Can you be a partial sociopath


Who is the devil in Of their Neighborhood?

Is it your ex-husband who lied to and cheated on you? Your sadistic PE teacher at school? Your boss, who likes to humiliate his subordinates in meetings? Your colleague who stole your idea and passed it off as her own?

We consistently think of sociopaths as violent criminals. But in this book Martha Stout shows us that a frightening 4 percent of our fellow human beings - one in 25 - have an often unrecognized personality disorder, the most important symptom of which is a lack of conscience. Such a person completely lacks the ability to feel shame, guilt, or remorse.

How can we recognize them? One of their main characteristics is a kind of charisma, a kind of charisma that makes sociopaths attractive or interesting. They are often more spontaneous, engaging or even more attractive than others, which makes it difficult to recognize them and not be seduced by them. Sociopaths are fundamentally different because they cannot love. You learn early to fake feelings; in fact, however, they are not interested in the suffering of their fellow human beings. They live for power and savor it to conquer.

We have all almost certainly dealt with a sociopath - perhaps someone close to us. To arm ourselves against sociopaths, Dr. Stout to question authority, to be skeptical about flattery and to be on the lookout for sentimentality. But above all, she warns us not to get involved in his game. The ruthless go up against the rest of us, and the sociopath next door will show you how to spot and defeat the devil in your neighborhood.

Martha Stout, Ph. D., graduated from the prestigious McLean Psychiatric Hospital. She is a practicing psychologist and clinical lecturer in the psychiatric department of Harvard Medical School. She is the author of The Myth of Sanity and lives in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, USA.

The souls are even more different than the faces. Voltaire

Please try to imagine that you have no conscience. You have not the slightest trace of conscience and no feelings of guilt or remorse - no matter what you do, you should not have pesky scruples about the well-being of strangers, friends or even relatives. Imagine not having a tiresome quarrel with your feelings of shame, not once in your entire life, regardless of whether you are acting selfish, lazy, reckless, or immoral. And further imagine that the term "responsibility" was alien to you, except perhaps as a burden that other people seem to blindly take on like good-natured fools. And now you expand this strange mind game by the ability to hide your very strange psychological disposition from other people. Since everyone takes for granted that conscience is a universal human quality, it is easy for you to hide the fact that you have no conscience. There is no feeling of guilt or shame to hinder the fulfillment of your wishes, and you will not be confronted by anyone because of your cold feelings. The icy liquid that flows in your veins is so strange, so remote from normal human experience, that hardly anyone suspects that something is wrong with you.

In other words, you are completely free of internal controls, and your unrestrained freedom to do whatever you want without scruples is conveniently hidden from the rest of the world. You can do whatever you want - and yet your mysterious advantage will very likely remain hidden from most of your fellow men, who are guided by their conscience.

How are you going to live your life? How will you use your enormous, secret advantage in the face of the corresponding weakness of other people (conscience)? The answer will largely depend on your inclinations and needs as people are different. Even the completely unscrupulous are not alike. Some people, whether they have a conscience or not, tend to be lazy, while others are full of dreams and unbridled ambition. Some people are brilliant and talented, others are simple-minded, and most are somewhere in between, whether they have a conscience or not. There are violent and peaceful people, bloodthirsty individuals, and others who do not have such cravings.

Perhaps you are someone who craves power and money, and if you have no trace of conscience, you are endowed with supreme intelligence. You have the urge and the mental faculties to seek great wealth and influence, and you are in no way restrained by the nagging voice of conscience that prevents other people from ruthlessly living for their success. You choose a career in business, politics, justice, banking, international projects, or any other promising profession, and you pursue your career with a cold passion that ignores everyday moral or legal objections. When it appears useful, forge documents and destroy evidence, stab your employees and clients (or constituencies) in the back, marry for material reasons, willfully lie to people who trust you, try to ruin and roll over influential or eloquent colleagues dependent and defenseless fellow human beings ruthlessly down. And you do all of this with the exquisite freedom that arises from complete unscrupulousness.

