A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Thursday Thought — Book Highlight: The Sociopath Next Door


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Pastor Crippen has this to say about Martha Stout’s book, Sociopath Next Door: 

I would like to get [this book] into the hands of every person in our church. . . Then maybe we would all start getting it when Scripture tells us there are evil people in this world.

The blurb from Amazon includes this paragraph:

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking four percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.

One of our readers noted this quote from the book in one of her comments:

Listening for almost twenty-five years to the stories my patients tell me about sociopaths who have invaded and injured their lives, when I am asked, “How can I tell whom not to trust?” the answer I give usually surprises people. The natural expectation is that I will describe some sinister-sounding detail of behavior or snippet of body language or threatening use of language that is the subtle giveaway. Instead, I take people aback by assuring them that the tip-off is none of these things, for none of these things is reliably present. Rather, the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.

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The underlining in the above quotes has been added by ACFJ.

Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door*, can be found on our Resources page.

ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Incredibly accurate. The pity play is the sociopaths favorite weapon and extremely successful. It’s amazing, in a very sick way, to watch its power.

  2. GratefulBeliever

    That book is what made me realize I have a sibling who is both a narcissist *and* a sociopath. Needless to say, I’m “no contact” with the person, for my own protection. (I moved this from the Facebook page on the off chance that my parents, my sibling’s “flying monkeys,” might see it and come after me for criticizing their golden child.)

  3. Renewed Spirit

    So along this line, and I’m playing ‘devil’s advocate’ here – when we go to Church leaders for help with difficulties in the home, do they see us a putting on a pity play? Do they see us as a sociopath?

    • Ng

      Sadly, it sometimes happens.. too often in fact. A genuine issue/problem that a person shares can be used to reflect badly on them – it gets those who should offer empathy, off the hook, and they can then blame the person who’s asking for help and say that he/she is bitter or weak or whatever ..

  4. Traddy

    Add to the assorted sundries the crocodile tears and the angry, controlled silence.

  5. Rosie

    Renewed Spirit, that’s what I was wondering too. I could be easily seen as looking for pity when all I’m doing is sharing what’s going on, trying to gain understanding & another set of eyes on my situation.

    • Avid Reader

      I totally agree with you both that there’s a huge difference between sharing your thoughts, feelings and experiences with those closest to you in order to process those emotions, figure out what’s going on, and receive the love and care from others that we all need and how sociopaths try to use emotions to control or gain power over others. We should never feel guilty for reaching out for help from others. That’s just being as human as God made us. Good pastors know the difference.

    • Remedy

      Agree with the question. Maybe one standout difference, at least in my case, the pity play did NOT begin until I began reaching to outsiders for help. Then, all of a sudden, I was the crazy one….the one HE was patiently ‘tolerating’ oh so waiting for me to make the needed changes, and I was totally uncommitted to the hopelessly in love with me man. Yes, he became the pity deserving victim ONLY after I began reaching out. Before that, he was still in full tactical mode trying to ‘change’ me into someone he could love.

      I just never could understand why he wouldn’t just walk away from someone so ‘crazy’ as me and find a really great woman he could love and trust. Weird.

      • Show Me the Way

        I just never could understand why he wouldn’t just walk away from someone so ‘crazy’ as me and find a really great woman he could love and trust. Weird.

        Oh my. Asked this questions to H directly during counseling…if I’m such a wicked evil mess, why do still want me? Because I love you, your my wife. I still love the happy woman I married. God wants me to love.

        It just doesn’t make sense. Why don’t they walk away?

      • It doesn’t make sense because it’s a lie. Abusers don’t love their victims. They love to oppress their victims.

  6. KayE

    I’ve never come across anyone who thought I was looking for pity or sympathy. Usually there are one of two responses. One type of person immediately gets it and spontaneously offers sympathy and understanding. The second type of person immediately labels me as an angry and bitter woman who was too selfish and stupid to be able to resolve the communication problems I had with my wonderful Christian husband. The second type of person doesn’t believe sociopaths exist, especially not sociopaths who call themselves Christians.

    • Sara

      Exactly!

    • Misti

      Be careful with that immediate sympathy and understanding. Watch it for flattery, a signal of a potential manipulator.

      (As a manipulation tactic, the immediate outpouring of support seeks to engage you as an ally on an emotional level, so you associate the person with positive experiences and thereby have reduced willingness to notice any red flags given off by them or their victims, usually their children.)

      Someone nontoxic who’s familiar with victim/abuser dynamics will have a cautiousness in their reaction because they want to both be supportive and to encourage a victim to stand on their own feet, without encouraging self-defeating behaviors or enabling a toxic person who plays the victim.

      I’ve seen it in more than one female abuser of her children — most of whom married male abusers, apparently on purpose so they could play victim/martyr and have a convenient scapegoat to throw under the bus, both to their children and to others around them, depending on what comes out and to whom.

      (Ex. Child gets upset at abuse that their mother enabled or covertly encouraged. “Yes, your dad is so terrible! :'(” CPS comes investigating. “Oh, I had no idea I’d married such a horrible man! :'(” etc.)

