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The Sociopath Next Door abbreviated notes

Martha Stout

[The author presented a number of fictional case studies in this book to vividly illustrate the
characteristics of different types of sociopaths. Most of those are omitted from this summary.]

Introduction

Sociopaths--who are also known as “psychopaths” and “antisocial personalities”--are mentally ill
people who have an inability to form emotional bonds with other people and who behave
recklessly. These two traits often lead them to lives of crime or to quiet abuse of the people
around them. They are disproportionately represented in prisons, but are also encountered on a
daily basis in normal life. Most sociopaths are male, but contrary to popular belief, they are no
smarter than most people and their intelligence spread mirrors that of the broader population.
Moreover, most sociopaths don’t end up in jail and instead live their lives mixed in with
everyone else. They are highly manipulative of the people around them and can tell lies
convincingly and also fake emotions for effect, like crying at critical moments to elicit sympathy
even though they don‘t actually feed sad at all. Though they are incapable of forming emotional
bonds, they still experience reptilian emotions like anger, exhilaration, and jealousy. Their
mindset is entirely alien to normal people, which makes it hard for the people around them to
recognize the patterns in their behavior. They are a cancer on society, and all people should be on
guard against them and know how to spot and deal with them.

4% of the U.S. population is either psychopathic or has psychopathic tendencies. [The more
commonly cited figure is 1%. The author might be exaggerating.]

Normal people make the mistake of assuming that everyone else has a conscience and thus
thinks like they do. Sociopaths survive by taking advantage of this ignorance.

Just as not all sociopaths are murderers, not all sociopaths are obsessed with accumulating power
and wealth: Many sociopaths are extremely lazy, hedonistic people whose goal it is to get by in
life with as little effort as possible. These sorts of sociopaths usually live in or close to poverty
and use their parasitic personalities to leech money and help from their families and other people
around them.

Sociopaths are good at faking emotions, and it’s common for them to pretend like they’re
depressed in order to gain sympathy and help from people around them and to have some excuse
for not working. It’s not uncommon for them to also pretend that they’re artistic or eccentric
geniuses, again in order to outwardly legitimize their strange behavior and lifestyle.

The DSM-IV criteria for diagnosing sociopaths (at least three = probably a sociopath)
-Failure to conform to social norms
-Deceitfulness/manipulativeness
-Failure to plan ahead
-Irritability/aggressiveness
-Reckless disregard for self or others

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-Consistent irresponsibility
-Lack of remorse for mistakes and misdeeds

Dr. Hare’s personality checklist is the medical profession’s standard for diagnosing sociopathy.

Additional criteria that most mental health experts recognize


-Superficial charm/charisma
-Absurd grandiosity (most people think they’re joking or just dismiss it as amusing)
-Abnormally strong need for stimulation
-Trick normal people into helping them or taking risks for them
-Lie pathologically
-Had behavior problems as children and as children never displayed real remorse for their
misdeeds
-View their spouses as possessions, status symbols, or objects that complete the sociopath’s
façade

Even though sociopathy is more common in the general population than other illnesses like
anorexia and colon cancer, sociopathy is not considered at “epidemic” levels though the other
diseases are often said to be.

Not all sociopaths take pleasure in violence and murder; many are simply indifferent. This
largely explains why only a minority of sociopaths ever kills or rapes.

Even classifying sociopathy as a mental disorder is somewhat controversial since the sociopath’s
mindset lends clear advantages and since sociopaths are usually satisfied with themselves. In
fact, sociopaths typically go to psychiatrists only if court-ordered to do so or if they are suffering
from some other problem.

Chapter 1: The Seventh Sense

People do good and sometimes extraordinarily good things (like saving a baby from a burning
house) each day, but they are not always motivated by conscience. Other motivations include:
-Force of habit
-Social pressure/fear of what other people will think of them if they don’t do the good thing
-Fear of legal or other consequences
-[Adrenaline junkie]

A sociopath could therefore do things that made him look like a good, caring person even though
his real motivations are shallow.

Conscience is based in our emotions and our emotional connections with other humans.

6th Sense = Intuition


7th Sense = Conscience

The author goes through a long analysis of the evolution of the concept of conscience, starting

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with the Ancient Greeks.

