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,, 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!

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