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Daily Beast sympathizes with the sociopath

A couple of months ago I was contacted by Caitlin Dickson, a reporter for the Daily Beast blog (the online presence of Newsweek magazine). She was writing an article about the book Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas. She asked me what I thought of the book. I explained that I refused to buy it so I hadn’t read it, although I did read Thomas’ article in Psychology Today (which was online). Here’s my previous post about the book:

Confessions of a Sociopath: a book I don’t want to buy or read

I talked to Dickson about the millions of sociopaths who live among us, and how destructive they are. I explained Lovefraud’s work in helping people recognize, avoid or escape them. I recommended that she call Dr. Liane Leedom for an authoritative explanation of this complex personality disorder.

Dickson was not interested in my information, and included none of it in the story she wrote. She didn’t bother calling Dr. Leedom. Instead, this cub reporter (graduated from journalism school in 2010) wrote an article that struck me as being sympathetic to sociopaths. Read:

How to spot a sociopath (Hint: It could be you), on thedailybeast.com.

Point by point critique

Here are some points of the article, along with my comments

“Sociopathy is not simply a disorder of serial killers but one that exists on a spectrum, plaguing to varying degrees a large portion of successful, apparently well-adjusted people.”

Yes, sociopathy is not just for serial killers and it does exist on a spectrum. But “a large portion of successful, apparently well-adjusted people” are not sociopaths. Experts estimate that sociopaths make up 1% to 4% of the population—that doesn’t qualify as a “large portion.”

Of this small slice, many sociopaths are obvious criminals and substance abusers, and many more can’t seem to hold their lives together. Still, there probably are millions of sociopaths who do appear well-adjusted — to everyone but their spouses. And the people who work most closely with them know that their success is built on bullying, intimidation and playing loose with the rules.

“Psychopathy, more or less, is the clinical term for sociopathy, and the two are often used interchangeably.”

Psychopathy is not a clinical term; it is the term that researchers use. Clinicians call it “antisocial personality disorder.”

“A September 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ranked U.S. presidents in order of their possession of a psychopathic trait called ‘fearless dominance.'”

“Fearless dominance” is not universally accepted as a trait of psychopathy. However, I can understand how Dickson could have been influenced by the idea, because several scientific papers have been published about the concept. In fact, it was the subject of a heated debate at the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy conference that I attended in June.

One side argued that fearless dominance is part of psychopathy and is linked to success. The other side argued that fearless dominance is not a valid concept and reminded the group that there is nothing good about the psychopathic personality disorder. In my opinion, the researcher speaking against fearless dominance had a much stronger argument and won the debate hands down.

“In 1980, criminal psychologist Robert Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).”

The PCL-R was released in 1991.

“Thomas isn’t an actual killer—and she and other researchers emphasize that most sociopaths aren’t killers either. Instead, Thomas says her favorite preferred sociopathic pastime is ‘ruining people.’”

Dickson never says or implies that there’s anything wrong with “ruining people.” In fact, the article does not even hint at the true destruction that sociopaths cause.

“(John Edens, a psychology professor at Texas A&M) argues that ‘saying someone is a psychopath or not is drawing a bit of an arbitrary line in the sand,’ suggesting that all people likely possess a certain amount of sociopathic traits, some just more pronounced than others.”

This is an incredible oversimplification of two distinct concepts. First of all, Edens is right. Psychopathy syndrome — a group of related traits. It is also a continuum — individuals can have each of the traits to a different degree. The point at which someone qualifies to be “a psychopath” — usually the cut score of 30 out of 40 on the PCL-R — is somewhat arbitrary.

Secondly, although non-disordered people may have sociopathic traits, they score exceptionally low — perhaps under 5 on the PCL-R. The behavior of people who score 5 or less is nothing like the exploitative behavior of those who score over 30.

“There’s virtually no known treatment for ruthless, manipulative, law-abiding citizens who lack empathy. And, really, should there be? These are traits that are often attributed to success.”

