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Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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Q&A with M. E. Thomas
Q. Were you always aware that you were different?
A. Yes, though when I was young, I thought maybe it was just because I was smarter than everyone else. I saw things that other children did not see, was aware of the adult world in a way that even my smart siblings were not—awkward interactions from the end of an affair, why my grandpa treated my dad differently from his other children (he was adopted), and so on. I knew other people did not see these things because I would reference them and get blank stares in return. I learned to keep things to myself, even to pretend I didn’t see them. Those were probably some of my first attempts to wear a mask of normalcy.
Q. What are the common characteristics/behaviors shared by most sociopaths? Do they describe you, too?
A. Lack of remorse or concern for hurting or stealing; being deceitful, manipulative, impulsive, irritable, aggressive, and consistently irresponsible; failure to conform to social norms; and being unconcerned about people’s safety, including their own. You need to have at least three of these to be a sociopath. I have them all, to varying degrees.
Q. You believe that sociopaths have a natural competitive advantage. Why?
A. Sociopaths have several skills that lend themselves to success in areas such as politics and business: charm, an ability to see and exploit weaknesses/flaws (which in politics is called “power-broking” and in business, “arbitrage”), confidence, unflagging optimism, an ability to think outside the box and come up with original ideas, and a lack of squeamishness about doing what it takes to get ahead.
Q. If you don’t have a sense of morality, or feel the emotions that most people do, how are you able to operate in the world without being detected?
A. I think everyone learns to lie about his or her emotions to a certain extent; I just take it a step farther. People ask, “How are you?” and you respond, “fine,” even though you had a fight with your spouse that morning, have a sick child, or any multitude of things that make it hard for you to feel fine about almost anything in your life. You could honestly answer the question, but you don’t because overt displays of strong emotion in ordinary social interactions are not accepted. Most of the time I don’t need to show any emotion at all, and I try to limit the times that I do by begging off attending funerals, weddings, etc. When I do show up to these functions, I try to mimic the other attendees. If I’m dealing with a person one-on-one, I just try to reflect their emotions; usually they’re distracted enough by their own overflowing emotions not to notice my lack of them.
Q. Research shows that one in twenty-five people is a sociopath, yet most of us believe we’ve never met one. Are we just kidding ourselves? Are you able to spot them?
A. Statistically, everyone has met at least one sociopath; in fact, most people will have a close encounter with a sociopath at some point in their lives, either as a friend, family member, or lover. Sometimes I can tell who they are. I find that many successful sociopaths will leave deliberate clues as to what they are, the thought being that only other sociopaths would recognize them. I think sociopaths, like serial killers, often have a yearning to be acknowledged for who they are. They want people to admire their exploits, and that is hard to get when they are completely hidden, so they make small compromises.
*Starred Review* Thomas (a pseudonym) is a young white female who has all the classic character traits of a sociopath. She is a thrill seeker with excessive self-esteem and a pronounced lack of empathy. She does not conform to social norms and has a penchant for deceit. “I may have a disorder,” she writes, “but I am not crazy.” In fact, she has excelled as an attorney and law professor who regularly writes for law journals and teaches Sunday school every week as a practicing Mormon. She is, she says, intelligent and charming. “You would like me if you met me,” she insists. She also describes what she is not. She is not a murderer nor was she ever a victim of child abuse. Recent studies, she maintains, report that 1-to-4-percent, or one in every 25 people, is a sociopath. Like her, most live normal lives. She describes her upbringing as the daughter of a violent father and an indifferent and at times hysterical mother and her genetic propensity toward her condition. Fascinating and compelling as well as chilling, Thomas’ memoir offers a window into the mind of a portion of the population that usually remains shrouded in mystery and fear. --June Sawyers
Top customer reviews
She instead is the daughter of sociopaths whose refusal to feel human emotion over their cruelty to their child has caused Ms. Thomas to shut down her own emotions, thereby assuming the appearance of a sociopath. But, as I've just said, she is not one herself but simply the abused offspring of sociopaths. This is very sad. But what is even sadder is that the author won't admit this fact about her parents; and because she won't admit it, she won't blame them. Instead, poor Ms. Thomas blames herself. Sadly, tragically, she has swallowed their lie, hook, line and sinker, that their abuse wasn't their fault but HERS because she was a bad child. Ms. Thomas has swallowed their lie so deeply she feels ashamed she forced her narcissistic mother to leave her performance on stage to instead take her daughter to the hospital for a ruptured appendix. 'I was a bad girl because I deprived mommy of applause.' When the author's father beat her senseless and nearly starved her to death, the author insists this was a good thing because it taught her the survival skills to pick high performing stocks when she became an adult. Nothing will wake the author up to the truth. Though she describes her abuse at their hands in gruesome, gut churning detail, she stubbornly insists her parents are 'loving'. So how did two 'loving' parents turn their daughter into a non-feeling inhuman person? Gosh, it's not because turning off her emotions was the only way to survive their abuse but because the author herself is a...drum roll, please...sociopath. "It's MY fault I don't feel and I'll write a book telling the whole world what an awful person I am! Wheee!"
