According to Martha Stout, Ph.D. and her book The Sociopath Next Door, sociopaths make up 4% of our society in the West. That’s about 1 in 25 people walking around among us without a conscience, without the ability to measure, or care to measure, the morality of their decisions and actions. Would you know how to identify a sociopath if you saw one, met one, started an intimate relationship or entered into a business contract with one? More than likely the answer is “no,” because unlike what we read on the television news or see in Hollywood movies, sociopaths aren’t just serial killers and murderers. Rather, they are members of our communities who we would never suspect of evil or wrong doing and who seamlessly blend into society with the rest of us.
Imagine someone you respect and whom many others respect unconditionally in your community, city, or small town. He’s a CEO, chief of police, principal, or football coach. He has a college degree in one hand and a glass of expensive scotch in the other. He wears a Rolex or TAG Heuer on his wrist. He has a nice pearly white smile and the manners and charm of a prince. He has a squeaky clean driving record, a home, a wife, and children. He has influential friends. He shares lunch with judges and other high-profile leaders in your community. He’s the person everyone trusts and honors.
Now imagine an abuser, rapist, or murderer in your mind. What does he look like? Is he a filthy, jobless degenerate with an alcohol or anger management problem? Is he the guy who yells at his wife in public and spanks his kid in the check-out line of your local grocery store? Does he smoke and wear clothes with holes in them? Does he drink Pabst or MGD out of a can? Does he swear and curse in the presence of women, children, and the elderly?
Hmmmm? What if I told you that the person you should be most fearful of and suspicious of being sociopathic is the one most respected in your community? What if I told you the dirty, jobless guy is the least of your community’s concerns? (He’s still a problem, but he’s easy to spot and monitor.) What if I told you the very person you think you should trust is the one person with whom your secrets, interests, desires and vulnerabilities should never be shared? Kind of pisses you off, doesn’t it? It should scare you, too.
But not all is lost. You can still protect yourself. There are ways to identify who could be the sociopath in your life. The first step toward identifying a sociopath is to first recognize people with a Cluster B personality disorder. These include:
*Antisocial personality disorder—
- Disregard for others
- Persistent lying or stealing
- Recurring difficulties with the law
- Repeatedly violating the rights of others
- Aggressive, often violent behavior
- Disregard for the safety of self or others
Borderline personality disorder—
- Impulsive and risky behavior
- Volatile relationships
- Unstable mood
- Suicidal behavior
- Fear of being alone
Histrionic personality disorder—
- Constantly seeking attention
- Excessively emotional
- Extreme sensitivity to others’ approval
- Unstable mood
- Excessive concern with physical appearance
Narcissistic personality disorder—
- Believing that you’re better than others
- Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
- Exaggerating your achievements or talents
- Expecting constant praise and admiration
- Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
All sociopaths suffer from at list one (if not all) of the Cluster B disorders, but not all folks afflicted with a Cluster B disorder are sociopaths. Alone, a Cluster B can wreak havoc on your life if you allow it, and the more overlapping of the four disorders a Cluster B possesses, the more destructive he can be. It won’t be until it’s almost too late for victims of Cluster B personalities to know or even suspect that the Cluster B is also a sociopath.
But how can we, as lay persons, make that determination and measure the leap from having JUST a personality disorder to being a sociopath without a conscience? How can we accurately, as non-scientists, measure the truth and conscience of another person? Out of respect for the researchers in the field of psychology and neurology, we can’t. Only a skilled and experienced professional in the field can diagnose or determine the mental state of a person we date, marry, or cohabitate. But we can still listen to our intuition and act in order to protect our own mental health and existence and that of our children.
So, instead of waiting to find out if your Cluster B is also a sociopath, it’s best to be on the safe side and assume that he is. In my experience with a sociopath, I made the mistake of trying to disprove he was a narcissist (because who wants to accept being a victim?) when I should have gone with the safer assumption that he was a full-blown sociopath. I would have escaped sooner, and then I could have spent my time away from him (in a safe place) reflecting, researching, and making the determination as to what he was and remains to be. Making such an extreme assumption is not a very scientific or politically-correct thing to do, but it certainly would have saved me a lot of blame, shame, and guilt. I recommend that each of you, if in an abusive relationship, assume the person who is abusing you (physically, emotionally, and/or sexually) to be a sociopath and get out, seek support, and try to put your life back together before it’s too late.
This is nothing to joke about. There may only be 1 in 25 people who are sociopaths (and that’s a low estimate, in my opinion), but there are far more people in our society afflicted with one or more of these equally relationship-destructive disorders of Cluster B. We prevent and seek early detection for diseases like cancer and heart disease. Shouldn’t we be preventing and seeking early detection of the potential mental health dangers of others who could, in turn, destroy our own mental health and ruin our lives completely?
*Antisocial vs. Asocial Behavior
One very important distinction needs clarified: antisocial behavior and asocial behavior are NOT the same thing and often misunderstood and erroneously defined by us lay people.
Antisocial behavior does not mean a person avoids social situations. On the contrary, folks who are antisocial participate to a high degree in social activities and use people and public situations in order to exploit or cause harm.
Asocial behavior is defined as an avoidance of social situations. People who are asocial reject or fear social situations, people, and events. These individuals are not charming, charismatic, or in search of attention.