They will become incredibly successful, perhaps even on a global scale, and invulnerable. Why not? With your excellent skills and without a conscience that limits you, you can achieve anything.

But no - let's assume you are different. You are ambitious, yes, and for success you would do many things that people with a conscience would not even consider, but you are not particularly intelligent. Perhaps you are a little more intelligent than the average person, and you may be thought to be clever, possibly even very clever. But in the depths of your heart you know that you have neither the mental faculties nor the creativity to reach the dizzying heights of power that you secretly dream of. And that creates a grudge against the world itself, and envy of those around you.

In that case, you'd find yourself in a niche, or perhaps a series of niches, where you could have some power over a few people. Perhaps this would partially satisfy your thirst for power, even though you would be continually dissatisfied with not having more power. It is grueling to be so free of that ridiculous inner voice that prevents others from attaining power without being gifted enough to climb the highest levels of success. Occasionally you lapse into grumpy, irritable moods out of frustration that only you can understand.

But you like jobs that give you some unattended power over a few individuals or small groups, preferably people or groups who are relatively helpless or vulnerable in some ways. You are a teacher or psychotherapist, divorce lawyer or trainer in school sports. Or maybe you are some kind of consultant, broker, gallery owner, or in a high position in a social profession. Or maybe you do not have any paid work at all, but are the chairman of your local council, volunteer in a hospital or you are a legal guardian.

Whatever your job, you manipulate and harass people under your influence as often and as vilely as you can without being fired or held accountable. You do this for an end in itself, for no particular reason, except maybe to get yourself a thrill. Making people dance to your tune means you have power - or at least that's how you feel - and bullying others gives you an adrenaline rush. It is fun.

Maybe being the CEO of a multinational company isn't enough, but you can scare a few people, or scare them around like headless chickens, or steal from them, or, perhaps the most fun, make them feel ashamed. And that is power, especially when the manipulated people are superior to you in one way or another. The most exciting thing is to humiliate people who are smarter or more skilled than you, or perhaps more sophisticated, attractive, popular, or virtuous. It's not just great fun; it is existential retribution. And without a conscience, it's amazingly easy to put into practice. You serve your boss - or his boss - a little lie, shed a few crocodile tears or sabotage a colleague's project or deceive a patient (or a child), bait people with promises or spread a false rumor that cannot be traced back to you .

Or let's assume that you are a person prone to violence or violence. You can just kill or have your coworker killed - or your boss, your ex-husband, or your wealthy lover's husband, or anyone else who stands in your way. You have to be careful because if you make a mistake you could be caught and punished by the system. But you will never be held accountable by your conscience because you have no conscience. If you commit murder, all you will have to deal with is external troubles. Nothing within your personality will ever protest.

If you are not stopped, you can literally do anything. If you are born at the right time, have access to a family fortune, and are particularly skilled at inciting hatred and feelings of disadvantage in those around you, you can succeed in sending large numbers of unsuspecting people into the afterlife. With enough money, you can arrange this remotely, feel safe and look at your work with satisfaction. Indeed, (remote controlled) terrorism is the ideal occupation for bloodthirsty and unscrupulous people - if you do it right, you can stir up an entire nation. If that's not power, then what is it?

Or let's take the opposite extreme: you're not interested in power. On the contrary, you are a person who has hardly any real interests. Your only real concern is not to have to try too hard to get through life. You don't want to work like everyone else. Without a conscience, you can doze off or pursue your hobbies or watch TV all day or just hang out somewhere for the long day. If you live a bit on the fringes of society and are sponsored by relatives and friends, you can do it for as long as you want. Perhaps they would whisper to themselves that you are doing nothing, that you are depressed, a sad case, or on the other hand, if they get angry with you, they could grumble that you are lazy. Get to know you better and get really angry with you, and they might yell at you and call you a loser or a bum. But it would never occur to you that you literally have no conscience and that therefore your whole psyche is fundamentally different from the norm.

