Can you trust a sociopath's memoir?

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77 Responses to “Can you trust a sociopath's memoir?”

  1. Missy Pants says:

    Or, you could watch the fascinating documentary ‘I, Psychopath’ about “Dr” Sam Vaknin who for years dominated online communities for people dealing with narcissists (its where I first saw him) as a self-diagnosed narcissist, but who is actually mostly a psychopath. Not that these disorders aren’t often co-morbid… fascinating watch.

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/i-psychopath/

    • orangedesperado says:

      Sam Vaknin was a very loathsome entity whose presence was so invasive and predatory, like a poisonous weed. I still stumble upon his self-pontifications of authority in places like reviews on Amazon. The documentary is worth watching to illuminate his credibility/personality deficits.

      • Missy Pants says:

        Years ago I used to lurk on NPD boards, and they were all Sam Vaknin boards, they all were, you couldn’t actually find an  NPD board where he didn’t show up to tell us all how we were doing it wrong. 

        I would have thought his cache would have increased with time but thankfully, it seems to have diminished.

        Predatory is an excellent word for him.

  2. Jesse Waites says:

    “At the very least, I’ve never seen an actual sociopath describe their own condition before…” Here is an AMA someone did on the subject: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/a5xvv/iama_diagnosed_sociopath_ama/

  3. Jorpho says:

    Tsk tsk.  Another kaput link?

    The Boston Globe review is here.

  4. jandrese says:

    “Can you trust a sociopath’s memoir?”

    No.  Next question?

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      My experience with pathological liars, at least, is that their lies follow entirely predictable patterns.  In that sense, they might be more trustworthy than occasional, random liars, if you expand ‘trustworthy’ to mean predictable.

      • senorglory says:

        Maybe “reliable” instead of “trustworthy.”

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          The one of whom I’m particularly thinking could never keep a job for more than a couple of months.  He would, without fail, claim to have been fired if he had quit and claim to have quit if he had been fired.
          Him:  I quit today.
          Me:  What did she fire you for?
          And then, he would just answer it as if there were nothing odd about the conversation.

      • jandrese says:

        Sociopaths are a little different though. They’re not compelled to lie, they’re compelled to manipulate everyone around them to get them on their side.  You can never trust anything they say because it’s always calculated to appeal to you.  This involves a lot of lying and a whole lot of spin, but if the truth serves their purposes they’ll use it. 

        Once you realize someone is a sociopath about the only thing you can do is treat everything they say as a potential lie and try to piece together whatever you can from the facts you can verify.  Sometimes what the person says will give you clues, but nothing is trustworthy. 

        There’s a good example of this you can try yourself.  A few years ago This American Life did a segment on freezing your body (or just your head) and the people who offered freezing services.  It dawned on me partway through the story that the primary guy they were interviewing was a Sociopath.  He was running basically a scam where he would take people’s money and tell them that he was freezing them, but was really a scam artist.  For the whole thing, even when Ira called him on his lies, he was trying to get the audience on his side.

        Of course I’m not a medical professional and this was internet medicine at it’s worst.  Still, listen to the segment and ask yourself if you would trust that guy with your car. 

    • James Penrose says:

       Almost any self-reporting about a mental problem is suspect.

  5. Preston Sturges says:

    The literary device of “the unreliable narrator,”  from “The King In Yellow” to “American Psycho.”

    • Graceless says:

      Hell, it dates back to the birth of the modern novel. When “Pamela” was published in 1740, Richardson received countless incredulous letters asking if the story was true. Many satires portrayed the innocent protagonist as a secretly cunning succubus.

  6. GawainLavers says:

    At the very least, I’ve never seen an actual sociopath describe their own condition before.

    I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged either.

  7. Laura_Logan says:

    My armchair diagnosis is narcissim, not sociopathy. The identity of M.E. Thomas has likely been outed:  http://abovethelaw.com/2013/05/sources-and-dr-phil-offer-insights-author-of-confessions-of-a-sociopath-who-might-be-this-law-professor/ If that is her, and she has recently been hired by BYU, then I will be extremely interested to see what happens to her appointment and her membership in the Mormon church, given that she has described the LDS religion as “a sociopath’s dream.”

