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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How I became interested in sociopathy

This is the introduction to a manuscript I wrote on sociopathy eighteen years ago; my agent and I were never able to get it published. (Simon & Schuster expressed interest, and asked for a rewrite, but then backed out because their previous book on the subject had not sold well, and because I cited famous people.) 

In any case, it describes my introduction to sociopathy. In my blog, I sound like a guy who understands sociopaths, and who's always onto them. As you'll see if you read this, that hasn't always been the case; I started out as just the opposite.


I grew up a typically over-sheltered, naïve child of the upper middle class. I did well on standardized tests, read a lot, and knew pop culture, but my street smarts were nil -- though I didn’t know it at the time. I was a typically rebellious youth, but always more bad boy than bad man. I grew up in a close family, and like many who do, I was overly trusting. Although I thought myself sophisticated, I was very much a creature of my sheltered environment.

When I was 25, and living in Los Angeles, I joined a Masters swimming club at the local YMCA. There was a tall blonde, who swam in my lane and was an excellent swimmer. Let’s call her Anne. She was not my type, so I initially took little notice of her other than as a swimmer. She was dating another swimmer in our group, but she was friendly, and we occasionally chatted about swimming.

When I asked about her times, Anne told me she had missed the American record in the 200 yard backstroke by a second and a half. She certainly was a tough swimmer in practice, pushing herself hard. It made sense that her hard work had achieved results. When I looked her up in Swimming World, her name was not listed in her conference championship, even though the winning time in the 200 yard backstroke was considerably slower than her claimed time. I asked her about this and she explained that she had been sick during the meet and had done her time in a special time trial three weeks later. I had no reason to doubt her.

There had been a famous swimmer at Anne’s college during her time there, a handsome Olympic champion; I asked her what he was like. She looked at me quizzically, then asked, “Are you….I mean, did you hear about us?” I asked what she meant, and Anne replied, “Oh, I thought maybe you’d heard; we were engaged for three years.”

I asked, what happened? “I had to break it off,” Anne explained. “It just wasn’t right. I realized at the end of the three years that I just didn’t love him, and it wasn’t fair to him to go ahead with the marriage.”

My goodness, I thought, most girls would have jumped at the chance to marry this guy.

Anne grew up in the same area as a friend whom I had admired in college, so I asked if she knew him. She looked at me for a couple seconds, then replied, “He was my hero.” It seemed Anne and I had much in common; I thought, too bad she wasn’t more my type physically.

One day Anne asked if I wanted to join her and her boyfriend for sushi after practice. I said sure; we had a pleasant dinner.

A few days later, while her boyfriend was at the other end of the pool, Anne started complaining about him; I listened attentively. Once she saw she had a sympathetic ear, she really started in: he was incredibly selfish, boorish, overly aggressive sexually, and stupid. She concluded by saying she was through with him. He seemed like a regular fellow to me, but on the other hand, I had no reason to doubt her; most men certainly harbor the potential for boorishness. I thought, he must have been a lot worse than most for her to hate him so.

Anne then asked offhandedly if I wanted to grab a bite after practice, and I said sure. I liked her casualness; I wasn’t used to having girls ask me out. We went back to her apartment after dinner, a mention of sore muscles led to a massage, and we ended up fooling around, something I had actually had no intention of doing.

So, naïve as I was, I got involved with Anne. There seemed a lot to admire about her and her family. Anne told me she had graduated from college at age twenty, having skipped two grades early on. Her father, though he came from an extremely wealthy family, had changed his name because he wanted to prove he could make it on his own. Her mother had been brought up in an orphanage, but had made good by marrying her father. One time Anne proudly recounted how her mother had taken her and her previous boyfriend out for dinner, but when he boyfriend had drunk too much, her mother had stuck him with the tab. Anne took this as evidence of her mother’s cleverness.

Anne told me that one time when she was young, a black man had tried to break into the house, but she had grabbed her father’s gun and shot him. I asked her how badly he had been wounded. She replied that she didn’t know.

Anne was entrepreneurial, having set up her own small advertising agency. (I just had a regular office job.)

Early on she told me that the other swimmers in our lane had been making fun of me for my predilection for remembering swimming times so well. This certainly disinclined me from befriending them, or even talking with them. A little while later I noticed that they had become noticeably frosty to me. Since I already disliked them for having made fun of me behind my back, I gave it no further thought.