Superego and conscience


-Superego is the internal voice of reason. It is not the same as conscience.
-Superego uses guilt to control behavior.
-Superego is fear-based whereas conscience is based in love.
-Conscience sometimes makes people act against superego. A good example would be risking or
sacrificing oneself for other people.

Chapter 2: Ice people

The story of “Skip”--a highly intelligent, well-connected sociopath who becomes extremely
successful and also terrorizes and hurts many people throughout his life.

All people are irrationally influenced by appearance. Sociopaths are adept at using this to their
advantage. [If you are interacting with someone else, your reaction to them will be swayed by
their sex, attractiveness, age, clothing, accent, race, etc. None of these outward factors should
influence you, but they do.]

Since Skip feels no need for human companionship, he doesn’t waste much time worrying about
romance or friendship. He marries, but mainly because the marriage gets him into a very wealthy
family. He can tell that the woman is very passive and won’t bother him over his strange and
detached lifestyle and behavior.

Sociopaths love to control other people, from entire nations to just their own spouses.

Sociopaths most often abuse animals and children because they are easy targets and such abuse is
easy to keep secret.

A small number of sociopaths sense that something--deep emotions and a sense of connectedness
with other people--is missing from their lives, but they can never quite conceptualize it. The
psychopathic and healthy mindsets are truly alien from each other.

Signs of a sociopath:
-Amuses themselves with animal cruelty. Just as they have no emotional attachment to humans,
they have no attachment to animals. Seeing a human or animal die or suffer causes the sociopath
no distress and in fact sociopaths often find it funny or empowering to torture and/or kill animals
(and sometimes humans). Look for animal cruelty in childhood.
-Close family members are usually aware there is something wrong and creepy with the
sociopath, but they usually don’t understand that the person suffers from a specific mental
disorder. The family members might never or only rarely discuss it with each other.
-Engages in promiscuous sex. Has had many sexual partners and many short-term relationships.
Often became sexually active at a younger age than average. Unfortunately, among men,
promiscuity and womanizing is usually smiled upon and will gain the sociopath respect and
acceptance from male groups.
-If married, the relationship is usually stilted and the partners emotionally disconnected, though

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the couple may do a good job concealing this from outsiders. More often though, the marriage
will be short-lived. Sociopaths have no problems marrying for money, status or social and
business connections.
-Are found disproportionately in business, sales and politics, where they often excel thanks to
their natural (yet shallow) charisma, boldness (recklessness), ability to lie convincingly, and high
energy level (need for constant amusement and stimulation). Sociopaths like these jobs because
they can make a living by using their force of personality and their ruthlessness to make other
people do all the real work for them.
-Can lie about anything in a completely convincing manner. This ability stems from their
emotional disconnection. Sociopaths also often use outrageous logic to justify their actions (I.e. -
“I didn’t kill him, the bullets from my gun did.” “Working at Auschwitz was tough on me, too. It
hurt my legs to always be standing at the guard tower. The fact that the Jews wouldn’t die fast
enough really hassled me.”)
-Refuses to take responsibility for mistakes or misdeeds. Will lie, blame someone else, or make
up ridiculous excuses.
-Are excellent at manipulating other people and also have a natural instinct for identifying
weaker personalities they can push around or control.
-Manipulation of other people might start in childhood. Look for a student who does badly in
school and also misbehaves, but who has managed to charm some or all of their teachers into
overlooking their problems.
-Often suffer from substance abuse or addictions to things like gambling or sex. This is the case
because of their impulsiveness and need for constant stimulation.
-Become bored easily. Often complain about being bored.

How sociopaths think and see other people:


