The most chilling book I have ever read (book review: Democracy in Chains)

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I just finished reading Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy McLean.    This book was as creepy as anything Stephen King ever wrote, but it isn’t a horror novel or even fiction.   It’s a well-researched expose of how America lost its way — and it started a lot earlier than you thought.   It also wasn’t an accident.  Everything up to and including public attitudes about democracy and the rightward shift of both parties was planned down to the smallest detail decades ago.

It all started innocuously enough with an ultra-conservative economist named James McGill Buchanan in the early 1950s.    Buchanan was a libertarian who believed that the New Deal, labor unions, and the social safety net were assaults on true freedom  (to him and others like him, “freedom” meant the right of property owners to keep all their wealth) and who also believed the Gilded Age — a time of terrible inequality and suffering harrowingly described in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) — was the last time America was on the right track.

Buchanan was relentless in his pursuit of the freedom of the wealthy and property-owning minority (who he saw as more deserving) over the masses of poor and middle class people who benefited from the social safety net, public education, labor unions, social security, and other programs put into place under the New Deal to alleviate the ravages of the Great Depression and improve life for almost everyone.   He also didn’t believe that people who didn’t own property should have the right to vote, because they would tend to favor democracy over true “freedom”  and therefore stood in the way of the growth of an unfettered free market.

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James McGill Buchanan

 

The cancer on democracy began, like all cancers, with a tiny cell (and a lot longer ago than I ever imagined):  Buchanan set off what would become a wholesale assault on democracy in his home state of Virginia in the early 1950s by attacking public education in his state.  He wanted it to be abolished and replaced with private schools and vouchers (sound familiar?)   But at the time, his ideas were so unpopular they had no chance of influencing the public and were dismissed as fringe or even crazy by both major political parties.  Buchanan, unfazed, realized that stealth measures would be necessary for his ideas to see the light of day.

Over time, he and others like him (such as the Koch Brothers, libertarian billionaires who have funded many right wing causes and played an important role in our march toward fascism) set up right wing think tanks and found insidious ways to infiltrate the economics departments of colleges and universities, thus influencing those who studied economics and the students who graduated from these schools.

In a seemingly unrelated chapter, McLean describes the hostile 1973 takeover of Chile’s formerly socialist and democratic government by a far right wing dictator who destroyed all social programs, gutted public education and healthcare, abolished free and fair elections, ended the free press, and made dissent illegal.   And not just illegal:  many dissenters were tortured horribly before being killed, or mysteriously “disappeared.”   The end justified the means — the end being total power of the few (the oligarchs) at the expense of the many.  McLean’s inclusion of this chapter about a little-known South American country is relevant because not only did the situation in Chile (which lasted for 16 years — democracy has been restored) closely mirror the regime that is trying to do the same here in America,  the Chilean coup was aided and abetted by Buchanan and his cronies — and funded by our government.

Realizing that his ideas would never be popular with the public, Buchanan (and later, the Koch Brothers and others) deliberately planned a stealth takeover, which included deliberate lying to the public,  manipulation of the press, the gradual demonization of democratic values and the social safety net, and normalization of the callous and unthinkable.   Although they hated Vladimir Lenin’s Marxist ideology, they loved his methods, and studied them to find out how they could use the same methods to destroy democracy and install an authoritarian oligarchy in its place (Steve Bannon is also a big fan of Lenin for the same reasons).

These men and their right wing think tanks came up with new ideas for indoctrinating the public through deceptive, incredibly Machiavellian measures that resulted in getting both parties to shift rightward, until eventually, their goals that would benefit the few and hurt many no longer seemed so unthinkable.   They were able, through their machinations and manipulations, to deceive people into voting against their own best interests and erroneously believing government and regulations (laws that protect people and the environment from corporate excess) were the greatest evil we faced.

These men were not stupid.  They were well aware how much human misery and suffering extreme unregulated capitalism and privatization, removal of the safety net, voter suppression, and oppression of dissenters would create.  They saw what happened in Chile — and approved in spite of the vast human misery the extreme capitalist regime caused there.   But to them, the end always justifies the means.   If people suffer, they are necessary casualties of a system they believe is the only one that would reward and benefit only the deserving.   Those who suffer deserve to suffer.

