Dr. Martha Stout is a psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical school, and she has provided a terrifying glimpse into a Twilight Zone-world with The Sociopath Next Door. According to government research, one in twenty-five Americans is a sociopath. Assuming an optimistic one in fifty, the odds are still strong you know at least one in your life, possibly an abusive ex-partner, landlord or the person your teenager is dating. Given the havoc even one sociopath can wreak on your life, this book provides the insurance you need to identify and deal with them before they’re able to harm you.
Sociopaths, according to our best research, seem to just be born without a moral conscience (the word conscience – and moral, for that matter – have their own set of definitions that Dr. Stout outlines in the book). Stout describes the conscience as “a creator of meaning [and a] sense of constraint rooted in our emotional ties to one another that prevents life from devolving into nothing but a long and essentially boring game of attempted dominance over our fellow human beings” which is at least as good as any definition I’ve heard before.
Most of us instinctively can tell when there is a sociopath in our midst, but more often refuse to intellectually or rationally call them for what they are. The sociopath’s motivation is ultimately selfish and life for them is a long game, a contest about winning at any cost. This is a frightening notion, but after reading this book, you will more than likely recognize someone in your past or currently in your life that has all the characteristics of a sociopath
All of Dr. Stout’s examples are very real and terrifyingly written, anonymized case files that have had details replaced with other very specific and artful phrases (such as the sociopath’s dog being named Reebok because he loved to run with him – until needing to ensure the dog’s survival over a business trip would have caused him to miss his flight on pg20).
Chapter four features the most sadistic member of the book – Littlefield, a psychologist working at a reputable hospital. She is the type of sociopath with a highly covetous nature, willing to annihilate any person that has some thing she doesn’t have and desires. Manipulative, dishonest and cunning, Littlefield interferes with another doctor’s patient and her colleague is one of the star psychologists. She deliberately caves the patient in, sending him off to the padded cell to simply make her fellow psychologist look bad. Other deceptions, of course, are planted carefully in order to hide her tracks.
The most important part of the book is a tiny section in chapter 8 – *13 Rules for Dealing With Sociopaths* on pg156. Some of the key points Dr. Stout makes:
• Sometimes you have to accept that people are just bad.
• Don’t play along. Once you’ve been burned a few times, cut bait and avoid, avoid, avoid.
• Don’t try to help them. You aren’t a medical professional, and even medical professionals have trouble helping these apparently irredeemable souls.
In the end, Dr. Stout tries to determine if amorality is an adaptive condition (nurture) or a mental disorder (nature). Since psychological disorders are defined by how they inhibit a normal functioning lifestyle, and many sociopaths rise to immense success and wealth (ie, CEOs and movie producers), a case can be made that it is simply a useful skill. But in the end, Dr. Stout comes down on the side of the 96% of us who do possess a conscience, with the truth bomb that while they are successful, sociopaths are still not *happy,* and spend their entire lives a neurotic, paranoid wreck. It’d be tragic – if they didn’t hurt so many others with their behavior.