Excerpt: 'Getting It Through My Thick Skull'

My first reaction was denial. "Sociopath" is a scary-sounding word. I thought a sociopath was a crazy person, a nut job, someone who couldn't function in society, or a charming but cold-blooded killer. The word has been used so often to casually describe extreme cases—like O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, and Ted Bundy—that the true nature and scope of its meaning eluded me. But Paul's calm certainty and the discussion that followed nagged at me long after we moved on to other topics. The word reverberated in the back of my mind for the rest of the day. Late that night, when all our company had gone home, I went to my computer and Googled the words "sociopath traits." In less than a second, up popped a huge list of articles. I clicked on the very first link: "The Sociopathic Style: A Checklist," developed by Dr. Robert Hare, coauthor of Snakes in Suits, and read this list of traits:

* Glibness and superficial charm
* Grandiose self-worth
* Need for stimulation/prone to boredom
* Pathological lying
* Conning and manipulative
* Lack of remorse or guilt
* Shallow affect
* Callousness and lack of empathy
* Parasitic lifestyle
* Poor behavioral controls
* Promiscuous sexual behavior
* Early behavioral problems
* Lack of realistic, long-term goals
* Impulsivity
* Irresponsibility
* Failure to accept responsibility for actions
* Many short-term marital relationships
* Juvenile delinquency
* Revocation of condition release
* Criminal versatility

There he was: Joey Buttafuoco described to a T. And just like that, the lights went on. This information was the missing piece to an infuriating puzzle I'd been trying to solve for decades: What was wrong with Joey? Why couldn't I fix it? Why was our marriage in such constant turmoil? Why was I continually off-balance and bewildered? Suddenly, I saw my whole life through an entirely new prism. This knowledge was one of the most earthshaking revelations of my life—and, believe me, I've had quite a few surprises along the way.

My son's disclosure started me down a new and fascinating path. Since that night, I've done a great deal of reading, conducted lots of research, and talked to several experts on the subject. This type of personality disorder can manifest itself in a number of ways. Many sociopaths wreak so much havoc that their true underlying condition remains hidden for a very long time, if not a lifetime. Of course, people have affairs and cheat on their spouses every day. Lots of men and women struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. All kinds of adults are irresponsible, or liars, or manipulative, or charming enough to talk their way out of anything. None of these characteristics on their own mean anything other than what's there on the surface for all to see.

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