The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, PhD

Psychologist Martha Stout has treated a few sociopaths during her career. But she has spent more time treating the people who fell into their orbit at one time or another. That’s more likely than you might think. She says that 4 in 100 people are sociopaths. Some may be successes, some may intentionally avoid work, some are professionals, some rule countries, some turn into killers, most do not. It’s a population as mixed as the general population with two particular things in common: They feel no guilt for their actions and they do not share your feelings.

This emotionless life can make them charming manipulators, vicious ladder-climbers who love nothing more than making up a lie to move someone out of the path of what they want. It gives them the ability to lie easily and draw the sympathies of others. It also creates a life where risk-taking behaviors is the only satisfaction which often leads to their downfall. From Hitler and Pol Pot to your cranky neighbor their chances of continuing without consequences is nearly nil, but they may harm a lot of people and relationships along the way.

Stout discusses a full range of aspects surrounding sociopathy. From her case files she has developed fictionalized portraits of people who married a sociopath, worked for one, or had one for a parent or neighbor. She talks about some of the current theories about what causes sociopathy, from genetics to family influence. She also lists many of the signs of identifying a sociopath so that you can short-circuit interactions before being sucked into one’s vortex.

One of the most startling examples is a woman working as a psychotherapist in a hospital, harming patients in order to ruin lives of co-workers for whom she has no respect, sleeping with managers to protect her job, and working on false credentials,

The book was published in 2005 but little if any of the science in this area has changed in the past dozen years. It’s jargon free with rich stories to offer examples for people with no background in psychology. Stout has a teacher’s knack for getting ideas across and was a professor in the Harvard School of Psychiatry.

It’s a worthwhile book to pick up if you’re wondering about the motivations of a cheating spouse, backstabbing co-worker, or abusive boss. Once you know what to look for you may be surprised at what you identify in people you know.

July 31, 2017:

There was interest in this post that suggested more information w would be worthwhile, so here are a couple TED talks you may find interesting.