(Martha Nicholas, center)
An article appeared on AOL News today about a woman who pretended to have Stage 4 ovarian cancer, and obtained money from people for her treatment, thereby pulling off a neat sociopathic double play.
Scamming people for money is the province of con men, and con men are usually sociopaths. But getting money under false pretenses by itself does not necessarily mean sociopathy.
Most con men take advantage of others' greed. That doesn't justify what they do, and only makes it slightly more palatable. But if you're ripping off people who are trying to help you, who feel sorry for you, you can't possibly have any shame.
And not feeling any shame is the defining characteristic of a sociopath.
Martha Nicholas almost undoubtedly has Munchausen's Syndrome, which causes people to feign illnesses in order to gain sympathy and attention. Munchausen's is never exhibited by nonsociopaths. Nicholas's "illness" probably started off merely as a ploy for sympathy, since affect-hungry (meaning, hungry for affection) sociopaths have a bottomless need for positive feelings from others, and will do anything to get them.
Imagine that people are holding a large fundraiser in your honor, to help you fight your "illness." You smile bravely and try to fight back the tears as you say that you don't know whether each day will be your last. You're not really sick, you're just a malingerer. Yet you bask in the sympathy and attention you are receiving. Wouldn't you feel just a little bit embarrassed?
Martha Nicholas didn't.
Nicholas’ attorney, Sam Simpson, said, “This was not a scam to rip people off. There is an illness. It’s a mental illness, and I can’t say more about this.”
The mental illness he is referring to is Munchausen's Syndrome. He will undoubtedly evoke it in her defense at her trial, and hope that people don't realize it's just a form of sociopathy.