    • mausium says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me if such persons do very well in LDS, from all my ex-Mormon friends’ statements on the topic.

      • Preston Sturges says:

        I told my friend we’d probably meet some angry exMormons in SLC, and it only took 20 minutes.

        But those guys that run the polygamist splinter groups are waaaay psycho. 

    • digi_owl says:

       “described the LDS religion as “a sociopath’s dream.””

      Hmm, explains quite a bit.

  8. anon0mouse says:

    “people are attracted to my exceptionalism like moths to a flame.”
    [Bzzzzzzzzt]

    • mausium says:

      I mean, it’s true that people are drawn to strong personalities, but the constant Mary Sue-ing these douchbags go through when discussing themselves is horribly taxing. Maybe she’s just BPD?

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      Yeah, that made me throw up in my mouth a little.

    • robuluz says:

      I know plenty of people who are under the impression that me and everyone else are attracted to their exceptionalism.

      It’s an easy position to hold when you have no empathy. 

      By the way, if you are reading this, and you think everyone is attracted to your exceptionalism, and you are not David Bowie, everyone fucking hates you and is just waiting for an excuse to get the hell away from you.

  9. Kibo says:

    Sure, they might be lying about being a sociopath. And what sort of person would falsely claim to be a sociopath, just to manipulate people? A sociopath, that’s who.

    I think I read a short story about that once. Albert Einstein was in it. I’d link to it but I have a policy against posting links to any Web sites that are that crappy.

  10. rocketpj says:

    I know and have known a few sociopaths.  We all have in work and elsewhere, sometimes in our families. 

    I think there must be some evolutionary purpose to sociopathy – maybe we need a few remorseless, conscienceless people to deal with some aspects of running a society (frontline military perhaps).  Where we get into trouble is when we let them have too much power – Wall Street and Electoral politics being the two obvious and dangerous examples.

    • mausium says:

      You’re confusing evolutionary benefit for societal. 

      They may prosper, but others will not

      “maybe we need a few remorseless, conscienceless people to deal with some aspects of running a society”

      No.

    • ldobe says:

      I believe you just described Psychopathy.  Which can be described as (in over simplified terms) the lack of a conscience, combined with having no fear of consequences.

      Sociopaths, while often comorbid with psychopathy, are different.  They hate people and society.  They strike out, and often feel that they are owed something, or that they’re constantly being held back by others, that things are being taken from them.  They can only blame others when ill befalls them, and don’t seem to accept that shitty things happen, or that in some cases they may have brought it upon themselves.

      Psychopaths don’t necessarily hate people or society, they simply have no understanding of empathy, and that makes preying on others’ weaknesses very easy and attractive.  They’re fundamentally different.  They’re social predators, and they often rely on the camouflage of trust and image in civil society, while making brutal and ruthless decisions when it suits them.  They don’t need a reason why, it simply makes sense to be manipulative and predatory when one isn’t bothered by things like empathy, or fear of failure.

      This is just my view.  It’s not perfect, and I’m just an armchair psychologist, so if I’m Very Wrong, don’t hesitate to set the record straight.

      • spenze says:

        From everything I’ve read, the two terms are used interchangeably, and the actual defining qualities of both terms cover all of the features you’ve listed for both psychopathy and sociopathy. 
        The thing is, you don’t have to have all, or even most of those traits to be considered a psychopath or sociopath. The terms are dangerously vague. As the book The psychopath test explores, some people have been locked up for their entire lives for relatively minor offenses, simply because they’re deemed psychopathically unfit for society.

