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'I am probably smarter than you, dear reader',
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This review is from: Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding In Plain Sight (Paperback)
I found this book fascinating, but it divides Amazon reviewers. I give several quotations below, so if you are thinking of buying it, you can decide if its style appeals to you:
"I am probably smarter than you, dear reader, but I know that in the rare instance this will not be true."
"I don't like people knowing things about me because it just means more things to remember I can't lie about"
"[at social gatherings] If I'm not listening, I'm probably telling a joke or shamelessly flattering you. I would probably rather not be talking to you at all, but since I am I might as well be polishing my charm"
"The Mid-West, a place so characterless it was as if it had been fashioned out of cardboard"
"I have to have a way to blow off steam. So I ruin people. It's not illegal, it's difficult to prove, and I get to flex my power"
"If I were only ruthless when I needed to be or only towards people who "deserved" it, I don't think I could be as effective. I would be constantly questioning myself - is this person worth it? Do I really need to be going after them in a particular way? Instead, my natural inclination is to be aggressive to everyone."
"I adhere to a religion [she is a Mormon]... The practice of it is just good sense - it keeps you out of prison and safely hidden in the crowd. But the heart of morality is something I have never understood."
In places she uses more words than necessary, but she still writes readably and effectively.
`Sociopaths', one of whom is the subject of this book, are people who have a mental condition that includes having no conscience, remorse or shame and no intrinsic sympathy for the suffering of others. Many sociopaths learn to fake concern for others to gain social acceptance, and to control their behaviour for self-interested reasons like avoiding punishment, but they do not feel anything intrinsically wrong in offending against morality or social conventions. Consequently they are more likely to behave recklessly.
Many sociopaths are convicted criminals. These are the ones most likely to be diagnosed and studied. The psychiatric professions have put a lot of effort into studying criminal sociopaths, perhaps because studying them is all that they can do with them, as there is no known cure.
A greater number of sociopaths live apparently normal lives, observing and copying normal reactions to appear like the rest of us, but have no inhibition about deceiving, manipulating and harming us if it is in their interest. One or two of your neighbours, relatives, colleagues, doctors or local Sunday School teachers, including some who appear charming and caring, may be sociopaths of this kind.
There are academic and 'pop' psychology books about sociopaths, generally treating their condition purely as a `bad thing', written by researchers who are not (or do not admit to be) sociopaths themselves. `Confessions of a Sociopath' is unusual in that while the author, a former Assistant Professor of Law from the western USA, has obviously read up about research on the subject, she is not a psychologist or anything like that. She is an authority on sociopaths because she is one herself.
She knew from an early age she was not like others. Adults might not notice, assuming her self-centred, cruel or wild acts to be normal childish behaviour. Other children, however, could tell she was different. The author learned to mimic the reactions that others appeared to expect and made friends at school, although she used to e.g. enjoy forming a group of 3 friends, and then manipulate the other 2 to set them against each other.
As a young woman, the author was told by someone she worked with that she was a `sociopath'. At first she thought little of it. Finally, after her irresponsible behaviour led to her being unemployed and alone, the author thought more seriously about what was different about her. She sought professional diagnosis which confirmed that, as she had begun to suspect from reading about the subject, she was a sociopath. She recalls that the doctor who diagnosed her at times seemed close to tears as she told him about her life.
She began a blog about the subject `SociopathWorld.com', which is still going.
She admits that she found it harder to write this book, without a live audience or the rapid feedback of comments on her blog, to know the effect her words have on readers. Indeed she admits she does not really understand how people who feel sympathy or a sense of `right' and `wrong' think at all. Looking at such things as an outsider they often seem to her, probably rightly sometimes, inconsistent and illogical.
She is quite clear that sociopaths can love, although it is like a little child's love: intense, possessive and self-interested.
As scientists now find is true of many things, there is probably an inherited component to being a sociopath, but the cause is unlikely to be as simple or inevitable as just having certain genes.
The author relates tne condition to the lack of a `sense of self'. I found that harder to understand, as she is aware enough of herself to put her own needs and desires before other people's. I think she means she has no sense her identity is bound up with being e.g. `a respectable member of the community', `feminine' or `masculine'. Consequently, she has few inhibitions against behaving in ways that go against any of those statuses and, like many sociopaths, is bisexual.
I suspect that the remorseless (and therefore sociopathic??) logic of evolution by natural selection favours the survival of sociopaths as a small percentage of the population, often giving them a competitive advantage within their societies, and sometimes their societies over rival nations, as long as they never become so numerous that society falls apart for lack of trust, which would reduce the chances of survival of all its members, including the sociopaths.
The author is not ashamed to be a sociopath but can see it might have been better for her and for society if she was not.
She has constructive ideas about how, as there is no known cure for sociopaths, society could steer them away from crime and towards less harmful behaviours. Uncomfortable though it may make many of us may feel, I do not think we should dismiss her arguments that society benefits from having sociopaths to do jobs that require ruthless logic and/or the ability to coolly risk danger or social disapproval e.g. investment analyst, spy. For some reason she also considers my own day job of lawyer to be a good profession for sociopaths.
As in any autobiography, it is possible that the author is not telling the truth about themselves. As a sociopath, `ME Thomas' (she admits this is a pseudonym) would have no problem of conscience lying to us if she wanted to do so. The odd thing is, to a remarkable degree I think she was actually telling the truth this time.
Google `ME Thomas law' and at time of writing you will find details of a former Assistant Professor of intellectual property law at a college in Texas, whose career history very closely fits what the author of this book says about herself. She is said on the Internet to have been exposed as `ME Thomas' in 2013 and to have lost her academic position because of it. A couple of images show her then having attractive long black hair and being in her early thirties.
In later interviews and her blog, while she still uses the pseudonym ME Thomas, she refers to having suffered career consequences from being `outed' as a sociopath. She does not say if she is in other employment now. Perhaps risking public exposure was an example of the recklessness she admits is often characteristic of sociopaths.
If you search for `ME Thomas Sociopath' on YouTube you may find a recorded radio interview in which her (no doubt sometimes deceptive) charm comes over, and, although less lively, a couple of semi-disguised TV appearances, especially the second half of an episode of an American programe called `Doctor Phil'.