The changes, which had already been going on for over two decades, finally became noticeable in the late 1970s, as evangelical Christianity was co-opted by the far right, which began to infiltrate its theology.  Using religion as a tool to reach the middle and lower classes, most of the South and Midwest could be duped into voting against democratic values and for those that benefited only the oligarchs.    Shortly thereafter, Reagan was elected and the era of deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations began — and is still going on to this day.   But even Reagan proved to be a traitor to the cause when he refused to privatize Social Security, which is a long dreamed of goal and frighteningly close to success.     His refusal to cooperate caused a deep rift in the Republican party between the moderates and the hardline conservatives.  Reagan would be too liberal for today’s far right.

The most horrifying thing about Democracy in Chains is the last chapter, which describes our future if these sociopathic leaders have their way.   I won’t go into too much detail here, but prepare to be shocked by these “liberty first” hardliners’ callousness for human and for all life.   Such a future would make today’s seem like a paradise.   Conditions would rival developing countries (and they are aware they would be but they don’t care). There would be no funds for public health or sanitation, which would cause pandemics only seen in the third world.  The rich would live in gated palaces while the masses would be forced to try to survive in shantytowns and makeshift shelter, since housing would be priced out of their reach. No access to public education, transportation (roads would be privatized also), healthcare, or any basic services at all would create early death, brutality, despair and suffering, violent crime beyond anything we can imagine in America.   Naturally, the lack of access to public schooling (and the need for cheap and slave labor) would lead to the dismantling of child labor laws (which they see as anathema to “freedom”).   Private prisons with no laws against brutality would be the lot of many.    There’s also a reason for their climate change denial. It’s not because they are ignorant (they aren’t) and it’s not solely about greed either.  They actually see natural disasters as a way to weed out the “takers” (those who would not be able to prepare or escape) from the “makers.”  

We are almost there.  This coup is deliberate and well-organized and evil to the core — and is being carried out in the darkness and secrecy because there is no other way for them to force their diabolical plan on the rest of us.   It didn’t begin with Trump, or Bush, or Clinton, or even Reagan.  It’s been the stealth plan of the far right for almost 70 years.   These people do their evil work in darkness and secrecy and the intent is to rewrite our Constitution to suit only themselves.  They are determined to have their way no matter how antisocial or oppressive the means to get there might be.   They are no longer even trying to hide their nefarious (if not outright evil) motives.  This was evident during the recent healthcare bill fiasco, in which the GOP worked in secrecy, without input from any Democrats or progressives, and never even denied their lack of transparency.   Trump is a late stage symptom of this coup and this book is a last minute call to action before it’s too late and we lose even our right to vote or protest.    This is an unsettling but necessary book.

Democracy in Chains is incredibly well researched, with 60 pages of footnotes.  It’s not an easy read, but I recommend it to anyone who cares about democracy and wonders why America lost its soul.

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A list of useful blogs and books about NPD, narcissistic abuse, and BPD.

These are all listed under my “Resources and Support” tab in the header, but I wanted to call attention to them. I have added some new ones. My apologies if you don’t see your blog listed here. Unfortunately, I can’t list them all but if you want me to add yours, please comment and I’ll be happy to add it.

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Here are some websites, books and blogs focusing primarily on Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), narcissistic abuse, and Borderline personality disorder (BPD), though some touch on other personality disorders as well. This is only a small sampling of what’s available. The Internet is loaded with websites about NPD and narcissistic abuse; a quick Google search will bring up many that I have neglected to list here. BPD is not so widely covered, but is becoming more so.

Blogs, Websites and Forums

Dealing with Manipulative People — Dr. George K. Simon’s excellent blog about Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic, Borderline, Antisocial, and Histrionic Personality Disorders) with a focus on NPD. Dr. Simon is also the author of several books, which are listed below.

Out of the Fog — excellent support forum for people dealing with those with personality disorders and other mental health problems (or who have a disorder themselves). Every personality disorder recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is covered. I never posted here myself, but I’ve lurked there a lot and found the site very interesting and helpful.

Narcissists Suck — Anna Valerious is a survivor of psychopathic parents, and her blog is excellent. It can also be irreverent and hilarious. Her take no prisoners style may take some getting used to, but she has a lot of heart and a LOT to say about narcissists. Valerious is a Christian, and she sometimes quotes from the Bible, but for the most part, you don’t have to be a Christian or any sort of believer to appreciate her blog. She hasn’t posted in it for awhile, but the articles are still relevant, entertaining, and useful.