        • ldobe says:

          Yeah.  And I think I also mixed up Sociopathy with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

          I haven’t read The Psychopath Test, but it’s on my short list, and I have done some reading about psychopathy.  I’m now convinced that my best friend growing up is a psychopath.  He’s the kind of super-intelligent guy who uses his powers for the wrong things.  He was incredibly manipulative, and I basically was codependent with him.  He’d convince me to tag along for the most dangerous, ill-advised crap, and I just couldn’t put my foot down say no, and walk away.

          Honestly I’m glad he’s not around anymore.

    • yadayada says:

      I think you are much more likely to find psychopaths in leadership positions in the military than on the frontlines. Think ‘Don Rumsfeld’.

  11. Nell Anvoid says:

    For some reason I’m having a difficult time reconciling the concepts of “sociopath” with “honest self-reflection.”   I”ve encountered a few genuine sociopaths along the winding path of life and,  try as they might to make one think otherwise, they haven’t impressed me as being objective about their character and personality.

    …Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    • mausium says:

      The only thing you could really trust is when they say they were diagnosed as a sociopath, and even that,barely.

  12. mausium says:

    Having known people with personality disorders, I wouldn’t trust anything stated by an unreliable narrator.

  13. Monkey_pants says:

    Maybe I just don’t understand sociopathy, but doesn’t this statement contradict her assertion that she’s a sociopath? “I have a close circle of family and friends whom I love . . . .” I thought one of the primary hallmarks of sociopathy is a lack of ability to feel empathy. I’m pretty confident that love in any meaningful sense isn’t possible without empathy, so is the writer confused about the nature of love? Is what she’s experiencing actually just a more primal attachment (“I have a close circle of family and friends that I’ve grown used to, and I can effectively use”)? Is she actually experiencing love, and isn’t actually a sociopath?

    • Sekino says:

      That’s an interesting problem. I’ve known a couple of sociopaths (at least) and they did claim to love people, be it their moms, girlfriends, buddies etc.  It often seemed like ‘love’ was to them just another excuse to control, be angry at and mope over another person. It certainly looked like they were attracted by the concept ( the drama, the intensity and the sex obviously) of love. They both had a phone book’s worth of loved ones/friends who had supposedly wronged them, hurt them or dumped them for no good reason. They seemed genuinely bitter and upset about them, but it was possibly a way to play the downtrodden victim to better manipulate the listener into having sympathy.

      Then again, the definitions of love are so vague and broad that it’s pretty hard to nail exactly how it’s supposed to manifest in anyone in the first place. I’d guess that perhaps they are capable of experiencing some very basic drives behind love, but that without a capacity for empathy, commitment, self-sacrifice, etc, it’s a very different beast.

      • orangedesperado says:

        The declarations of love (for a sociopath or psychopath) are more about impression management(ie manipulating others perceptions of what kind of a person they are) than what a normal person would describe as feelings of “love”.

      • Monkey_pants says:

        Well, the Greeks pined down several good definitions of love. I wonder in the case of sociopaths, if what they’re experiencing isn’t akin to the “love” or attachment that a young child has for a care-giver. Young children and babies are little narcissists, after all. You could say, that like sociopaths, they’re incapable of seeing other people as truly real, but none the less have strong instinctual attachments to caregivers. I imagine the role of the empathetic person in a relationship with a sociopath as being that of a perpetual caregiver.

        • Frank Lee Scarlett says:

          Based on my experience as an empathetic child of abusive, sociopathic alcoholics, I’d say your last sentence is spot-on. 

          Your observation regarding the nature of the sociopath’s attraction is extremely interesting, and I think it might help me to better deal with the two sociopaths I’ve chosen to keep in my life. 

          • mausium says:

            “two sociopaths I’ve chosen to keep in my life”

            Is that ever a good decision? Are they family? I can’t imagine how they can add to a person’s life while still being fully in that condition.

            I mean, you can be better on guard, but why be constantly on guard with the people close to you?

          • acerplatanoides says:

             I’d have to assume they’re family. Mine are.

