Thursday, June 13, 2013

Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas

As soon as I heard about Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Site, a memoir by M.E. Thomas, I knew I had to read it. I'm fascinated by the psychological workings of sociopaths and the stigma that comes along with the diagnosis. 

From Goodreads:
She is a charismatic charmer, an ambitious self-promoter, and a cunning and calculating liar. She can induce you to invest in her financial schemes, vote for her causes, and even join her in bed. Like a real-life Lisbeth Salander, she has her own system of ethics, and like Dexter, she thrives on bending and occasionally breaking the rules. She is a diagnosed, high-functioning, noncriminal sociopath, and this is her world from her point of view.

And she is the ultimate unreliable narrator. IN A MEMOIR. Such an odd feeling to be reading and wondering if the author was playing me the way she might manipulate someone in "real life." 

If M.E. Thomas is to be believed (sociopaths are cunning liars, after all), being a sociopath is exhausting. Maybe not to her, but it was to me as a reader. I was fascinated by portions of this book but flabbergasted and bored by the writing at times. There were repeated points from chapter to chapter that any reader paying attention could do without. Both positive feelings the author has toward herself and the negative feelings she harbors for her parents, colleagues, and others. She's brilliant, she's smarter than the average person, she calculates her daily activities to see what best supports her advantage. Over. And over. And over. 

On the positive side, I did learn a lot. And it took effort to wrap my brain around how one lives and functions without empathy and what society considers a "normal" decision-making process which includes morals and specific emotional triggers. 

Thomas confronts the stigma of sociopathy, evaluates the methodology of diagnosis, and confronts her own tendencies to "ruin" people, lie, bend the rules, and how she negotiates and navigates relationships. At one point (ok, several points) in the memoir, she discusses religion. My first thought was, "How can a cunning liar with no empathy and little regard for the self --a person firmly rooted in straightforward logic -- be as devoutly religious as Thomas claims to be. She puts it this way...
As a child, my self was easier to define and therefore ignore: I was a part of my family, a student at my school, a member at my church. I didn't have to worry about betraying myself with bad behavior, only others; I was used to people looking over my shoulder all the time, so keeping my behavior in check was a constant concern. As an adult, I don't have that same external structure. I make more of my own decisions as an adult, but my actions also have much more permanent and serious consequences. That is why my prosthetic moral compass has been so useful to me, in helping to define me and restrict my behavior; my personal of efficiency and religion have, for the most part, kept me on the straight and narrow.
Interesting stuff, for sure. 

Thomas also goes to great lengths to hide her identity. She's a professor of law at a university that is not top-tier, she runs the established blog, sociopathworth.com, and she uses a pen name. Yet at various points in the book, she identifies her first name. So I'm either being played, she's a sloppy writer, or her editor deserves a good kick in the pants for not catching it. Or she stuck in a fake name to see who was paying attention. Whatever the case may be, it added to the feeling of dealing with a very unreliable narrator with no problem manipulating. 

Fascinating and frustrating. That's the best way I can describe it. Worth a read if you're into psychology and intrigued by the idea of a sociopath's daily life and decision-making process. 



Pub. Date: May 2013 
Publisher: Crown
Format: E-book
ISBN-13: 9780307956644
Source: Purchased by moi!



23 comments:

  1. Exhausting to be a sociopath...and apparently exhausting to read about being one as well ;)

    This sounds interesting in a mind bending sort of way

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    1. Amen sister! Interesting stuff, but definitely not the best writer.

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  2. Sociopathy is just so freakin' fascinating. I love learning how the mind works, particularly when it isn't following the status quo. Definitely one I'd like to pick up someday because I need some more nonfiction on the shelves. Great review, Andi!

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    1. Isn't it???! This one definitely stretched my conception of how the mind works and how we perceive the world. Empathy just seems like such a given, and I never would've thought about how much it can chance the way we view and navigate daily life.

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  3. I totally agree, it was SO weird to read it knowing that the author could be messing with me as a reader. I was fascinated by this memoir.

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    1. Did you review this one? I can't remember. I really need to cruise back and over and look because I want to see some other reviews! Actually, yours may be the one that opened my eyes to this book. Memory, it's the first to go!

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  4. I have a feeling this would be one I would really get into...I have a soft spot for those wacky unreliable narrators!

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    1. LOL, I hear ya. It had its own interesting variety of creep. That's for sure.

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  5. This does sound interesting. We have a neighbor who I swear is a sociopath. I wonder if I should read this to try to understand her or just keep avoiding her.

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    1. LOL, hard to say. I think I know a couple now, too.

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  6. Hm, this sounds like something my mother would enjoy. She is ceaselessly fascinated with sociopathy, and I think she particularly would like to know what it's like to really be one.

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    1. I think this would be right up her alley! I downloaded it thinking my own mom would read it, but we'll see.

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  7. This sounds really interesting. I'm fascinated by sociopaths, too. It's baffling to me that she even wants to be on the straight and narrow. Plus, so much of religion is compassion and empathy so the fact that she strips it down to a moral structure is also fascinating.

    It does sound frustrating but I definitely need to read this at some point!

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    1. Right??? I was pretty fascinated by that, too. The bottom line: you get what you want more often if you're on the straight and narrow.

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  8. Sounds interesting but I'm afraid that the less than stellar writing would throw me. I like that the author seems to screw with the reader's mind though. If done well, I find it fascinating. May see if the library carries this one. If so, I'll probably add it to the TBR just to see if I have the same reaction to it that you did.

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    1. Indeed it can be fascinating, Dana. It was a bit like she's testing the reader which is something I don't often run across in non-fiction! So weird.

      I look forward to your reaction to this one if you get around to it!

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  9. I really like an unreliable narrator, at least in fiction. I'm not sure how I would feel knowing that a real person is deceiving me willfully about her real life!

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    1. It's a very odd feeling, Lindsey! I'm used to my non-fiction "voices" being so steadfastly true, and this one wavered at times.

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  10. I can imagine this book would give me a headache but I do still want to read it. It sounds almost like she's testing you and your own ability to recognise manipulation. I love TV shows like Dexter and Criminal Minds that explore the psychology of these things so, yes, I think this might be a frustratingly good read for me :)

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    1. EXACTLY!!! Definitely testing the reader and the ability to spot manipulation. Or maybe I'm paranoid. LOL Whatever. It was weird but informative.

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  11. M.E. Thomas claims in her book that if contacted she will reveal her identity to people who ask (as long as they don't reveal her identity publicly) then seems hesitant as to whether this is a good idea. This seems to indicate muddled thinking on her part. Surely in this day and age such information would be Made public immediately by some people.

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  12. That sounds pretty interesting, actually! Thanks for the review.

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  13. I assumed that all names were fake. I also assume that if someone asks her privately for her name, they will be given yet another fake. The appearance of candor, of functionality, the whole thing... If she's really a sociopath, then at least half of this book is lies. Yes, I read it. I lived with a sociopath for ten years, not knowing exactly what was wrong with the guy.... when I found out, I fled. But anyway. These people are NOT functional like that. They continually self destruct. Jobs, relationships, nothing lasts. Particularly money. If they say anything in their lives lasts past 2 or 3 years, it's another lie. I pray to God this woman is sterile.

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