An Upturned Soul — longer articles than average, but well written, intelligent, and always fascinating to read. There was no way I could leave this one off this list, since I have reblogged several of her articles already.

PsychopathyAwareness Blog — good blog about psychopathy right here at WordPress. The blogger really knows their stuff.

What Makes Narcissists Tick?— This blog was created by Kathy Krajco, an author about narcissistic abuse who was well respected in the community of narcissistic abuse victims, until her untimely death several years ago. Due to that, the blog hasn’t been updated in a long time, and many of the links don’t work, but it still contains both practical and fascinating information about narcissists and why they are the way they are and why they do what they do.

NarcissisticMother.com is a website focusing on self help for the adult children of narcissistic parents (ACONs), particularly mothers, since in our culture, mothers still have the strongest influence on their children.

SociopathWorld is an intriguing website from the point of view of sociopaths (not exactly the same as psychopaths but very similar). It’s interesting to “get inside their heads” to help understand why they act the way they do. It’s creepy and fascinating how dissociated from emotions, themselves and others they often feel and some explain it surprisingly well.
Similar to SociopathWorld is Psychopathic Writings, a blog written by a psychopath whose articles are interesting and well informed. If you like sites like these, please also check out Kiasherosjourney.

Country of Liars: a website by and for the victims of sociopaths and psychopaths. The blog’s owner, like so many other similar blog owners was the scapegoat of a family of such people. Well written blog.

Lady With A Truck’s Blog: Like so many survivors of narcissistic abuse, LWAT struggles with poverty. Our abusers ruin us on every level, even our ability to earn a living. This is a wonderful blog by a lady with an attitude and a heart. Her writing draws you in like a novel, she’s inspirational, and she’s often quite funny too.

Constant Supply: The Narcissist’s Wife. A blog by a woman married to a malignant narcissist.

Faces of Narcissism: a fairly new blog written by Joanna Moore, a narcissistic abuse survivor. She was married to an abusive, sociopathic man who she is No Contact with today. A good mix of practical, no nonsense advice and personal stories.

Grace for My Heart: Although this blog written by a Christian pastor isn’t specifically about narcissism, it’s a popular topic on his blog (he writes about narcissism every Friday in his “Narcissist Friday” posts) because of all mental disorders, NPD (along with Antisocial Personality Disorder) is the most likely to have a spiritual component. Interesting and uplifting blog for Christians and those interested in God’s grace and spirituality. One of my favorite blogs.

Worldly Annoyances — ACON blog with a biblical Christian perspective. Sue can also be extremely funny at times.  I don’t always agree with her literal Biblical views, but I agree with much of what she has to say just the same.   Her posts are short and sometimes make me smile.

Galesmind:  Blogger who writes about narcissism and a lot of other topics too.  Often funny and entertaining.  Gale also writes a lot about Internet abuse (bullies, trolls and other sociopaths roaming the web).

Narcwriters: a listing of personal blogs about narcissism and blogs by psychologists with a focus on NPD. A good resource that lists many blogs that I have overlooked here.

The Narcissistic Continuum: This blog is great. It differs a bit in format from most other narcissism blogs because of the way its articles are ordered according to severity across the narcissistic spectrum, from “healthy narcissism” (narcissism is good in very small doses–just like heavy metals in the blood are necessary but become poison if excessive) all the way to psychopathy/sociopathy. CZBZ’s blog is also very easy on the eyes, in my opinion.

TNC’s owner also has a forum, Web of Narcissism (WoN), which is inactive but there’s still a lot of great information there.

Lenora Thompson — Psychcentral/narcissism: Lenora Thompson is a survivor of narcissistic abuse who writes a blog about narcissism on Psychcentral.  Check her out!

No! It is Not Your Fault!   A blog about narcissism and narcissistic abuse from an unlikely writer who himself has an NPD diagnosis but is unusual because of his self-awareness and desire to heal from his disorder (he is in treatment).   Ruud’s blog is definitely worth a follow.  Reading his story brought me to tears and I don’t cry easily.  He also gives good, practical advice to narcissistic abuse survivors.

Psychforums: Online support for anyone with a mental disorder and those trying to understand and help loved ones who have them. Active section on NPD and other personality disorders, and includes posts from people suffering from NPD as well as their victims.  I posted here for awhile, and the narcs and “nons” (as they are called) seem to co-exist here quite nicely.

