Daily Archives: December 5, 2011

Understanding & Recognizing Sociopathy (“Confronting Elder Abuse”)


In her book “The Sociopath Next Door — The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us“, published by Broadway Press in February of 2005, Martha Stout quotes the “current bible” of psychiatric labels, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association. According to that manual, a clinical diagnosis of “antisocial personality disorder”, what you or I might term “sociopath” would require that the individual possess at least three of the following seven characteristics:

  1. failure to conform to social norms,
  2. deceitfulness,
  3. impulsivity with a failure to plan ahead,
  4. irritability, aggressiveness,
  5. reckless disregard for the safety of self or others,
  6. consistent irresponsibility,
  7. lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another.

Most of us know individuals who have exhibited one or more of these characteristics at different times in their lives. But a person who exhibits at least three of these characteristics or more and does so consistently is an individual with whom we should limit our interactions. Psychologists would label that individual as having “antisocial personality disorder“. (page 6)

According to Dr. Stout: “Conscience is a creator of meaning. As a sense of constraint rooted in our emotional ties to one another, it prevents life from devolving into nothing but a long and essentially boring game of attempted dominancy over our fellow human beings, and for every limitation conscience imposes on us, it gives us a moment of connectedness with another, a bridge to someone or something outside of our often meaningless schemes.” (page 52)

Conscience helps us to understand what the other person is feeling. It keeps us from hurting one another because we know intrinsically how it feels to be hurt. Conscience make us feel guilty when we do something to hurt another. Someone who listens to her conscience believes in “doing unto others what you would want done unto you.”


CHARM — according to Dr. Stout, “charm is a primary characteristic of sociopaths“.

People without a conscience often have a kind of charisma which draws others to them. People without a conscience can instantly recognize “someone who is decent and trusting, someone who can be counted on to assume more than her share of responsibility.” (page 88) But people with a conscience seldom recognize a sociopath until they have been hurt, emotionally, physically or financially. When a normal person is hurt, she struggles to understand why.

Those of us who possess a conscience have a hard time judging those without a conscience. When we think that we have misunderstood another person’s actions, we do not judge that individual for we fear we would hurt the other. Instead normal people look deeply at themselves, judging whether they themselves have done something to the other, unwilling to accept that another person would willingly hurt them. Sociopaths have no such qualms.

Once a sociopath recognizes a victim, she will study that person. She will make it “her business” to know everything about the intended victim, learning how that person can be manipulated to the sociopath’s advantage. In addition, “the sociopath knows how to promote a sense of familiarity or intimacy by claiming that she and her victim are similar in some way.” (page 90)

The perpetrator of the crimes against my parents questioned me often about my sisters, about their jobs and character traits and about myself. The abuser presented herself as someone just like my sisters and me — loving, hardworking, committed to her family especially her parents, willing to “go the extra mile” for a friend or loved one. She often said to me that we were much alike, a common technique of the sociopath. The abuser promoted a sense of familiarity, so that any judgment that I would make of her, would be made by thinking about myself. I had no need to question her actions, because I knew exactly how I would act in her place. And yet there were times that her actions, her responses to my questions confused and disoriented me. I did not realize that this disorientation was my intuition warning me that something was amiss.

ACTING SKILLS — displays of emotion can become “second nature” to the sociopath. What we term “crocodile tears” are a sociopaths trademark.

The perpetrator of the crimes against my parents could bring on tears faster than I could snap my fingers. When speaking about my parents, the abuser expressed great concern and care for my parents. Her eyes would tear up when speaking of the difficulties my parents, in particular, my dad was having. The abuser’s own mother was ill at the time and the abuser often spoke angrily about her sister’s care of her mother. It appeared that she was genuinely concerned about her mother, but I was to learn later that the abuser’s show of concern was part of her “act”, a way of hiding her true self from me. Only once did I experience what I would later learn was the abuser’s true self, when she screamed at me about her dying mother in an angry voice: “Why is it taking her so long to die?”

According to Dr. Stout, “a sociopath who is about to be cornered will turn suddenly into a piteous weeping figure whom no one could continue to pressure.” I witnessed that behavior when I called the abuser and told her that she was suspected of elder abuse, to tell her that she had been fired. The abuser began to cry and sob within moments, asking me what would happen to her dearly loved patients, how could they and our family manage. Not once did she cry or express concern for herself or her future or lash out at me in anger or even defend herself. That was an unexpected response from the abuser that I later learned was meant to deflect my attention from what she had done. I was not affected by her tears; I had seen them before and now knew them to be a lie.


Dr. Stout also states that “sociopaths make use of professional roles“, such as that of nurses, doctors, police officers and the like, people whom the ordinary person is not likely to examine closely. Normal people know how a nurse or doctor or policeman should behave. We know that nurses, doctors and police officers are caring and loving people who give their lives and energy in service to others. Consequently, we fail to examine fully the individual who gives herself one of those professional titles. We expect her to behave as the rest of that class of professionals would behave and we seldom question her motives.

