My name is Patric Gagne and I’m a sociopath.
I am extremely charming and well liked. I am a passionate mother and wife. I am an empathic listener. I have lots of friends. I am a member of a country club. I throw parties for every event you can imagine. I live in a nice house. I am a gracious hostess. I am a writer. I like to cook. I have a dark sense of humor. I often make people laugh. I have a dog and a cat and I wait in carpool lines next to other women with dogs and cats.
On the surface I resemble every other average-looking American woman. Social media coverage confirms my existence as a happy mommy and loving wife whose posts are borderline narcissistic. Your friends would describe me as nice. But guess what?
I can’t stand your friends.
Sound familiar? If you are reading this blog then I’m willing to bet it might. You could be one of the fifteen million people believed to be sociopaths living in America. Or you could be one of the twenty million people whose personalities I believe reside on the sociopathic spectrum. And we’re not talking strictly criminals. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, mail carriers — all types of individuals are hiding in plain sight as sociopaths.
I hid for years. I knew as early as seven that something was off. I simply didn’t care about things the way other kids did. I started stealing in kindergarten. I never felt remorse.
In elementary school my behavior started to become destructive. I felt urges of violence. By junior high I was breaking into classrooms after hours at school just because I could. I was also reading… a lot.
I spent days at the library poring over psychology books. I suspected that I was a sociopath fairly quickly. The problem was this: There was a glaring discrepancy between what the books said and how I felt.
Everything I was reading indicated that I was a sociopath, and yet everything I was reading also said that sociopaths were terrible people: They had no conscience; they had no soul. The books said sociopaths couldn’t be treated, that they couldn’t be controlled. But I knew I wasn’t a terrible person and I knew I could be controlled.
I just had to do it myself.
The destructive urges worsened as I grew older and so did my conduct. I broke into homes. I broke into businesses. I stole from strangers. I lied to friends.
It was as if there was a definitive split in my personality. My depth of emotion on one side was equally matched by an infinite lack of emotion on the other.
In many cases I didn’t even really want to do some of the things I was doing. It was more of a compulsion – a sort of “prison break” for the dark side of my personality. None of the books were helping so I decided to see a therapist. I knew I needed help.
I didn’t get it.
I met with many therapists, most of whom agreed I met the criteria on the sociopathic checklist but were unable to treat me because, twenty years ago, the field didn’t recognize sociopathy as a treatable disorder.
It still doesn’t.
You see, when psychologists and psychiatrists need to make a diagnosis, they turn to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the DSM. The DSM is the bible of the psychology field and a one-stop-shop for just about any psychological disorder you can imagine. Any disorder that is, but sociopathy. Diagnostic criteria for the sociopathic personality cannot be found in the DSM. It doesn’t exist.
Let me repeat that: Diagnostic criteria for what is perceived by many to be the most dangerous personality type is not listed in the field’s leading diagnostic manual.
Despite its potentially dangerous nature, sociopathy hasn’t been given a great deal of modern thought. Psychologists typically turn to antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) when they think they’re dealing with a sociopath. And this makes sense. The terms ASPD and sociopathy are often used synonymously – for good reason.
Antisocial personalty disorder, sociopathy, and even psychopathy are widely considered to represent the same personality type. The problem is that their diagnostic criteria — the factors that doctors use to diagnose someone — are very different. So the psychological resources and treatment options available to sociopaths are the same as they were a century ago: nonexistent.
Once I realized this, I started to panic. At the time I was in my late teens, away at college and on my own for the first time. Growing up I’d always had the boundaries of my childhood home to keep my behavior somewhat in check. But now that this safety net was gone, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to contain myself.
I felt alone and out of control and there was no one who could help me. There was no name for the type of person that I was and there was no making it better. My destructive urges became nearly uncontrollable. I became reckless. I wanted to get caught. I tried to get caught. It’s pure luck that I didn’t.