Anne seemed to constantly have some sort of conflict in her life. One time it was with a business partner who was trying to steal the business from her. Another time it was with a landlord who had not been fair about her lease. I attributed these incidents to her naivete about dishonest people.

Anne also seemed to have a big heart. One evening she said, “I saw this old lady today who was having a hard time crossing the street. I just felt so sorry for her.” Anne got a very plaintive, sympathetic look on her face as she said this. I thought, what a nice woman to feel that sort of compassion; I probably wouldn’t have been so moved.

Sexually, Anne was a strange combination of physical uninhibitedness and a lack of desire -- for me. When I would try to get her into bed, she would always resist, saying that she wasn’t in love with me yet, so it wasn’t right; yet if I got her there, she would close her eyes and her body would just take over. I attributed this to a mix of old-fashioned prudery and a lack of inhibitions; I found this somewhat charming, as I was just the opposite. I had grown up shy and inhibited, and was spending my twenties determinedly making up for a platonic youth.

I was almost proud that I found myself drawn to this woman who was not that physically attractive; I took this as evidence that I wasn’t as shallow as I had hitherto suspected. For her part, she seemed to harbor no lack of confidence in her looks; one day she reported that a fellow had told her that she was so sexy she should be declared illegal. Similar claims would be made sporadically.

A new swimmer joined our club, a tall blond Adonis whom Anne had known back East. She was friendly with him; I was jealous, suspecting the worst. One day he confided in her that he was gay, simultaneously asking her not to tell me (this was 1978). Within fifteen minutes she had relayed his secret to me, warning me to keep my mouth shut. I thought it indiscreet of her to tell me, especially so soon, but at the same time I was relieved.

I once made a complimentary remark about an attractive woman who was a member of our swimming group. Anne immediately volunteered that this woman had droopy breasts. I was once again put off by her indiscretion, but at the same time somewhat flattered by her seeming jealousy. On another occasion Anne informed me that another woman in our group had acne on her rear end.

Anne knew a number of lesbians, although she claimed that lesbians gave her the creeps. Occasionally she would tell me that she suspected one or another of them might be gay. I would tell her that the woman was obviously gay, that she was naïve not to realize it. She would invariably dismiss my suspicions, saying she wanted to give so-and-so the benefit of the doubt. She finally admitted that one of these friends had made a pass at her, which had scared her so much that she had “jumped about a foot off the ground.”

Anne would occasionally lament that it was unrealistic for her to live up to her Golden Girl persona all the time. (“Golden Girl” was the name of a recent movie about a female super-athlete.) It became quite apparent that she felt she was an all around superior specimen.

One time Anne went surfing and took a bad fall on her board. She said she thought she had a broken rib. I drove her to the hospital and waited for her in the lobby. When she came out half an hour later, I asked her what the doctor had said. Two cracked ribs, she replied. I asked why she wasn’t bandaged. “They don’t do that anymore. He just told me to rest and not move around for two weeks.” She smiled and then grimaced, as if the pain from the cracked ribs had just flared up. I had to admire her physical courage.

I once gave Anne a bicycle for her birthday. Two weeks later it was no longer at her apartment. When I asked her about it, she said she had gotten a flat tire and taken it to a shop. Two months later, the bicycle was still at the shop.

Perhaps a less naive person would have backed away, realizing Anne was a liar. I cringe to think of it now, but at the time I had no inkling. Because I was honest to a fault, I generally don’t suspect others of lying. Anne spoke just the way an honest person would, with an open face and no catch in her voice. And, in my defense, nothing in my experience had prepared me for a liar of such magnitude.

At the time, I used the word “unbelievable” in describing Anne to others. I realized later that perhaps my subconscious was telling me something my conscious mind was too thick to grasp: that she really was not believable. (Ironically, the two sociopaths I’ve known best -- apart from Anne -- constantly used the word “unbelievable” in a negative way, about others.)

A friend once gave Anne two newborn kittens. They were two little bundles of fur with big round eyes, housed in a large cardboard box. A few days later the kittens were no longer at her apartment. I asked what had become of them. “They escaped,” she said, seemingly barely able to suppress her tears. “They just got out somehow.” She appeared genuinely heartbroken.

On another occasion we were on the street when we spotted the actor Paul Newman standing by his car. Before I could stop her, Anne loudly yelled “Hi Paul,” waving as if he were an old friend. He looked confused for a second, gave a small wave, got in his car, and drove off. I asked if she knew him. She said no. Even though I would have found this behavior disgusting in someone else, somehow with Anne I found it charming evidence of her lack of inhibitions, her freedom from the usual social strictures.

