Think of yourself as a sociopath
Sociopaths often go unnoticed - we asked you how they do it
Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockExperts estimate that anywhere between one and four percent of people agree with the criteria of a sociopath, which means that you might have run into someone - or you might be one yourself.
Character traits, such as infrequent guilt or shame, constant lying, unreliability, and difficulty understanding the concept of love, are all signs psychologists look for when trying to diagnose sociopathy. However, it is still an imprecise science. People with so-called sociopathic traits can also appear charming because they can be confident, fearless, and a joke.
Even the exact definition of sociopathy is controversial, making it harder to estimate how many people are living with the condition. So what makes a sociopath?
The book "Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight" made the idea of what is known to us as a "successful sociopath" mainstream. It is a memorandum from a person supposedly diagnosed as a sociopath. She describes how she works her way through life while taking advantage of some of these sociopathic traits by forging and manipulating.
According to author M. E. Thomas (a pseudonym) it is in the best interests of a sociopath to appear “normal”. Thomas says this would have helped her thrive in life without raising suspicions and manipulating people behind the scenes when she could.
There is much speculation that Thomas was telling the whole truth, and some believe the book is just some clever fictional work. Either way, the question arises: How exactly do sociopaths pass us by without arousing any suspicion? We spoke to one to find out how he does it.
Keep in mind that an individual experience cannot represent an entire population, but merely provides an interesting glimpse into how a person diagnosed with mental illness acts in daily life. Also be aware that like any other disease, sociopathy can appear on a wide spectrum and there is no one correct answer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that one of the traits of sociopaths is an inflated sense of superiority and a tendency to exaggerate.
The leap into the unknown
I started my search for a sociopath on internet forums because I thought it was the best place to look for someone who is isolated from society but who is just as willing to speak. After I sent out some inquiries and some jokes and teasing were made at my expense, people wrote to me privately.
At some point I met David (not his real name). He's between 25 and 35 years old and once worked in investment banking, but now he works in a high position at a tech company he co-founded.
To maintain anonymity, he asked me not to post too much of his personal and professional information, let alone the forum where I found him. In return, he would answer openly and transparently any questions I had.
First, according to David, there is no such thing as a hard and fast diagnosis for sociopaths. The closest diagnosis you can get is the "antisocial personality disorder" (ASPD), which is often referred to as sociopathy. David was diagnosed with ASPD as a child and attended a therapist.
ASPD is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat and, unless ordered by a court, it is the person's choice whether or not to seek treatment. In fact, there is no known effective treatment for this disorder.
David said he knew he was different from a young age. But it wasn't until he got older that the difference became bigger, especially through his “willingness to use violence as a tool of persuasion”.
"I have had several encounters with authorities and institutions, like most children," said David. "They thought these encounters were extreme enough to warrant a psychological evaluation."
David said he was good at school but got bored easily. He remembered hooking up with people he called "the wrong people."
"For me, violence and abuse was a way of dealing with boredom at school," he said. “It's animalistic in a way - if you've hunted before you will understand what I'm talking about. The sight of sheer animal fear on the verge of panic. It's a basic feeling. "
Are Sociopaths Really the Pullers?
To David, the diagnosis is just an invisible label, and no one - except his parents - has ever known about it. Character traits such as impulsiveness, aggressiveness, recklessness, and an inability to follow social norms are all traits that are not ideal for someone maneuvering through a modern work environment. So he keeps the diagnosis to himself.
"The traits of sociopathy almost all work against someone who wants to be successful in our society, which is why most end up in prison," he said. "However, when used in the right way and kept in check, there are also qualities that make you a good leader."
David said his personality has been beneficial in achieving what he wants to achieve in his career.
“My boldness, ruthlessness and willpower have defined who I am,” he said. "People are too scared of authority, too content to tread the beaten path, but most of all they are the trailblazers for weakness."
“You are responsible for the disease of mediocrity that runs through businesses. The little trodden path is littered with the careers of the weak, but I will not apologize for not tolerating their weakness. "
At the same time, David understands that part of his personality would be uninviting if he let it come out completely. In reality, many of his ASPD traits remain hidden from those around him, such as his ruthlessness or lack of remorse.
"Showing a lower level of empathy is extremely offensive to just about anyone," he said. "Learning to care more about people and understand other people's perspectives is something I do all the time at work."
When it comes to manipulating people, David doesn't really see it black or white. Indeed, where does the line between persuasion and manipulation blur?
“People are stupid and I often don't know what's best for them or the company,” he said. "If I take the liberty to use whatever means necessary to get you to see the situation from my point of view, is that really wrong?"
He did not elaborate on what he meant by "any means necessary," but said that the carrot and the stick are both "excellent tools." In addition, everything is necessary "that gets you from A to B, as long as it is legal".
David understands that the traits associated with sociopathy are not designed for stable, long-term relationships, and the way he circumvents this is by isolating himself from relationships and acting differently from different groups of people.
"You can be one person when it suits the situation and another when that is more appropriate," he said. "I'm bored with partners because I'm someone who enjoys extremes."
“Most people, on the other hand, tend to be mundane and enjoy everyday life. I want and long for action and I hate mediocrity. "
In other words, the idea of a “normal” family life sounds “terribly boring” to David. While David puts aside his inclinations at work, he has no reason to pretend in personal relationships to be something he is not. He just doesn't care about romantic relationships the way they're a target to so many other people.
Sociopaths don't have to be loners
Before speaking to David, I spoke to the founder of one of the forums I was hanging out on. She designed it in such a way that people with sociopathic disorders can talk to one another and get to know one another without limits - but with that comes disturbing content that is discussed in the discussions.
Ultimately, she says, it is a place where isolated people can make friends without being ridiculed or judged, and many of the people have been there for years. It's easy to look in and judge from the outside, but after spending a bit of time there there was a sense of community.
The founder also told me that she believed that everyone and nobody is a sociopath. I asked David that question.
"From a certain point of view, sure," he said. "It is a question of the extent to which people show these traits and to what extent they prevent them from fitting into society."
“The cartoon-like idea of a sociopath is taken to extremes. Nobody acts like that. Everyone is different in one way or another. "
At the end of the day, he says, sociopathy is simply a label to describe different character traits that are more prevalent in a particular group of people.
Translated by Nathalie Gaulhiac
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