I kept thinking: How many people like me are out there? Who else is capable of anything and unable to talk to anyone about it? Who else feels invisible? Who else can’t get treatment because of this irrational diagnostic criteria? Who else in the world feels like a time bomb waiting to explode in any direction because they have no direction?
Then in 1999 two teenagers committed mass murder at a high school in Columbine.
Along with the rest of the country, I watched as two boys murdered twelve of their classmates and one of their teachers. Like so many others, I watched video after video of these two casually strolling the grounds of their high school with what seemed like zero fear or any semblance of remorse for the atrocities they were committing. Unlike the others, though, I experienced a very acute sensation while doing so: Recognition.
I understood these two. I certainly didn’t condone what they were doing, but I wasn’t surprised by it. Worse, I could identify with it.
“So I’m not alone,” I thought. “There are others out there. And they don’t know what makes them different either.”
These two didn’t understand why they were numb so they started pushing the boundaries of their apathy just like I did. Only they made sure they’d get caught.
I experienced empathy watching the media coverage of Columbine. It was one of the first times I remember ever feeling this way. I felt tremendous sadness for the parents. I grieved for all the people who were left behind with nothing but confusion and guilt.
Though I hadn’t done it myself, I was able to witness the atrocities my personality type was capable of committing in real time. And it proved to be all the motivation I needed.
That’s when I realized I had to do something. I decided that if the books on the shelves were offering no definitions, I would write one and offer them myself. If the professionals in the psychological field couldn’t treat me, I would become one of them and treat myself.
In my mid-twenties I pursued a PhD in clinical psychology and spent the next decade studying every personality type related to behavioral disorders including psychopaths, sociopaths, and individuals diagnosed as antisocial.
What I discovered is that the sociopathic personality is far more nuanced than most people realize. A great deal of research has proven that sociopaths are physically capable of learning how to empathize. Their struggle is something I equate to an emotional learning disability – one for which treatment is possible.
The discovery that there were potential treatment options for sociopathy was the most important to me, and not just because it meant that I could be helped. This validated what I’d always suspected: That others could be helped as well.
This discovery meant that sociopaths were allowed access to hope. It meant that a sociopathic diagnosis didn’t have to mean a lifetime in prison – literally or figuratively. It meant that sociopaths didn’t have to fight their demons alone.
Loneliness plays a large role in the life of a sociopath. There is a huge difference between the loner and the lonely. A loner is someone who prefers to be alone. But loneliness isn’t a choice; it’s a prison devoid of sympathetic or friendly companionship of any kind.
Sociopaths are often without real friends or allies in whom they can confide. Ours is a life of involuntary isolation. And we act out to fill the apathetic void.
There is a split in our personalities that often makes us feel out of control and out of our minds. We feel like we are all alone. Our families don’t know us, our friends don’t like us, and psychologists are trained to believe that they can’t help us.
But the research tells another story.
The research helped me find an alternate path, one that wasn’t plagued with antisocial behavior and social isolation.
As a sociopath I’ve become acutely aware of the fact that I am just as capable of love and nurturing as I am indifference and destruction. As a doctor I’ve explored the depths of my darkness and come to terms with it. As a writer I’ve analyzed similarities in other sociopathic personalities and tested different psychological interventions. I’ve figured out what works.
As a result I’ve learned to make friends and keep friends. I’ve learned to pay attention to the triggers of my split personality and respect them. Most importantly I’ve learned to accept and love my darkness instead of being resentful of it.
I’ve stopped pretending that I’m just like everyone else. Remorse and empathy don’t come naturally to me, but that doesn’t make me less of a human being. I didn’t choose this path, but I absolutely will not be destroyed by it. And neither should anyone else.
I represent the truth no one wants to admit: That darkness is where you least expect it. I am a criminal without a record. I am a master of disguise. I have never been caught. I have rarely been sorry. I am invisible. I am also friendly. I am responsible. I am reasonable.
I blend right in.
I am a 21st century sociopath. And I know I’m not alone.