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Fresh as a Wilted Daisy & Diving Back in With Sociopaths

August 22, 2010

I have been away on mysterious business, which also caused my normally rapacious reading pace to crawl.  Happily, I think the worst is behind me.

One of my 2010 reading resolutions was more nonfiction, and I have been following up.  One of the “stickiest” (in the still-thinking-about-it-months-later way) nonfiction reads of the summer was Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, which was recommended to me by two different people after a group of my friends had an unfortunate blow-out with a person who certainly seemed to exhibit some sociopathic behaviors.  I read it despite an aversion to pop-psych, and I’m glad I did.  Stout describes and delves into sociopathy as the absence of conscience with a number of case studies that may raise frissons of recognition for anyone who has encountered a sociopath (which, given her estimates that as many as 4% of the population is sociopathic, may be more common than we’d think).  This in itself is useful, as encounters with the sociopathic can leave victims questioning their own psychological stability.

Where Stout fell somewhat short, for me, was in her focus on protecting “the rest of us” against sociopaths.  That emphasis is probably helpful, and perhaps the end of the issue, for many readers.  But the most unsettling part of my experience with the probable sociopath (I don’t feel at all qualified to render a certain armchair diagnosis here) in my circle of friends was not knowing how to pin down my own emotions, which included a fair amount of grief for the destruction of numerous relationships and for the person who destroyed them.  Do we feel sympathy for those who, by definition, cannot?  If the sociopath cannot form true friendships, what of those of us with consciences who identified as their friends?  These are questions that Stout makes clear the sociopath would not consider, but people with consciences, even when preyed-upon, likely cannot help but do so.

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