Sunday, July 1, 2007

Confronting a Sociopath

For proper context, this story needs to start at the beginning, about a year ago. I was working as a mortgage broker. Bobby was working with a buddy of mine who was also a colleague. My buddy was helping him close loans that Bobby had been bringing in. The problem was that my buddy was totally incompetent. Bobby was bringing in deals only to have them get blown up by incompetence while they were being processed. The loans kept getting denied and Bobby was always smoothing things over with the client. . I was more experienced and they were making what I refer to as “rookie mistakes”. I started helping and I saved a couple deals.

One November night, Bobby proposed that we open a satellite office for our mortgage company. He was in tight with the owner so we would get great terms. We ultimately decided that he would work with me from now on and that we would try and shoot for getting the satellite office going by January 1st. The weird thing was that Bobby sort of just started coming and working with me. He never told my buddy what was going on and we just let him figure it out on his own. At this point I will admit that I was along for the ride with Bobby in all his sociopathy

Once I started working with him, I realized that he knew very little for someone who had been around the business for five years as he claimed. I tried to teach him the basics of the business. For instance, each loan is unique. What we, as mortgage brokers, try to do is break down the individual characteristics of the loan, like credit score, Loan to value, property type, etc. and we call this a scenario. Most banks allow a competent mortgage broker to enter this so called scenario right over the web on their site to produce exact terms for a loan. Obviously, Bobby couldn’t perform this function. This takes about ten minutes to learn and still Bobby somehow had managed to get by without learning it for five years.

Whenever I tried to teach him, he would resist. At first, he claimed that it was unnecessary for him to know. He simply wanted to be the so-called rainmaker. He would bring the deals in while someone else would put it together. Unfortunately, our business doesn’t work like that. One cannot be totally incompetent, the way Bobby was, in the structure and process of loans, and still be able to close consistently. The client knew more about the process than Bobby did and you just can’t survive like that no matter how smooth a talker you are, and Bobby was. Bobby a would agree with my analysis of the business and his prospects in it, however he would always find a reason not to get started right now. He was always in a state of motion. Whether he was going to church, or a friends’ house, or some guy about some deal, he was never around long enough to teach him anything.

Bobby was always finding new reasons not to learn any of the business I was trying to teach him. For a while he was using the excuse that he we hadn’t yet closed a loan together. In other words, I had to prove myself before he would try and learn anything from me. Psychological stunts and tactics were a Modus Operandi. After we started closing a few loans he found a new excuse. Now, he wanted to wait until after this one deal would close because he was making a ton on it. He claimed that short term financial woes were blocking his focus. Right after his “big” loan had closed, I still had these delusions that I would still be able to get Bobby to learn.
Training people had become a bigger part of my job and I had one major success. I had trained in the previous few months a 23 year old guy that I started to refer to as my protégé. He had become quite competent quite quickly. He was able to put together deals rather well especially considering he hadn’t even been in the business for a year. Bobby noticed this and must have figured that he would be getting my knowledge without the annoying attitude and the insistence that he would do such awful things as work and learn. My protégé was his perfect next target.

For the next week or so Bobby came into the office sparingly. He would say hello and be gone soon afterward. I simply put two and two together, after a while and realized that he decided he wasn’t working with me anymore. He never actually confronted me about it, in the same way he never directly confronted my friend when I was on the other side.

Bobby came back to me about a month later. He had no choice. He had a potential deal worth about 700k that was too complicated even for my protégé. Again, I was still under the illusion that I could still teach Bobby. One day I was going over the technical aspects of the loan when he started blowing up at me. He began to berate me in front of several people including my protégé. He went so far as to say that I was a horrible teach and that I had no people skills. He said all sorts of nasty things to me that seemed totally out of line considering what I was trying to do. It seemed even more inappropriate because he said everything in front of my protégé. The whole tirade lasted for about ten minutes and it was unnerving.