-Sociopaths are incapable of loving anyone, including their parents, siblings, spouses, and
children. They might enjoy a person’s company because the person brings them pleasure (like
frequent praise, free meals, interesting conversation, or some other valuable service), but the
person by themselves has no value. Therefore, a sociopath might feel disappointed if his mother
died because it would mean no more free meals and birthday presents, but he would not feel the
profound sense of despair that normal people do. To a sociopath, all people have purely
instrumental and never intrinsic value.
-A sociopath would probably look forward to the death of their parents since it would mean
inheriting money and property.
-Sociopaths have an abstract but never an intuitive understanding of human ethics and laws.
Through years of being indoctrinated by society and often through painful trial and error, they
come to understand that crimes like murder and theft are illegal and considered “wrong” by
everyone else, but the sociopath never truly accepts that such crimes are bad. Sociopaths think
that other people are stupid and gullible for buying into these laws and ethical rules of conduct,
which the sociopath never understands or values at an emotional level. Sociopaths sometimes
can’t believe that normal people actually have such ridiculous consciences, and they start
thinking that maybe everyone in the world is really psychopathic like they are, but the sociopath
is the only one who is actually honest about it. They usually have a disdain for normal, moral
people, whom they also consider weak for being unable to commit crimes when it would suit
their interests (I.e. - You are weak because you don’t just go kill that coworker who keeps
bothering you even though you could get away with it).

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Sociopaths often have people around them who will vehemently defend them from accusations
of wrongdoing or bad character. These people have usually been seduced by the sociopath’s
charm or are materially dependent upon them.

Sociopaths like to target people whom they envy or consider to be strong in moral character. For
example, a female sociopath will try to undermine women who are younger or more attractive
than they are.

Chapter 3: When normal conscience sleeps

In normal people, the strength of the conscience wavers due to a number of factors:
-Physical exhaustion
-Illness or injury
-Fear
-Hormones and sexual attraction
-Drug-induced alterations in mindset
-Non-psychopathic mental illness (“The voices in my head told me to kill.”)

Sociopathic leaders can lead nations to war and disaster. This has happened many times in
human history. They usually play up the passions, prejudices, angst, and fears of the masses and
convince them that an “outsider” group (like a particular ethnic minority, class, or foreign
country) is responsible for the nation’s problems. The leader then takes the country to war or
genocide, and millions of ordinary people commit or help commit atrocities in the leader’s name.

In such situations, why don’t moral individuals in the masses stand up for what is right?
-They are afraid of retaliation from the government or its supporters.
-They assume that everyone else supports the government and they’ll be the only ones standing
against it.
-Humans are naturally obedient to authority and will obey orders even if they are immoral.

The Milgram Experiments (1960-1) examined the phenomenon of human obedience to authority
-Experimental setup: Test subjects sit in front of a set of dials and electrical equipment and are
told to administer electrical shocks to a second person sitting out of view in another room every
time that person answers a question wrong. An authority figure stands in the presence of the test
subject while this is going on and orders them to push the shock button. The second person is not
really being shocked, but pretends like they are by screaming in pain. The shocks increase in
voltage incrementally, and within a few minutes, the fake second person demands to be released
from the experiment and unstrapped from their electric chair, but the authority figure tells the test
subject to ignore their pleas and continue shocking. In some versions of the experiment, the
second person screams louder and louder until suddenly stopping, suggesting that they have died,
but the test subject is asked to continue shocking them even after that.
-34/40 test subjects continued shocking even after the second person demanded to be released.
-25/40 test subjects continued shocking all the way until the machine maxed out at 400 volts.
-When the experimental design was changed so that the test subject only had to call out “X
volts!” right before each shock was administered by a confederate, 37/40 test subjects kept

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helping right until the end. [If a person’s role in the immoral process is minimized, they feel less
responsible.]
-Female shock rates were the same as those for males: Women are not more moral than men.
-If an authority is perceived as legitimate, then the subordinate will shift responsibility for their
own actions to the authority. Morality is suspended.
-Obedience to authority is usually a very useful and prosocial trait that helps the whole group.
After all, most leaders are benign and moral and will not direct their subordinates to behave
badly. However, when sociopaths get into power they can hijack this dynamic for evil purposes.
-Test subjects were much more likely to obey orders given by an instructor dressed in a lab coat
than those given by a man in common clothes. Perceptions of authority rest heavily on physical
appearance. [Inbuilt into the human psyche? Explains why some uniforms are so ostentatious?
Do authorities in cultures across the world and across history naturally favor elaborate dress?]
In an educated populace, average citizens feel as if they are closer in intelligence and knowledge
to their leaders, which makes them less likely to blindly obey.

TV news is problematic, since it can make anyone seem like an intelligent authority. [Everyone
on news shows wears a suit, has make-up and nice hair, speaks clearly, has some at least
superficially impressive title or accomplishment. Therefore, everyone on TV looks like an
authority figure and most viewers automatically impute weight to their words.]

