Interview with Dr. Martha Stout

November 3rd, 2010

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" . . . understanding this problem [sociopathy] creates an entire paradigm shift in the way we view human nature." --Dr. Martha Stout

This episode of our program brings you an interview with Dr. Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and bestselling, award-winning author on the subject of sociopathy. For twenty-six years, she served as a Psychology Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and also taught at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, Wellesley College, The New School for Social Research, and the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Stout has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Psychiatric Hospital. She is author of The Myth of Sanity, The Paranoia Switch, and The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us, a National Bestseller and winner of a Books for a Better Life Award.

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  • Just Me

    Are there any avenues of help for a co-parent of a sociopath (diagnosed, female)? I have exhausted EVERY resource and have encountered what seem insurmountable obstacles within the court system as they seem to have great adversity to recognizing the professed path of a sociopath and I am very concerned about the influence and confusion my 8 year old daughter is subjected to 50% of the time. I am depleted n every way and am hopeful that there is something out there overlooked.

    Apr 12, 2011 at 12:33 am
  • jari

    @Just Me:

    How old is your sociopathic child?

    That is a very tough situation you speak of and I appreciate your bringing it up here on the blog.

    Sociopathy is a lot like radiation: you want to get away from it and may try to, but it’s here, there and everywhere, effecting everyone. When it’s right inside your home, what do you do? Who can help you?

    I’m told that there is no evidence that any therapies or behavioral programs work to change the sociopath and if the crimes remain crimes of the heart, there are no legal channels that can help, either. These are fundamental issues societies always come up against.

    I saw a talk by Ed Tick on video recently. He’s the founder of Soldier’s Heart, a program to help veterans with PTSD. He said that everyone is traumatized by war, except for sociopaths.

    I would educate your 8-year-old about what to look for and how to respond. Keep them separated as best as you can. Understand that the sociopath not only does not care, but cannot care; it’s a disability of the brain. Don’t take it personally; anticipate betrayal; do your best.

    Apr 12, 2011 at 10:09 am
  • Just Me

    Thank you for your response. I should have been more clear. It is the other parent (mother, ex-wife)of the 8 year old child who is the sociopath. And while the entire psychological community professes distance as the best solution, it appears that even a sociopath has parental rights to 50% custody. Is this a situation you have any information about? My concerns are the obvious impact on a child being raised by a sociopath. Tragically, the woman in questions father was also diagnosed as a sociopath 22 years ago. I would appreciate any reference material you might know of or…? Thank you again

    Apr 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  • jari

    I don’t know about the custody rights of diagnosed sociopaths, but this is a legal issue that should be reevaluated. Maybe certain visitation parameters could be put in place, but the burden of proof is on you. And, in any case, this is certainly a tragic and emotionally troubling situation for the child.

    Sometimes people leave the country with a child to escape problems such as this. It would be illegal to do so, so I really can’t recommend it, even though that’s probably what I would do if I were you.

    Apr 15, 2011 at 9:53 pm
  • Alcmaeonid

    I think the tendency to create crude, monolithic categories is simply the wrong approach (saying someone either ~is~ or ~isn’t~ a sociopath.) I feel sure that as the neuroscience research comes in we will discover that individuals may possess degrees of sociopathy - e.g. “he’s 80% sociopathic”. I know that in my own experience I have dealt with people who express certain sociopathic/narcissistic characteristics to varying degrees. One person in particular does show signs of a conscience, albeit a feeble one. Unfortunately humans tend to like things black & white, the gray requiring so much more effort to get a handle on.

    May 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm
  • Josie

    I am really quite astonished at some of the opinions people have towards sociopaths. I, myself, have been recognized by mental health professionals as a sociopath. I have little conscience and don’t particularly care about others misfortune…feelings…rights…blah blah blah. However, it is apparent that my general intelligence overrides the disorder. For some sociopaths that isn’t the case however like ^^^^^^ said: there are most probably different categories and different lengths of ’sociopathy’ for e.g. I have strong maternal instincts, and my emotions towards others aren’t completely non-existent. They are just somewhat numbed. Things aren’t black and white. I Agree that there is a grey area for I must squeeze into it somewhere myself… who knows! People are very quick to judge us. Thankfully we don’t hold the capacity to care about others opinions as much as those who aren’t in the sociopath category.

