Sociopaths are more common than you think and may even be your smiling next door neighbor.
Is there a sociopath in your life?
Many, if not most of us, have a set idea of how a sociopath looks and behaves. Typically, we associate sociopaths with the Charles Manson’s of the world. Manson is indeed a sociopath, and we usually think of monsters like him as “one in a million.” However, though his actions are rare, the personality disorder he has is more common than people think.
According to Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, it is estimated that four percent of the U.S. population — one in 25 people — are sociopaths.
Sociopaths are defined as people displaying anti-social behavior that reveals a lack of empathy towards others. Although sociopaths steal, lie, show no remorse for others and engage in impulsive behavior, they cloak their disorder in a finely rehearsed social charisma that others often find irresistible. Sociopaths often experience drug or alcohol abuse, legal problems, and aggressive and high-risk behavior.
In addition, sociopaths do not posses the emotional depth of the average person. In The Sociopath Next Door, Stout recounts an experiment in which sociopaths are shown images of disturbing pictures and there is no measured change in their heart rate and blood pressure, whereas “normal” people show notable change in these areas when shown the same gruesome images.
The reason for this? Although they are accomplished at feigning emotion, sociopaths feel no emotions besides frustration if they feel they aren’t winning. Sociopaths do not posses empathy and therefore are incapable of experiencing those feelings of guilt or shame that would prevent the rest of us from committing the unconscionable actions they think nothing of. The sociopath may pretend to feel guilty to keep the upper hand over his or her victim. In short, a sociopath doesn’t have a conscience. This enables them to be self-serving in ways unimaginable to most.
You would think the absence of conscience would be an obvious sign flashing brightly over the sociopath’s head, warning others to proceed with caution. However, it takes work to recognize a sociopath. Think about it! It would be difficult for the sociopath to manipulate people like play-doh if they were openly evil. Being aware of this, sociopaths are able to emulate situation appropriate emotions, often with the ease and artistry of a trained actor.