It's so damned frustrating. If only Ms. Thomas would just once put the blame on her parents where it belongs, she would finally begin to heal. But healing won't happen because the author won't stop lying. 'My parents are loving and I'm a bad person.' Her lies are frustrating enough to make me weep - but her lies also scare me. Like the author I too was horribly abused by my parents (as classic a pair of sociopaths you'll ever meet); but by the grace of God I realized they were evil and not me, that their abuse was their fault and not mine. That revelation was the reason why I broke free; it wasn't easy and took years of therapy but I finally rid myself of the sociopath tendencies my parents had instilled in me and instead became a warm, loving human; I healed. Poor Ms. Thomas won't heal, though. She won't take that necessary first step, the scariest step of all but the most vital - she won't tell the truth about her cruel parents. Instead, she just keeps lying and lying - 'they were loving and I am a sociopath'.
I pray for her.
This author epitomizes the child abuse victim’s narrative. Her father was violent and abusive to her and his other children, and her mother was a self-absorbed, dysfunctional enabler, and both of them sometimes provided adequately for their children and sometimes did not. She describes in the book a few violent episodes and painful dysfunction, such as her father beating her and how he left punching marks on the doors and walls of the house, and yet says point blank that she was never abused. This author swears to the tune of so much repitition it appears she is trying to convince herself more than others of the following two things: 1) that her parents were amazing, did a wonderful job, and loved their children truly, and 2) that she herself was born defective, a sociopath, not normal. This is the stereotypical, worldwide and extremely common child abuse victim’s narrative: idolize the abusers, blame yourself. The child abuse victim will blame herself and happily create a story that she was herself to blame for the mistreatment, claiming to herself and to others that she was “born bad” or “born wrong” – all to protect her image of her parents as wonderful and loving. All children in abusive homes do this, and many carry the story throughout their adulthoods too. They must do this to enable bonding with their abusers at their young age, and as a result of needing to bond with their abusers, they develop a certain set of skills – particularly, they develop a lack of empathy, an inability to connect with others, and manipulation, having to effectively shut down parts of their humanity to tolerate the abuse and to form trauma bonds to their attackers despite it.
Yet this author is clearly entirely unaware of how she has herself mentally bought the age-old and tired child abuse story. She is oblivious to how common and normal her self-story is; indeed, I fully believe that she fully believes her own story – a story built throughout her life and strengthened, first to protect her image of her parents in her child’s mind, and then to avoid dealing with her painful past in her adult mind.
Critical reviewers here have rightfully doubted that this adult victim of child mistreatment is truly a sociopath, hypothesizing instead that she is narcissistic. This is also what I perceived as well. Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) people are hungry for attention, low in empathy, manipulative and malicious, and enjoy feelings of immense superiority to others. Naturally, with so many people being diagnosed with NPD (a disorder known to often result from child abuse/neglect as a coping mechanism) a diagnosis or a self-concept of NPD no longer offers one the special attention or feelings of superiority any longer. So it makes sense that this woman has labeled herself a sociopath – and then sought out a professional with the explicit goal to be diagnosed as a sociopath after having spent years studying up on the disorder herself first – to provide herself with a stronger self-story that would reinforce the child abuse victim’s narrative of “I was born defective, like this, and my parents are loving and wonderful to have so carefully raised little defective me.”
Indeed, this story insulates her from having to face the harsher reality that is much more likely and far less rare than being born a sociopath: that her family’s abuse, violence, and dysfunction directly caused her to develop narcissistic traits in order to first cope with the abuse, and then to avoid dealing with the painful aftermath. Even brain scans have shown that child abuse produces many of the same neurological effects one sees in a psychopath’s brain, whether or not those abused do show psychopathic traits/acquire a diagnosis of the disorder. For this reason, brain scans do not at all answer the question of the chicken or the egg.
But this author does not – and will not – realize any of this. Because to realize this would defeat the purpose of her self-story in the first place.
Some people judged this book as boring. I think they took the words of a traumatized and admittedly mentally disordered person in obvious denial (“my father beat me" and "I was never abused") at face value, and failed to exercise any of their own analytical or critical thinking skills in the process of reading. I found this book fascinating. It is thought-provoking in many ways.
Many of the critical reviewers on this page intuitively saw that this woman was deceiving herself, but I think they misguessed at the motives and reasons for her own mental gymnastics and cognitive dissonance. The author prides herself on her self-proclaimed talents for manipulating others, but this author is most adept and skilled at self-manipulation.
Fascinating read. The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five, is because this woman intends to procreate child victims for herself. She idolizes her abusive and dysfunctional parents and the way they “raised” her. Conveniently, she has self-diagnosed and decieved a professional into diagnosing her with an untreatable problem; now she is off the hook for being accountable to deal with her symptoms, just as any Narcissistic Personality Disordered person would most prefer in her life. It is her future child victims for whom I have sympathy.