    Feb 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm
  • jari

    Alcmaeonid and Josie,

    It’s not a question of judging the person. It’s a question of limiting the power people without conscience can have on the lives of others. Children of narcissists and sociopaths suffer tremendously and, clearly, their parents are ill-equipped to see that reality for what it is. It may just be the case that people lacking in empathy and conscience simply know not what they do, even if their destructiveness and emotional wounding is glaringly obvious to everyone around them. This is irresponsibility: the inability to respond.

    That “somewhat numbed” emotional state, that insensitivity of which you speak, Josie, can do enormous damage to others, though it may continue to seem trivial to you, though you may be thankful you don’t really care what they may think or suffer.

    Feb 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm
  • Josie

    Oh dont get me wrong I agree with you. Though what I am getting at is it seems we are all tarred with the same brush, when each person identified as a sociopath (or other conditions for that matter) should be treated differently. Yes, there are some that are completely narcasistic, with absolutely no conscience or social morals what so ever. There are some that have less of a conscience than the average human being but its not non-existant. Its just like being slightly more insensitive than some people. I for one absolutely do NOT go out of my way to hurt peoples feelings however I am aware that I do so on occasion. So my question to you, Jari, as a health proffessional is: -Honestly, do you view all sociopaths as being the same, or have you witnessed varying encounters where one patient might show more human compassion than another yet they have been put under the same title? Do you think- in say…. ‘’a community of sociopaths'’ you might or you DO regularly see a personality that is so emotionally dead they can’t possibly be human. Then there is another case where emotions are weaker and less obvious, this person isn’t particularly sensitive to others but they are not completely insensitive to others. One may have very obvious use of emotions and be sensitive yet in other areas of life they might show some sociopathic tendancies. Understand what I mean? Are we all the same to you? Or do you often see different levels of the condition in different cases? Apologies for having rambled on. :D

    Feb 21, 2012 at 8:43 am
  • Debbie

    OMGoodness: I truly found the answer to all my questions, including “Am I going crazy”, lol. This has described perfectly my life for the last 20 years. This woman was recently exposed, at least to me, in the facade she has put on for so long. After this exposure she came at me with daggers. Thank you for helping me to understand what the real situation is. And the wonderful advise about how to now protect myself, by both not trying to expose her to others and how not to be her puttet any longer. I am in a religious organization where we are taught to give others the benefit of the doubt and to forgive, which I have no regrets in doing this because of my moral conviction, I have a CLEAN CONSCIENCE. And now I understand why she “feels that she also does”, lol. Thank you thank you thank you. I will definately be reading your book, and even the title says’s soooo much. Again thank you

    Jul 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm
  • O. Twist

    In my case I’m battling in the courts with a covetous antisocial type sociopath.

    She has only ever given my parents grief… ALWAYS complaining about “how hard-done to” she has been in life (ABSOLUTELY WRONG!) In the “final-quarter-mile” of my mother’s life she was cunning enough to trick our sick mum into handing all the other siblings inheritance over to her…to act as Power of Attorney for the estate! She has never worked a day in her life and even dropped out of high school at seventeen. She doesn’t know the value of a hard earned dollar and is considered the most irresponsible of all of the siblings! She has been arrogant and domineering throughout. She brazenly confabulates the real truth to my family’s astonishment. The estate has almost disappeared with lawyers fees and court costs! (this also because she is stubbornly unreasonable and a drama queen). She seems to become energized by any type of conflict or if her will is crossed!

    The lawyers are just operating a business and so like any good customer they roll out the red carpet for her…which her ego seems to appreciate more than anything else.

    Is this typical behavior and to be expected from a sociopath? Are we the trustees ultimately doomed? She has too much trust, control and power based on how she has demonstrated her obvious inabilities in the past.

    Nov 22, 2012 at 7:29 pm
  • jari

    O.T.,

    It’s not important to arrive at a diagnosis to know when someone is not being fair. Whether or not it’s a case of impaired capacity, people often act without loving care for others.