Here’s where Caitlin Dickson shows how clueless she really is. Let me be blunt: Sociopaths are evil. Sociopaths view the world as predators and prey — they are the predators, and everyone else is prey. Even those who appear to be successful leave a wake of destruction: ruined lives, abused children, financial wrongdoing and corporate collapse. Sociopaths are not ruthless and manipulative in business only — that’s also how they treat their spouses and kids. The human toll for this “success” is unbelievably steep, so it is a crying shame that there is no treatment for this disorder.

“In lieu of therapy, Thomas has discovered some alternatives to treatment. For one, she credits Mormonism, specifically its doctrine that anyone can change and its required social engagements, with keeping her on track.”

Sociopaths are not religious. They join churches to find easy prey. I wonder how many people Thomas targeted at the church? And if Thomas considers herself to be on track while ruining people for fun, what would she be like while “off track”?

“Sociopaths are mostly ‘problematic in terms of the stress they cause other people.’”

Stress? Stress is being late for work. Sociopaths are so abusive that many of their targets —including 21% of romantic partners — consider suicide. Some, tragically, go through with it, a phenomenon I’ve heard called “murder by suicide.”

“Said Lauren (friend of M.E. Thomas), ‘Her ultimate goal is to be out as a sociopath, accepted by society and not vilified.’”

M.E. Thomas wants to be accepted and not vilified, even though her favorite pastime is ruining people?

Keep in mind that sociopaths are not delusional — they always know exactly what they are doing. So when they engage in exploitative behavior, it is by their own choice. They can refrain from exploiting people. They do it all the time in the beginning of relationships, romantic or otherwise. They’re fun, helpful, caring, attentive — until the person is hooked. Then the knives come out.

Sociopaths are vilified for their behavior, which they freely choose. Society should do a better job of not accepting them, and holding them accountable for their actions.

“With regard to whether Thomas could legally be fired for coming clean, employment attorney Jessica Kastin explained that Thomas would probably have a very hard time making the case that she was being discriminated against because of her disorder.”

Sociopaths make lousy employees. They lie, cheat, back stab, steal from the company, swindle customers and create a hostile working environment. Is Dickson really suggesting that employers should not be allowed to get rid of them?

Skipping over the abuse

What really bothered me about this article is how the reporter failed to acknowledge, in fact, minimized, the harm sociopaths inflict on others. Sociopaths abuse people — physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually and/or financially. They are social predators. One researcher estimates that national cost of psychopathy is $460 billion per year. Hello? I’d say that’s a problem.

So why would Dickson write an article that was essentially sympathetic to M.E. Thomas and other sociopaths? I’d guess that Dickson is one of those lucky people who never had a run-in with a sociopath (so far). She may still believe that all people are basically good, and all people just want to be loved. She doesn’t understand that there are people in the world who are intrinsically abusive.

I was like that when I was a young journalist. Then I married a sociopath.

It also seems to me that when Dickson interviewed Thomas, the sociopath presented herself as a woman who was simply misunderstood, and was doing her best to cope with her disorder. Dickson didn’t understand how good sociopaths are at playing the victim, so she bought the story.

“I am naturally manipulative,” Thomas told Dickson. Guess what. Dickson was manipulated.

Uninformed editors

I can understand this young reporter not fully grasping the topic she was dealing with — as I said, I’ve been there. I remember some of the magazine articles I wrote when I was her age, and I now grimace at how naive they were. So my question is, where were her editors?

The Daily Beast is a sophisticated publication, edited by Tina Brown — former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. It claims to be dedicated to “breaking news and sharp commentary.”

So either the Daily Beast editors don’t understand this personality disorder — which is likely, because most people in the media, like the general population, don’t get it. Or, the Daily Beast is so intrigued by “sharp commentary” that they’re willing to say that sociopaths aren’t all that bad.

What’s scary is that the Daily Beast gets 18 million unique online visitors a month. So millions of people may have read this article and come away with the impression that sociopaths are just misunderstood people who play manipulative games — not that these people can ruin their lives.