The military and killing on the battlefield


-Normal human beings are actually very poor fighters in many ways. An average man thinks he’s
tough enough to kill when the need arises, but in truth, the vast majority of men--even after
intense military training--have an almost paralyzing aversion to shooting other people in battle.
They usually don’t know this about themselves until the moment of truth when they actually
have to shoot someone. This is why the vast majority of war fatalities are caused by weapons and
tactics (artillery, bombers, land mines, destruction of enemy crops to cause mass starvation) that
don’t require the attackers to see the people they’re killing. It also explains why mental problems
are the most common in military units that engage in face-to-face killing with enemies (the
infantry). [In WWII, the Nazi genocide was first carried out through mass shootings of thousands
of minorities and prisoners per day in Eastern Europe. However, the German units responsible
for this soon began complaining about the damage it was doing to their morale and psychological
health. This is one of the reasons the Nazis switched to death camps for carrying out the Final
Solution: No one German in the whole chain had to kill anyone face-to-face, though many
sadistic Germans still did so anyway.]
-The military has conducted extensive studies on combat behavior over the decades that have
confirmed this. It has also been noted that units fight harder (fired faster and inflicted more
deaths on the enemy) when their commander is physically present alongside them as opposed to
out of sight in a rear area. Proximity to one’s leader has a strong effect on behavior.
-Natural human sympathy and the consequent aversion to killing--even in war--is very strong.
The enemy must be demonized and thought of as subhuman in order for your troops to be willing
to kill them.
-Mental problems--especially PTSD--are very common among veterans who have killed enemy
troops they could see.
-Sociopaths make excellent soldiers since they have no problems killing the enemy and are
naturally reckless, which can produce seemingly courageous behavior on the battlefield.

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Human beings are both strongly averse to killing each other and strongly obedient towards
authority. This produces an interesting tension in situations like warfare.

Wars are often caused by sociopath leaders who gain control over millions of ordinary, obedient
people.

Chapter 4: The nicest person in the world

Sociopaths commonly put a lot of effort into their physical appearance and into a well-cultivated
persona.
People who know sociopaths usually fail to see the patterns in their behavior or ignore the
warning signs out of incredulity. [“He can’t be that dishonest…”]
A “covetous sociopath” seeks to bring down people around them whom they consider superior.
Sociopaths are experts at using threats, blackmail, bluffing, lies, and all sorts of other dirty tricks
to control or hurt people around them. They also have a strong knack for sensing weakness in
other people and coming up with ways to exploit that weakness.

Chapter 5: Why conscience is partially blind

More characteristics of sociopaths:


-Very charismatic, magnetic and charming. (The most interesting person at the party. Everyone
wants to talk to them or hear them speak.)
-Often have a certain “look” in their eyes that can be either hypnotizing or disturbing.
-Follow high-risk, spur-of-the-moment, adventurous lifestyles that often attract people who want
excitement. The sociopath often uses these people for money, sex, to take risks for criminal ends,
or something else and then ditches them after they’re of no further use.
-Will shamelessly use good looks and sexual blackmail to neutralize enemies.
-Are naturally good actors and will feign interest and emotional responses when necessary.
-When finally cornered for their misdeeds, the sociopath will start crying or fly into righteous
indignation to drive away enemies. It’s always an act.
-Sociopaths sometimes self-proclaim themselves to be animal lovers, artists, charity workers, or
some other benign type of person so as the reduce suspicion of their true character.
-After a sociopath has finally been exposed and punished, it’s very common for several people
who knew them to come forward and voice long-held suspicions and strange observations they
had never before shared. Each person knew that something was wrong with the sociopath, but
lacking any knowledge of abnormal psychology and unsuspecting that the sociopath had such an
alien mindset, the people never were able to understand what was really going on. The common
refrain is that each person kept quiet about what they knew about the sociopath because “It was
too crazy for anyone else to believe.”
-A sociopath’s behavior makes no sense if you start from the assumption that they think like you
do.

The inability to form emotional attachments with other humans is perhaps the biggest hallmark
of psychopathy.

