Tuesday, January 18, 2011


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Dear Mr. Morton- A person who acts very kindly toward me has become my friend and I wish I never met her. She gossips and lies, is very manipulative (of me), and has been divorced multiple times to men who appeared pleasant and nice. Last time I’ve witnessed her beat her dog with a poker when it misbehaved. I also found out that she was a high school delinquent. Have I made friends with a psychopath? Should I dump her as a friend? - Concerned, Sandusky County. (Photo from "The Sociopath in the Corner Office" by Janet Mason)

Dear Concerned- A few counselors I know use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably. Psychopathy was identified decades ago by psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley and I wouldn’t want to have one as a friend. They come across charming and make good first impressions, but inside are self-centered, dishonest, undependable, and engage in irresponsible behavior for no reason other than for the fun of it.

Personally, I feel they can accomplish this Jekyll and Hyde act because they are “bystanders” in society. They internally lack remorse, empathy, and can’t love anyone. Thus, they learn to observe others laugh, cry, grow angry or show sadness, shame or guilt in various situations…then emulate these feelings that they never experienced.

Your friend isn’t a Charles Manson, Susan Smith (1994-killed two sons), Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Marybeth Tinning (1987- killed 9 of her children), Ted Bundy, Cathy Wood and Gwendolyn Graham (1980’s- both killed 5 elderly women) or David Berkowitz. Fortunately, most of the 2 million psychopaths in the U.S. aren’t murderers. In fact, I’d wager most reading this article have met a sociopath or two- they just never realized it. They can be a parent, friend, neighbor, co-worker or cousin, or business associate.

Dr. Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. As Stout (The Myth of Sanity) explains, a sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse.

Such people often have a superficial charm, which they exercise ruthlessly in order to get what they want. Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. I recommend reading her book, "The Sociopath Next Door" (below). She gives three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family's summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient.

Finally, we’re all guilty of telling “little white lies” for fear of offending others. Your “friend” manipulates and lies consistently, coolly and easily to get what she wants.

Psycho/sociopath, personality disorder…whatever…you may be considered a target or opportunity to her, not a friend. I’d end the “friendship”.

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. has retired from his positions of school psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership & Policy Studies at BGSU. Questions? Comments? Contact him at the secure Bpath Mail Form. Visit his national Family Journal column.