Today I’m talking about another book:  Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, PhD.  Dr. Stout is a clinical psychologist who was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and specializes in recovery from psychological trauma and PTSD.  I read one of her earlier books, The Sociopath Next Door, a number of years ago, and after reading James Fallon’s book decided it was time for an update.

Outsmarting the Sociopath Next DoorIn this book, Dr. Stout focuses on the very practical concerns of managing the effects on your well-being of those in your life, from whom you cannot just walk away, who lack a conscience and cannot form emotional bonds with others.  Whose mode of operation is treating life as a zero-sum game, where there are winners and losers and they are determined to be winners and rub in that you are the loser.  The three groups she looks at are 1. your own children, 2. people you have to work with, and 3. exes involved in child custody battles.  She offers very specific recommendations about how to structure your interactions with these individuals, once you recognize them for what they are.  

A big barrier is likely just recognizing someone as a sociopath, with its implications for how to work with them.  They won’t “get better” if only you were a better parent, better spouse, better employee.  That their behavior is not your fault, no matter how much blame they try to hand off to you.  That you have to pay attention to your own emotional welfare.

One phrase in this book that caught my attention is “closed system.”  In our self-defense classes I refer to this as “social isolation.”  You and the sociopath are in a relationship that may be covert, and you may be embarrassed or afraid or insecure and not talk about it. Or the relationship may be well-known, but what goes on behind closed doors is kept mum.  Dr. Stout points out (as do we in our classes), that violence thrives in silence, and she suggests that you find a person you trust, and who would be supportive, someone to confide in, who is also outside the social group you share with the sociopath.  So if the sociopath is a co-worker, talk with someone not at your workplace. 

Dr. Stout believes that with diligence, persistence, and planning, you can be outsmarting the sociopath next door.  Sociopaths, according to her, have a limited range of motivation and pretty much stick to their script.  Can you work around that, as they are trying to push your buttons for the reaction they want?

Dr. Stout also strongly suggests that when dealing with agencies such as law enforcement and the courts, you refrain from using the word sociopath (or psychopath, or any other clinical diagnostic labels) to describe that person.  That will not get you the support you’re seeking, and in fact may get YOU labeled as the trouble-maker.  How’s that?  Read the book.

And that’s all for today.  Be sure to check out the summer schedule for LIVE IN-PERSON classes.

Stay safe, live life.

Today is May 26, 2021. I have some decisions to make. Scheduling classes for the summer. Usually it’s not a big deal, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle putting together dates with class types, but this year I have to choose between running live in-person classes or sticking with virtual Zoom sessions. Do I require in-person class attendees to be vaccinated for COVID-19? To show proof, or trust they are truthful?

Do you trust yourself?

I read this book years ago, “Yes” or “No”: The Guide to Better Decisions by Spencer Johnson. Johnson is known for writing business self-help books that rely on allegories to convey their points. In this one he goes through a tale about a young man needing to make a decision and the advice he’s given by a mentoring group while on an extended hiking trip. We never find out what the issue or choices were, the whole point was the process of arriving at a decision via a series of six questions. The first three questions were in the rational realm, but the second three were more in the domain of the heart. One of those key questions to ask oneself is “does this decision show that I trust my instincts?”

Do you trust yourself?

Sure, all of us on occasion have misjudged situations, misread body language, acted on our prejudice and assumptions. But what happened afterwards? What did you find out? Did you find feedback to learn more about yourself? Were you honest with yourself?

Do you trust yourself?

Or, did someone subsequently try to shame you, or insist that your assessments are always wrong? Always would be wrong? With constant picking on your choice of clothing, restaurants, or movies. Disparaging comments about your family and friends? Expressions of contempt for your opinions on matters cultural or political?

Over a decade ago one student told me about her self-development strategy. She sold cherries in Pike Place Market over the summer, One student learned to "read" people when she sold cherries at the market, and learned to trust herself.when she was home from college. Now, who’s in Pike Place Market in the summer? A whole lotta tourists, who really don’t need cherries. They may need a snowglobe with the Space Needle, or a chocolate salmon, or a T-shirt that says “my parents went to Seattle and all I got was this T shirt.” But not cherries. So she came out from behind the stand to interact more with visitors. From that experience she learned to assess body language and attitudes, and more quickly figure out who may be a customer and who may be a creep.  (BTW, I also talked about this in my blog post 2 weeks ago.)

As I’ve noted several times, the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have said, you can observe a lot just by watching.

She honed her sense of trusting herself.  You can, too.

Stay safe, live life.

A recent article in the online magazine Modern Mom has this catchy headline:  You Should Let Your Child Tattle — Here’s Why!  Yes, another one of those headlines looking to grab your attention by asserting something obviously counter-intuitive (or just plain dumb), and then informing you of what you already (or should have already) know(n):  that you as parent have to help your child learn the difference between telling (to keep themselves or others safe) and tattling (trying to get someone else in trouble).

Now this is a really important life lesson (one which too many adults still don’t have down).  Adults who are looking to sexually assault or abuse children depend on kids not understanding the distinction.  They will often tell their victims not to say anything or they’ll be tattle-tales (and that’s bad).  Or if the child “tattles” they won’t be believed (because they’re only a kid and kids love to tattle, right?).

At it’s February fundraising breakfast, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone said that assault against children has decreased 38% in the last 13 years.  She attributed this to increased awareness of the issue, decreased tolerance for child sexual abuse, and increased support for the victims.  Parents are now paying greater attention to adult behavior towards their children, as well as more closely listening to what kids say about adult behavior. Still, about 29% of sexual assault happens to children under the age of 12.

All kids need guidance in managing their emotions, in figuring out if they’re looking for help or looking to get someone in trouble.  They need skills in solving their own problems, and also knowing when to seek outside help.   Violence needs silence — parents need to be willing and themselves have the skills to coach their kids through the often-confusing landscape of telling.