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Humans have a natural sense of right and wrong and are inclined to point out and punish
wrongdoing. Unfortunately, too many parents raise their kids to respect authority figures and
other people to the point of ignoring gut feelings about wrongdoing. A parent should instead
teach their children to trust their instincts about people and to report bad behavior and avoid
people who give them a bad feeling.

Chapter 6: How to recognize the remorseless

Why non-sociopaths commit crimes


-Rage (extreme emotion overpowers reason and self-control)
-Desperation
-High on drugs
-Obedience to authority (Nazis)
-Deprivation (leads to altered state of mind and abnormal behavior)

Importantly, note that normal people can only commit serious crimes when they’re in extreme
circumstances. They have to be really “worked up” to overcome their strong natural inhibitions,
which have bases in human emotions. Criminal behavior is the exception rather than the rule for
normal people, it occurs only as a last resort, and the normal person usually regrets their actions
later.

A sociopath, by contrast, needs no extra motivation to kill, steal, rape, or lie. By default, they
want to commit these crimes whenever it suits them. Only sociopaths can commit serious crimes
in a cold-blooded fashion.

The easiest way to spot a sociopath is to look for people who try to evoke your pity. The “pity
play” is the commonest behavior among sociopaths. They know that if they can get you to pity
them, you will lower your guard and give them charity and sympathy. They will act grateful to
your face, but internally will think you a gullible fool.

Some of the pity plays will rely upon preposterous logic and hypocrisy. For instance, a sociopath
who constantly hurts other people and commits crimes will claim that he has been hurt or
wronged in some way and needs help, even though he really deserves punishment. Or, a
sociopath who is doing well financially might appeal to you for money.

Not all sociopaths are power-hungry people who want to take over their workplaces or dominate
countries: Many sociopaths have no ambitions in life other than to survive without doing any
work. The worthless bum boyfriend who moves in with his girlfriend and then lounges around all
day sleeping, playing video games, and doing drugs typifies this category of sociopath. This kind
of sociopath will instinctively seek out mates who will be easy to control and suck resources
from, and will then feign interest in them to get into a relationship. Usually, the mate will be a
highly insecure person desperate for affection or some controlling presence in their lives. The
sociopath will then begin leeching off of the mate, and will use manipulative tactics (pantomime
suffering to elicit sympathy, threats, play up mate’s insecurities and fears, etc.) to smooth over
inevitable interpersonal conflicts. The sociopath will commonly fake problems like depression or
claim to have an “artistic temperament” to legitimize their unemployment, which in fact stems

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from laziness. When the relationship ends, the sociopath will simply start searching for a new
mate they can live off of, and the cycle repeats. This is the archetypal parasitic lifestyle of a
sociopath.

Sociopaths can’t love their children and have no real interest in them. They commonly neglect
their children and try to pass off the hard work of parenting to the other parent, to family
members (grandparents) or nannies. A sociopath might spend time with their children just for the
sake of keeping up appearances as a seemingly good parent.

Sociopaths usually have some normal interests like playing video games, exercising, partying,
and watching comedies, and they derive honest pleasure from partaking in them.

Chapter 7: The etiology of guiltlessness: What causes sociopathy?

Fraternal and identical twin studies have revealed that people become sociopaths if they are born
with biological predispositions to the disorder and if their environment encourages sociopath
behavior. There is also a genetic component to psychopathy.

The following core traits are up to 50% genetic:


-Nonconformity to social norms
-Recklessness
-Impulsivity
-Financial irresponsibility
-Lack of remorse

Brain scans reveal that sociopaths don’t have emotional, gut reactions to words like “love” and
“fear.” Normal people always do, even if they don’t display such reactions externally. Instead,
the part of the sociopath’s brain responsible for abstract thinking and reasoning becomes active
when they are showed such words and asked to explain how it makes them feel. The sociopath
feels nothing and instead has to consciously remember what the socially appropriate response is.

Sociopaths don’t honor commitments because they are not emotionally attached to the people
with whom they have made the commitments.

Sociopaths still have the primitive “reptillian” emotions.

