The Sociopath Next Door Review
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The release of the movie Zodiac recently bombarded the headlines of San Francisco news. During my recent trip to the city, I realized that the case still lingers in the minds of Northern Californians. These horrific killings occurred at the same time as the Tate-LaBianca murders, committed by Charles Manson and his cult in Los Angeles. Being from Southern California, I remember both cases well, and the recollection of these events prompted me to brush off my copy of The Sociopath Next Door by Harvard Medical School clinical instructor Martha Stout, Ph.D. I enthusiastically purchased the book after hearing interviews with Dr. Stout, and I proceeded to place it on my bookshelf. It just sat there…until now.

In The Sociopath Next Door, Stout details characteristics of sociopaths, which she defines as people who are void of any conscience and have no emotional bonds with other people. She maintains that 4% of the population falls in this category. Research also shows that only 20% of U.S. prison inmates are sociopaths. This percentage, though, accounts for more than half of those convicted of the most serious crimes.

Even though they’re enormous risk takers, sociopaths dread the consequences of committing such crimes, so most aren’t serial killers, nor are they in prison. However, they’re still to be feared. Sociopaths crave the control and domination of others. “Life is reduced to a contest, and other human beings seem to be nothing more than game pieces, to be moved about, used as shields, or ejected,” Dr. Stout claims. They can be very successful individuals—politicians, businessmen, or even your psychologist or local high school principal. In fact, Dr. Stout gives examples of the despicable character and behavior of each of the above and how they desire to control and harm others. Such people use our sense of right and wrong as weapons against us. Unfortunately, they can spot those of us who can be used as pawns easier than we can spot them.

You’ve probably come into contact with sociopaths, either in business or in your personal life. But sociopaths should be avoided at all costs. Stout’s “Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life” is of particular value. She also suggests that before considering any type of relationship, you should make the “Rule of Threes” a lifelong tenet. One lie may be a result of a misunderstanding, but at three, it’s time to cut your losses and run.

Dr. Stout explains certain clinical studies in depth, such as whether this is an inborn or learned trait and how authority can dull conscience. She also uses historical events to bring up the possibilities of both—which I’m sure are up for debate.

Finally, Stout brings the global picture into focus. We teach our children to obey authority. At what point should they question it? She believes that our individualistic culture plays a significant role in promoting sociopath behavior, whereas cultures that support prosocial conduct tend to force sociopaths to conform and thus compensate for what they’re missing emotionally. Can a born sociopath be reformed? It’s an interesting topic for discussion.

Most of us won’t come in contact with a serial killer, but this book gives chilling indications on how sociopaths can be living among us, eager to destroy our lives. Though the explanations of the clinical studies tend to be laborious for non-psychologists like me, this is still a fascinating read. I had trouble putting the book down, as I could identify Stout’s character composites with people I’ve actually met. Though this is a troubling book, I found it comforting to learn that we needn’t second-guess ourselves with certain people who try to make us feel guilty.

If your philosophy is the old cliché “Ignorance is bliss,” then this isn’t a book for you. However, if you’re brave enough to acknowledge or at least entertain the notion that certain people are indeed evil and cannot be reasoned with, then I highly recommend The Sociopath Next Door.

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