Discussing Dissociation: Thoughts from a Trauma Therapist — Although this site focuses on those suffering from DID (dissociative identity disorder), there is much information and help here for anyone suffering from other mental disorders caused by abuse and trauma, such as C-PTSD. The symptoms of C-PTSD can closely mimic those of Borderline Personality Disorder and include dissociative features.

BPD Transformation — Blog written by a former sufferer of BPD who was cured. Ed’s posts are sometimes a bit scholarly but incredibly educational for those who like a bit of meat in their blog posts and dislike things being dumbed down the way they so often are on the web. This blogger probably knows more about the Cluster B disorders and their treatment methods than most mental health experts. But it’s not all graduate-level reading. Some of his articles are quite hilarious too.

Make BPD Stigma Free! — a blog devoted to getting BPD recognized as a form of complex PTSD and taking away the harmful “crazy” and “evil” stigmas a BPD diagnosis carries.

Healing From BPD is a good website for people suffering from BPD with information about DBT and other treatments.

Borderline Bella is a university student from England who has struggled with both having BPD and the stigma it often carries.   She is a new blogger here on WordPress and her writing is always honest and heartfelt.  Her blog is definitely worth a follow!

Ramen Noodle Nation: Humans Need Not Apply: This blog is not specifically for ACONs and survivors of narcissistic abuse, but because so many of us struggle with poverty (either after being taken for everything we own or just because we were trained to be “failures” by our parents and never given the tools to do well in life), I think this website can be helpful and validating to those of us struggling with poverty or even just living on a very tight budget. Definitely on the fiscally liberal side of the political fence, this blog calls out the malignant narcissism inherent in our culture of greed and low empathy for the poor.

There are also many other personal blogs of survivors of psychopathic abuse on WordPress. There’s way too many to list  here!   If you have a blog that focuses on narcissism or BPD that you don’t see listed here, let me know and I will add it to the list. Also, if you know of any other websites you would like to see listed, let me know and I will add them.

Books
Malignant Self-Love — You can purchase or download the free eBook by Sam Vaknin. Vaknin is a narcissist who wrote this extremely detailed book about NPD. You can read part of it free online (PDF format). It is also available for purchase. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Vaknin’s credentials but it can’t be denied he definitely knows a lot about this subject and gives advice on how to deal with people like himself. Vaknin is unusual–a narcissist who has enough insight to know his own motives and warn people accordingly. However, given that insight is a characteristic narcissists generally don’t have, is Vaknin really a narcissist at all?  Well…yes, he is.

Vaknin is also the subject of the documentary, I, Psychopath. He may or may not actually be a psychopath, but he does act pretty narcissistic in the film most of the time and bullies the filmmaker. Definitely worth watching even if you don’t bother with his book.

People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, by M. Scott Peck, MD: First published in 1983, this is probably the first book that accurately described the malignant narcissist. I wrote a review of this book in this post. While not perfect, this book holds a special place in my heart because it was the book that allowed me to first identify my mother as an “evil” narcissist. Ironically, my narc-enabler father sent it to me (even though he always defended my mother’s behavior).

Dr. George K. Simon (mentioned above) is the author of several self help books about “character disorders,” especially NPD. I have read his In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, and Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of our Age (longer and goes into much more detail about psychopathy and malignant forms of narcissism than In Sheep’s Clothing but both books are excellent.

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us, by William Hare, MD. Extremely readable and informative book about psychopathic behavior, from everyday psychopaths who try to make our lives miserable through the worst serial killers and other criminals who show no remorse for their deeds. Hare describes the different types of psychopaths, and the possible origins of their psychopathy, whether it’s genetic or acquired later through their environment and learning. Many quotes from psychopaths are included, and some of these are chilling. Hare sums up by discussing what may be done to help the psychopath (not much!) and for those who must deal with them, advice for handling them better. I definitely recommend this book.

Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha M. Linehan. This is a workbook of practical exercises to help people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder better cope with their unstable emotions and learn how to regulate them better. It was a great help to me while I was hospitalized in 1996 for Major Depression and was at that time also diagnosed with BPD. I still have my copy and recently dusted it off and started using it again.

Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door,”  is more about antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) than narcissism, but as ASPD is also marked by an inability to feel empathy or have a conscience (and may be on the same spectrum as NPD), so it fits here.