The panic feeling of a guilty conscience never depresses you or makes you startle in the middle of the night. Despite your idleness, feelings of irresponsibility, negligence, or embarrassment are completely alien to you, even if you occasionally fake such feelings for the sake of appearances. For example, if you are a good observer of people and their reactions, you might put on a worried face and say you are ashamed of the way you live and talk about how bad you are feeling. You only do this because it is more convenient for you when people around you think you are depressed than if they constantly yell at you or urge you to look for a job.

They find that people who have a conscience feel guilty when they reproach someone they think is "depressed" or "disturbed". In fact, to your added benefit, there is often a need to help such a person. If you succeed in establishing a sexual relationship with someone even though you are comparatively penniless, that person may feel particularly indebted to you without knowing who you really are. And since all you want to do is avoid working, your sponsor doesn't even have to be particularly wealthy - it suffices if he or she is reasonably decent.

I trust that the idea of ​​being such a person will strike you as crazy, because such people are crazy - and dangerously crazy. Crazy but real - there is even a name for it. Many psychologists refer to the partial or total lack of conscience as "antisocial personality disorder". This is an incurable deformation of character that, according to current knowledge, probably affects four percent of the population - that is, one in 25 people. There are other names for the lack of conscience; the most commonly used is "sociopathy", or the more familiar term Psychopathy. The lack of guilt was the first personality disorder known to psychiatry; over the past century it was also called mania sans delire, psychopathic inferiority ("psychopathic inferiority") and moral bullshit ("moral insanity" or "moral imbecility").

According to the current "Diagnostic Bible" of psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, a clinical diagnosis of "antisocial personality disorder" should be considered if a person has at least three of the following seven Features:

1. deviant social behavior;
2. Insidious, manipulative behavior;
3. impulsiveness, lack of planning skills;
4. irritability, aggressiveness;
5. reckless endangerment of the safety of oneself
or other people;
6. ongoing irresponsibility;
7. Lack of remorse after being hurt, mistreated, or stealing from
another person.

The occurrence of any combination of at least three of these "symptoms" is sufficient to cause many psychiatrists to suspect the disorder.
Many other researchers and clinicians who suggest that the APA definition describes "delinquency" rather than true "psychopathy" or "sociopathy" refer to other documented characteristics of sociopaths. One such trait that is often observed is a sleek and superficial charm that makes it easier for true sociopaths to seduce people, figuratively or literally - a kind of aura, a charisma that initially makes them seem more appealing or interesting than humans in her area. They are more spontaneous, engaging, complex, attractive or entertaining than others. Sometimes this "sociopathic charisma" is accompanied by an exaggerated sense of self-worth, which at first seems convincing, but often turns out to be strange or even ridiculous on closer inspection. ("One day you will notice what a special person I am" or "You know, no other lover after me will be good enough for you.")

In addition, sociopaths have an above-average need for stimulation, which means that they frequently take social, health, financial or legal risks. They tend to seduce others into embarking on dangerous ventures with them, and are consistently known for their morbid mendacity, deceit and parasitic relationships with "friends". Regardless of how educated or successful they may be as adults, they often have a history of early behavioral problems, such as drug abuse or delinquency as a child or adolescent, and always reject any responsibility for such problems.

Particularly noticeable is the flat emotional life of sociopaths, the hollow and fleeting character of the feelings of affection that they display, and a striking coldness of feeling. They lack any trace of empathy or a genuine interest in establishing emotional ties with a partner. After the charming surface wears off, their marriages are loveless, one-sided, and almost always short-lived. If a spouse has any value for the sociopath at all, he sees it as possession, whether its loss may cause anger, but never sadness or even responsibility.

All of these characteristics are, besides those of the A.merican P.sychiatric A.ssociation listed "symptoms", the expression of an unfathomable psychological condition for most people, the lack of our vital seventh sense - the conscience.

Crazy and scary - and real, for about four percent of the population.