Anne had cultivated a couple of very rich friends, or so she said. She seemed to take great pleasure in their friendship, and would often mention their names and talk about how wealthy they were. This was one side of her I did not find charming.

Anne was often irresponsible, showing up late and sometimes not even at all when we had arranged to meet. After this happened a couple times, I would get angry. She would blame a traffic jam or a crisis at work; if I expressed doubt, she would blow up at me, just the way an honest person would if accused falsely. In the face of her righteous anger, I would back down. Occasionally she would even start to cry, seemingly at will, and say that I didn’t know how to be a friend. This got me to wondering -- perhaps I really wasn’t a good friend.

The pattern of irresponsibility continued, and I finally confronted Anne about it. She was very apologetic, and promised to try to be more responsible in the future. I relented. She would frequently tell me how much she liked me, and in what high regard she held me, at one point saying, “I would lay myself right down in the street for you.” While I discounted this last statement, I assumed that she generally felt the emotions she claimed, and consequently forgave her more of her behavior than I would have otherwise.

Sometimes when I got angry at Anne for having said something that wasn’t entirely true, she would say plaintively, “But I was just telling you what you wanted to hear,” as if this excused her lying.

The irresponsibility persisted. Finally I told her that I was sick of it and would no longer see her. Anne then told me that she had cervical cancer. She hadn’t wanted to tell me because she didn’t want me to feel sorry for her; but because she might be dying, she felt she had to compress a lifetime’s worth of living into the years that remained. This was why she would often act so impulsively. As embarrassing as this is for me to admit, I have to admit it: I believed her. Even more embarrassingly, I cried when I told my parents about her on the phone. (To this day I am mortified when I think about how stupid they must think me.)

You're probably aghast at my gullibility; I'd be laughing myself if it hadn’t happened to me. Was I incredibly stupid or just naïve? Well, both.

I look back and think, I was the ultimate innocent. Many people who are taken in by people like Anne report the same reaction, that they can’t believe how naïve they were, but that at the time they somehow just suspended their common sense and good judgment. This is why many victims of con artists don’t report the crimes -- because they are too embarrassed by their own stupidity.

Eventually I realized that Anne was not being truthful, and broke off the relationship for good. Soon after, I had brief affairs with two other women from the pool (including the one whom Anne had told me -- falsely, as it turned out -- had “droopy” breasts”). Each told me how surprised she was when I asked her out, saying that Anne had told her -- and everybody else at the pool -- that I was gay. I also found out that she once told the receptionist at my office that I was gay. I thought this particularly rich since I was the one who was always trying to get her into bed. Soon after Anne stopped coming to our pool. Apparently she had borrowed money from a couple people there and repaid them with bad checks.

Sometime during the next few months, when I was still trying to sort it all out, the phrase “pathological liar” came to me. To find out more, I went to the UCLA psychology library to look it up in an abnormal psychology text. The phrase was listed in the index with the reference, “See ‘sociopath’.” I then spent eight of the most interesting -- and epiphanous -- hours of my life, reading various books on the subject.

Sociopaths are people without conscience. They feel no affection or love, though they frequently counterfeit these emotions well. They feel no remorse or shame. They are impulsive, irresponsible, and deceitful. Because of these characteristics, they are capable of the most heinous acts. Anne was a textbook sociopath.

I finally realized that Anne had not done the time she had claimed in the 200 yard backstroke, and that she had never been engaged to the handsome Olympic champion. I realized that she had lied to me about the other people in our lane, and to them about me, simply to keep us from comparing notes on her. I realized that she had made up the story about how her father had come from a very rich family. I realized that the story about her shooting the intruder had also been made up. I realized that she was not twenty-four as she had claimed, but twenty-six. I realized that Anne’s record of reported conflicts with the business partner and landlord was almost undoubtedly her fault. I realized that she had either sold or given away the bicycle I had given her. I realized that the stories of cracked ribs and cancer were both lies. I realized that her story of how she had felt so sorry for that old lady had just been posturing. I realized that all her protestations of affection were completely hollow. I realized that she was gay herself, despite her story of having “jumped a foot in the air” when that woman made a pass at her; it couldn’t have been coincidence that so many of her women friends were gay, and that Ann herself seemed to just light up whenever there was a teenage girl around. I realized that her kittens had not escaped, that she had probably just flushed them down the toilet or put them in a plastic bag and thrown them in the garbage.

