Didn’t know it was sociopath awareness day? Yeah, well, I just decided that in honor of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s sentencing, today was as good a day as any to talk about sociopaths. As Jack Lessenberry pointed out yesterday, Kwame definitely falls under the description of a sociopath: he is charming, intelligent and totally incapable of empathy.
We’d like to think people capable of the level of narcissism required to bleed a deeply troubled city of an estimated $20 million just for funsies is a rarity, but sadly, it’s not. According to psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door Marta Stout, sociopaths make up 4 percent of the population. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems like I’ve met all of them.
Seriously though, that’s one in every 25 people who are incapable of caring about other people, and extremely capable of leaving trails of hurt and destruction behind them as they blaze through life. Many are smart enough to not break laws as they do so, so society doesn’t have the luxury of putting them in jail, like we can happily do to Kwame. Sometimes the only prey on those least likely to reveal them for who they are, like children or the poor. One of the most chilling examples of a sociopath is an incredible story CNN recently ran about a sociopath who killed a little girl as a teenager and then spent more than 50 years terrorizing nearly everyone he came into contact with. But besides the murder no one knew about, he largely avoided breaking the law, so he got away with nearly everything. It’s a long read, but super worth it.
The point is, sociopaths are everywhere. They’re controlling and manipulative, they use people and care only for themselves. They are also often charismatic, successful, socially active people whom no one suspects anything is wrong with. There are resources out there that can be helpful in identifying and dealing with them, including Stout’s book. The best advice, I think, is exactly what Lessenberry advises everyone with regard to Kwame after his prison doors shut behind him: cut off all contact, deny them any attention, and protect yourself from them at all costs.
That said, we have to watch out for each other as well. We should talk about sociopathy, how to recognize it and how to get away from it. Because we’ve all just got this one life to live, and we should spend it surrounded by the other 96 percent of humanity.