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The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us, Martha Stout

I hate to admit it, but my name is Carol and I’m a book-buying addict. Notice I didn’t say I’m addicted to reading books. While I do my fair share of study, I buy far more books than I’m able to ingest leading me to contemplate giving audio books a chance. Last week I took the plunge signing up for a 30 Day free subscription and finished my first ever audio book, ‘The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us’ by Dr. Martha Stout.

Fortunately, I picked well. Before sharing what I learned, I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed listened to the narrative on my drive to and from my site. Technically, the book was well read and there were no glitches in the audio that I am finding distracting with my second audio book pick. Additionally, Stout avoids getting bogged down in technical language, and utilized stories from her own practice to help communicate, define and explain the distinctions of those who are anti-social and how they get away with behaviors that are communally objectionable.

The weaving of fact with examples drew me in as a listener as she paints a portrait that leads to a more holistic understanding of sociopathy in contrast with the typical one-dimensional reduction of a list of characteristics that minimize the impact of sociopaths. The tone of voice and pace of the narration was soothing and gentle; a stark contrast to the reality of the affects on relationships and society by what Stout defines as the ‘conscience-free’.

The Sociopath Next Door is not a new book, but was released back in 2005. Good news for the reader, because access and/or cost isn’t a prohibitive factor. I would love to see this book as required reading by psychology programs, donated to every Community Mental Health Center and Domestic Violence Shelter and read by those naïve individuals who believe that sociopaths are relegated to the dark alley’s or prisons.

Stout addresses this limited perception. One in twenty five or four percent of the population are conscience free (a sociopath)……okay sit with that for a minute. You know, have known, and are related to or cross paths with one or more sociopaths. With the confusion that surrounds this personality disorder, many people fail to recognize when a sociopath is in their midst. Stout urges people to understand and learn to recognize specific traits and behaviors in order to protect oneself and the broader community from the dangerous games in which sociopaths engage in.

The author provides excellent descriptions of what it would be like to lack a conscience and what kind of behavior are available to one who is conscience free (anything). Sociopaths engage in a variety of behaviors; and depending on their personal characteristics and preferences can and do climb to positions of power in politics and business; to going on killing sprees.

Stout states, ‘the untrustworthy do not wear special shirts nor is there a litmus test for trustworthiness’ When it comes to trusting, we have to risk. Each of us have made mistakes and have trusted someone who wasn’t worthy of our trust, however that is not a failure on our part but an indication that we fall into the category of the conscience bound. The author also addresses the origins of conscience, its role in attachment, morality, altruism and how without it love is impossible. She argues why being conscience bound is far preferable to being conscience free. So how do we recognize if we are dealing with the sociopath next door?

“How do we know who to trust, or better yet not to trust?”

Stout provides the reader the unifying identifier of a sociopath - ‘the pity play’. “The more reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed as one might imagine at our fearlessness. It is perversely an appeal to our sympathy.” The conscience bound is defenseless when it feels pity. The emotional vulnerability It creates get used against the empathic by those who have no conscience. Sociopaths have no regard for the social contract the remainder of us lives by, but they do know how to use it to their advantage. “All in all if the devil existed he would want us to feel sorry for him.”

I’m hoping that this reflection has wet your appetite to learn more and I would like to leave you with protections that Stout encourages we integrate into our relationships and lives.


  1. The first ‘bitter rule’ is acceptance. Some people literally have no conscience.

  2. In a contest between your instincts and what is implied by the role the person has taken on – educator, doctor, leader, animal lover, humanist, parent – GO WITH YOUR INSTINCTS.

  3. When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has. One lie, one broken promise or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding Two may involve a serious mistake, but three lies says you are dealing with a liar and deceit is a linchpin of conscienceless behavior – CUT YOUR LOSSES and GET OUT. It might be hard, but it will be easier now than later and less costly.

  4. Question authority. Trust your own instincts and anxieties especially those concerning people who claim that dominating is the grand solution to some problem. At least six out of ten will blindly obey to the bitter end an official looking authority in their midst, having social support makes people somewhat more likely to question authority.

  5. Suspect Flattery. Compliments are lovely, especially when sincere. Flattery is extreme and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways. Counterfeit charm nearly always involves an intent to manipulate.

  6. If necessary, redefine your concept of respect. Too often we mistake fear for respect, and the more fearly we are of someone, the more we view him or her deserving of respect. Mistaking fear for respect insures victimization. Let us use our human brain to overpower the animal instinct to bow to predators, disentangling the reflexive confusion of anxiety and awe.

  7. Do not join the game. Intrigue is the sociopaths tool. Resist the temptation to compete with a sociopath, to try to outsmart him, psychoanalyze him, or even banter with him. In addition to reducing yourself to his level, you are also distracting yourself from what is really important and that is protecting yourself.

  8. The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication. Sociopaths live outside social contracts, therefore to include them in relationships or other social arrangements I perilous. If total avoidance is impossible, make plans to come as close as you can to the goal of total avoidance.

  9. Question your tendency to pity too easily. Respect should be reserved for the kind and the morally courageous. Pity is another socially valuable response and should be reserved for innocent people who are in genuine pain and have fallen on misfortune. If you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100% that you are dealing with a sociopath. Related to this – I recommend that you severely challenge your need to be polite in absolutely all situations. Sociopaths take huge advantage of this automatic courtesy in exploitive situations. Do not be afraid to be unsmiling and calmly to the point.

  10. Do not try to redeem the unredeemable. Second, third, fourth and fifth chances are for people who possess conscience. The sociopaths behaviour is not your fault, not in anyway whatsoever. It is also not your mission. Your mission is YOUR OWN LIFE.

  11. Never agree, out of pity or for any other reason, to help a sociopath conceal his or her true identity. ‘Please don’t tell’ is often spoken tearfully and with great gnashing of teeth, is a trademark plea of thieves, child abusers and sociopaths. Don’t listen to their siren song. Other people deserve to be warned more than sociopaths deserve to have you keep their secrets. If someone without conscience insists that you ‘owe’ them.

  12. Defend your psyche. Do not allow someone without a conscience convince you that humanity is a failure. Most people do possess a conscience. Most human beings are able to love.

  13. Living well is the best revenge.

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