“To admit that some people literally have no conscience is not technically the same as saying that some human beings are evil, but it is disturbingly close. And good people want very much not to believe in the personification of evil.” — The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout
I realize that it’s almost Thanksgiving and that what I’m about to write about isn’t particularly very Thanksgiving(ish). Although, in a way it sort of is. In doing research for my upcoming novel, I found a book that I’m incredibly grateful to have stumbled upon. And in fact I feel that it should almost be required reading.
That said, I also realize that not everyone is interested in this sort of thing. To that I say, perhaps (thankfully) those people likely haven’t yet been burned badly enough.
Which leads me around to how once upon a time, I was very, very wrong…
About a year or so ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was describing a person and a situation who had railroaded their life.
Whether I was naive or right in my assertion that this person couldn’t possibly have done the things they did for no good reason—aside for their own gain is for the most part, irrelevant. Not to the person it happened to—and not to me as their friend—but for the sake of this post.
Still, it was my friends response in part that lead me down the path of exploring sociopaths, psychopaths, skilled manipulators, and extreme narcissists.
“I just don’t understand,” I said.
“That’s because you aren’t like that,” my friend replied.
Afterward I realized (well, after I, myself, had gotten burned again) that I did want to understand. Which is partially how Lydia’s character in Beyond Bedrock was formed.
The truth is, I have known several versions of Lydia(ish) people. A little less extreme, in most cases, and not murders—at least, not to my knowledge, anyway.
In thinking about that and how to avoid similar situations in the future, I came to a place after the conversation with my friend where I wanted to really dig into what made these people tick.
Mostly, I wanted to understand how I could avoid being hurt/let down/ burned again.
Several people have asked why I’d want write about a person so… evil.
Readers have told me that I write evil really well…
I’ve been told that Beyond Bedrock was too hard to read. Many people can’t go there.
Which I get. Because for a long time I didn’t like to either…
That is, until I decided I wanted, or rather, I needed answers.
And then long after I’d written the synopsis for Water Under The Bridge and dove head first into research and character development, I realized that there was actually a book out there that would answer the question I hypothetically pose in said synopsis.
What are the odds of a serial killer living next door?
Well, ok, perhaps it doesn’t answer that question exactly. But it comes pretty close.
According to The Sociopath Next Door, studies show that roughly four out of every one hundred people are sociopaths. Which means they have no conscience—that not only do they not care what’s right or wrong—they cannot care. And, while, thankfully, a large majority of sociopaths are non-violent—this doesn’t mean that they don’t wreak havoc on our lives.
“This difference between normal emotional functioning and sociopathy is almost too fantastic for those of us with conscience to grasp, and so for the most part, we refuse to believe such a hollowness of emotion can exist.”
Reading this book, in doing research for my own, I realized that what I was unknowingly and unintentionally doing to my friend in that conversation by suggesting that they were mistaken about the person they were referring to actually has a term. It’s what sociopaths excel at— and it’s one reason they get away with what they do for so long— in some cases indefinitely. It’s called gaslighting.
“Barbara Graham’s last words—“ Good people are always so sure they’re right”—had a gaslighting effect precisely because the truth is quite the opposite. In fact, one of the more striking characteristics of good people is that they are almost never completely sure they are right. Good people question themselves constantly, reflexively, and subject their decisions and actions to the exacting scrutiny of an intervening sense of obligation rooted in their attachments to other people.”
Why are conscience-bound human beings so blind? And why are they so hesitant to defend themselves, and the ideals and people they care about, from the minority of human beings who possess no conscience at all? A large part of the answer has to do with the emotions and thought processes that occur in us when we are confronted with sociopathy. We are afraid, and our sense of reality suffers. We think we are imagining things, or exaggerating, or that we ourselves are somehow responsible for the sociopath’s behavior.”
Long story, really long, The Sociopath Next Door has been pivotal— not only in my research for Water Under The Bridge but in providing a KEY component for sniffing out expert manipulators before they get too close.
And while I’m not naive enough to think that this knowledge will protect me from every kind of hurt—I do think it has helped to see people and situations for what they are— instead of questioning my judgment. Or my friends. :-/
In any case, it has certainly made me less fearful, more intuitive. It has also given me tools to teach my children about how to avoid manipulation. Tools that I wished I’d had much sooner in life.
Lastly, one common misnomer about sociopaths (and by sociopath I’m referring to the vast spectrum of manipulators) is that they go for easy targets. This is actually, in most cases, not true. Often times, the bigger the challenge one is deemed to be, the more they’ll find themselves a target.
The more you know…