But what does this four percent mean for society? To relate to problems you hear about frequently, consider the following numbers:

  • Anorexia occurs in around 3.4 percent of the population, which is considered almost epidemic, and yet this value is lower than the prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder.
  • The severe disorders classified as schizophrenia occur in only about one percent of the population - that's only a quarter of the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) state that colorectal cancer affects 40 out of 100,000 people in the United States, which is rated "alarmingly high" - yet is only one-hundredth of the prevalence of anti-social personality disorder.

More pointedly, this means that there are more sociopaths among us than people who suffer from anorexia under much public attention, four times as many sociopaths as schizophrenics, and a hundred times as many sociopaths as patients suffering from colon cancer, a well-known scourge of humanity. Suffer.
As a therapist, I specialize in treating patients who have experienced psychological trauma. Over the past 25 years there have been hundreds of adults in my practice who have endured mental agony every day of their lives due to childhood abuse or other appalling experiences. In my book The Myth of Sanity, I used case studies to describe the countless ailments of my trauma patients, such as chronic anxiety, crippling depression, and dissociative states. Many of them have turned to me with the feeling that their lives are unbearable after they have overcome suicide attempts. Some have been traumatized by natural disasters like earthquakes, others by man-made disasters like wars, but most of them have been suppressed and psychologically annihilated by individual human perpetrators, often by sociopaths - sometimes by sociopaths foreign to them, but more often by sociopathic parents, older relatives or siblings. In trying to help my patients and their families cope with the injuries inflicted on them, I have come to realize that the harm caused by the sociopaths among us is severe and permanent, often tragically fatal and terrifyingly common. In working with hundreds of survivors, I have come to believe that there is an urgent need for all of us to deal openly and directly with the circumstances of sociopathy.

About one in twenty-five people is sociopathic, which essentially means that they have no conscience. It is not that this group of people cannot tell the difference between good and bad; rather, the difference does not affect their behavior. The rational distinction between good and bad does not set off the emotional alarm - or fear of God - that we others experience. Without the slightest sense of guilt and without remorse one in 25 people can commit any outrage.

The widespread prevalence of sociopathy in human society has a serious impact on the rest of us who live on this planet, including those who have not been traumatized. The individuals that make up these four percent pillage our relationships, bank accounts, and self-esteem, and disrupt our peace on earth. And yet, amazingly, most people know nothing about this personality disorder, and when they do, they only think of violent psychopaths, of murderers, serial killers or mass murderers, of individuals who have broken the law in spectacular ways and who if caught , imprisoned or even put to death by our criminal justice system. We are ordinarily unaware, and ordinarily unrecognizable, of the much larger number of non-violent sociopaths among us - people who do not blatantly break the law and from whom our legal system offers little protection.

Most people would see no connection between planning a genocide and, for example, shamelessly denouncing a colleague to his boss. But the psychological connection doesn't just exist, it's oppressive. The link is simply the lack of the internal mechanism that, emotionally speaking, grabs us whenever we make a decision that we consider immoral, indecent, irresponsible, or selfish. Most of us will feel a twinge of guilt after taking that last piece of cake in the kitchen - not to mention what we would feel if we deliberately and systematically made a plan to harm another person. Those who have no trace of conscience are a group of their own, be they murderous tyrants or just ruthless social parasites.

The presence or absence of conscience is a deep divide that divides humanity, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or even gender. What distinguishes a sociopath who lives off the work of others from one who on occasion robbed a supermarket or who is a gang boss - or what makes the difference between an ordinary hooligan and a sociopathic murderer - is nothing more than social standing, determination, Intelligence, lust for murder or simply the right opportunity. What distinguishes all these individuals from the rest of us is the yawning hole in the place of their soul, where the most highly developed human quality should actually be located.