    This is clearly a hurtful and upsetting situation, especially since your sister was given Power of Attorney for the estate. Sounds to me like the lawyers will have to fight it out. There was a will, no?

    This type of scenario, unfortunately, is not rare.

    Thanks for sharing and try to take it easy. Don’t let anyone else’s vices disrupt your own virtue. Just do the right thing each step of the way and stick to facts. Best wishes ~

    Nov 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm
  • jari

    O.T.,

    It’s not important to arrive at a diagnosis to know when someone is not being fair. Whether or not it’s a case of impaired capacity, people often act without loving care of others.

    This is clearly a hurtful and upsetting situation, especially since your sister was given Power of Attorney for the estate. Sounds to me like the lawyers will have to fight it out. There was a will, no?

    This type of scenario, unfortunately, is not rare.

    Thanks for sharing and try to take it easy. Don’t let anyone else’s vices disrupt your own virtue. Just do the right thing each step of the way and stick to facts. Best wishes ~

    Nov 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm
  • jari

    O.T.,

    It’s not important to arrive at a diagnosis to know when someone is not being fair. Whether or not it’s a case of impaired capacity, people often act without loving care of others.

    This is clearly a hurtful and upsetting situation, especially since your sister was given Power of Attorney for the estate. Sounds to me like the lawyers will have to fight it out. There was a will, no?

    This type of scenario, unfortunately, is not rare.

    Thanks for sharing and try to take it easy. Don’t let anyone else’s vices disrupt your own virtue. Just do the right thing each step of the way and stick to facts. Best wishes ~

    Nov 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm
  • O.T.

    Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately my mother was talked into rewriting another legal will by my sister. My mother had everything legally in place for 35 years before my sister suddenly had her change things drastically just before her death. However two weeks after making these changes my mother’s doctor said that she was suffering from the first stages of dementia. I imagine this illness does not come over a person quickly like a allergic rash. Nevertheless all of this has been swept under the rug with legal tactics. The only person that knows the real truth is my deceased mother who can’t speak up. It is out-and-out theft.

    My sister has always been miserable about the bad choices she had made in her past…which she has begrudgingly lived with ever since. Anyone who is within “arms reach” that exhibits they are happier than her, she has to attempt to destroy without conscience. Some next-door neighbors have moved away from her for this reason. One couple never bothered to unpack…just resold their house immediately within the same month! Imagine?

    We delude ourselves into believing our justice system is sophisticated yet it can be manipulated by a high school drop out. I wonder why there aren’t any sexy TV cop shows portraying this? What has happened is the classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

    Everyone reading should be made aware of how common this is and how (legally) complicated it becomes to unravel after your parents are gone.

    You are very right Jari…at least when I walk away from all this my virtue will still be intact…its who I am. What bothers me is how we were all so easily victimized by a smirking liar…with no recourse.

    Nov 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm
  • jari

    The crimes of the heart, the moral crimes, are the ones that hurt the most; and so often they seem to go unreconciled. The perpetrators seem to just get away with the pain they inflict because without conscience, where’s the remorse, and the pain of lost love, lost trust, lost family and community?

    You say that your sister has always been miserable about her past choices. If she’s capable of feeling misery, there will just be misery upon misery and no amount of money can buy her out of it or shield her from it. Only goodness, sacrifice for others, doing the right thing can lift the heavy sentence she’s already got on her life.

    Listen, there’s no getting out of anything. Who will inherit the real meaning of your sister’s actions — not the money, the meaning? I reckon she will, as in: lost, alone, dissociated, miserable.

    You can use this for your own spiritual development by being very clear about what is most important, your own strength in not being sucked into the darkness of another’s moral blindness and callousness.

    Nov 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm
  • Emilio

    This is a great interview. Dr. Stout is obviously brilliant. One error, I think — Dr. Stout wrote “The Myth of Sanity.” This says she wrote “The Mask of Sanity,” which was actually written by Dr. Hervey Cleckley.

    Nov 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm
  • jari

    Thanks two times, Emilio, for your compliments and your proofreading correction. You are right: I mistyped the title. Fixed it just now ~ :)

    Nov 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm