Published over a decade ago, The Millionaire Next Door forced us to reconsider our conception of a millionaire. Millionaires were not people you'd see on television, or people who made money through the dot.com era. They were regular people who, day after day, made mostly sound financial decisions. They were just like you and me. The millionaires were not on TV. They were living next door.
It's time to reconsider our conception of the sociopathic or psychotic personality. A sociopath or psychopath are not limited to the people you see on television next to photographs of dead children. They are people who ruin lives in smaller ways - day after day, year after year. The sociopath is living next door.
People seem to understand that a millionaire is unusual. Yet, even though 4% of the population is sociopathic or psychotic, people consider antisocial personalities to be unique.
When someone like Bernie Madoff cheats people out of billions of dollars, people are perplexed. How could anyone have done such a thing? Perhaps he did not intend to cheat investors. He just got in over his head. We project our morality onto the evil:
Good people are rarely suspicious: they cannot imagine others doing the things they themselves are incapable of doing; usually they accept the undramatic solution as the correct one, and let matters rest there. Then too, the normal are inclined to visualize the [psychopath] as one who's as monstrous in appearance as he is in mind, which is about as far from the truth as one could well get . . . These monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself - just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye, more what the mind thought a rosebud or a peach should be, than the imperfect original from which it had been modeled.
William March, The Bad Seed. Fortunately, there is accessible literature that is both respected by the experts and accessible to general public. Good people can learn to fight back.
Another must-read book is Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. In Without Conscience, Robert Hare (the psychologist who wrote the diagnostic criteria for the psychopathic personality) takes us away from the sensational model of the psychopath.
Hare's picture of the psychopathy is fascinating. Psychopaths are often charming and intelligent, but seem like visionaries. The psychopathic personality has the ability to pull you in. Hare shares with us stories involving trained psychologists who lost everything after being charmed by a psychopath.
Finally, there is Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. In Snakes in Suits, Dr. Hare examines psychopathy in the work place.
All three books can be read in a day or two at the beach. The thoughts they spun and the neural connections they form will last a lifetime.