CON­FES­SIONS OF A SO­CIOPATH: A LIFE SPENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

A LIFE SPENT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

Guru Magazine - - Contents - A grad­u­ate of med­i­cal sciences, Dorothée Gre­vers lives and works in Ber­lin, Ger­many as she tries to make it as a sci­en­tist and writer. At Guru she em­bar­rasses the team by writ­ing bet­ter English than any­one else. When not do­ing sci­ence or writ­ing, she spen

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…

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