        • IslandBased says:

          Years ago I briefly mentored a young student from our local charter school. He is now in his 20′s and a sociopath. He also has an attachment disorder, and develops platonic relationships, usually to much older, very creative men. He strives for admiration, but due to his lack of emotional connectivity and lying has  mostly damaged his own reputation. Like many of his former mentors, I actively avoid him.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I’m not sure that it’s perfectly binary.

    • OliveGreenapple says:

      Depends, it could be love in the sense of liking to have, and this is all assuming she’s a sociopath and not some other kind of personality disordered woman with extreme narcissism. Narcissists are totally capable of some level of love. They often see some people as extensions of themselves, so imagine how hard it would be if your finger stopped doing what you wanted and went away. You’d be really upset. Rageful even maybe. It would also be a bad reflection on you, so you’d have to HATE that thing then. 

      As for the contradiction here:

      “At one point in the essay, she says she wasn’t an abused child — then goes on to describe a childhood with a father who once beat apart a bathroom door to get at her and a mother who nearly let her die from appendicitis to avoid the medical bills … and then blamed Thomas for her own illness. It’s all a little weird.”

      All that does is suggest a real personality disorder of some kind. I’m very very used to hearing this contradiction. 

      I think this is why: Abusive home = inferior. I’m not inferior therefore no abusive home. This stuff happened, but it isn’t abusive because it happened to me and I’m not inferior so it isn’t abusive. If I were abused I’d be fucked up. I’m fucked up, but only in the  ways I say I am, those are the ways that are ok to be fucked up for me (other people probably would be worse)… and that’s only true so long as I say it is.

      I can sit on a phone call with one person I know and listen to them flip back and forth. 

      “I’m so sorry to hear you’re sick. I don’t know why you would be. You came from good stock. There’s nothing wrong with anyone in the family (actually, there is) so you must have gotten that from the other side of the family. But I don’t remember your mother ever being sick (my mother actually almost died). Yeah, I’m probably sick myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before this life kills me.” Now follows a long list of ailments from the person who just said no one in their side of the family is ever sick, to prove that they are sicker than me while also being healthier than me by nature. This was, mind you, on a call about me, in theory. In practice, everything has to come back to the narcissist somehow, whether through praise, negativity, whatever.. In time you learn to keep your mouth shut until you get the cue to say what they want you to, which they will have planted somewhere in the conversation. It will validate them, always.

      • Gulliver says:

        When I got up this morning
        I thought the whole thing through:
        Thought, Who’s the hero, the man of the day?
        Christopher, it’s you

        With my left arm I raised my right arm
        High above my head:
        Said, Christopher, you’re the greatest.
        Then I went back to bed.

        I wrapped my arms around me,
        No use counting sheep.
        I counted legions of myself
        Walking on the deep.

        The sun blazed on the miracle,
        The blue ocean smiled:
        We like the way you operate,
        Frankly, we like your style.

        Dreamed I was in a meadow,
        Angels singing hymns,
        Fighting the nymphs and shepards
        Off my holy limbs.

        A girl leaned out with an apple,
        Said, You can taste for free.
        I never touch the stuff, dear,
        I’m keeping myself for me.

        Dreamed I was in heaven,
        God said, Over to you,
        Christopher, you’re the greatest,
        And Oh, it’s true, it’s true!

        I like my face in the mirror,
        I like my voice when I sing.
        My girl says it’s just infatuation.
        I know it’s the real thing.

        ~ Every Day in Every Way by Kit Wright

      • Joey Brill says:

        I view the obvious contradiction more as an invitation to explore the wonder that is M.E.  A mere mortal could not help be be drawn in to the intricacies of her mind.  

        She has created a test.  A reasonable victim will notice the contradiction.  He/She is stuck in a binary ‘Choose Your Own Adventure” game.  Either ask and be led through a rehearsed  analysis where more ‘provocative’ topics are revealed or ignore and prove you’re beneath/beyond her grasp.

        I’ve had a few testers in my life – can’t say what acronyms applied.  I had to learn mushy concepts like personal boundaries and loving from a safe distance.