For about 96 percent of us, conscience is so natural that we hardly ever think about it. Most of the time it works like a reflex. Unless the temptation is irresistible (which fortunately rarely happens in everyday life), we are by no means reflecting on every single moral decision that comes up to us. We're not seriously asking, "Should I give my child money for school lunch today or not?" - "Should I steal my colleague's briefcase today or not?" - "Should I leave my spouse today or not?" Conscience makes all these decisions for us, silently, automatically and constantly, so that even in our wildest fantasies we could not imagine a life without a conscience. And so, of course, if someone behaves completely unscrupulous, we can only find explanations that couldn't be further from the truth: "She must have forgotten to give the child money." - "His colleague must have mislaid his briefcase himself." - "His wife must have been obnoxious." Or we think of explanations for the respective anti-social behavior nearly could explain, if you weren't too specific: He's "eccentric" or "artistic" or "very ambitious" or "lazy" or "has no idea" or was "always a sucker".

Aside from the psychopathic monsters you see on TV and whose misdeeds are too horrific to explain anyway, we can almost never recognize unscrupulous people; they are invisible to us. We care deeply about how smart we are and about other people's intelligence. The smallest child can tell the difference between a boy and a girl. Wars are waged because of belonging to different races. But perhaps the single most significant differentiator that divides humanity - the presence or absence of conscience - remains hidden from us.

Very few people, however educated otherwise, know the meaning of the word sociopathic. And much less do they realize that it is very likely that this word could rightly be applied to a handful of people they know. And even after learning about the term, it is not possible for most people to imagine the lack of conscience. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a situation that is so persistently beyond understanding. Complete blindness, pathological depression, severe perception disorders, a lottery win and thousands of other extreme human experiences, even a psychosis, we can imagine. We've all got lost in the dark at one point or another. We've all been down. We've all felt stupid, at least once or twice. Most of us have mentally made a list of what we would do with a sudden, unexpected fortune. And at night in our dreams, our thoughts and ideas are confused.

But yourself not at all to care about the consequences of our behavior for society, for friends, relatives, for ours Children? What on earth would that be? What would we do with ourselves? Nothing in our life, awake or asleep, gives us a clue. The closest we might come would be by experiencing such great physical pain that we would be temporarily unable to act or think clearly. But even in pain there is a sense of guilt. A total lack of guilt is beyond the imagination.

Conscience is our omniscient disciplinarian; it dictates the rules of our behavior and imposes emotional penalties for breaking the rules. We never asked for a conscience. It's just there, always, like the skin, the lungs, or the heart. You could say that it's not even our merit. And we can't imagine how we'd feel without a conscience.

The lack of guilt is strangely contradicting even as a medical concept. In contrast to cancer, anorexia, schizophrenia, or even the other "character disorders" such as narcissism, sociopathy also seems to have a moral aspect. Sociopaths are almost always viewed as evil or diabolical, even (or especially) by psychologists, and the feeling that these patients are somehow morally objectionable and frightening is vividly reflected in the literature.

Robert Hare, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has the Psychopathy Checklist developed a questionnaire that is now recognized as a standard diagnostic tool among researchers and clinicians around the world. Hare, the dispassionate scientist, writes about his subjects:

Anyone, including experts, can be captured, manipulated, betrayed and left confused by them. A skilled psychopath can give a concert on the keyboard of emotions each People play. ... Your best protection is to understand the nature of these predators in human form.

And Hervey Cleckley, Author of the 1941 classic The Mask of Sanity (The Mask of Reason), complains about the psychopath like this:
Beauty and ugliness - unless in a very superficial sense - mean nothing to him. Evil, love, horror and humor cannot touch him.

One could easily take the position that the terms "sociopathy" and "antisocial personality disorder" are wrongly chosen and reflect a variable collection of ideas, and that lack of conscience as a psychiatric category does not make sense anyway. In this context it should be noted that all other psychiatric findings (including narcissism) are associated with some degree of subjectively felt suffering or discomfort on the part of the patient. Sociopathy is thus the only "disorder" that causes the Affected does not bother - it does not cause subjective discomfort. Sociopaths are often quite satisfied with themselves and their lives, and perhaps because of this there is no effective "therapy". As a rule, sociopaths only seek therapy if ordered by a court or if other benefits can be obtained from patient status. The desire to improve is seldom the real motivation. All of this begs the question of whether a lack of conscience is a psychiatric disorder or a criminally relevant circumstance - or something completely different.