      Because that really happens to so many people and knowledge can be impossible to definitively prove if you’re careful about what written and recorded evidence you leave, it’s an easy lie to pull off.

      Note that I’m *not* saying anyone here is such a person. I’m just pointing out that these folks exist. (They’re actually highly unlikely to show up somewhere like this. Not enough payoff in support of their lie, and too much risk of developing bad habits that’ll sabotage them overall.)

  7. LM

    Thanks for sharing this. It would be a miracle if Churches were to preach on this. What is your take on the New Apostolic Movement. I am thankful that we are called and called and called in these last days to only look at Jesus.

    • Welcome to the blog! 🙂

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    • The New Apostolic Movement? I am not overly familiar with it, but if it’s the kind of thing that was prevalent in pentecostal circles years ago when I was attending a Pentecostal church — the idea that God is raising up New Apostles and giving them prophecies for the church — I think it’s a pretty unbiblical movement that elevates ‘apostles’ to positions of such power that they can and often do lord it over the sheep quite wickedly.

    • KayE

      My original background is conservative Presbyterian, and I’ve basically returned to those beliefs or very similar. But for nearly 30 years I was involved with churches who followed the ideas of the New Apostolic movement, some of them to an extreme degree. It’s difficult to avoid this movement in my part of the world. Although it isn’t often named, the thinking is popular and to some extent has infiltrated most churches that are not either completely liberal or strongly legalistic.

      I could go on for a very, very long time about the problems that this movement causes for victims of abuse. So far I’ve not come across anyone who has addressed the issues adequately. The large “New Apostolic” church I attended at the time played a massive role in my becoming entrapped by a predatory abuser, who was very easily able to masquerade as one of them.

      The teaching at the church was often deceptive and manipulative. Whoever was preaching usually spent most of the time talking about themselves and justifying their position of superiority. They constantly undermined the agency of “ordinary” Christians, that is those who were not “apostles”, “prophets”, “leaders”, or otherwise members of the inner circle. It was difficult to leave the church and when I did, most of the people I’d thought were friends had nothing more to do with me. I left because I was afraid of losing my faith if I stayed. The price in social isolation was high. But if I’d stayed I wouldn’t have been strong enough to stand up to my abuser and I’m not even sure that I’d still be alive.

      I sometimes wonder how the leaders would have reacted if I’d discussed the abuse with them. Not that they really ever wanted to be bothered with other people’s problems, they made that clear. If by chance they had listened they would have been totally out of their depth. They have a theology that minimizes the responsibility of individuals for their own actions and exaggerates the influence of external supernatural forces. Which all works in favor of narcissists, liars and sociopaths.

      The New Apostolic movement isn’t fringe, it’s large and influential. And in my opinion, it’s a dangerous environment for victims of abusers.There’s a lot more I could say about the ways in which the movement enables abusers and adds to the oppression of victims. Victims are likely to get all the same injustice as they do in traditional churches,with several extra layers of mistreatment added in.

  8. Avid Reader

    LM, that’s a really good question.

    As someone who grew up in church under the New Apostolic Movement, I can say that KayE is right on target about this.

    Please understand that normally we try to avoid discussing doctrinal differences here because ACFJ is a place where believers from all different backgrounds come together to fight evil. Here we seek to put aside our doctrinal differences and just work together but since part of our main focus is identifying patterns of manipulation and control in the church, with Barbara’s permission, I’d like to answer LM’s question.

    My observation—after many years in this movement—was these problems:

    1) While there was plenty of good teaching on discerning false prophets, not enough on how to discern false apostles.

    2) Too much emphasis on the prophetic without enough balance of teaching believers how to be led by the Holy Spirit can lead to putting a mediator between you and God —where people feel the need to get multiple prophetic confirmations before making major decisions instead of relying on their own conscience.

    3) Movement was infiltrated by Bill Gothard theology.

    4) Some leaders teaching really weird doctrine that was just their personal opinions.

    5) Just like KayE said — too much blaming of external supernatural forces which enables people to avoid taking responsibility for their own decisions.

    Growing up under this movement we were taught how Ephesians 2:20 says that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.”

    Some people believe that these spiritual gifts passed away after the era of the early church. Some people believe that God is still raising people up with these gifts — there’s plenty of room in the body of Christ for a difference of opinion on this. We want to be respectful of both sides.

    My personal opinion is that real Apostles were people like John Wycliff (1320-1384) Before the invention of the printing press, most people had no access to the Bible. So Wycliffe put together a team of scholars who translated the Bible into English and reproduced several copies by hand. Then he organized another team of lay preachers — known as Lollards — to travel around and teach the Bible to the common people. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement without any modern technology.

    Another example could be Martin Luther who stood up for the doctrine of salvation by grace. The night before Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, the leader of Germany received a prophetic dream in which God spoke to Frederick the Wise that his job was to protect Luther. You all know the rest of the story, Luther was able to translate the Bible into the language of his country while being hidden at Frederick’s castle. My opinion is that this prophetic dream was necessary to help prepare Frederick the Wise for the incredible opposition he was about to face in backing Luther.

