5 Things We Can Learn From a Sociopath

August 23, 2014

Sociopathy has long been associated with negativity. Think about sociopaths, and infamous criminals like Jack the Ripper comes to mind, who terrorized the streets of London in the 1880s with gut wrenching (literally) murders.

It's known that sociopaths tend to lack social conscience and the capacity to love. However, M.E. Thomas, the author of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, brings a fresh and positive perspective to the term "sociopath". She argues that the traits of a sociopath are not necessarily negative, some being neutral or even positive. 

Sociopaths tend to be charming, fearless, confident, charismatic and independent due to their failure to conform to social norms - all of which work to making them successful in business. Thus it is not surprising that sociopaths make extremely good CEOs, lawyers, and salespeople. We could learn a couple of things from these are the high-functioning sociopaths, who live undetected among us, tactfully carving their way towards success. 

Based on M.E. Thomas' book, here are some of the Things We Can Learn From a Sociopath:

1. Do not seek affirmation from others
Stop caring about what people think of you, and you'd experience a newfound sense of freedom. You'd finally feel free, like a prisoner who has been unshackled from the chains of judgment. You'd be happier that way. 
Tin Woodman was unperturbed. Without a heart, he no longer cared about whether he could marry his former love; without a heart, he no longer cared about much at all. It was as if the Wicked Witch had given him a gift with her cruel and painful curse. Tin Woodman’s new tin skin was more durable than his old soft flesh, and he shone with brilliance in of another and possibly more painful curse of wanting what he could not have, of holding on to the Munchkin girl as the answer to his happiness. I often wonder if, like the Tin Woodman, I was also given a kind of gift—a release from the things that seem to torture others. It is difficult to feel dissatisfaction when you rarely look to others for satisfaction. In some ways my deficits have freed me from wanting and not having that which seemed so essential to them—some purpose or identity in the world, some affirmation of the goodness and rightness of my existence...

... No one, it seems, can escape loneliness. I know enough, however, to understand that getting a heart isn’t a quick fix either. Even after Tin Woodman gets his version of one, he has to be very careful not to cry lest his tears cause him to rust. A heart can be paralyzing in its way. It is not at all clear that the Tin Woodman is happier or better after he receives one. 

2. Do not confuse love and understanding
Sometimes, we think we love someone just because they understand us well. But don't mistake their understanding as affection, as their desire to uncover every inch of your soul does not equate to love. And just because someone truly comprehends you, it doesn't mean that they love you.  
People always say to be careful not to confuse sex and love, but I think they should be more wary of confusing love and understanding. I can read every word of your soul, become deeply engrossed in the study of it until I’ve comprehended every nuance and detail. But then when I’m done, I’ll discard it as easily as if it were a newspaper, shaking my head at how the ink has stained my fingers gray. My desire to know every layer of you isn’t feigned, but interest isn’t love, and I make no promises of forever. Perhaps I do every so often, but you have no business believing me.

3. Embrace your differences
No matter how weird you think you are, you'll still be accepted in some place in society. So come to terms with your individuality, someone would appreciate you for you
Perhaps if we treat sociopathic children more like prodigies and less like monsters, they might direct their unique talents toward pro-social activities that reward and sustain society rather than to antisocial or parasitic behaviors. Perhaps if they feel like there is a place for them in the world, they would say, as one child prodigy did, “At first, it felt lonely. Then you accept that, yes, you’re different from everyone else, but people will be your friends anyway.” Perhaps we could make the measured judgment that, even if we could, we wouldn’t want to train or love the sociopath out of them, because sociopaths are interesting people who make our world a more diverse, colorful place in ways that we can’t predict.

4. Love is the way to one's heart
People are starving for love. We want it, we crave for it. While sociopaths might make use of this knowledge unscrupulously for manipulation, we can choose to be kinder to others just because the world is in deep need for love. 
I finally understood what it meant to kill people with kindness. People are so hungry for love; they die a little every day for want of it—for want of touch and acceptance. And to become someone’s narcotic I found immensely satisfying.

5. There is rationality in morality
The line between what constitutes an immoral and moral action is often blurred; The same action might be accepted in certain societies, but frowned upon in others. But as M.E. Thomas points out, behind every "moral" argument, there is a rational explanation. So if you ever find yourself confused, turn towards rationality for some clarity. 
It is rational for me to obey the law, because I do not want to go to jail; it is rational for me not to harm or injure other people, because a society in which everyone acted harmfully would inevitably cause me harm too. If there are legitimate, rational reasons for the moral choices we should make, we should be capable of choosing the right without relying purely on gut instinct. If there are not rational reasons for our moral choices, why should we continue to make them? 

Time to embrace our inner sociopath.

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