I also recommend Dr. James F. Masterson’s “The Emerging Self,” a scholarly manual on treating narcissistic disorders of the self, complete with case histories from therapy sessions.  He has successfully treated people with both the Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorders. If you like something a little less scholarly, his excellent book Search for the Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age, about BPD and NPD, also contains case histories from his practice and tools for understanding these disorders and what causes them.

A lifetime of writing (part one).

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Writing, as opposed to the spoken word, has always been my preferred mode of communication. While it’s true I’ve never published a book or made a real career of it, I have a deep love of words and the rhythms and drama of the English language. Writing is where I feel the most at home in myself, and when I’m at my happiest and feel the most productive. Starting this blog, in spite of some painful incidents arising from it in this past year, has been the best decision I ever made.

This blog began as one for victims of narcissistic abuse and of course, as a ranting platform for myself, but recently I’ve been moving away from that subject for several reasons, the most obvious one being that I simply can’t think of anything new to say about narcissism that hasn’t already been said. There are other reasons too. I haven’t decided what this blog’s new focus should be, or if it should have one at all. But I love to write about writing, so that seems like as good a topic as any, at least for today, so I thought I’d share what my lifelong on-again, off-again love affair with the written word has been like.

Childhood.

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English was always my favorite subject in school, and my best one too. Once I learned how to form letters and put them together, I found that I loved written assignments and always did well in them. As a child I also loved to draw and often wrote little illustrated stories at home for fun. Not too long ago I wrote the sad story about the little blank books my father brought me home from a business trip, and how I used to fill them with little stories and pictures (usually drawn in marker because I liked the sharp edges of a marker or pen over crayons and you could fit in more detail). Unfortunately, that ended one day when I found out some of my creations had been stolen. After that I was hesitant to write for myself anymore, and pretty much stopped drawing at all.

But my love of writing didn’t die, and as I grew older, my stories became more detailed and longer. I also liked writing papers for school about topics that interested me and enjoyed everything that went with putting together an awesome looking project–choosing what color construction paper to use for the covers (which I liked to slide into a clear plastic cover with a color-coordinated plastic spine to hold it all together), what to draw on the cover (if anything), how to design the letters spelling out the title, organizing the pages, etc. I almost always made A’s on these projects.

Once I learned to read fluently, I couldn’t get enough books. I remember in third grade, I read voraciously. For some reason, I was particularly enamored of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. I also really liked anything by Beverly Cleary. But I’d read just about anything I could get my hands on. At about age 10, I received “Harriet the Spy” as a gift, and she became my hero. I must have read that book about 10 times, and I read Louise Fitzhugh’s other books as well (too bad she didn’t write more books). To me, Harriet was the coolest girl ever, and she loved writing as much as I did. If I couldn’t be one of the popular girls, then I wanted to be Harriet. She was relatable, but so much cooler than I was. For awhile I even carried around a notebook (a black and white cardboard speckled one just like hers) and wrote down random observations about people. I think Harriet is still relevant. I know Fitzhugh’s books are still popular because so many children who are “different” or feel out of place can relate to Harriet. I wish I still had some samples of my early writing, but unfortunately these were lost a long time ago.

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Harriet was my idol when I was about 10.

I was often the target of bullies, especially in 3rd-5th grades, and often would escape to the school library for solace. We had a very sympathetic school librarian. I loved everything about libraries, especially the smell of books. It was very comforting to me, and the only place I felt really at home. Books really were my friends. One of my favorite places to go on the weekends was (drum roll, please!) the public library. I think it’s terrible that government funds for public libraries have been cut in the past decade. I think they’re so important. The Internet is great, but nothing beats a library for nurturing your mind.

Adolescence.

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During my teen years, writing became a back-burner activity, something I did when there was nothing else to do. I did continue to read voraciously, but was a lot less inspired to create anything of my own. What I did write tended to be what one of my teachers called “thunder and lightning” poetry–typical adolescent angst poetry about darkness, depression, despair, neverending rain, crashing storm-generated waves, and death imagery. I was Goth before there was such a thing (and liked to dress in black or dark clothes too). I also wrote long, angry screeds about my mother, who I’d decided (rightfully) was the shallowest, most un-maternal person on earth.