Unique in its ability to annoy even seasoned professionals, the concept of sociopathy ominously approaches our ideas of the soul and the struggle of good against evil, and this association makes it difficult to deal with the subject matter-of-factly. And the inevitable "those against us" stance inherent in the problem raises scientific, moral, and political questions that could be desperate. How can one scientifically investigate a phenomenon that is at least partially moral in nature? Who should receive our professional help and support, the "patients" or the people who have to endure them? As psychological research develops methods of "diagnosing" sociopathy - who should we test? Should a citizen of a free society even be subjected to such a diagnosis? And after someone has been unequivocally diagnosed as a sociopath, what - if anything - can society do with this information? No other finding raises such ethically and technically inadmissible questions. Sociopathy, with its well-known association with behaviors such as spanking and rape in marriage, serial murder and inciting wars, is in a certain sense the final and scariest challenge of psychology.

Indeed, the most irritating questions are rarely even whispered: Can we say with certainty that sociopathy doesn't pay off for the individual? Is sociopathy a disorder at all, or is it not rather purposeful? The uncertainty on the back of the coin is just as annoying: it pays off the conscience out for the individual or the group that owns it? Or is conscience just, as sociopaths like to claim, a psychological pen for the masses? Whether we say them out loud or not, they are implicit Doubts loom ominously over a planet whose greatest celebrities in history, for millennia up to the present day, have always been figures whose immorality has blown all standards. And in our culture today it is almost fashionable to take advantage of other people, and unscrupulous business practices seem to be rewarded with limitless wealth. From personal experience, most of us can cite examples of an unscrupulous person winning, and at times it almost seems like a decent person is just a fool.

Is it really true that lies have short legs, or isn't it ultimately the case that the nice guy is the last to cross the finish line? Will the Shameless Minority Really Take Over the Earth?

Such questions reflect a topic that is central to this book. It has preoccupied me since shortly after the September 11, 2001 disasters that caused great pain to all righteous people and left some in despair. I am a thoroughly optimistic person, but at the time I and a few other psychologists and students feared that our country and many other nations would sink into hateful conflicts and wars fueled by feelings of revenge for years to come.Whenever I tried to relax or fall asleep, a line from a thirty-year-old apocalyptic song kept coming to my mind: "Laughing, Satan unfolds his wings." The winged Satan in my mind's eye was not a terrorist, but a demonic manipulator who used the terrorists' attacks to stir up hatred around the world.

My interest in my special topic "Sociopathy Against Conscience" was aroused in a telephone conversation with a colleague, a good person who is usually optimistic and full of confidence, but at the time - like the rest of the world - was dazed and demoralized. We talked about a mutual patient whose suicidal tendencies had increased to a worrying degree, apparently because of the catastrophes in the United States (and who is now much better again, I would like to report with relief). My colleague talked about how torn he felt himself and that because of this he might not have the usual level of emotional strength for his patient. This extremely caring and responsible therapist feared that, like everyone else, overwhelmed by the events, he might be neglecting his duty. In the middle of his self-criticism, he paused, sighed, and said to me in a tone that was completely atypical for him: "You know, sometimes I ask myself: Why should one have a conscience? That only makes you a loser. "

I was extremely irritated by his question, above all because cynicism does not at all fit into his being, which one can usually describe as healthy and lively. After a while I replied with another question: "Then tell me, Bernie, if you had a choice, I mean, a really free choice in the matter - which of course you don't - you would choose to have a conscience as you have one now, or would you prefer to be a sociopath and thus be capable of any outrage? "

He thought for a moment and then said, "You are right," (even though I hadn't tried transferring thoughts). "I would choose a conscience."
"Why?" I urged him.

After a pause and a long drawn out "Well ..." he finally said: "Well, Martha, I don't know why. I just know that I would choose my conscience."

And maybe that's just what I wish for, but I got the impression that Bernie's tone of voice changed a little after that statement. He sounded a little less resigned, and we started talking about how one of our professional associations wanted to support the people of New York and Washington.

