman he does not love and almost immediately quits working, claiming “depression” so he can avail himself of his wife’s home and swimming pool for relaxation while she works and raises their son alone.
Clearly, Stout has a firm grasp and understanding of sociopaths and how they can damage innocent people. Her book is an extremely valuable tool to help us stay out of the clutches of a sociopath, and the book is informative without being sensational. The book is well-organized and has an index at the back, although I found this book interesting enough to from beginning to end. Stout wants to educate us, not scare us, and I highly recommend this fascinating, informative book to all readers. After reading this book I realized that I am acquainted with two people who are quite possibly sociopaths. I feel more comfortable after reading this book because I now “understand” the behavior of these individuals - and I plan to give them an even wider berth.