I also kept a diary. It was thick sky-blue leather hardcovered book with a golden lock and key. Unfortunately I couldn’t fit much in the spaces for entries, because it was a five-year diary so I only had a 5th of a page to write anything, and the lines were tiny (and my handwriting tended toward the large and florid). I finally quit writing in it after about 2 1/2 years. Like most other things from my growing-up years, I have no idea what happened to it.

Term papers became more of a chore, because now I was required to use and cite sources, etc. but once I got motivated, I did enjoy it and always got high grades. Sometimes, though, I’d wait until the night before it was due (after fretting for weeks) and stay up all night working frantically to finish the project. My teachers could never tell the difference, but I certainly don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to start a school project, if for nothing else other than the enormous stress that causes.

Early Adulthood.

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College was basically a continuation of high school as far as my engagement with writing was concerned and was limited mostly to term papers and school projects. Of course, the topics I had to write about were more in keeping with my interests (psychology and art). They were also required to be typewritten and I had recently learned how to type and really liked the “professional looking” fonts available on the school’s IBM Selectric and the futuristic looking font-balls you could snap in and out of the machine (I had a typewriter, but it was a basic Royal ribbon typewriter with standard typeface). In those days before the Internet, access to fonts that didn’t look like “typeface” was considered very cool. I also liked the fact I could backspace and actually erase mistakes, instead of having to use White-Out or erasing strips which only covered them and always looked messy. I still have a few of my psychology papers; sometime soon I’ll dig them up and read over them again.

The only project I ever did badly on in college was a verbal assignment on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (oh, the irony!) for my Abnormal Psychology class, but it wasn’t because I hadn’t done my homework or prepared for it; it was because we had to present it in verbal form, in front of the classroom, and I clammed up terribly and my mind went completely blank. I got a D in that assignment, and it took me a very long time to get over that. In written assignments though, I always got A’s or high B’s.

My love affair with electronic typewriters like the Selectric ended when I started my first office job as a receptionist and had to spend entire days typing up invoices and memos. I remember our first word processor and how cool that seemed. I even took classes in Wang, but once again, it wasn’t too long before that seemed humdrum too.

I only completed three years of college because I got engaged and had to work full time, and something had to go. If I had to do it over again, I would have waited to marry and gotten a degree in journalism or gone for a Masters. While married, I didn’t write anything more ambitious than shopping lists. I wouldn’t dabble in creative writing (for myself) again until my early 40s, although I did take jobs as a technical writer, medical editor and part-time book reviewer during my late 20s and thirties.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

All I ever wanted.

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Click image to enlarge.

Book Review: “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout

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Dr. Martha Stout’s excellent “The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus The Rest of Us” is an easy to read, well researched and often entertaining study of the psychology of evil. In some ways similar to M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie,” but without the religious overtones, Stout chillingly describes the “ice people”–the sociopaths that walk among us.

As many as 4%–one in 25 Americans–is without a conscience or the capacity to feel empathy for others. Stout doesn’t make a distinction between sociopathy and psychopathy, and in this book she is referring to those people who meet the diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), not Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In fact, narcissism as a disorder is rarely mentioned, although she does acknowledge that all sociopaths are narcissistic.

Stout includes many case studies of how sociopathy can manifest in individuals. Contrary to popular notion, not all people with ASPD (sociopathy) are in prison or even criminals. Antisocial behavior is found as often in boardrooms as in prisons, and sometimes more so. For sociopaths who grew up in well heeled families and were able to get a good education, their antisocial traits are likely to manifest in “socially acceptable” ways. For example, a CEO who needlessly downsizes to increase his own bloated income, ruthlessly firing hundreds of employees without caring about the hardship those fired employees now face, is as conscienceless and unempathic as a cold blooded murderer.

A sociopath can be the gossipy woman next door who tells malicious lies about all the other neighbors, it can be the company president who embezzles and defrauds, or it can be the vicious serial killer who preys after college students.

Stout talks a lot about conscience, that quality that separates the antisocial from everyone else. It’s the lack of this trait that makes people evil. She offers a number of reasons why someone may lack a conscience–they may have suffered horrible abuse or neglect as young children (she discusses the sad plight of Romanian children who were adopted by American parents and many of these kids were found to have an underdeveloped conscience), they may not have been taught prosocial values, or they may be deficient in the parts of the brain where the conscience develops in normal children.