This article is truly a disservice to all Daily Beast readers. But hey, at least it conveyed the point that sociopaths aren’t all serial killers.

 



67 Comments on "Daily Beast sympathizes with the sociopath"

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  1. Stargazer says:

    I’m sorry, one joy. Thank you for coming here and sharing your story. I’m always glad to see your posts and always sending you well wishes. I have a great deal of respect for you and how you manage your life, and I wish it could be easier for you. We are all doing the very best we can, and sometimes we don’t have the resources to deal with our pain.

    I’ve had some emotional pain coming up lately, and it is actually causing me physical symptoms. I am aching all over and have flu-like symptoms, and yet I know it’s emotional. Very strange. I am going to try and follow my own advice and release it physically today.

    As always, I wish the very best for you, and I hope it helps to come here and talk. I probably would have no way of knowing if anything happened to you. But if I ever found out you had committed suicide, I’d be very upset. The thought of it is making me tear up right now.



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  2. one/joy_step_at_a_time says:

    star – i have so little control in my life because of illness. keeping that ‘card’ in my pocket is a way to give myself a way out of what is shit, what i can’t control, and that may never get better. I cannot live like this forever. I won’t.

    i am sorry, the more i write the worse it sounds. i am not trying to do that, but i don’t know that i can write enough here to get to a place where i can offer any kind of reassurance. i have been so sick for the last 2 months – the last year, the last 5 years….i can’t keep going like this. it’s so painful not being able to make lasting progress. and being alone.

    don’t worry. i keep trying.



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  3. Stargazer says:

    One joy, I was gonna crack some joke and pretend to be a spath, but people on here have given me crap for teasing you, so I won’t do that, though the urge to goof around with people is ever present. 🙂 Also, I don’t really know how to lovebomb people. I hope you just keep connecting with others – at least the people on here who are not spaths (however big or small that percentage might be) because you sound isolated. And plugging into a support group or any group can bring you out of isolation. It’s a lot easier to deal with pain and stress when you are connecting to others and sharing in each other’s lives. None of us can live in a vacuum. Literally, it’s just too small (sorry, couldn’t help it. lol). Okay, well my boa constrictor climbed up inside my vacuum when she was about 3 feet long….seriously.

    For the times you start to feel depression and hopelessness lift, you can continue on your path. And for the times you’re down, you can drop in here and hang out with your online support group for a while. I remember once you were considering getting a pet snake. Any chance of that happening?



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    • one/joy_step_at_a_time says:

      Star, laughter IS the best medicine. i keep thinking of the little prince drawing of the snake digesting an elephant. 😉

      i am soooo isolated. i am too unwell to be outside for long (wearing a mask all the time – and i don’t mean something zorro hot, but medical white); I am struggling with the new adhesions forming in my lungs – the buggers hurt and twist my body, and i know if i don’t actively fight them my breathing will worsen further; and my chemical sensitivities have gone through the roof. I have been so f**king sick and more and more isolated. it’s really tough.

      i stopped coming hear because of the spaths. sigh. so, i am a bit reluctant to hang out here much.

      some friends gave me a fish after surgery. i wanted a fish, but i so didn’t have the enrgy to take care of him. he committed suicide. ya think i am kidding?! i had to drop water on him to scrape him off the floor. he was very cute. i don’t have the energy to take care of myself properly, so a new life form is out of the question. have to say though, a little cat came into my life recently – he belongs to a neighbour. he is lovely. we actually had a cuddle for 2 whole minutes. didn’t seem to bother me much, but i am so overboard in reaction to everything i can’t really tell.



