CONFESSIONS OF A SOCIOPATH: A LIFE SPENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
A LIFE SPENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Dorothée Grevers scrutinizes the autobiographical account of a real life sociopath, ‘M.E. Thomas’. The author works as a top lawyer while leading a life devoid of emotion. Find out the verdict on this book on page 49.
Author: M. E. Thomas Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson Price: £9.09, ( Amazon UK, Kindle version available) Rating:
They make up between 1–4% of the population – but you probably won’t hear anyone owning up to being one. In fact, chances are that you know one personally. Maybe you’re even one yourself but nobody knows it... Which insidious members of society am I talking about? Sociopaths.
Confessions of a Sociopath is a personal account of life as a sociopath. Written by M.E. Thomas – a pseudonym, of course – a self-proclaimed and (later) officially diagnosed sociopath, the book delves into the mind of someone who has a very different emotional life to most. Extending beyond a mere description of what it’s like to be a sociopath, her book is a self-exploration of what it’s like to live without emotion. And as the author often points out, survival is by “mimicking the manifestations” of other people’s emotions. The book highlights many of the typical traits of a sociopath. People like M.E. have a tendency to lie and cheat for egocentric gain; have a superficial charm but are utterly self-obsessed; and have limited and often distorted interpersonal relationships. Fundamentally, sociopaths have no guilt or shame and seem incapable of appropriate emotional responses. All of these ‘qualities’ can be grouped together and described as ‘ antisocial behaviour’, and form the core of what psychiatrists prefer to call ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’. But you and I know them as the sociopaths or psychopaths – portrayed as serial killers or ruthless criminals. This murderous stereotype is exactly what Thomas dispels with her book. She says that she has no criminal record – on the contrary, she is a successful law professor. And from being a curse, she describes how her sociopathy has helped her to succeed. It is her self-focused ambition, ability to manipulate and use people without remorse, and knack for purely rational thought that make her so powerful. Thomas gives several real-life examples to illustrate this manipulation in the world around us, most explicitly in the tough and competitive realm of business. It is here that enthusiastic selfishness and fastidious manipulation set the successful apart from those who fall behind. This is likely due to their lack of emotional response, which in turn, as Thomas claims, allows them to make more rational decisions. If we’re honest, we can all probably think of several wealthy tycoons who demonstrate some of these qualities. Besides pointing out examples of sociopathy around us, the reader also gains insights into her background and early family life. The debate of nature versus nurture often arises when we discuss disorders and, in Thomas’ case, her dysfunctional and slightly abusive family background could have indeed brought out the sociopathic traits of her personality. She mentions instances of neglect and abuse; it could be that she developed these sociopathic traits as a defence mechanism. However, it seems unlikely that it was only her environmental background that made her a sociopath: she compares and contrasts herself to her siblings and they’re all quite different from one another. Thomas intersperses her personal memoirs with interesting scientific research on sociopathy. Some of this is fascinating: she mentions an experiment in which participants were told they were to receive a mild electric shock, and ‘sociopathic’ participants displayed much lower levels
of anxiety. Other scientific titbits are just plain frightening: a study at King’s College London has found that sociopaths have less developed brain regions associated with emotions and empathy.
Confessions of a Sociopath is far from being a book about science, but instead is a personal account, written as part narrative and part stream-of-conscious. It is a refreshing departure from a conventional non-fiction text, and her recollections from her youth are enthralling. However, it is the informal, meandering style of Thomas’ writing that is the book’s biggest downfall: the structure often becomes irrelevant as Thomas repeats the same point and, at times, becomes overly fixated on excessively expanding certain topics. Perhaps this is just her obsessive personality traits coming out in her writing… Taken as a whole, Confessions of a Sociopath is an enjoyable and challenging read. Thomas offers an intimate insight into the mind of a sociopath and how the ‘illness’ is very much a part of today’s society. The book takes away some of the mystery and has left me with a better impression of sociopaths – or at least, what Thomas is like as a sociopath. But then, that was probably her plan all along…