I definitely recommend “The Sociopath Next Door” to anyone who has been a victim of or had to deal with a sociopath, whether at home, work, school, or in a relationship. I’m going to extend the term “sociopath” here to include narcissists and psychopaths because they too lack empathy and a conscience. Really, this book should be read by everyone, because all of us have had to deal with ruthless “ice people” who just don’t care about anyone but themselves.

A pretty good day

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Alright, so my day didn’t start out very good.

Yesterday I got my settlement check from the insurance company from the car accident Molly was in last month, and this morning had to go to the bank to open a savings account and deposit the rest in checking, so I was an hour late for work because the bank didn’t open until 9 AM and I didn’t want to be toting a huge check around all day.

At 8:30 I received a call from my boss. She screamed “WHERE ARE YOU?”
Rubbing my assaulted ear, I explained I’d left a message on voicemail at 6:30.
“BUT IT WASN’T ON VOICEMAIL! DON’T YOU REALIZE THIS IS OUR BUSIEST SEASON?” The implication that I was lying about leaving a message could not have been more obvious.
“I’m sorry, I did leave a message. I’ll get there as soon as I can. I won’t be more than an hour late.”
“WELL YOU BETTER MAKE IT QUICK!”
Click.

I opened up my laptop and Tweeted: “Today is going to be the day from hell.”
I quickly scanned my blog stats, and found them disappointing.
Mentally I felt my defensive armor going up and my cortisone levels rising. I braced myself for the attack I knew I’d be facing once I got to work.

Although I have nearly perfect attendance and am never late, sure enough, when I arrived at the office, my malignant narcissist boss screamed, “IT’S THE BUSIEST WEEK OF THE YEAR! DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT? YOU ARE RUINING THIS COMPANY!”
Facepalm.

I knew she wasn’t serious, because I do a good job, my attendance is good, and she’s like that with everyone (well, except for her flying monkeys and sycophants), but it still made me feel violated and angry. Narcissists have a way of doing that.

The other bad thing that happened this morning was my daughter Molly went to court and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. She will be out Christmas day (thank goodness for that!). The good thing is that when she gets out, she will owe no more fines (which are far more than she or I can afford) and will have no more probation. She’ll do her time and just has to stay out of trouble after that.

But the day got a lot better. While it wasn’t the day from heaven, it didn’t turn out to be the day from hell either. I made friends with Molly’s older boyfriend, Paul. We were texting each other back and forth about Molly’s day in court and what happened. When I got home from my long day at work, I called him, and we spent about two hours talking. He is very easy to talk to, even for an Aspie like myself–I always feel violated and threatened by the most simple telephone conversations. I always hated the sound of a ringing phone. But talking to Paul was different, and put me at ease.

Paul is not only comfortable to talk to, he genuinely and sincerely cares about Molly. He’s the first boyfriend she’s ever had who has really cared about her wellbeing and wants her to turn her life around instead of all the losers who did nothing but drag her down and use her. We talked mostly about Molly, and what we can do together to help her. He’s older than she is and she listens to him, where she hasn’t always listened to me (I’m her mom–that’s probably why!) He put money into her jail account so she can buy concessions and make phone calls.

The other day I wrote a long depressing post saying I thought Molly was a narcissist (and she may be), but once again I have doubts. Drug addiction and bipolar disorder can also cause a person to act in a narcissistic way. She also has a diagnosis of BPD and PTSD. People with BPD can act very much like narcissists, as can bipolar people in their “manic” phase.

The reason I’m once again doubting she’s a true narcissist is because when she was handcuffed today, Paul was there with her, and she looked at him and said, crying, “I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused everyone. I really want to change. I’m a terrible person.”

I don’t think she would have been faking those tears and those words; for what reason would she do so? Paul told me they have had some deep conversations about her behavior and run-ins with the law over the past decade and how much she doesn’t want to be part of that anymore. I think she was running around with some people who were very bad for her, because she thought she didn’t deserve or couldn’t do any better.

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Molly is intellectually brilliant and could do anything she wants in life. Once upon a time she was a straight-A student. But her self esteem is so low that she’s mostly associated with people far beneath her, people who do stupid things because they just aren’t very bright. Paul wants her to spend more time with her psychologically healthier friends who aren’t doing drugs, and meet some of his friends who are succeeding too.