Though a narcissist and a sociopath appear very similar in many ways, the key difference is that
narcissists still have the full range of human emotions (including love, guilt and loyalty) and can
form emotional bonds with other people. The narcissist’s big problem is that he can’t perceive
other peoples’ emotions and never knows when he has gone to far insulting or displeasing them.
Narcissists are often miserable because they, like normal people, crave companionship and love
but somehow keep alienating everyone. Sociopaths are largely indifferent to the people around
them, but may also feel bad if they lose someone from their social circle if such a loss deprives
the sociopath of something useful like sex, money, a free place to live, or frequent praise.

For a long time, it was believed that child abuse and childhood attachment disorder were main

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causes of psychopathy, but recent findings have cast doubt on those theories.

It’s also unclear what environmental factors cause psychopathy.

There are proportionately fewer psychopaths in East Asia than there are in the U.S. In all
likelihood, Asian and American populations have the same percent of people naturally inclined to
sociopathy, and cultural factors explain the difference in manifestation of the disorder. America
has a highly individualistic, “me first” culture that values people who accumulate wealth and
power even if it comes at the expense of those around them. East Asian cultures, by contrast,
emphasize conformity and the connectedness between people and things.

Chapter 8: The sociopath next door

The author relates a real-life case study from her own career as a therapist:
-A young woman came to the author for counseling after her father shot and killed a burglar in
their home and the police investigation exposed her father’s criminal double-life. The burglar had
been unarmed and was shot in the back as he tried to run away.
-The father was a middle-aged man who worked as a high school principal. He didn’t have a
criminal record, was popular with his peers and co-workers, was friendly, outgoing, and had been
a married family man for years.
-After several sessions, the author began to see past the family’s all-American veneer. The father
was actually a cold, highly controlling man who married his wife only because she was very
attractive and submissive. She completed his carefully constructed image as a successful member
of the community. The father also drove his daughter very hard to get good grades and go to
medical school because it too would reflect well upon him. The few times she dared to resist his
wishes even a little, he responded very harshly.
-The father was friendly only in a superficial sense: During times of emotional need, he was
completely cold to his family.
-He exhibited strange behaviors, like disappearing for days on end without explanation and
making borderline inappropriate comments and physical contact with attractive female students
at his school.
-The daughter had been conditioned by her father for years to not question him, and she often
defended his questionable behavior to the author during the therapy sessions, but it was clear that
she nonetheless had long sensed there was something wrong with him, but she could never put
the pieces together.
-After the father was arrested for the shooting, the house began receiving cryptic and threatening
phone calls. The daughter discovered what was going on: The father had been secretly involved
in the drug trade for years. He had probably killed other people before the burglar, but got away
with it. The father had angered some drug boss, and the boss had sent the burglar to break into
his house to find a “list of names.” The father never expressed any remorse for the murder.
-The daughter ended up dropping out of med school and becoming a lawyer to help victimized
people. She is estranged from her father.

13 ways to deal with sociopaths in your own life


1) Accept that there are some people in the world who just don’t have consciences.
2) Trust your instincts about people. If someone just seems “bad,” “evil” or “mean,” then they

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probably are. Don’t ignore your instincts or automatically assume that people in benign- or
honorable-sounding occupations (priest, police officer, animal lover, etc.) can’t be sociopaths.
3) Practice “The Rule of Threes” with people around you: Three lies, broken promises, or
neglected responsibilities should give you reason to cut off contact with the person.
4) Question authority. Remember that sociopaths often gravitate to positions of power and
leadership, and they are good at tricking people. Be worried if you ever find yourself in a
situation where the overwhelming majority of people are blindly obeying the leader or the
government, especially if the leader is advocating war or violence. If you are in such a situation,
remember the Milgram experiments and what they revealed about human nature and obedience
to authority.
5) Be suspicious of flattery. It is often part of an attempt to manipulate you. Similarly, be
suspicious of leaders who attempt to inflame your patriotism by flattering your country and
nationality (“America is the greatest country on Earth!”)
6) Never mistake fear for respect. Are you obeying your leader because you trust them and
respect their competence and character, or are you obeying because you are afraid of them, or
because they have made you afraid to do otherwise?
7) Don’t stoop down to the sociopath’s level and try to beat him at intrigues and dirty tricks.
8) If a sociopath enters your life, disconnect from them 100%. No contact whatsoever.
9) Be careful about whom you pity. Don’t pity someone who hurts you or other people. Don’t
pity someone who actively campaigns for your sympathy (“pity plays”). Don’t be afraid to be
impolite (I.e. - Slam door in pitiful sociopath’s face, even if they claim they have nowhere else to
go for the night).
10) Don’t waste time trying to cure sociopaths. They are incurable and their presence will
probably hurt you in some way.
11) If you learn about something bad a sociopath has done, NEVER agree to hide it. The
sociopath will often try to appeal to your pity to get you to keep your mouth shut. The usual line
is “You owe me.”
12) Don’t let the actions of sociopaths destroy your faith in humanity. Remember that 96% of
people ARE NOT sociopaths and in fact are trustworthy and decent.
13) Remember that living well is the best revenge against people you don’t like.

