Getting to Know the Sociopath Next Door

sociopath next doorNot everyone loves the Sociopath Next Door. If you look at the ratings on Goodreads, you’ll see some very unfavourable opinions and a fair amount of criticism. So, I was pretty surprised to find how much I appreciated this book for its fascinating assessments, analyses and case studies. Sure, I didn’t like everything about it and didn’t agree on every point, yet I found it captured my attention from the offset and gave me plenty of insightful information to mull over.

I will say that some information could be misleading if taken at face value- if you’re familiar with statistics around anti-social personality disorder, you may be aware that:

  • 4% figure usually refers to anti-social personality disorder includes narcissists, who are not nearly as dangerous
  • According to The Psychopath Test, most sociopaths/psychopaths are drawn to the thrills of crime and are in prison, thus the percentage is more like 1% of the general population have anti-social personality disorder.

So yes, I would agree that part of this is sensationalised (or, to be more generous, not as developed as it could be. For instance, there also could have been some discussion of the prevailing view of the difference between psychopaths being born and sociopaths being “made”).

That said, I did like hearing some ideas I hadn’t come across before. The most fascinating concept for me personally (which I have now seen discussed elsewhere) is the idea that anti-social disorder could develop out of attachment disorder, rather than abuse per se.

Interestingly, one of my biggest contentions with her argument was her discussion on the fault lines of pure reason, where Stout expressed the idea that conscience runs counter to logic, which is not something I personally agree with… And yet, by the end of the book, I found we were both on the same page, as Stout expresses how acting ruthlessly does not bring you more of the good things in life. Ultimately, she proves time and again that dominating others brings nothing but destruction (and, frankly, that assholes get what’s coming to them). With her view that love brings you happiness, the book ends on a surprisingly hopeful note- and that was both unexpected and worthwhile.

Okay, so then why has this book provoked such a negative reaction? Well, I couldn’t help but look at some of the popular reviews and respond accordingly. Here were some of the critiques of the book and my takes on them:

Argument 1: the book is a witch hunt. It encourages people to identify sociopaths in their midst.

My take: I didn’t see this as saying *all* evil people are sociopaths- it was merely identifying some cases. In fact, she gave examples of how a compassionate person could make decisions that were not always compassionate. Thus, I would not say it is fair to say that this attempts to explain away all of human hurt, just some of it. Of course not everyone is a sociopath- but some people are and it is useful to identify that (or at the very least be wary of certain behaviours).

Argument 2: it divides people into two classes

My take: well, you could make this argument about any disorder or condition. If you were to talk about the mindset of a depressive, for instance, you might compare it with someone who is not suffering from depression. Indeed, it can also be helpful in treatment- in CBT, getting someone with depression or anxiety to look at things from another angle can be helpful. Therefore, I think it is perfectly reasonable to differentiate between those who have a condition and those who do not. It’s also important to note that sociopaths are not victimised by someone analysing the condition- to believe this would be to miss the real victims (ie those who are manipulated and abused).

Argument 3: It was too broad sweeping at times.

My take: I’d partially agree- as I pointed out before, this book wasn’t perfect. I’d definitely have to chime in on the fact that the “three lies and they’re a sociopath” is a weak test. But then, I also assumed that the author meant big lies- not white lies- which leads me to my main contention with this argument: use your common sense. Likewise, asking for mercy may not always be coming from a manipulative place… but it could be. Clearly, not every liar or layabout is a sociopath- but the ones who repeatedly manipulate might be. To that end, I think reading this book could offer valuable insight to potential victims.

Now, I think that covers the main complaints. I can understand having issues with this- it is not a perfect work. I personally have been reading/listening to psychologists speak more on the subject and think there is *a lot* more to explore. After my continued research, I would discourage anyone to take this as a gold standard on what sociopathy means. Still, I do think that the overly critical takes have missed the entirely hopeful message about love. And that is a shame.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana half-a-hand-drawn-banana 

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my analyses or do you have another point of view? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Getting to Know the Sociopath Next Door

  1. Thanks, this is a super helpful overview.

    I saw The Psychopath Test in the library and dipped into it, but ultimately ended by deciding not to read it because I couldn’t handle the descriptions of the crimes.

    I have noticed a witch hunt dynamic a little bit when it comes to narcissists, especially in the form of clickbait articles that “help” people identify whether their date or mate is a narcissist. The problem is that everyone is selfish to some degree. So if we ourselves are selfish, we might be motivated to take the instances of our mate’s selfishness as “evidence” that they are a narcissist. You also see generations complaining about each other’s supposed narcissism, when it might just be immaturity in the younger generation or a different set of values in the older. As Brene Brown once said flippantly, “Yeah, yeah, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a narcissist.”

    So, yes, I do think the concepts of sociopathy and narcissism might get overapplied by people who are themselves immature, selfish, or engaging in motivated reasoning. But that’s a problem with the readers, not the book. For both of these disorders, they become more obvious the more experience we have with the person, and when confronted about their bad behavior, they will double down with the rationalizations rather than doing what a normal person would do, which is to initially get defensive but then engage in some self-examination.

    This reminds me of the book Why Does He DO That?, about male domestic abusers. It paints a picture of men who might be well-adjusted when relating to most people out in the world, but when relating just to their wife or girlfriend they display this very stubborn kind of entitlement that shares some characteristics with narcissism.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Ah I can understand that- it can be a very dark topic to even dip your toes into.

      I do get what you mean. Lately I’ve been listening to a psychology podcast a lot and they’ve mentioned how the term “narcissist” is everywhere right now. And I do think it’s a *terrible* idea to encourage people to go round labelling people as narcissists (often on lousy evidence). Even if people exhibit selfish behaviours, it doesn’t mean they’re “narcissistic” in the personality disorder sense. And I definitely think it’s a problem between generations (bad enough that we’re engaging in the age-old “my generation is better than yours” without pretending there’s some scientific reasoning behind it).

      And yeah, I do agree one hundred percent. I think that there’s definitely a way to read this book and just start identifying everyone who even mildly irritates you as a sociopath… but that’s a foolish reading in my view. A lot of the time, it’s very clearly talking about people who are causing serious emotional (or physical) harm. For instance, the example of the layabout husband isn’t just an example of extreme laziness- it’s of someone who carefully manipulates the situation so that he looks like the depressed victim (and ergo never has to work and leeches off his spouse).And that’s true- I think that, in real life, you can gauge better whether someone has normal character faults… or whether they are the kind of person that, no matter what they do, will never consider themselves in the wrong or change their behaviour (and whether this is from a disorder or not, they’re not the kind of person that’s pleasant to be around).
      That’s interesting- I think I’d like to check that out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks interesting. I liked your points and arguments. I agree it’s important to identify who is psychopath, at least to save ourselves and be careful and at the same time to keep in mind that not all are psycho. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find that some of the key points relate more to psychopathy from what I’ve gathered in real life, but the lying and manipulation is a common denominator in both disorders. I’ve seen enough of both that if I hadn’t, I probably would have picked this up, but I’d definitely gift this to university students as preparatory material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re kind of similar disorders (from what I’ve gathered- a lot of psychologists define them as the same) though I agree this seemed to be more about born psychopaths. I think she threw in some NPD as well, which is a different disorder. But even though there could’ve been more differentiation between the disorders, I’d still say it’s good preparatory material. Same, unfortunately (but weirdly enough that’s why I’m drawn to the topic).


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