Molly has never liked to read much (although she reads and writes very well), but in jail she will have a lot of time for reading (it beats playing cards and watching endless reruns of “Cops”). He told me about a book she had been talking about by the actress Kristen Johnson, called “Guts,” in which she describes her struggles with alcohol and drugs before she turned her life around. This book could be inspirational for her. Molly has always liked biographies and stories about people with substance abuse issues. I remember her favorite book in high school was one that had also been a favorite of mine when I was her age: “Go Ask Alice.”

I don’t have any family to speak of (or rather, none that I speak to), and certainly none in my area, but Paul invited me to his home for Thanksgiving. I invited my roommate to come along, but she declined, so it will just be the two of us. He’s new in this area and has no family here either. He’s cooking dinner and I’m bringing dessert and a bottle of red Merlot wine (my favorite).

Having been burned so many times by narcissists and psychopaths, I don’t trust people easily, so of course there’s a small nagging voice in my head warning me Paul may be a narcissist in the love-bombing phase, but I really, truly don’t think so.

Just the other day, Molly was talking about having kids someday. She’s never shown the slightest bit of interest in having children (she is a bit young still and certainly not emotionally ready), but she told me she would be interested if she was married, and she thinks Paul may be The One. I told her not to rush things and I would like her to attend school first. Paul and I think she just may do this once she is released. He wants to take her to the community college just to have a look around and maybe sign up for one class just to get her feet wet.

After putting most of the settlement in savings, I still have a little over $1,000 left, a nice sum of cash for someone as poor as I am. Some will be used for Christmas, but I decided to order a few books tonight. One was Kristen Johnson’s book “Guts” which I’ll bring to Molly; I also ordered a Wild Republic stuffed raccoon (a Christmas gift for my son (who already has “Alfonso” the river otter, who I wrote about)), and two more books about narcissism: Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door,” which I have heard great things about; and Sam Vaknin’s gigantic tome, “Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited.”
I love to get things in the mail, especially books.

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Any day, no matter how shitty it starts, where I can make a new friend, feel hopeful about my kid, have a little money to spend, realize I won’t be alone on a big holiday after all, and get some new books to read, is a good day. And if I can end that day with a new blog post telling you what a good day it was, then it’s officially a great day.

The bookshelves: a better photo

The photo of the bookshelves in my last post cut off the bottom rows of shelves, so here’s a better photo. Although I sold or gave away a majority of my books, I still have a pretty big collection!

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Post #100: my surviving book collection.

Books and reading have always been my passion. As long as I can remember I always had my nose stuck in a book. I actually used to “cut class” in third grade to go to the school library (I hated 3rd grade the most because I was not only bullied by the other kids but was also bullied by my teacher Mrs. Morse, who had it in for me through the whole year and actually encouraged the other kids to gang up on me.) Reading was my escape, my middle childhood version of creating my own imaginary friends and worlds, and I read on a 7th-8th grade level in the third grade.

My two favorite books as a child were (1) Louise Fitzhugh’s classic  “Harriet the Spy” (read the book but skip the movie –Harriet is not your usual female heroine–she’s feisty, neurotic and isn’t even all that nice–she is part villain, part hero, and that makes her have so many dimensions for a kids’ book) and (2) Scott O’Dell’s breathtaking survival story, “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”.  How I longed, like the young heroine in that beautiful story, to be stranded for 18 years on a desert island, swim with the dolphins, commune with nature and wildlife, fashion my own hut and raft for fishing,  and most of all, spend almost two decades not having to deal with people at all. .

These two bookshelves pictured below contain almost all my remaining books. I keep a few others in the reading room bathroom and a few more on a smaller shelf next to my bed. I used to read an average of 3 books a week but lately I haven’t been reading nearly so much, because I do so much reading on line now.

bookshelf
Yes, that is a Salvador Dali inspired melting clock dripping off one of the shelves on the left hand side. It was given to me as a gag gift last Christmas, but it was the perfect gift for a person like me who loves the random and unexpected when it comes to gifts.   The clock works too!   (Click photo to enlarge). 

I used to own more than 3,000 titles (hell, I could have opened my own little bookstore!) but lack of space and financial necessity obliged me to sell most of the books or give them away to charity. There’s a few books I regret giving up; here are most of the remaining titles that either didn’t sell, or I refused to sell.

And now….(drum roll please!)…I have reached 100 posts.  🙂 

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