Author: M.E. Thomas
APA Style Citation
Thomas, M.E. (2013). Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. New York, Random House Company.
M.E. Thomas, (a pseudonym) describes the characteristics of sociopathy in general and cites many examples from her own personal experiences. Author M.E. Thomas refers to herself as a sociopath rather than a psychopath, although clinicians might disagree with her assessment. While one might question the legitimacy of a book written by someone who is known to lie and manipulate, Thomas seems sincere in her desire to describe the typical characteristics of sociopaths and correct some of the stereotypes and falsehoods about the disorder. She examines sociopaths in great detail, including their lack of ability to empathize or to experience fear. The author also outlines how to best live with this disorder or with someone who has the disorder.
While the purpose of Confessions of a Sociopath is to dispel misconceptions about the disorder, other characteristics often associated with sociopathy are reinforced. She describes herself as being very intelligent. She was a practicing lawyer and law professor, but she also describes how she gamed the system in law school by taking courses like billiards to buffer her GPA while others were slogging through tax and constitutional law courses.
Thomas describes her interactions with others as highly calculated. She lacks empathy and becomes angry and confused when other people are highly emotional because she cannot relate to how they are feeling and as such has no idea how to properly react. In relationships, she explains that she can be ruthless and calculating. She describes how she uses the fact that many people are very forthcoming, and how without much prompting co-workers share details about their insecurities. She occasionally has used this information against individuals later, but often just knowing that she knows about these secrets will keep others under her control.
Thomas describes her relationships as a game; she enjoys the hunt but does not necessarily remain interested in the relationship once the hunt is over. She claims that the key for identifying other sociopaths is their sexual ambiguity, they seem to be indifferent to being with males or females, and she believes this trait is often overlooked in diagnoses. Thomas also describes her lack of remorse, one of the most frequently mentioned characteristics of antisocial personality disorder. She describes abandoning a friend who was struggling with her father’s terminal cancer because it was no longer ‘fun’ to hang out with her (they have since reconnected). Thomas left the relationship because it was too much work. Even though she knew this was not the right course of action ethically, she could not make herself feel badly for her friend’s loss. Thomas also describes herself as charismatic and engaging. The students in her law classes gave her rave reviews even if she occasionally did not know how to respond to their emotional requests.
Some of the characteristics of sociopathy that are not often discussed in typical descriptions are high self-confidence, lack of fear, and a low prevalence of depression. Thomas explains that these characteristics in particular may also have benefits, which are often overlooked by others who see few redeeming qualities in sociopaths. Thomas describes her lack of self-consciousness by explaining that she is attractive but not beautiful. She believes that because she does not care what others think about her that she can be more carefree which she believes causes others to be drawn to her. Her self-confidence in the book sometimes borders on arrogance and she often thinks that those around her are less bright and therefore easy prey for her manipulations. Her lack of fear may at times put her in risky situations. For example, she mentions that she chooses to live in bad neighborhoods that others would not venture into because the rent is incredibly cheap. She states that she has no fear of her house being robbed (which it has been on multiple occasions) or of physical harm as a result of living in a dangerous neighborhood. Her lack of fear also leads to high levels of sensation seeking; she describes driving dangerously and causing multiple car accidents. Her lack of care with regards to material goods prevents her from worrying too much about whether her possessions are stolen or if her car is ruined as a result of her reckless behavior. This may be a benefit to those who are sociopaths. The lack of care about personal goods and relationships may also prevent the onset of depression which others would potentially experience in similar circumstances.
One of the largest myths surrounding sociopathy is that all sociopaths are dangerous, and that many are killers. Most studies of sociopathy have been done on prisoners, and as a result most noncriminal sociopaths go undiagnosed or are self-diagnosed but do not disclose this fact to others. For this reason, Thomas runs a blog for sociopaths to have discussions with other sociopaths who share their life experiences. In the book, she uses multiple examples from the blog to expand or reinforce her own experiences. Thomas dispels the idea that all sociopaths are violent. She explains that she rarely feels violent towards others, but when it does occur, she admits that she is laser focused on ruining the individual that has drawn her ire. Thomas also explains that most sociopaths are not violent because there is often no benefit for them to be violent. While sociopaths do not particularly care about rules, laws, and regulations they often follow them because it provides the greatest benefit. If, for example one were to constantly attack coworkers either physically or with the threat of violence, they would likely be fired. Because sociopaths want to “win” at all costs, they will often play by the rules because it is an advantageous strategy.
Thomas explains that she can have friendships and maintain family relationships that would by most measures be considered “normal” and that she has shared her diagnosis with her family members and close friends. She explains that even though she does not experience feelings the same way as others, she still can experience loneliness and love. In fact she has a special love of children and hopes someday to have her own but worries about passing on the trait of sociopathy. She is a practicing Mormon and has found few contradictions between her faith and the way she lives her life. She credits the church with providing her with a structure for what is right and wrong that she otherwise might have trouble understanding on her own. Like other disorders, sociopathy is considered to be a combination of genetics and life experiences, Thomas describes a number of traumatic events she experienced as a child, but generally describes feeling loved by her family and still has strong ties to them today.
Thomas dismisses the thought that sociopaths as “lost causes” who cannot make any beneficial contributions to society. She acknowledges that treating sociopaths can be difficult, but poses that their non-emotional demeanor can be beneficial in many situations. She explains that when other lawyers would become flustered or empathize with a witness during a trial; she was able to focus on the facts. In emergency situations, when others panic, she is able to remain totally calm because she does not share the same fear that those with empathy exhibit. Confessions of a Sociopath may help the general public learn more about a disorder with which many have little experience and little has been written. Even though Thomas wrote under a pseudonym, since the publication of the book, her identity has been revealed and she has been fired from her job as a law professor based essentially on her diagnosis.
Other Related Resources
Psychology Today: Excerpt from the book
Huffington Post: A video interview with M.E. Thomas titled On Her Sociopath Diagnosis: 'Seems To Explain A Lot'
Sociopath World: Link to the blog run by M.E. Thomas
Psychology Today: Differences Clinically between a sociopath and psychopath
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Antisocial Personality Disorder