At age twenty-five, with a BA in psychology from a prestigious university, having known people from different social milieus, I had actually thought myself worldly. I was keenly attuned to others’ egotism, insecurities, and hypocrisies (being egotistical, insecure, and at times hypocritical myself). Yet I was obviously not attuned to such thoroughgoing and blatant dishonesty, especially if the liar had nothing to gain but admiration. I could not conceive of basking in the admiration of those whom I had misled about my accomplishments, nor could I conceive of anyone else doing so. I must have been under the impression that having a high IQ meant I wouldn’t be outsmarted by others. Looking back, I cringe.

Ever since, I have been a connoissieur, so to speak, of sociopaths.

We’ve all read about serial killers and other vicious criminals, but it’s hard to make the leap from reading about Ted Bundy to realizing that an acquaintance who looks, acts, and sounds normal may in fact be a sociopath.

Unfortunately, most people brought up in a home with loving parents and normal friends are easy prey for a sociopath. They just naturally interpret others’ behavior in the context of their own, so they can’t conceive of anybody that evil and shameless.

Perhaps I should be thankful that I escaped with only a bruised ego, since that is an inevitable part of life anyway. Many people lose their money, careers, and even lives to sociopaths.

The gay Adonis continued to be friendly despite Anne having told him the only reason I kept in touch with him was to hear about her. (I must admit I was curious to hear about her, but I also liked him and would have kept in touch anyway.) The only thing I heard about Anne after I left California was from a newspaper article that he sent me. A female friend of Anne’s with whom she had made an early morning bicycle date had been killed by a hit-and-run driver while waiting for Anne. Anne had evidently made a huge show of wanting to catch the murderer, both with the local police and with the slain girl’s parents. The focus of the article was on Anne. I could only wonder, would they have suspected Anne if they’d known what she was really like? Was she the murderer? I have no idea; but I do know that she was capable of it, and that if she had been the killer, she would have made just such a huge show of outrage and grief over the girl’s death. I also know that she would have enjoyed playing the role of aggrieved friend, and that she would have played it to the hilt.

I said Anne was a textbook sociopath. Because I knew her over an extended period of time (a very long six months), I got to see her exhibit every major trait of sociopath. She was certainly dishonest; every one of her self-professed “accomplishments” was a lie.

Anne was impulsive. Many times when she didn’t show up for a date it was because she had simply found something (or someone) better to do at the last minute.

Anne was not capable of feeling affection. She loudly claimed to feel love, but she didn’t. Her mother, brought up in an orphanage, had never received -- and thus never learned to -- love; this inability was passed along to Anne. 

Anne was completely shameless. A person who felt shame would certainly not have laid claim to all those bogus accomplishments, and would not have told me another girl at the pool had acne on her rear end. 

Anne was manipulative. She certainly succeeded in making me feel admiration and then sympathy for her.

Anne was destructive. I’m sure she killed those kittens. (If she had given them to someone else, she would have simply said so.)

Anne had a glowing self-image unfettered by pedestrian reality. Sociopaths are always their own biggest fans.

Anne was a natural liar and actress. She was without inhibitions, and her blind self-confidence allowed her to always put up a strong front. Sociopaths can be superhuman as well as subhuman.

Anne was certainly the worst back-stabber I had ever met (up to that point). She did her best to poison my relations with our mutual acquaintances.

All these traits can help sociopaths succeed. Sociopaths thrive wherever there is an absence of knowledge about sociopathy.

If you've been hoodwinked by a sociopath already, knowing that others -- like me -- have been similarly suckered should make you a little less embarrassed by your naivete.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I first came into contact with a sociopath when I was 22. He was similar to Anne - said a lot of unusual things that didn't add up, but I didn't give these discrepancies further thought, instead just rationalised them away. It was only in retrospect that I realised what a pathological liar he was, forever lying when there was no need. I was like you - so baffled that I spent hours reading about his behaviour, getting a copy of Hervey Cleckley's old 1940s work.

Since then, I think I've met a handful of them but I've not quite been hoodwinked in the same way because I am no longer so trusting. I'm wary of very extroverted people who exude confidence to the point of never seeming anxious or regretful about anything. There was one who did try to smear me by spreading a set of lies - accusing me of violence - but by that time I'd learnt my lesson about cutting ties ASAP, which is the only way to mitigate damage. Everyone is a target for sociopaths. Whilst they do make a beeline for anxious and trusting people, they do also try their luck on the streetwise.