Chapter 9: The origins of conscience

It would seem that sociopaths have critical advantages over conscience-bound people:
Sociopaths can easily kill, steal and lie whenever they need to, they can be very brave, and they
are excellent at manipulating and controlling other people. Clearly, these are all traits that further
their own survival and advancement in life. That being the case, why does conscience even exist?
Isn’t it just a big, needless burden that ties peoples’ hands?

Evolutionary psychology answers these questions. In fact, it is advantageous for the majority of
people to have consciences.

If everyone were a sociopath, civilization would fall apart and the human race would die out.
Average people would kill and grievously injure each other all the time for trivial reasons. Since
mistrust and irresponsible behavior would be normal, people could never work together in
groups. No one would love or take care of their children, so future generations would die off.

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However, if people are not sociopaths, if they naturally form emotional bonds with each other,
are strongly averse to hurting each other, and extend trust and compassion, then a functional
society is possible. Survival of individuals in such groups is likely, whereas the survival of
people in psychopathic groups is unlikely. Natural selection has therefore favored genes
promoting moral individual behavior.

Sociopaths only do well if there are conscience-bound people around them to take advantage of.
In an all-sociopath world, the pity play would never work because no one else would be capable
of pity, and someone would be just as likely to steal from or kill you as you were to do the same
to them. And since everyone would know that everyone else was a sociopath, most other people
would be able to anticipate your self-serving and criminal actions and quickly retaliate, unlike in
our world where the masses of conscience-bound people can’t understand your psychopathic
mentality and are always struggling to see the patterns in your behavior.

Psychopathy is only adaptive if you are one sociopath among 99 normal people.

Heinz’ Dilemma arose from a famous study of child psychology. It showed that moral reasoning
(the precepts that guide a person’s idea of what is right or wrong) evolves in stages during
childhood:
-Fear of punishment (reward and punishment are the basis of morality)
-Conformity (something is right or wrong if the majority says so)
-Abstract/principle-based

Studies have shown that the female sense of justice is based on feelings: Something is just if it
results in kindness towards people. By contrast, male justice is based on rules: Something is just
if it conforms to rules.

The concept of morality is a mushy one that social scientists still struggle to define. There is no
universal agreement over what is moral and what is not. Moreover, there are different dimensions
of morality, with different dimensions being more or less important across different cultures.

In more traditional cultures (Asian), duty to one’s family members and community is strongly
tied to notions of justice. It is unjust for well-off individuals to not help the people around them
or to ignore informal commitments. In the West, the sense of obligation is not nearly as strong,
and a person who ignores the needs to their town or family members is not always seen as
behaving unjustly.

Chapter 10: Bernie’s choice: Why conscience is better

Do sociopaths have the better deal in life than normal people?

No. Almost always, a sociopath encounters major problems in their lives, which often end early
and badly. A sociopath is much more likely to end up in jail, financially and socially ruined, or a
victim of murder, accident, overdose, or suicide.

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Since sociopaths routinely abuse people around them, they accumulate many more enemies than
normal people do. Statistically speaking, it’s usually just a matter of time before the sociopath
pisses off the wrong person. This person either ends up killing them, tipping off the authorities,
launching a detailed investigation that uncovers their wrongdoing, or mobilizing a group of
enemies against the sociopath.

