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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sociopath alert: Heidi Jones

The weather reporter for WABC-TV, Heidi Jones, has been in the news recently for having filed a false police report about an alleged rape attempt. She claimed to police that she had been assaulted on September 24th, and then harassed again by the same Hispanic man on November 21st.

After police noticed discrepancies in her story, she confessed to them on December 13th that she had just concocted the entire story in a bid for sympathy.

According to the NY Post, she recently told the police, "I made it up for attention. I have so much stress at work, with my personal life and with my family. I know there is no justification for it."

Ordinarily I like to see some corroborating evidence before I say someone is a sociopath. I want to see more about their background, a consistent sociopathic bent to their behavior, a certain pattern to their relationships, and evidence of other dishonesty. I couldn't find anything like that for Jones, for whom there is no Wikipedia entry. But her hoax was something nonsociopaths simply wouldn't do.

Can you imagine yourself making up a story like that, and then taking it to the police, so that they would have to check out all the local videotapes, scour the area for eyewitnesses, and search for the suspect, all of which would take time away from their investigations of real crimes? Can you imagine basking in the sympathy of your coworkers for your "traumatic experience"?

An ordinary person wouldn't do that because her sense of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and fear of discovery would prevent her. Only one kind of person totally lacks those emotions.

Another giveaway of Jones's sociopathy is the transparently false excuse she used for her behavior: the "stress" occasioned by her work, personal life, and family. What did you do the last time you felt stressed out? Have a beer or two? Go for a three mile run? Confide your troubles to a friend? Or did you make up an elaborate story about an assault and take it to the police?

This is just not the way normal people react to stress. For normal people, excess stress results in a desire to withdraw, and to try to reduce the causes of that stress. For nonsociopaths, there would be nothing more stressful than filing a false police report.

Sociopaths simply don't feel stress the same way. The kinds of things which would terrify you and me because of their potential for public shaming simply don't matter a whit to them, because they don't feel shame. They don't worry about not living up to others' expectations, or about letting others down. They know they're supposed to, but they don't. Every now and then they lay claim to emotions they know they're supposed to have, so as to appear normal. But they usually give themselves away by wielding them falsely, as Jones just did.

The woman who educated me about sociopathy when I was 25 once told me a story about how she saw an old lady trying to cross the street, and it made her feel so guilty. As she said this, she tried to look very compassionate. At the time I didn't understand sociopathy, but I remember thinking, why should she feel guilty -- she had nothing to do with the old woman having gotten old. And if she felt guilty, why didn't she just help her? When I finally realized that the woman I knew was a sociopath, and that she didn't feel guilt, the story made sense to me in a different way: she was trying to appear a good person with a show of false emotion.

Another emotion sociopaths don't feel is affection. When I worked on Wall Street I knew a sociopath who absolutely hated a coworker of ours named Jerry. The sociopath once said, "I like Jerry, he's a family guy, but...." and then proceeded to eviscerate him. I thought about it later and realized that no one actually likes anyone else simply because he has a wife and a bunch of kids. But the sociopath wanted to disguise the fact that he was eviscerating Jerry out of pure hatred, so he tried to lay claim to "liking" him for completely bogus reasons. He didn't know any better, because he never actually liked anyone. If you listen closely, a sociopath will usually give himself away with his false emotionality.

Jones' actions sound a bit like Munchhausen's Syndrome. That is the syndrome under which people will fake illnesses just to receive attention and sympathy. It's regarded as a unique illness, but I've always thought it merely an offshoot of sociopathy. The sociopathic nature of the "illness" is never more apparent than in what the psychiatric community refers to as Munchhausen's by Proxy, a variation in which parents will make their children ill in order to be able to take them to the hospital in order to receive attention and sympathy themselves from the doctors. What kind of parent would make her child physically ill just to be able to get attention for herself? (A rhetorical question.)

The evidence on Jones is narrow but deep: she is a sociopath.

(Oh, by the way, I'm sorry this post was out so late today -- I want you to know, I feel incredibly guilty about that.)

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