And I suspect the same about Anne - she probably killed those kittens. If they'd really run away, she would have mentioned it before you had the chance to ask.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Yes, virtually everyone who is interested in the subject has been burned once. I find it embarrassing that I was so naive -- but It'd be a lot more embarrassing if I contented to get burned after Anne.

BTW, if I had to guess, I'd say she murdered that other woman, too. as I said, I have no way of proving it, but, as always, the sociopath should be the prime suspect.

Cleckley deserves more credit than he gets. He was really the originator in the field, the first to write comprehensively about what was then called "moral insanity," as good a name as any for it.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, John.

I've occasionally wondered if (and I ask this without any judgment whatsoever) you feel any sympathy for the sociopaths you write about; after all, they were victims in the sense that they grew up unloved. Do they have any sense that they are different from most of us? (You've talked about their sense of superiority -- does that extend to everyone they encounter?) To what extent does treatment work in the case of a sociopath ? You've indicated that many seem to hoodwink their therapists. Have you ever read about a sociopath seeking help sincerely, or is that an utter impossibility? Julie

John Craig said...

Julie --
Hi, thank you. To answer you honestly, I feel zero sympathy for sociopaths. You make a good point, sociopaths can't help but be the rattlesnakes they are, it wasn't their fault they were unloved as children, or have frontal lobe damage. Still, they're such nasty creatures, I find myself unable to muster any sympathy. (There are plenty of other people far more deserving.)

Yes, especially as they get older, they realize they're different. The smart ones realize they're sociopaths, though very few of them will ever admit it. And yes, they pretty much feel superior to everyone they meet, unless it's someone they aspire to be like. (A lot of them will figure they're smarter than others just because they can get them to believe their lies; this "proves" their superior intelligence.)

There's certainly no "cure" for sociopathy; character doesn't change after the age of 16 or so (and really, is set far before that). A therapist might get a sociopath to modify his behavior a bit, but therapy won't really change them much. Once a sociopath, always a sociopath.

A sociopath might see a therapist out of curiosity, or possibly to change some small thing, like a phobia, but for the most part, they don't go to therapists to modify their sociopathy. They tend to like themselves -- at least their character -- as it is.

Pavonine99 said...

My great uncle (whom I never knew personally)once put a litter of kittens down a garbage disposer. Even granted that this was back in the day when unwanted litters were often killed, that kind of viciousness makes me certain he was sociopathic even though that's virtually the only thing I knew about him. The other thing I've heard was that he was left-handed, which most sociopaths supposedly are (I'm curious-do you recall if Anne was left-handed also?)
The stories people tell about sociopaths are so strikingly similiar-there's something morbidly fascinating about recognizing the recurring patterns.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
You put it perfectly -- there IS "something morbidly fascinating about recognizing the recurring patterns."

I'd have to know more about your great uncle to pass judgment, but yeah, that's awfully cold.

Never heard the thing about being left-handed before, I doubt that it's true, to be honest. I've heard of correlations between left-handedness and (male) homosexuality, and left-handedness and creativity, but never with sociopathy before.

Pavonine99 said...

Yeah, left-handedness seems to be linked to a number of things- I've heard it connected with Bipolarity, Autism, and ADHD in addition to the traits you mentioned. Here's the abstract of the handedness/psychopathy study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11186158
I'd agree that it's far from the most reliable sociopathic indicator though- while Clinton is left-handed, Gingrich isn't, etc.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
Interesting, thanks. I wish they'd given the statistics on that rather than just saying 'reduced righthand dominance."

I'm left-handed myself. No wonder I'm such a misfit.

I've also heard, btw, that left-handedness is correlated with earlier deaths.

Steven said...

...and left handedness and being the President of the United States.

Thanks, this was a good read. I always enjoy your autobiographical stuff.

I've never really been burned by a sociopath, unless some bully I knew in school was one. He was in my group of friends and he was certainly toxic, cruel and apparently without empathy. I do wonder.

Steven said...

She might have just let the kittens go in the street or the park. You couldn't really put them in your own bin alive and are they not too big to flush?

The murder is scary though...meet me here at such and such a time then turn up with a car a hit her. She's gotta be the main suspect.

You ever had your IQ tested?

Steven said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handedness_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

weird eh?

Anonymous said...

So the gay Adonis from the pool was actually gay? Upon reading that 15-minute secret, I assumed she was lying about that, so if she wanted to have an affair with the guy, you'd never suspect it.

