#Book Review: Confessions of a Sociopath

Author: M. E. Thomas

As part of our school’s book club, which we initially formed as part of the #WECAN project, albeit we just do it for fun and engagement now, we read this book about a sociopath, which I proposed due to my love of popular literature and behavioural research interest.  After I read the book, my first thought was ‘what did I just read?’ so I went to read other reviews to see if it is just me who does not believe this writing and finds it disturbing or if there are others. As it turns out, it was not just me who was losing patience towards the end of the book but also the New York Times, which said the following (and this summarised the book well):

“By the book’s final stretch — Thomas’s reminiscences of a hedonistic year abroad in Brazil and her loveless sexual shenanigans — my patience began to wear thin. There’s only so many ways someone can say she doesn’t care about other people’s feelings. Sociopaths are all surface, and so at times is this book. By the end you feel like the partner of a sociopath. You’ve had quite the memorable roller coaster ride, but now you’re sick of the chilliness and the self-absorption, and you want out”

Image taken from here

Indeed, the whole book is about the author selling us sociopathy as something cool because each chapter shows different ways of not caring about the feelings of others. The empaths are described in almost condescending ways but at the same time, when the author talks about the stigma sociopaths face, she tries to play to emotions of empaths to accept her ruthlessness, manipulation, desire to destroy people’s lives and her fundamental lack of care about emotions and feelings of others, which is also what sociopathy is about. So, empaths are almost lower species but let’s manipulate them into thinking there is too much stigma and sociopaths are discriminated against to make them feel for us. I gave it a thought for a second but then remembered the story of letting baby opossum drown from the beginning of the book, then shrugged my shoulders and just said, ‘Nobody cares, mate’.

But having emphasised these negative aspects of the book and the fact that I struggled reading the last two chapters because I did not want to read any more about her lack of care, the book is definitely not rubbish and is worth reading. Thomas describes her lack of empathy well and surprisingly well for someone so empty and with no soul, which is how she comes across. She basically describes how she navigates daily life and learns from observation how to behave, which makes her a functional sociopath. She is also non-criminal for she has not committed a crime and she has a successful career as a law professor having previously been an attorney. She admits she is successful in her work due to the ability to seduce people and manipulate their feelings, but she also admits she lost jobs and found herself in destitution because not much interests her and she finds it difficult to actually do the job even if she was successful in studying with top grades and obtaining well-paid jobs.

There are also some interesting elements in the book. For example, when she writes about the corporate world and argues that many senior CEOs and successful businesspeople are sociopaths because only sociopaths can endure what it takes to come to the top in such a competitive environment. This was a really interesting argument and since I study behavioural and leadership styles in mass communications industries, it truly got me wondering what the impact on public relations professionals in this scenario is and how you agree on communication campaigns that show care for society if your boss is a sociopath. It is food for thought, and I went googling to find studies about sociopaths in the corporate world. For example, Fortune wrote about research claiming about 12% of corporate leaders are psychopaths (a synonym for sociopaths). Forbes also wrote about this with similar data and there are proper academic studies studying psychopathy and leadership (see here). So, this was definitely interesting.

Another thing that certainly got me interested, and this is clearly linked to my research, is the notion of childhood and its influence in minimising the potential for children who are born as sociopaths to become more integrated and understand the emotions of others, which then reduces the risk for crime and anti-social behaviour. This is interesting, and Thomas mentions some research studies about this and talks extensively about her childhood. But here lies the trick, sociopaths are known for lying so one wonders whether the story of childhood is a lie because at the beginning of the book, Thomas says she had a privileged, middle-class uneventful childhood, which may have helped her in becoming a functional sociopath but then later in the book, she describes quite a serious abuse. For example, she talks about her parents leaving her and her brother in the park driving away where she says all hope dies when you see your parents leaving you. Then she also talks about severe beating up by her father including him smashing the doors of the bathroom to get her because she did not agree with him about something (I think it was about a film they just watched but certainly a daft reason to abuse a child), there are stories of him destroying family finances, beating her mother, abusing them all basically. I am not sure how one understands the term uneventful, but the stories of her childhood are everything but that. But are they true given what she says at the beginning? It is hard to say, but I certainly got interested in the notion that how we grow up can influence us, including even sociopathic children. I have indeed studied the influence of early socialisation on career outcomes and have found that the early period in our childhood influences our behavioural, communication and leadership styles so it really got me thinking about behavioural intervention in childhood and I am looking for research in this area now to read more. So again, this is a well-written book with some interesting information and the author, throughout the book, tries to include lots of literature to support her writing.

All in all, the book is well-written, surprisingly well for a sociopath and there are some interesting elements in that, particularly in Thomas’ description of various situations and how she handled them, how she behaved, what she did, etc. But there is also that disturbing element of reading about an empty heart that simply does not care but somehow asks for care about her not caring throughout her writing. I have empathy for humans, wildlife, animals and the planet and try to treat everyone well, but with this person, and with regret, I have no empathy whatsoever! I also remain with a question of whether this book is even true and whether this is just an experiment. Since Thomas has a blog where other people share their experiences, I wonder whether she compiled their writing into hers and thus lied in the book. But that is the thing with sociopaths, you have no idea what is true and what is not!

Thank you for reading.

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