I put everything together and I finally came to the conclusion that Bobby was a sociopath. I had the same thoughts that some of you had, and I realized that I was beginning to think everyone was a sociopath. Still, everything I thought of fit the profile of the literature. He had reminded me of a passage I had read from the book The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

"Or let us imagine the opposite extreme--you have no interest in
power. To the contrary, you are the sort of person who really does not want much
of anything. Your only real ambition is not to have to exert yourself to get by.
You do not want to work like everyone else does. Without a conscience, you can
nap or pursue your hobbies or watch television or just hang out somewhere all
day long. Living a bit on the fringes, and with some handouts from relatives and
friends, you can do this indefinitely. People may whisper to each other that you
are an underachiever, or that you are depressed, a sad case, or in contrast, if
they get angry, they may grumble that you are lazy. When they get to know you
better, and get really angry, they may scream at you and call you a loser, a
bum. But it will never occur to them that you literally do not have a
conscience, that in such a fundamental way, your very mind is not the same as
theirs. The panicked feeling of a guilty conscience never squeezes at your heart
or wakes you in the middle of the night. Despite your lifestyle, you never feel
irresponsible, neglectful, or so much as embarrassed, although for the sake of
appearances, sometimes you pretend that you do. For example, if you are a decent
observer of people and what they react to, you may adopt a lifeless facial
expression, say how ashamed of your life you are, and talk about how rotten you
feel. This you do only because it is more convenient to have people think you
are depressed than it is to have them shouting at you all the time, or insisting
that you get a job

Bobby started fitting every profile. He was totally promiscuous and he had been involved in all sorts of criminal enterprises in his past. Even the way in which he treated his client screamed sociopath. Once, we tried to refinance a “friend” of his. The savings was about seventy dollars a month and it didn’t seem worth it to me for her to pay all the closing costs for such a small savings. She was a professional singer and Bobby assured me that she wouldn’t notice. It turns out she did. She started thinking about canceling in the days or rescission. Bobby did some double talking and made up a few lies and suddenly she was convinced. One time he actually stole a garbage can from a Chinese restaurant (I guess it was a “cool” looking garbage can)

Here is a list of behavior traits:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."
  • Pathological Lying Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
    Callousness/Lack of Empathy Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.
    Irresponsibility/Unreliability Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily

I realized that Bobby had been playing me since that first conversation about opening an office together. To him, opening an office meant that I would do almost all of the work involved with running it, while he made enough to get by. If it didn’t work out, I have no doubt that he had a way out that would leave me stuck on my own. He was in tight with the owner. He probably could get out of any agreement, or at least, I am sure he thought he could. Once he realized that I was going to be insistent on teaching him so that he did everything, he bought time while he figured out a way to extricate himself from me. He worked with my protégé because my protégé would be willing to do all the work and not insist that Bobby actually learn to do it himself. He was looking for a sucker that was willing to do all the work while he made enough to get by.

He never had any intention of learning anything. In fact, anytime I tried must have been among the worst experiences of his life. He wanted nothing to do with learning. It may have been possible that in the beginning he just had a perverted view of the way the office was going to be run. Still, at some point he must have realized that there was no way he was ever going try and learn anything. He knew that this is the way I would have wanted to run it as such. He never had a heart to heart. Instead, he pretended as though everything was fine. By everything, I mean in the long term. He would then come up with excuses to not learn. At the same time, he would reaffirm commitment to the overall goal. There I was hanging onto hope that one day I could get him to change and be more attentive to the technical side of the business. I took the whole thing as a challenge. I thought that if I could get him to learn I could be successful with most candidates. He never had any intention of learning whatsoever.

Without thinking it through, I decided to confront him. At this point, I still wasn’t sure I was right, and in fact I was pretty sure I was overreacting, but I didn’t think this was something that I should just overlook. I was feeling quite tired the next day. I confronted him but I wasn’t on top of my game when I did. He immediately lashed out at me in an aggressive way. Many of the same things he had pulled in the earlier episode, he brought back. For instance, at one point, he again accused me of not having people skills. There was a lot of rationalization. At one point he asked rhetorically, “am I a sociopath just because I manipulate s$%t at work”

Going into the conversation I wasn’t really sure I was right, however after witnessing his performance I actually became more sold. For instance, I probably said it the wrong way. I should have said that some of the things he had been doing was sociopathic in nature. I thought about it though, and I think he may just really be a full fledged sociopath. The literature says that the sociopath lashes out at anyone that confronts them on their behavior. They also deny the behavior at all costs.

Bobby walked out of my office swearing we were through as friends, and we were. I feel lucky. After reading more literature, I figured he would lash out at me even more. I thought he would go to the owner and use their friendship against me. There was a lot of things that I thought he would do, and they may all be the overworked imagination of an obsessed individual, however I have no doubt that when I confronted Bobby that day, I was confronting a sociopath with the truth of his situation. You want a scary story, try doing once in your life.

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