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  4. Quinn says:

    Hi one joy- I think you are very brave and strong for sharing your story in this way. I understand ‘survival mode’ as you describe it, and I know how overwhelming thoughts can become. I have a very difficult time envisioning my future, and usually end up envisioning a worse case scenario. I’ve learned to just think of something I’d like, even if it’s something small, and stop before the storyline is picked up by my fearful imagination. And I agree with everyone’s comments that anger is a normal reaction and releasing it is paramount. it sounds like you have a lot of anger at yourself and you were never allowed to ‘give yourself a break’. So it builds. Emily dickinson described regret at ‘memory awake’- and that always stuck with me, we need our memories, but that’s where we tend to hold remorse, regret, etc and it’s difficult to detach one from the other. I hope that you can find a way to trust yourself and your strength to release some of the anger. i tend to carry around a lot of emotions that don’t belong to me, and it gets heavy, but I think we are all learning and your comments suggest a strong desire to heal, and I believe you will.



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    • one/joy_step_at_a_time says:

      Quinn, i like your suggestion of envisioning something i’d like and then stopping before the story line runs. i totally relate to envisioning the worse case scenario – that’s why i don’t want to envision the future, all i see is more pain, and i am shocked by how hard that hits me. i can’t talk or think my way out of it, so i have to avoid it.

      giving myself a break – i am trying. i need others to, also. i have 2 employers, and one of them is really picking at me right now. i need him to stop. he has severe adhd and i know that when he is stressed how it rolls downhill. the kind of sick i am affects my ability to be onsite and my cognitive ability. the more he pushes the more stressed i get – the harder it is to give myself a break (aka PTSD kicking in) I think i have him settled, then he powers up again. he did it again this afternoon. he has to stop it. i will talk to him again on wednesday.

      the cognitive affect is part of the lack of self trust, and accepting some bullying. i don’t have the energy to work, deal with my health issues, be sick,deal with normal work stress AND deal with being picked at. some days i lose words, other days i have no idea what the date is, i have to look at the calendar/email several times a day, i sometimes get dates wrong, confuse homophones, etc. it’s really stressful. some days are good, others are not so good, others are really bad. i deal with people and write all the time for work – and both jobs are very demanding and complex. i need to protect my health, and tell people only as much as necessary and hide my problems for fear of losing work. i have reached out to mental health services and am waiting to see if i can get into the queue for a job retention case worker (PTSD/anxiety). work is very hard to get here. i hold on tight, and try to be as professional as possible (and not personally revealing). i was diagnosed with Cancer last October – after a lot of testing and cutting i was diagnosed with Histoplasmosis in my lung and chest, instead. Said pissy boss was very supportive then……if i was having treatment i would be less able than i am now, so I guess he isn’t as supportive as he would like to believe he is. this picking at me is BS. it really has to stop. i am so very tired.

      thank you for saying that my comments show a strong desire to heal. my memories are way too alive with pain. my regrets are deep. the last year sits on me like a mill stone. mill stone on top of mill stone, grinding away at me. blech.

      i have my first consult with an ND tomorrow. i have to go get my history together for him.



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      • Quinn says:

        hi one joy- I won’t keep you, but I wanted to say I understand the forgetfulness and losing words, too, that happens to me under stress and usually when someone is pushing me to answer- as you described. Some people are external processors meaning they talk through their thoughts and need the answer as a means of closure. Those of us that are internal processors need time to mull over the information or question before answering or run the risk of panic attack and loss of word retrieval. I only learned that when I started a healthy relationship with someone who is an external processor and I still couldn’t ‘function’ when I felt I was put on the spot. You have to find a way to give yourself time when you feel cornered by your boss, maybe saying “I’d like to think about that for a minute, I’ll get right back to you” then you can breathe and actually think which you cannot do while having anxiety. I think you are tremendously strong- you are navigating through more than I can imagine doing, and you are still trying to find ways to heal, you have not given up by any means. Good luck tomorrow and know that you are not alone-
        Quinn



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  5. Stargazer says:

    You asked for humor…..careful what you ask for ;). Watch this entire video. And the next time someone at work starts talking crap, just say “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh7UgAprdpM

    Caution: This song may take over your thoughts for a while. 😉



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