John Craig said...

Steven --
In order:

Thank you.

My guess is, that bully probably turned out to be one.

True, they might have clogged the toilet; but she could have just wrapped them up in a plastic garbage bag and dropped them in the trash somewhere.

I agree about her being the main suspect.

Yes.

That IS pretty surprising about how many Presidents are.

John Craig said...

Anon --
He actually was. Good point, she might well have been lying about that too, but I knew him well enough to know.

I met his boyfriend once, I remember him getting half a hard-on in the locker room a couple times, and he tried to get me to go to a bathhouse with him one time (I didn't go, of course). In a similar spirit, I asked him if he'd ever tried a girl. He said yeah, once. I said, well, how was it?

His answer, which he gave with a somewhat disgusted shrug: "You could stick your dick up a horse's ass and it would feel good."

I'm sure I must have had friends before him who turned out to be gay, but he was the first gay guy I ever new who was actually out. Pleasant guy, good sense of humor, remarkably handsome. it was interesting for me to meet him when I was 24.

Steven said...

Yeah I looked him up on facebook and saw a picture of him with his girlfriend. I feel sorry for her. I can't imagine somebody being that abusive and then growing up and changing but who knows.

10% of people left handed and 5 out of the last 7 presidents- crazy.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yeah, the DSM and other sources will tell you you're not supposed to diagnose sociopathy until someone is 18, but really, you can often tell a lot earlier than that.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post (article). Thank you for it. When someone doesn't "get" your experiences (I've told people that my ex is a sociopath) with a disordered person, I can hand a copy of this post to them and say, read it, this describes a sociopath to a tee. I too grew up in a sheltered home, being naive, thinking that most people were like me, never imagining (not putting too much thought into how other people operated) that there are truly evil people among us, interacting with me. Your experiences and gift of writing can alert others to their existence, hopefully, causing others to avoid them. I have encountered sociopaths in the work place, only realizing fully what they were after comparing notes with other employees. The ones that I eventually figured out were actual sociopaths were either fired from their jobs or quit their jobs. They wreak havoc wherever they are.

=birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Thank you, as always. I think a lot of people would hear a story like mine and think, geez, is that guy naive. But you have to have experienced something similar to really understand how sociopaths operate. They all have these reality distortion fields, and if you're young and naive -- as I was -- you can get sucked in without fully realizing what is happening.

My last boss on Wall Street was an obvious sociopath, but at my office, people didn't seem to realize it (most didn't understand the concept of sociopathy). I could tell, from the way people talked about him, that they simply weren't on to him. And these were theoretically sophisticated, intelligent people, in their 30's, 40's, and even 50's. I would have educated them, but I couldn't take the risk of having it get back to him.

Anyway, it's a little embarrassing for me to put up a post like this, but I do think it's important for people who've been suckered by a sociopath to know they're not alone.

Anonymous said...

There was a poster on another website (that educates the public about their existence) who posted that a lot of sociopaths are left handed (my ex is left handed), have attention deficit disorder (I suspect it with my ex), etc. What I do know is that all the sociopaths that I've known have all created unnecessary DRAMA, headaches for those around them, each one of them lying, stealing, etc. Once I can identify a person as a sociopath, that person is on the peripheral of (like my kids' dad) (or completely out of) my life. I learned about them later than you, John, but, at least we know about them (which is a plus for us).

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Yes, DRAMA, well put. One ends up having to walk on eggshells around them, then avoiding them as much as possible. Really, in the end, steering clear is the only realistic solution.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this story is so eerily similar to the apparent sociopath that I was involved with for 6 months, up until May. I didn’t even know what the word meant, until another girl he was involved with told me that’s what he was. I started doing my research (as I’m always hungry for more knowledge on things like this, being the one duped (among others)) and your blog has hit on so many notes of the rollercoaster that I went through during what felt like years. It’s incredible. Even your upbringing is very similar to mine, as my hardest question to answer was “why me and what did I do to make him want to do this to me?” I’ve been in therapy since, and my therapist is a wonderful woman who has a background in criminal activity, so she helps me with dealing with ALL the unanswered questions. Since we got rid of him (he was all too happy to leave town, as I would imagine he’s done many, many times before), we have since discovered hundreds of lies, ranging from very simple, to even a fake cancer (which I threw him a “Cancer Free Party” that he was all too eager to have, where he received multiple gifts, gift cards and money). Anyway, I just want to thank you, as each time I read such posts, it helps me heal, knowing I am far from alone in what I went through.

