I read the book Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas.
It's a fascinating book written by a self-described sociopath on how a small segment of the population thinks -- and what it means for the rest of us. Hare are six things I learned.
1. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a little jealous of some of the traits:
My sociopathic traits make me a particularly excellent trial attorney, as compared to, for instance, an attorney who must learn and adhere to typeface requirements for court documents or carefully cull through millions of documents redacting minutiae. I'm cool under pressure. I charm and manipulate. I feel no guilt or compunction, which is a handy thing to have in such a dirty business ... The thing with sociopaths is that we are largely unaffected by fear. It's not because I am certain I'll do a terrific job, although historically that has been true. With my intelligence, quick-wittedness, and level head I'm pretty sure that even if I don't impress the judge I'll at least put on a good show.
2. It can help in investing:
Sharks see in black-and-white. Scientists have suggested that contrast against background may be more helpful than color for predators in detecting potential prey, helping them to focus on crucial spatial relationships rather than extraneous details. I'm color -blind in a way that makes mass hysteria seem particularly striking in contrast to normal, expected behavior. My lack of empathy means I don't get caught up in other people's panic. It gives me a unique perspective. And in the financial world, being able to think opposite the pack is all you need.
3. Lack of emotions helps with a lot of things in life:
[Joseph] Kennedy was no doubt aided in his stock market exploits by this ability to be both one of the crowd and completely independent. In fact, Kennedy was described by a broker whom he shared an office with as a man who "had the ideal temperament for speculation" because he "possessed a passion for facts, a complete lack of sentiment and a marvelous sense of timing." I may not be as talented as Joseph Kennedy, but I also am blessed with a complete lack of sentiment.
4. But it's actually not about not having emotion. It's about having complete control over them:
If I focus on an emotion, I can greatly amplify its force far beyond what it should be. For feelings that I don't care to feel, I just tune them out. It's easy to ignore anything that would be inconvenient or unpleasant to consider. In this way, my sociopathy feels like an extreme form of compartmentalization. I can shut myself off or open myself up to emotions like fear or anger or anxiety or dread or joy just by flipping an internal switch. It's not like I can't ever experience these emotions in the right circumstances; I just have to know how to tap in to them. It's sort of like looking for a signal by turning a dial, like a radio.
5. And yeah, there's that part about not caring about other people:
What do I mean by ruining someone? Everyone has their different tastes in regards to power, just like everyone has their different tastes for food or sex. My bread and butter is feeling like my mind and my ideas are shaping the world around me, which is of course why I bother writing the blog. It's my daily porridge; it keeps me from starvation. But when I indulge — when I am hungry for the richest, most decadent piece of foie gras — I indulge in inserting myself into a person's psyche and quietly wreaking as much havoc as I can. To indulge in malignity. To terrorize a person's soul without having any real design on the person. It's a pleasure to build something, to see the physical embodiment of your work.
6. Like all disorders, it's more complicated than I originally thought:
I believe that a lot of the sociopath's traits such as charm, manipulation, lying, promiscuity, chameleonism, mask wearing, and lack of empathy are largely attributable to a very weak sense of self. I believe that all personality disorders share a distorted or abnormal sense of self.
Buy the book here. It's fascinating.
Contact Morgan Housel at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.