Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Law Professor Takes Us Inside the Mind of a Sociopath

Psychology Today, Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
Psychology Today magazine weighed into the coverage of sociopathy in America with two articles in their May/June issue.  Confessions of a Sociopath,” by M.E. Thomas is an autobiographical article by a woman who is a successful law professor and Sunday school teacher—and a diagnosed sociopath.  If you have ever wondered what it is like to be inside the head of a sociopath, Ms. Thomas takes you on that journey.  In her bio on the Contributors page, she says that, “Sociopaths have both the power and inclination to ruin lives and this is just what they often do to strangers on the Internet.”

The article describes the enjoyment she takes in manipulating and outmaneuvering the people in her life—and even includes a description of her desire to kill a total stranger.  While Ms. Thomas does seem to fit the description listed in the sidebar called “How to Spot a Sociopath,” she also claims to, “. . . have a close circle of family and friends whom I love and who very much love me.”  While the latter part fits well with the charismatic personality typical of a sociopath, the first part does not.  A lack of empathy, sympathy and the ability to love are more defining characteristics.  Of course, she also says that, “Sociopaths are highly immune to depression and the ability to tell ourselves wonderful stories about ourselves helps.”  Hmmm.  I wonder if the tale of loving family and friends is one of those stories.  

Ms. Evans also founded the blog sociopathworld.com and a trip to that site is an eye-opening experience, although not for the faint-hearted.  Here’s what one recent contributor had to say, “I don't like killing animals and never did. Ants, some frogs etc, but not mammals. I don't commit crimes on daily basis and I'm not impulsive. I cheat in any way available and I find it enjoyable, but I didn't steal for fun or anything like it. When I had to fight few times in my life I just turned off anything but anger, so I could aim for eyes and veins, but it was always a choice and I could stop at any point.”

In another sidebar, “The Upside of Dark Minds,” Matt Huston wonders whether sociopaths can function better in some jobs.  He quotes two experts:

  • Kevin Dutton, author of “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” who compared special ops commandos, surgeons, business executives, and dangerous criminals to determine that, “. . .  some of the traits that drive killers and con men to destroy others can actually make the world a better place.”
  • Criminal psychologist Robert Harem who says that a psychopath or sociopath, “. . . is four times more likely to be the head of a company than the person sweeping the floors.” 

Skeptical?  Do you think all those lean-and-mean executives got that way in business school?  Do you see the ability to close factories and lay off thousands of people without blinking an eye as a leadership trait?  Do you think ripping off stockholders and waltzing off with a golden parachute is just good business sense?  Then move on to the next story in @PsychToday.

John McAfee, Belize
Executive Portrait:
John McAfee
Dancing with a Madman?” by Jeff Wise examines John McAfee, the multimillionaire entrepreneur and founder of McAfee anti-virus software.  Mr. Wise had known Mr. McAfee for three years and interviewed him several times before he got a clue that the man was not what he had seemed.  It took five years for Mr. Wise to realize that Mr. McAfee had been manipulating him all along and was quite possibly dangerous.  Mr. McAfee was, of course, accused last year of the murder of his neighbor in Belize and fled to Guatemala, which deported him to Miami.

What tripped Mr. Wise up was his assumption that this successful businessman and industry leader was normal.  This assumption of normality, combined with stubborn denial in the face of observable negative behavior, undoes a lot of people.  (See previous post, Denial in the Workforce: Does That Executive Seem Normal to You?

As someone who has learned not to take normality for granted, the clues were immediately apparent, starting with, “He’s not only hugely charismatic, he also embodies many of the qualities that I aspire to.”   BTW: John McAfee was never charged with murder by Belizean authorities and is going about his old tricks here in the U.S.

So where does that leave the rest of us normal, or neuro-typical people?  The smart ones are looking for coping mechanisms, ways to mitigate the negative impact of daily exposure, or an exit strategy.  I’m planning a post about how to deal with co-workers and colleagues who demonstrate an untreated mental illness or reside somewhere on a disorder spectrum.  

If you have ideas, suggestions, or stories about what worked for you—or didn’t-- I would love to hear them.  If you don’t want to respond publicly, please send  your comments to alinemkaplan@gmail.com.  I promise to treat your input anonymously.  

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