For a long time after this conversation I was intrigued by this question from my colleague "Why should one have a conscience?" and of his decision to live with a conscience rather than being free of it, and the fact that he could not say why he would choose one way and no other. A moralist or theologian might have answered "Because it is right" or "Because I want to be a good person". But my friend, the psychologist, couldn't psychologically give a reasoned answer.

I firmly believe that we need to find out the psychological reason. Right now, in a world that seems to be on the verge of self-destruction from global economic crime, terrorism and wars of hatred, we need to know why - im psychological Senses - a person with a conscience is better than a person who is not restricted by feelings of guilt or remorse. In part, this book is my answer as a psychologist to the question, "Why should one have a conscience?" To get closer to the reasons, I will first describe people who have no conscience, the sociopaths - how they behave, how they feel. Then, with the help of the insights gained, I want to investigate for the remaining 96 percent of us what it might be worth to be endowed with a quality that often makes life difficult, causes pain and - yes, indeed - restricts you.

This book is also my attempt to warn honorable people about "the sociopath next door" and to help them deal with him. As a psychologist and as a person, I have seen how too many lives have been almost destroyed by the decisions and actions of a few unscrupulous people. These few are both dangerous and amazingly difficult to spot. Even if they are not physically violent - and especially when they are familiar and close to us - they can easily mess up the lives of individuals and make human society as a whole insecure. In my view, the domination of unscrupulous people over the rest of us is a particularly common and repulsive example of what the novelist does F. Scott Fitzgerald referred to as "the tyranny of the weak". And I think that all honorable people should learn how such immoral and unscrupulous people behave in everyday life in order to better recognize them and to be able to deal with them more effectively.

When it comes to conscience, we seem to be a breed of extremes. All we have to do is turn on our televisions to experience these bewildering contrasts: we see images of people on their knees rescuing a puppy from a drainpipe, followed by reports of other people butchering women and children and piling up the corpses . And in our ordinary everyday life, the contrasts are just as varied, if perhaps not as spectacular. In the morning someone runs after us to give us back the banknote we have lost with a smile, while in the afternoon someone else cuts us off in the traffic with a grin.

Given the radically contrasting behavior we experience every day, we need to speak openly about both extremes of human nature and behavior. To create a better world, we have to understand the character of people who act naturally against the common good, without any emotional inhibition. Only by trying to understand the nature of unscrupulousness can we see the many ways we can stand up against it, and only by penetrating the darkness can we make the light more powerful.

I hope that this book will help limit the destructive influence of sociopaths on our lives. Every single honorable person can learn to recognize the "sociopath next door" and use that knowledge to thwart his or her utterly selfish plans. At least you can protect yourself and your loved ones from his shameless maneuvers.


Ice people: the sociopaths

The conscience is the window of the soul; evil is the curtain. Doug Horton

When Skip was growing up, his family had a vacation home on a small lake in the hills of Virginia, where they spent part of the summer each year. They had vacationed there since Skip was eight until he went to high school in Massachusetts. Skip used to look forward to his Virginia summers. There wasn't much to do there, but the one pastime he'd devised was so much fun that it made up for the general boredom. In fact, when he went back to elementary school in the winter and indulged in his thoughts while a dumb teacher ranted endlessly on something trivial, he sometimes laughed to himself as he pictured himself playing his game on the shores of the warm Virginia lake .

Skip was intelligent and handsome even as a child. "Intelligent and pretty", his parents, his parents' friends and his teachers kept saying. And so they couldn't understand why his grades were so mediocre, or why, as he got older, he seemed so uninterested in going out with girls. Little did they know that he had been with many girls since he was eleven, but not quite the way his parents and teachers had imagined. There was always a girl, mostly older, willing to succumb to Skip's flattery and charming smile. Often times the girl would smuggle him into her room, but sometimes he and a girl would just find a secluded spot in a playground or under the bleachers on the sports field. As for his grades, he was extremely bright-he could have had straight A's-but he could get a three-point effortlessly, and he kept it that way. Sometimes he even got a two, which amused him as he never studied for school. The teachers liked him, seemed almost as prone to his smiles and compliments as the girls, and so it was expected that good good Skip would go to good high school and then to decent college, regardless of his grades.