Another fatal flaw in the sociopath’s character is his need for constant stimulation. Since they are
incapable of experiencing many emotions and since they don’t gain anything deep from human
companionship, sociopaths try to fill the daily void by seeking thrills and excitement. This leads
them to reckless, self-destructive behaviors like drug use, alcoholism, crime, and addictions to
gambling and sex. A sociopath is thus much more likely than a normal person to die early of drug
overdoses or to other health problems arising from substance abuse, and they more commonly
have STD’s. Sociopaths are also overrepresented in gangs and the drug underworld, where they
are more subject to murder than average people.

Though sociopaths often live exciting, high-stakes lives at first and might accumulate significant
wealth and power, almost all of them are either dead or “burned out” by their 50’s or 60’s
(“burned out” = jailed, ruined health, bankrupt, finally exposed for misdeeds and fired from job,
unemployed, divorced and no more sex life, ruined reputation).

Though the media and society have a fascination with the highly intelligent, successful
sociopaths who end up becoming dictators, CEO’s, and serial killers, it’s important to remember
that these people only represent a small minority of sociopaths. Sociopaths are not smarter or
stronger on average than normal people. Moreover, as a group, sociopaths are poorer and less
successful than the general population. Even those sociopaths who attain wealth, power and fame
are never happy for long. They always crave more stimulation. They can’t enjoy life like normal
people can.

There is some debate over whether psychopathy is even a mental illness. After all, sociopaths
don’t perceive that there is anything wrong with themselves, and their “illness” can in fact give
them major advantages in life. But the fact that sociopaths typically encounter so much difficulty
in life thanks to their condition proves to the author that psychopathy is indeed a mental illness.

Many sociopaths suffer from hypochondria.

Sociopaths are unable to work diligently or to focus on long-term tasks because they become
bored so easily. This makes them very poor line workers and explains why they prefer positions
where there are fewer routines and where they can fulfill their cravings by bossing around and
abusing other people at their own whim.

In work groups, sociopaths are good at using fear, lies, flattery, and force of personality to make
other people do the work for them, but the sociopath will do little if any actual work themselves.
They usually lack real leadership qualities, and their success is almost always short-lived.

Since sociopaths can’t empathize with people and lack a gut understanding of social and
emotional expectations, they are incapable of experiencing love and frequently make faux pas.

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Love and true friendship lead to true happiness. A sociopath cannot experience this and hence is
never, truly happy. The sociopath instead has to subsist off of an endless series of short thrills.

The happiest people are those who are extremely altruistic and who devote their lives to charity
and understanding other people emotionally. They are often maximally happy, in spite of low
status or wealth.

Having a very strong conscience is good for a person, though feeling constant guilt over one’s
actions is bad.

Don’t admire sociopaths for their advantages, and don’t strive to be like them. If you stay moral
and try to be a positive presence in the world, your life will be much longer and more rewarding
than an average sociopath’s. Their lives are always hollow compared to yours.

Chapter 11: Groundhog Day

An “abrasive psychopath” lacks the typical sociopath’s charm and is usually disliked by most
people around them. They constantly provoke other people, start arguments and fights, are highly
controlling, and always think they are right. They hate other people and frequently complain to
the authorities about minor problems involving others.

Chapter 12: Conscience in its purest form: Science votes for morality

Organized religion and science agree that conscience is a good thing to have and leads to
happiness.
All of the major faiths, not just Christianity, teach the Golden Rule in some way or another.
Feeling one with others and their pain and trying to help them brings happiness.
People with consciences have better lives than sociopaths.

The vast majority of sociopaths never kill anyone. This isn’t because they respect human life.
Instead, they’re usually afraid of getting caught, lack the physical strength or access to weapons
needed to kill, or just think it’s too much trouble to commit murder.

[My own notes]

James Bond actually possesses many psychopathic traits:


-Is very charming
-Has killed many people and is untroubled by the act of killing (kills cold-bloodedly)
-Is good at seducing women and has had many sexual partners
-Is very focused on his outward appearance
-Risk-taking lifestyle (gambling, fast cars, parties, drinking, guns, etc.)

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Bond isn’t meant to be a sociopath, but it’s ironic that such a movie hero in fact possesses so
many characteristics of the disorder.

Possible sociopaths:
-Michael Vick
-Marc Dreier
[Watch the 60 Minutes interviews for both and look for disorder’s hallmarks. Also, find other
online videos of prison interviews with sociopaths and note the similarities in their dispositions.]

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