The perpetrator of the crimes against my parents easily fooled even professional medical people. Several doctors who knew and visited with my parents expressed disbelief when they were told of the actions of the abuser. The doctors related that the abuser had spoken very skillfully and professionally, exhibiting a wide ranging knowledge of medicine and procedures. The abuser could easily recall all of the medications my parents took and what purpose each medicine served. She could relate the schedule of medications, how much, what dosage and what time of day the medicine would be taken. All of this without referring to the chart my sister had provided of the medication schedule. Because the abuser called herself a caregiver, the doctors never questioned her truthfulness or her dedication to her patients. Like my sisters and myself, medical professionals accepted as valid the personna which the abuser presented to them.

People with conscience are distracted from a person’s behavior when he “represents himself as somehow benevolent, creative or insightful” (page 92) As Dr. Stout asserts, conscience can render an individual blind, because people without conscience can use the rules which society sets up to hold everything together — like professional roles, or empathy for one another, or regard for the ill among us — against those with conscience. Normal people expect someone in a professional or helping role to act a particular way and when they do not, we are confused by what we see. We may even think that we are somehow deficient in our ability to judge what we see.


We expect those who do terrible things to look like bad people. But in everyday reality evil individuals look very much like us. I was struck by the look of the abuser at the plea agreement hearing. I had not seen the abuser up close for nearly ten months. The woman whom I had once thought of as a friend appeared very hard and cold, looking at my sister and me with anger, resentment and deep hatred. During the abuser’s employment with my family, the abuser’s demeanor was always pleasant and smiling, her appearance professional. Why didn’t I see how cold and unfeeling her eyes were or the anger within her when she was first hired? Did I see only what I wanted to see — a caring person, someone just like me? Or is it as Dr. Stout asserts that the sociopath uses a professional role to “hide herself” as though she were wearing a mask.

Dr. Stout also states that good people, people with a conscience, “are never completely sure that they are right.” Even after my dad died and we learned what had happened to our parents, my sisters and I wondered if we were misjudging the perpetrator. We went over the evidence numerous times to prove to ourselves that our judgement was correct.

People with a conscience “question themselves constantly, subjecting their decisions and actions to the exacting scrutiny of an intervening sense of obligation rooted in their attachments to others.” (page 96) Since sociopaths make no firm connections to another, they are free to act as they will. Sociopaths do not and perhaps cannot love, so they have no need to question whether their actions will hurt someone they love. Sociopaths are only concerned about themselves.

Dr. Stout gives many examples from her years of work in psychology illustrating what she has written.


  1. Statistics show that one out of every twenty five people is a sociopath. In order to identify a sociopath, according to Dr. Stout, “we must know them a long time“. “They do not have a mark on their forehead.” They do not wear a black hat or show any other signs of being other than normal.(page 106)
  2. “The pity play” — according to Dr. Stout “the most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.…”(page 107) The abuser used the pity play very effectively with our family. For example, she stated that her mother, who was nearing the end of her life, could not afford pain medication, and she and her sisters did not have enough money to buy the medicines. The abuser claimed that her house had been broken into and her wedding rings and antique jewelry were stolen. The abuser claimed that her childhood was poor, her mother having to support eleven children after her father had died. The abuser claimed that her extended family would not help her mother after her father died. There are many such stories told to my family. And we accepted them all, knowing that such things do happen to others. Given that we were trustworthy people, we never questioned the abuser’s truthfulness.

More than admiration–more even than fear – pity from good people is carte blanche. When we pity, we are, at least for the moment, defenseless, and like so many of the essentially positive human characteristics that bind us together in groups–social and professional roles, sexual bonds, regard for the compassionate and the creative, respect for our leaders – our emotional vulnerability when we pity is used against us by those who have no conscience… This is as close to a mark on the forehead that we would be given.”(Page 108)


  1. Accept that some people have no conscience; that there are evil people in this world who do not act out of concern or love for another.
  2. Listen to your instincts — labels (professional roles) do not make a good person. Look carefully at someone who “carries” a professional label, judging whether that individual’s behavior fits what is expected of that professional role.
  3. Practice the rule of threes — One lie or broken promise may be a misunderstanding, two lies may involve a serious mistake, three lies — the individual is not trustworthy. Stay away from that individual.
  4. Question authority.
  5. Suspect flattery — when someone flatters you excessively, telling you how much they appreciate you or like it when you visit or how much they enjoy your conversations. The abuser often told me how much she enjoyed my company while she told others that I irritated her and interfered with her work.
  6. Redefine your concept of respect — respect must be earned. Don’t automatically give respect to an individual because of her professional role or her relationship to you.
  7. Refuse to join the game — do not try to outsmart the sociopath. Do not reduce yourself to his level.
  8. Once you identify a sociopath, avoid him, refuse any kind of interaction. It is the only way to protect yourself.
  9. Question your tendency to pity too easily. Anyone who actively campaigns for your pity or consistently hurts others is likely a sociopath. Pity should be reserved for those who truly deserve it. Those of us who grow up in a faith community try to live that faith by helping others less fortunate than ourselves. Make sure the individual who seeks your help really needs it.
  10. Do not try to redeem the unredeemable. If you are dealing with someone without a conscience, you cannot change them, no matter how educated or loving you are. Leave that work up to God. Sociopaths have no reason to change; they like who they are.
  11. Never agree to help a sociopath conceal her true character. You don’t owe the sociopath anything. Don’t believe that you are like her, no matter what she says. You are nothing like her.
  12. Defend your psyche. Humanity is not a failure. Being kind and loving and caring is the best way to live. It is the way most people live their lives.
  13. Living well is the best revenge.
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