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Essential information and practical help.
on 18 August 2011
If ever there was a book which I wish I'd read twenty or thirty years earlier, it's "Puzzling People: The Labyrinth Of The Psychopath."
Firstly, it's worth highlighting Mr. Sheridan's motivation for writing this book. It was not for the sake of adding to the many fine academic studies which have already been done by eminent researchers. It stemmed from his attempts to make sense of his own disturbing encounters with a number of chilling characters with whom he had had the misfortune to come into contact. He was drawn to the study of all the available psychiatric literature over a number of years. As his own understanding increased, he realised that what he had learned could save a great many people from a lot of avoidable distress. This book is the result. It's a practical guide for everyone rather than a specialised treatise for academics.
Thomas Sheridan explains in clear language that because our notions of a psychopath are dangerously short of the mark, we needlessly make ourselves vulnerable to predatory, cold-hearted parasites who have no feelings of empathy or shame and yet appear on face value to function as normal members of society. The author then demonstrates that a proper and straightforward understanding of the psychopathic mindset is a reliable defence against their predations. By the time you finish this book, you will know everything you need to know.
Contrary to popular belief, the genuine psychopath is fairly unlikely to be a convicted serial killer ending his or her days in a prison cell. It's far more likely to be your manipulative work colleague or a close relative or a former lover who stole your heart or the person sitting beside you on a train.
They do not all look like Charles Manson or Pol Pot. They can appear to be charming, courteous, attractive, sexy, devout, helpful - in fact, they will be whatever you want them to be if they identify you as a target before you realise their real nature. Then they will use you up. Once they have taken whatever they wanted from you, they will discard you as if you were no more than a used battery. By that time they will have identified their next target and you will have outlasted your usefulness to them. Sheridan explains that "it's just business" in their view. They have no capability for feeling remorse, empathy, compassion or any of the positive, spiritual attributes of a human being.
There is strong scientific evidence that there will be at least one psychopath amongst every twenty or twenty-five people in the general population. Psychopaths will be found in practically any environment where they sense that they can take some advantage of an unsuspecting victim. And although victims won't necessarily be gruesomely murdered, they will still suffer appallingly as a result of their encounter with one of these dreadful creatures.
The author strongly stresses that not everybody who does bad things is a psychopath and we should not bandy the term around lightly. However, he also makes it very clear that there are reliable ways to determine if you are dealing with a genuine psychopath and there is a very good section of the book which addresses this specific area. I found myself suddenly making sense of previously incomprehensible episodes that had troubled me for many years. Now that the penny has dropped, it all makes sense. They do not trouble me now.
One of the most important aspects of the book is that it is not designed to frighten us or foster suspicion and mistrust. On the contrary, it is thoroughly positive and its essential theme is that knowledge of the problem is the best and surest form of protection. Mr. Sheridan convincingly argues that psychopaths are powerless against people who are wise to their manipulative devices. This vital knowledge is relatively easily acquired but, for lack of it, there are many decent human beings who have lost their homes, their marriages, their businesses, their savings, their confidence, their self-respect and even their will to live. For that reason, I can't recommend this book too highly.