GeneticPsycho . said...

Hi John, It is great that you were able to find out by six months, so don't be embarrassed. I was married to a sociopath and didn't start checking his stories until after 10 years.

As for recognizing recurring patterns (in addition to my family tree, I attract lots of psychopathic families); There is a high incidence of concurrent ADHD, and also left-handedness.

I'm hoping to find a facial marker? Make life easier.

-Tina

John Craig said...

Anon --
It is amazing how similarly so many of them act, isn't it? As Pavonine said above, there's something morbidly fascinating about recognizing the recurring patterns.

You should never ask yourself "why me?" The reason he chose you is because you were there and he realized shortly that you didn't see him for what he was, a liar. That's all. A sociopath has no humane feelings towards anyone, period. We're all potential victims for a sociopath until we get burned.

Next time you won't be so gullible. The best therapy is simply to see how many other people have been hoodwinked.

Hope reading about my stupidity/naivete made you feel a little less foolish yourself.

John Craig said...

Tina --
Yikes, that's a long time to be victimized by a sociopath. Hope you've recovered by now.

A second yikes, I'm left-handed and sometimes suspect myself o having ADD, if not ADHD. But I know I'm not a sociopath.

It's almost impossible to find a facial marker. The only thing I've ever noticed is that a lot of male Caucasian heterosexual serial killers seem to have thin lips. I've mentioned this before on the blog, and as I always say, I can think of no reason why this would be so, but I've noticed it so many times that it's uncanny. Other than that, there are no facial markers other than the fact that sociopaths tend to be very relaxed, so often have no expression on their faces. But we all have that from time to tim, so much better to look of behavior patterns. After all, it's those which define the sociopath.

Anonymous said...

I was in relationship (business/family) with a narcissist/sociopath.

I was gas-lighted for 6 months by this person.

One year on and this person has since married a family member, is an equal director (was employed by me as a low level technician) in what was formerly my business and recently purchased a million dollar home.

I ended up with some sort of PTSD and I'm no longer the person I was. It doesn't help my family took her side (although recently the sociopaths behavior has been questioned by my Mum to me who had once been a vehement supporter).

The socio/narcissist seemed to enjoy the whole thing and even cracked a smile a number of times when things started to take a pretty crappy turn for me.

I think about the situation over and over, obsess and can't seem let go. I question whether I'm the crazy one daily (or nightly 3am here).

Anyway crazies off to bed.

A.




Anonymous said...

"a lot of male Caucasian heterosexual serial killers seem to have thin lips."
Funny you should mention that. I've been noticing that almost every black criminal (male or female) has very large, puffy lips. Almost every single one of them. It's uncanny.

John Craig said...

A --
Wow, that situations sucks. By the time everyone else discovers what she's really like, it'll be too late, as she already has a stake in the family business.

Generally, if you're worried about being crazy, you're not crazy. (It's the people who worry only about the messages they're getting from billboards who OUGHT to be worrying about being crazy.)

Well, good luck, you'll need it.

jova said...

interesting story.

Thankfully I never dated a sociopath, regular girls are tough enough to deal with. I only had one who really messed with my head.

the 2 sociopaths I knew were both males. One is doing life in Prison, the other guy is actually fun to hang out with.

John Craig said...

Jova --
Thanks….consider yourself lucky.

I guarantee you that if you worked on Wall Street, you've known more than two.

Sociopaths are often fun, especially at first, but you have to keep your guard up.

Remnant said...

Fascinating post. The incident about the "bike date" and hit-and-run is chilling.

Would you consider publishing the full manuscript as an e-book or post additional chapters on the blog? Your writings on this are too good to keep to yourself.

Re: thin lips, my extremely unscientific thought on this is that a good number of thin-lipped people have English or French blood. Do you think this is a higher proportion of sociopathy among those populations? Maybe the thin-lipped rule only applies among Western sociopaths.

I believe I have been lucky to have never been overly involved in any extensive interactions or relationship with a sociopath.

John Craig said...

