Per Koren's suggestion, I picked up The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, and Halloween couldn't have been a better time to read it. Stout, a clinical psychologist based in Boston, writes that roughly four percent of ordinary people - about one out of every twenty five of us - lack a conscience and therefore can behave however they want without feeling guilty. When one thinks of a sociopath, the term brings to mind psychotic criminals; Stout, however, argues that there's a major population of people who harm and manipulate others without breaking the law, and also without remorse.
I feel like I've come into contact with a lot of mean spirited people in my life, some of whom did not display any of the symptoms of sociopathy that Stout addresses in her book. There have been a few that, if not actual sociopaths, have certainly displayed sociopathic tendencies. Again, these aren't people who stand out for their immoral behavior; these are people who can gain your trust, people who you can find attractive enough to allow for their manipulations and deceit.
This book has kind of acted as a fifteen-dollar therapist for me, allowing me to see how events from the past year have affected me and how I relate to other people. It's not rare for a sociopath to be attracted to someone they think they can control and then eventually traumatize. I dealt with someone who lied to me repeatedly, who made me feel like I was unattractive and stupid, and made me place blame on myself for feeling that way. I was even encouraged somewhat to repeat this behavior by manipulating others at work for my own benefit (one example: I was persuaded to attend my manager's mother's funeral, since I had sent my manager's daughter my resume and my presence at her grandmother's funeral might help my prospects of getting hired at her publishing company).
Luckily, my plan of action in response to this mess wasn't as drastic as I - or most of my friends - have thought: Stout writes, "The only truly effective method for dealing with a sociopath you have identified is to disallow him or her from your life altogether. Sociopaths live completely outside of the social contract, and therefore to include them in relationships or other social arrangements is perilous. Begin this exclusion of them in the context of your own relationships and social life. You will not hurt anyone's feelings. Strange as it seems, and though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any such feelings to hurt."
One nice thing about reading this book, as well as the experience of dealing with someone who has hurt me, is that it makes me appreciate the people I surround myself with now, who care about me, and show it. To be able to find friends and romantic interests who don't put me down, to whom I can relate, and I generally want to be around all of the time is a big deal, as I've gone through periods of my life where I was certain those types of people could never exist in such large numbers. So, forgive me, Internet, for being so sentimental and LiveJournaly this morning, but after having a great weekend (Pictures!!) with some lovely people and realizing how good I've got it, I just wanted to share that with you. I may be returning to ridiculing Lauren Conrad and discussing placenta recipes tomorrow, but I'm not made out of wood, you guys.