His parents were very wealthy - "mega rich", as the other children called it. Several times when he was about twelve he sat at the old-fashioned secretary his parents had bought for his bedroom, trying to figure out how much money he would get if his parents died. His calculations were based on some financial documents that he had stolen from his father's study. The records were confusing and incomplete, but if he couldn't get an exact result, Skip knew that one day he would be quite rich.

And yet Skip had a problem: he was mostly bored. The distractions he pursued, even the girls, even the teasing of the teachers, even the thoughts of his money, could not occupy him for more than half an hour at a time. The family fortune seemed to be the most entertaining, but it wasn't under his control - he was still a kid, after all. No, the only real way out of boredom was with the fun he could have in Virginia.

The holidays were good times. That first summer when he was eight he had simply stabbed the bullfrogs with scissors for lack of any other method. He had found that he could easily catch the frogs on the boggy shores of the lake with a net from the fishing shed. He used to roll her on her back and hold her, stab her protruding bellies, then turn her over again so he could watch her stupid, slippery eyes die as they bleed to death. Then he hurled the carcasses out onto the lake as far as possible and screamed after them, "Bad luck, you stupid little ass face!"

There were so many frogs by the lake. He could spend hours killing her, and yet hundreds and hundreds seemed to be left for the next day. But by the end of that first summer, Skip had decided that he could do better. It would be great if he could blow her up; he needed something to make the fat little toads explode, so he came up with a great plan. He knew loads of older boys at home, and he knew that one of them always went to South Carolina with his family for the spring break in April. Skip had heard that fireworks were sold in South Carolina and that they were easy to get hold of. Motivated by a small bribe from Skip, his friend Tim was supposed to get him firecrackers there and smuggle them back home at the bottom of his suitcase. Tim was afraid to do that, but with encouraging encouragement from Skip and enough bribe, he finally agreed. The following summer, Skip would have no scissors, but firecrackers!

Finding cash in the house was no problem and the plan worked out fine. In April he got two hundred dollars for an assortment pack of Star-Spangled Banners that he saw advertised in a gun magazine, and another hundred dollars to sell Tim for the deal. When Skip finally got the package, he thought it was great. He chose "Star-Spangled Banner" because it contained the largest number of bangers small enough to (almost) fit into a bullfrog's mouth. The package contained tiny spray candles and a few "Lady Fingers" - those were slim, little, red firecrackers - and a chunk of one-inch firecrackers called "Wizards" and his favorites: some two-inch firecrackers in a box that came with the label "Mortal Destruction" and a skull.

In the summer he would stick the firecrackers, one after the other, into the mouths of captured frogs, set them on fire and throw the frogs high into the air above the lake. Or sometimes he would put a frog with a lighted fuse on the floor, run away a little and watch from a distance as the animal exploded on the floor. The performance was splendid - blood, mesentery and lightning, sometimes a loud bang and those colorful, flowery shapes. So wonderful were the results that he soon longed for an audience to see his brilliant work. One afternoon he lured his six-year-old sister Claire down to the lake, let her help her catch a frog, and then let it explode in mid-air in front of her eyes. Claire started screaming hysterically and ran back to the house as fast as she could.

The family's imposing "holiday home" stood about a kilometer from the lake behind a tranquil group of hemlock trees 30 meters high. The distance wasn't so great that Skip's parents couldn't hear the sound of the explosions, and they thought he was going to set off fireworks by the lake. But it had long been clear to them that he was not a child to be disciplined and that they had to consider very carefully which arguments they wanted to have. The firecrackers thing wasn't one of them, even when six-year-old Claire ran into the house and told her mother that the good Skip blew up frogs. Skip's mother turned the record player in the library to full volume and Claire tried to get her cat Emily to safety.