Remnant --
Thank you very much, but I'm going to hold off for now. (Most of the chapters don't hold the semi-gossipy interest that this one does anyway.) And I've already posted what I think is the most interesting (and complete) analysis of a public figure from the manuscript, the one on Bill Clinton:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/08/sociopath-alert-bill-clinton.html

No, I've never noticed an overrepresentation of the English or French among sociopaths. There have been plenty of famous serial killers and sociopathic leaders from Eastern Europe too. Vlad the Impaler, of Romanian descent, was definitely a sociopath. Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian leader, was. Russian Andrei Chikatilo is one of the most famous and prolific serial killers….I could go on, but naming individuals doesn't really prove anything. In any case, I haven't noticed a higher incidence among the British or French. My own observations on thin lips, by the way, are completely unscientific too, but for some reason I keep noticing it.

You're lucky to have never been involved with a sociopath; or your instincts on that score have just been better than mine were.

Bob Wallace said...

I became interested after I got involved with a narcissistic woman.

John Craig said...

Bob --
Makes sense; I think that's how most of us develop an interest in the subject.

Anonymous said...

You develop interest in us because, A) the thick ones are all over the news or often do the weirdest of stuff B) the superior ones are often rich more powerful better looking and generally more successful than 99% of the population, better gene pool ; )
Buzzer

John Craig said...

Buzzer --
Spoken like a true sociopath. The difference is not a superior gene pool, it's a worse upbringing. Sociopaths, like the rest of us, come in the full range of looks and IQ's.

There may actually be a difference in looks, on average, simply because sociopaths are much more likely to get plastic surgery, take steroids, pay close attention to their dress, etc.

Anonymous said...

Stop projecting, John.

John Craig said...

Anon --
What?? Do you think I was projecting my own behavior onto Anne?

My guess is that you're the one who's projecting.

Anonymous said...

Not your behaviour, that isn't how it works. Go read some more and get back to me.

John Craig said...

Anon --
If I were projecting my thoughts onto Anne, I would have been able to see through her in the first place.

I've been starting to get comments from sociopaths recently. My guess is you're one.

Anonymous said...

That's true and a good point, I meant more retrospectively projecting then I guess.

If you ask me, the majority of the lies you mentioned (if they were indeed lies) seemed pretty common and benign. I certainly wouldn't have seen her mention of Adonis being gay as something to criticise - she probably sensed your discomfort at how familiar they were and wanted to reassure you.

Well, you're the qualified psychologist, though I can't say I see many sociopathic traits in myself; and I am partial to a spot of introspection. I'd advise you to do some soul searching too, if there's still one in there. Your Robin Williams post doesn't do a great job of persuading me to believe otherwise.

- Your aspie friend

John Craig said...

Anon --
Ah, it's you. Okay, you're not a sociopath.

First, keep in mind this all happened in 1979; gay liberation wasn't widely accepted back then the way it is now.

As far as having a "soul" goes, if your definition of having one means not telling the truth, then I am definitely soulless.

Anonymous said...

John, I am sorry that happened to you. But now that you are more aware hopefully it will never happen again.

I think somehow (just like you knowthat you're not a sociopath) you start to know that other people are, as Martha Stout says, follow your instinct?

And of course, the longer you spend time with the person in question also, the more accurate your diagnosis might be.

I guess there are just telltale signs -like the frequent requests for pity/sympathy (which you obviously encountered on more than one occasion).

My understanding from Martha Stout's book is that sociopaths can live moral, ethical lives if they are in a community that supports these values (they can't know instinctively that some behaviour is just wrong, as other people might).

W/respect to ADHD/handedness, it is possible there is a connection, but it seems like nurture could be a predictor too. That mother/child bond is very impt to get right. Be thankful if you did have that!

John Craig said...

Anon --
You have (I think) been writing a number of comments recently. Do me a favor and use a name (doesn't have to be your real name) so I know it's you. A lot of people just use the "anonymous" handle, if they're only going to write one comment it's fine, but I like to know "who" I'm talking to.

No, I can guarantee you, it won't happen again, in fact never has, since I was 25.

The thing about sociopaths is, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors and sexual identities and accents and mannerisms, so you really have to get to know someone before you can tell. Sometimes they give themselves away fairly quickly, but the smarter ones tend to be able to hide it longer. (None of them can hide it forever.)

I disagree with Stout on that, a sociopath will never live a moral, ethical life; it's just not in his nature. They may masquerade as moral and ethical, and they may censure others for their unethical behavior (no one gets higher on his high horse than a sociopath), but in the long run, their utter lack of a conscience will tell.

(I wasn't wild about Stout's book, btw; I think the best book I've ever read on the subject is "The Antisocial Personalities," by David Lykken.)

Couldn't agree with you more about the mother/child bond, and yes, thanks, I was lucky in that regard.