        • OliveGreenapple says:

          Testing is a good point. Still strikes me as a narcissist with one of many of the personality disorders, but really unlikely to be an actual sociopath.

          I’ve found being beneath/beyond is a GREAT place to be.

        • mausium says:

          “She has created a test.  A reasonable victim will notice the contradiction.”

          Personality disordered love mindgames, so this could be true, possibly in a way you didn’t intend.

      • mausium says:

        “Narcissists are totally capable of some level of love”

        It’s all about being in love with being in love, the person is immaterial.

    • mausium says:

      “doesn’t this statement contradict her assertion that she’s a sociopath?”

      Are her lips moving?

  14. Don says:

    I’ve worked with actual, diagnosed sociopaths before.  They have no motive to tell you the truth about what time it is, never mind the truth about themselves.  They are entirely focused on manipulating you to serve their own ends, and will tell you anything to make that happen.  This memoir is interesting in the same sense that all their other bullshit stories are interesting.

    • rocketpj says:

       Indeed, I work with a sociopath every day – it is my job (frontline mental health).  It is a literally constant state of maximum awareness that makes it possible to function at all without being burned (figuratively so far).

    • mausium says:

      As in “if you think it’s interesting, you’ve already wasted far too much time and should keep a greater distance next time”? :p

  15. Gbaji says:

    I’d like to write a memoir, but first someone needs to explain to me the selfie I found in my pocket with “DONT BELIEVE HIS LIES” written on the back.

  16. PhasmaFelis says:

    “In a world filled with gloomy, mediocre nothings populating a go-nowhere rat race, people are attracted to my exceptionalism like moths to a flame.”

    Yes, I’m certain that this is a reliable, sober-headed writer who can be depended upon to objectively report the events of her life.

  17. rocketpj says:

    If nothing else it is an insight into what this sociopath would like us to think about her.

  18. senorglory says:

    Donald trump?

  19. OliveGreenapple says:

    Bam! Cuts herself. Wants people to think she’s a sociopath. Alternates between inconsistent truths without seeming to notice. Probably disassociates. That’s not a sociopath.

    Poor thing, she doesn’t like having one of the crappy PDs that she doesn’t think are cool and impressive to people.

  20. SedanChair says:

    I don’t know, I liked Dreams From My Father

  21. senorglory says:

    Article on above the law quotes a former student as saying she was known as the prof with the big bust… She perceives that others are drawn to her exceptionalism. Related?

    • mausium says:

      Even “conventionally unattractive” sociopaths have powerful personalities, though I suppose the busty ones have a few more weapons in their arsenal.

  22. d0rkfish says:

    My brother is a sociopath. And we were raised Mormon. Most of the descriptions in this essay ring true and some are things I swear I’ve heard him say. The “unusual” interpretation of social norms such as what “abuse” is and what constitutes evil or violence is certainly familiar from my experience. The penchant for argumentation and domination of the mental contest, the need to win at all costs. The lack of physical fear. All very familiar.
    Also, there was discussion about the ability to love in previous comments; I can say that although he is self serving in almost every regard, he does have the power to love others, but it doesn’t manifest itself in the traditional ways. I know that he loves 3 or 4 people in his life (me not included) and has many others he considers die hard friends. These form a sort of life support structure that on one hand could be viewed as a manipulative set of “useful” relationships, but on the other hand could be viewed as any normal family that help eachother when needed… granted some of that help comes in the form of hashing out dramatic and often highly semantic philosophical arguments that must be had right now. I know that if any of these people died it would be a devastating blow to him, not just in the “I’ve lost a valuable tool” sense that was discussed in previous comments but in a very heart wrenching sense. I have dealt with the lying and manipulation my whole life, so I’ve learned to see it for what it is. He knows that I know what he’s doing so it’s often entertaining to see what he goes through when he wants to convey something to me that he wants me to take seriously. He will often preface statements with things like; “this isn’t one of those I’m being an asshole things” or he’ll make a series of absolutely honest statements in order to prepare the stage. 
    I should ask him to write an essay about what it’s like to be a sociopath and then compare I suppose.

