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Author's memoir details her struggle to accept she's a sociopath

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Be honest. How many times have you called somebody a sociopath or heard somebody else use that word to refer to somebody who just doesn't seem to care about what they do or how other people feel? But have you ever met somebody like that? This author says you have, and she says she knows because she is one. And not only that - she says she's researched the condition and has worked as a therapist who treats people with this condition, and she says it's not what you think. Patric Gagne is the author of "Sociopath: A Memoir," and she's with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

PATRIC GAGNE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let me start with the obvious question, and then I'm going to ask you to tell me why it isn't as obvious as we might think. What does it mean to be a sociopath?

GAGNE: Well, it's very different from what it means to be a psychopath. A psychopath has certain brain abnormalities that make it impossible to move through complex emotional development. So while they're able to feel the inherent primary emotions, happiness, sadness, etc., they're not able to experience the so-called learned social emotions - love, empathy, even jealousy to a certain extent.

But sociopaths are different. Sociopathy does not appear to be the result of any biological abnormality. Sociopaths can progress through emotional development. They can learn the social emotions. They just learn them a bit differently. In the book, I refer to this as an emotional learning disability because that's what it feels like for me. But the biggest difference between psychopathy and sociopathy is that sociopathy can be treated, and I don't think a lot of people realize that.

MARTIN: Describe what it feels like inside, because one of the things that you talk about in the book is the fact that you started these feelings very early. You started being able to name these feelings really early, that you knew there was something different about the way you felt and kind of experienced things than other kids your age. Could you just talk a little bit about that?

GAGNE: So I would look around at all of these other kids experiencing shame or envy or empathy, and I remember just not feeling that way. But more importantly was the understanding that I needed to pretend that I did feel those feelings. If I didn't, I would be outed. I talk about it in the book that there's that adage, the truth shall set you free. But for me, I never felt that way. For me, the truth never set me free. It was a guaranteed problem if I told the truth. So I learned how to mimic these emotions very early. But what I was really experiencing was nothing. I had those inherent emotions that we are all born with - anger, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness. But it was the learned emotions - embarrassment, love, shame, empathy - these were missing. And these are emotions that are very, very prevalent, particularly among children. And it was very, very clear to me that I was not experiencing these emotions the way that the other kids around me were.

MARTIN: The other kids tagged you as weird pretty early.

GAGNE: I mean, yeah. Kids are pretty smart (laughter). I felt very early on what I can only describe as a pressure. It felt like a geyser about to burst. It was this building of you better do something. You better do something to feel. You better do something to feel. You better do something to feel. And the more I resisted that urge, the greater it became. And what I believe now is that that was my brain's way of trying to jolt myself into some experience of emotion and destructive actions seem to be the quickest way to achieve that.

MARTIN: You never really seriously seemed to have hurt someone. I am wondering why you think that is.

GAGNE: I was lucky. Listen. I was lucky in that I recognized very early that - and it was a selfish realization, I want to be very clear about that - I realized, you know what? If I give in to hurting people, I'm going to get caught, and if I get caught, I'm not going to be able to live the life that I think I want to live. Now, as I got older, that changed to I don't want to hurt people because I don't want to get caught, to I don't want to hurt people because I don't want to hurt people. But I remember as a kid it wasn't, oh, gosh, I hurt someone, and I feel so badly about it. I shouldn't do that anymore. It was, oh, this caused a tremendous amount of attention to be pointed in my direction. I don't like the way this feels, and I won't be doing it again.

MARTIN: Interesting. So I'm wondering if maybe people for whom violence is a part of their life don't get that memo. You know what I mean? Somebody who's taught, like, well, you have to go fight. Or if you come home and somebody hit you, you better hit him back or you don't come home - that kind of thing.

GAGNE: Absolutely.


GAGNE: No question.

MARTIN: OK, here's where I really have to go there, because...


MARTIN: ...You mentioned multiple times in your book that you're a liar...

GAGNE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And that you find it very easy to deceive people, and you feel little remorse for doing so. So why should we trust you in this book?

GAGNE: Look, I - to your point, I understand that I'm not - I'm a flawed messenger. OK, I know that my stories are true, but I also know that not everyone is going to believe my stories are true for that very reason. And what I would say to someone who is skeptical is go and do the research. Or better yet, try to prove me wrong. Because if every single person who is skeptical of me went out and did their own research, the conversation around sociopathy would change. And ultimately, that's my goal, is for people to see for themselves, oh, wait, there is more to this personality type than meets the eye.

MARTIN: You tell us in the book that you pursued your Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and you served as a therapist for a time. I could see where that could be either incredibly helpful or incredibly painful or both. Could you talk a little bit about how did you choose that or why did you choose that?

GAGNE: Again, it was a selfish decision. I wanted to learn more about my personality type. And in doing so, I ended up learning about all the personality types. So it was a gift I was not anticipating, but was incredibly grateful to have received. There was a time where I volunteered as a grief counselor for some very traumatic events, mass shootings included, and one of the reasons that I did that was because I understood that I had the capacity to hold that type of pain and grief. And I think something that's really important as a therapist is you always want to be in check and making sure that your emotional reaction isn't interfering with the emotional experience of your patients or clients. And I didn't have that issue.

MARTIN: It reminds me of a physical therapist I once needed to work with when I broke several bones in my arm, and he said to me that you should not do these exercises with your spouse. And I was like, why not? He says, because he can't take watching you in pain, and I can.

GAGNE: Yes, exactly.

MARTIN: That's Patric Gagne. Her book is called "Sociopath: A Memoir." Patric, thank you so much for talking with us about this.

GAGNE: Thank you. It was fun.

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