Confessions of a sociopath

First aired on Q (2/8/13)

We tend to associate terms like "psychopath" and "sociopath" with heartless killers like the fictional Patrick Bateman, from the book (and later film) American Psycho -- and the terms are used very loosely in pop culture and society as a whole. But there are nuances to those conditions, according to M.E. Thomas. She's a diagnosed sociopath, the founder of a blog called and the author of a new book, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. (M.E. Thomas is a pseudonym: she was concerned about the consequences if she came out as a sociopath.)

In a recent interview on Q, Thomas -- who's a successful lawyer and a devout Mormon -- talked about how she manages her career, her faith, and her personal relationships while largely covering up her disorder. confessions_of_sociopath small.JPG

Thomas told guest host Terry O'Reilly that she always felt different when she was growing up, but it wasn't until law school that realized the extent to which she was different. When she and her classmates would talk about controversial subjects like the death penalty or abortion, "they became emotionally engaged rather than thinking rationally, but she didn't feel the emotion of it."

When Thomas was diagnosed as a sociopath, she didn't actually have pejorative associations with it. She pointed out many of the characteristics of sociopaths -- "they're charismatic, they're fearless, they are risk takers, they can be manipulative, they're very compelling" -- aren't necessarily bad.

Thomas acknowledged that other traits of sociopaths, like lack of remorse and lack of empathy, are more problematic. "Those are the scariest traits for most people when they hear about sociopaths," she said.

Thomas pointed out that the TV series Dexter "has done more than any other thing to increase visibility and maybe even likeability of sociopaths." Nevertheless, Thomas said she feels she has to hide. "People have very strong reactions against sociopaths, for whatever reason. I used to think that it was largely based on misconceptions. Now I'm starting to think there's something more inborn, this very strong visceral reaction that people have, the same way you would have a strong reaction to the smell of vomit or something."

In her book, Thomas describes how she can get pleasure at ruining people. "The compelling thing about ruining people, to me, it's not the actual destruction, it's knowing that you have power over somebody." She explained that sociopaths have a different emotional world than most people, and yet they want to connect with others. "The only way that you can see your effect on people might be to manipulate them. That's the way that you connect with people. "

When Thomas was growing up, she didn't like being hugged -- but she did like rough-housing. "That's how I connected with people. That's how I felt like I was part of a social system," she said, adding that ruining people is "a little bit like rough-housing, it's just a slightly more emotionally violent way of interacting with people."

Thomas believes there are a lot of behaviours that in isolation may be seen as anti-social, but they're sanctioned in a capitalist society. "There are a lot of anti-social things that we do in society, they're really just...we have set forth a series of rules and we're all kind of playing a game, right?," she said. "We're all competing for scarce resources, and as long as you follow the rules, I don't think of that as being anti-social or immoral, or amoral or anything."

Thomas believes that being a sociopath actually helped in her career as a lawyer. "I think sociopaths are particularly well suited to being attorneys. "They don't necessarily moralize like a lot of people do," she said. " If the client happens to be a bad guy, it's much easier for them to put aside their own feelings and represent their client."

Thomas said she wrote Confessions of a Sociopath to "start a conversation" and provide a perspective on the disorder different from how it's seen in popular culture. "I just wanted to say, 'look, here's what it's like to be in my head. It's kind of weird, and a little bit scary, probably, but these people exist, and they're more common than people think.'"

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