    • mausium says:

      “I should ask him to write an essay about what it’s like to be a sociopath”

      Will it make you feel any better about any of this?

    • Monkey_pants says:

      Do the people that he loves (and I imagine love him) know he’s a sociopath? Are they oblivious to his lying and manipulation, or like you, have they developed ways of dealing with it? What form does their relationship take? 

  23. IslandBased says:

    I’ve noticed a lack of creativity and artistic drive in  people that have ASPD. It makes them rather boring.

  24. hypnosifl says:

    On the subject of self-descriptions by sociopaths, here’s an interesting video about a scientist who studied brain scans of sociopaths for a while, then realized when looking at his own brain scan that he had all the characteristic traits…he lacked some of the more unpleasant personality traits (perhaps due to a happy childhood) but did begin to recognize aspects of a number of them in himself. Perhaps sociopathy, like autism, lies on a continuous spectrum?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I12H7khht7o

    • OliveGreenapple says:

      It’s interesting his friends and family feel comfortable enough to talk to him. My dad has ASPD and is most likely a sociopath. He has other issues too. He is capable of being soooo normal and nice, it really covers for the other parts. 

      Some times he’ll call and describe all the horrible things he’s done, ending the call with “but at least you love me.” 

      Believe me, these horrible things are horrible. My mother once said with pride “His psychiatrist said people like him are normally either dead or in prison by now!!!” as if that was an achievement for us. Let it be known that our lives totally revolved around him in one way or another… and one of those ways was real fear. Because his sense did not make any kind of sense to anyone else. He was the kind of guy people laid off because they were too damned scared to fire him. 

      Now, he’s narrowly escaped prison many times, despite not having the demographics that put you at risk. No no, he had money and two parents, and all that stuff that is supposed to help (except my grandfather was DEFINITELY a psychopath  no questions there). 

      But generally except from being completely incapable of connecting with people and completely emotionally abusive for his own amusement, granddad was ok (notice my value scale and shiver).

      I didn’t grow up in an abusive home either! :)

      Anyway, recently because of two rounds of allegations, after he made bail and when one family member got upset with him… he called me and after an hour or so of his nonstop talking asked me a question. His questions are great, he pauses for about two seconds and then keeps talking. Well this time he paused for longer, which was awkward, because the question was:

      “Well honey, you’re not afraid of me are you?”

      Holy shit. He was asking for real feedback. But holy shit… I’m to fucknig afraid of you to answer that goddamned question man. 

      “Uh… I’ve known you a long time” 

      Was the best I could do without lying.

      He was ok with that. It was close enough to “no” to satisfy him. 

      Thus I say, it surprises me his family feels comfortable enough and definitely maybe sociopathy is on a scale or it depends on whether it has some comorbidity with other issues.

      I’m totally going to have to delete this in a few minutes. Because even though I’m in my mid thirties…. I’m actually scared somehow some way my dad could read it.

      That would be bad.

      • mausium says:

        It’s easier when you know someone isn’t capable of understanding. I’m sure years of uncaring wear down on you.

        • OliveGreenapple says:

          Yeah… it’s just that I associate being around my nearest and dearest sociopath with being too damned afraid to tell them anything they might not want to hear. None of us want to deal with a sociopath who thinks we’re a problem for them. So a question like “what do you think of me, no really” is met with attempts to control pupil dilation and carefully controlled facial affect. “Um, I don’t know. Why do you ask?” Evade… evade…evade…

          This sometimes generates a “no one will tell me the truth” which is not actually accurate. Some people have. That’s why we’re not going to!

        • hypnosifl says:

          Yeah, it’s worth watching the video, I don’t know if he would qualify as an actual sociopath since he does care about people, but maybe in a slightly more intellectualized way than most. I can’t remember if it’s in the video or something else I read by him, but he mentions that an abusive childhood environment is thought to be a key component of full-blown sociopathy along with the biological component, whereas he had a happy childhood with loving parents.

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