Book review: Confessions of a Sociopath (M. E. Thomas)

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A couple of weeks ago I went to a yard sale and a book caught my eye, because of its subject matter–a copy of M. E. Thomas’ autobiography, Confessions of a Sociopath: a Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight.

Ever-fascinated with all things Cluster B, including first-person accounts by narcissists, psychopaths and other antisocial types, I got busy reading that same evening. It took me two weeks to finish the book, when normally I’d devour a book of this length and subject matter in just a few days.

I’m sorry to say, this book was a disappointment. It was a long, painful, boring read. First of all, Ms. Thomas isn’t a very good writer. Full of run-on sentences and endless, dull descriptions of how great she thinks she is because she lacks empathy and a conscience (she seems to think of these as traits only weak or stupid people have, reminding me of Ayn Rand without an iota of the latter’s intelligence), Thomas comes off more as an obnoxious, self-centered, common narcissist than a true sociopath.

Thomas (who owns the website Sociopath World) is not a criminal. She may well be sociopathic in that she seems to take pleasure in cheating, manipulating, hurting, and discarding others, once gleefully watched a possum drown, and admits she enjoys ruining the reputations of people she has worked with. She clearly has no empathy and seems to have no emotions. She crows on endlessly about how her lack of a conscience or any empathy has freed her from having to worry about what others think and therefore indicates what she thinks of as her superior intellect. But like the narcissist she really is, she overvalues her achievements and intelligence. She works as an attorney but doesn’t seem to be able to stay employed for long, and really doesn’t have any other impressive achievements under her belt. Her “theories” about sociopathy are nothing more than rehashes of what other people have already described in psychology texts, and less readable than theirs. Overall, Thomas comes off as self-congratulating, obnoxious, unlikeable, and very shallow. She also comes off as rather dumb.

M. E. Thomas is clearly a malignant narcissist, but by calling herself a “sociopath” you feel like you’ve been the victim of a bait-and-switch (which is in itself sociopathic, I suppose). The cover of the book is a picture of a sinister female mask on a white background, and you open the book expecting something more than you actually get, at least some sort of depth or insight into her own behavior. But Thomas has no real insight and the book reads more like a resume of her fake “achievements” than a dark psychological memoir. She talks about her family, who she describes as neglectful, but she doesn’t seem to think they were particularly abusive. She takes arrogant pride in her “sociopathy,” repeating the word again and again throughout the text, as if to drive home the fact that she really is one, when it seems that she “protesteth too much” and underneath all that bluster, suspects she may not be. That kind of insecurity over the possibility of not really being what one says they are is a lot more typical of NPD than psychopathy or sociopathy, who don’t care what others think of them. Thomas also talks about wanting to have a family and her religion (Mormonism) a lot. Maybe her religion keeps her from acting out against others in more heinous ways and gives her a sort of “cold” conscience that keeps her out of prison, but I sure hope God doesn’t let her have children. She doesn’t seem capable of maintaining a relationship, so that doesn’t exactly work in her favor.

Although narcissists are thought of as having no emotions, it isn’t really true that they don’t, and there are narcissists and sociopaths who have been able to write about themselves in an emotionally engaging, albeit dark and depressing, way. There is rage and hurt and despair seething behind the surface of their words. But Thomas writes in a cold, emotionless way, probably because she’s such a bad writer. As a result, you feel about as excited reading her “memoir” as you’d feel reading the most boring high school textbook–and learn a whole lot less.

The only reason I didn’t feel completely ripped off was because the yard sale copy of this book set me back only $1; if I’d purchased it at full price, I’d be pretty annoyed right now. It was all I could do to even finish this book. It was that boring. Don’t waste your time. If you want to read a good book about sociopathy, read Marsha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door instead. If you really need to read something that comes “out of the horse’s mouth,” you’d do better with Sam Vaknin.