    I believe that real Apostles just do the work of the ministry, pioneering, laying foundations, planting churches, etc. They don’t go around telling everyone to submit to them. That’s why Jesus commended the Ephesian church for “Testing those who call themselves apostles and aren’t. You found them to be liars.” Rev 2:2b (HSCB)

    An example of someone moving in the prophetic through dreams, visions, and inner guidance of the Holy Spirit is Harriet Tubman who is about to be honored on the US $20 bill. Many of you know the story how she was one of the most successful conductors on the Underground Railroad — so successful that there was a massive price put on her head. The best bounty hunters and law enforcement continually hunted her but they were never able to catch her because the Lord guided her. She actually said that she only went where the Lord told her to go.

    I read one story where she had been taking a group north under the cover of darkness, late at night through the backwoods when the Lord told her to get off the path, switch directions, and cross a river. She obeyed even though the group didn’t want to cross the river until they saw her pass through, showing the water was only chest deep. Long story short, there had been a hidden ambush up ahead waiting for her. They were shocked that she had completely avoided them since the only two ways forward where either through them or through the river.

    Back to LM’s question and KayE’s points — the major concern with this movement was lack of discernment mixed with too much emphasis on submission to spiritual authority. For example, we were taught that correction only flows from the top down. Meaning that when a leader makes a mistake they must be corrected by a leader higher in authority on the totem pole. Thus as long as leaders are “covered” by the head pastor they can pretty much do whatever they want because only the head pastor can challenge them. Anyone else who challenges them is an “Absalom spirit.”

    Cindy Jacobs wrote in her book, Possessing the Gates of the Enemy, (p. 114-116) that if God warns an intercessor about a leader, that intercessor can’t confront the leader directly but has to pray that God will send someone higher in authority to correct the leader.

    Here’s the quote:

    Sometimes, intercessors’ home lives affect their judgment. Those who are constantly receiving harsh words from God usually come from dysfunctional home situations. This taints what they hear and leads them into legalistic ways of hearing from God and applying what they hear……

    If they had heard from God accurately — rather than speak to others about the word of correction — they should have taken it to their prayer closets and cried out to God to warn the pastor. The Word of God says that we are not to rebuke an elder — 1 Timothy 5:1.

    An intercessor is not to rebuke his pastor but to pray for him, to ask God to send those into his life who would speak a balancing word to him…….

    Having done all of this, intercessors who are still concerned might ask the Lord if He has given them a release from the church. They must never, however, speak out against him to members of the congregation. This causes confusion and dissension. An intercessor and particularly a prayer leader is responsible to cover in prayer the vulnerabilities and heart attitudes that God needs to correct in leadership. It goes without saying, of course, that sexual sin and other deviant behaviors need to be shared with the elders in the church.”

    Now just for the record — 1Timothy 5:1 describes HOW to confront the leader. Read a few verses further in that chapter and it says, “Rebuke before the whole assembly those leaders who continue sinning, as a warning to the others.” 1Timothy 5:20 (CJB). The story of Saul and David is another great example of how David had to question his spiritual authority figure. Then there’s Balaam getting corrected by his donkey. My guess is that Cindy Jacobs missed all that because she has probably been influenced by Gothardism.

    KayE, my heart goes out to you. I agree with you that wolves can twist this doctrine to gain access to the flock. That’s why I really appreciate what this blog is doing to awaken the church.

    • Thank you KayeE and Avid Reader! Your explanations and examples of the dangers of the New Apostolic Movement are very much appreciated.

      I love our blog — meaning I love our blog family. We all need each other. We all learn from and support each other. 🙂

      Bless you heaps!

    • Ng

      I used to love Cindy Jacobs’ teachings, until they became very bizarre – extreme submission and authority mindset. She is deeply involved with this heretical NAR movement. I know what it’s about, as the church I was in, was fully immersed with this mentality and doctrine.
      The hierarchical power structure and dynamics create very dysfunctional churches and relationship: a leader can do whatever he/she wants, with the caveat “I am your God-given pastor” ..
      (My ex pastor actually used that line to force me into staying)
      If any of the sheep use their discernment and bring their concerns to the leadership, they’re usually shot down with the ‘Don’t question God’s anointed’ …

      It’s not just the NAR and Charismatic camps that have that problem, as it seems to be an issue in many movements. However, NAR is one of the worst offenders in how they treat their ‘minions’ aka church members..

  9. For Too Long

    The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.

    Wow. Unbelievably spot-on in my situation. My husband and I met in college and I remember well the first time we walked alone together on campus. We shared background information about ourselves, but when he talked about his family he mentioned how he was neglected as the middle child. The things he described were heart-breaking and I was sure he had been terribly mistreated! I felt so bad for him!

    Fast forward to our marriage and my growing relationships with his family members. I could hardly believe that these were the same people he had described. His parents seemed like ideal parents who loved all their children equally. Twenty-five years later, that it still my impression. Somehow though, before coming out of the fog, I tried to hang on to the belief that he was a very sensitive man who just perceived things differently. (Poor dear!) …Ha! I see now that all the things he shared with me way back then were nothing but a “hook” to ensure my sympathies. How sick!

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