Excerpt: 'Getting It Through My Thick Skull'

Read an excerpt from Mary Jo Buttafuoco's new book.

ByABC News via logo
July 24, 2009, 10:24 AM

July 27, 2009— -- Mary Jo Buttafuoco had it all until a fateful day in 1992 when she was shot in the head by Amy Fisher on her own front porch in Massapequa, N.Y.

In her new book, "Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned, and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know," she answers the question everyone has been asking: Why did she stand by her husband, Joey Buttafuoco, as he and Fisher continued to make news?

She reveals new private details about her struggles and helps people understand the tell-tale signs of a sociopath. She also offers hope on how to reclaim your life after tragedy.

Read an excerpt of the book below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.

Joey Buttafuoco is a sociopath. There, I said it. Sad but true. The man who stole my heart in high school—whose large, hardworking Italian family embraced me, who constantly professed undying love and devotion, with whom I shared a million happy, fun times—is a sociopath. I loved my husband with all my heart, raised two great children with him, and fully expected that we would grow old together in our beautiful waterfront home on Long Island, surrounded by family and close friends. I stood steadfast next to this man, ferociously defending him for years after the infamous shooting by Amy Fisher turned our last name into a worldwide punch line. This same man is also the walking, talking dictionary definition of a clinical sociopath. This was a recent, life-changing realization for me—and goes a long way toward answering the one question that seems to fascinate the public more than any other: Why did she stay for so long? It's clear to me now: I was in thrall for almost thirty years to a sociopath.

Ironically enough, it was our son, Paul, who brought this ­inescapable truth to my attention. Two years ago, on Father's Day 2007, my son and I were discussing Joey's latest ­embarrassing stunt—a highly publicized, entirely fake "reunion" between him and Amy Fisher, in which they held hands, kissed for the cameras, and claimed they were "getting back together." Joey and I were no longer married, but his actions continued to affect us all. I could only shake my head and wonder, as I had countless times over the years, When is he going to grow up? Why is he making such a fool of himself? When will he ever get it?

"Never," Paul said flatly. "He's never going to get it. He's a sociopath."

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.

But twenty-two years of all of these behaviors in tandem established a pretty convincing pattern. There were plenty of warning signs along the way, if only I'd known what I was looking for. Living with a sociopath disrupts every part of normal life—sex, money, parenting, employment—and I scrambled around for twenty years trying to patch up all of those areas, never once realizing that there was a bigger problem. "Why can't you get it through that thick Irish skull of yours?" was my mother's constant refrain when I was defiant teenager. She bemoaned my thick Irish skull so often that it became a running family joke. My grandfather used to commiserate with my mother when she was at the end of her rope with me: "What's the sense of being Irish if you can't be thick?"

After years of grief and worry, not to mention a bullet to the head, I finally did get it through my thick skull. I'm quite clear about what was really going on with my ex-husband and former marriage. But I might have been saved all those years of doubting myself and hoping against all hope that things would change if I'd just been in possession of the knowledge and information I have now!

This knowledge was so life-changing for me that I decided to write this book to try to help educate others about sociopathic behavior, using my own painful past as a prime illustration of a long marriage to one specific type. The list of sociopathic traits given above is an accurate description of what I lived with for years, and through my recounting of the Amy Fisher circus, plus other, more private moments between Joey and me, I will show you just how insidiously they were put into practice and how well they can be masked—especially when there's a willing victim. This is a key element in the life of any sociopath: a willing partner. Whether that partnership is a long-term relationship or only the passing illusion of partnership projected by the sociopath to further his or her goals, a sociopath is never completely alone. Like the first part of the word (socio, from the Latin socius, or companion) says, the sociopath only comes to power out in society, and their greatest skill in life, beyond any other talent they may have, is the skill to manipulate. For much of my life, I possessed neither the ­insight nor the strength to break that spell.

Apparently, I'm far from alone. I was amazed to learn just how widespread this condition is. Just as there was very little public awareness about autism thirty years ago, or understanding of what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) meant twenty years ago, the general public doesn't realize how common this untreatable condition really is. Millions of women and men find themselves stuck in relationships they can't fix; heartbroken parents struggle with adult children who suck them dry emotionally and financially; long-­suffering friends and coworkers are continually exploited by those who put them into no-win situations and abuse their kindness. I want everyone to understand what sociopathic behavior is and to bring it to the forefront of America's conscience.

In doing the research for this book, I have had to go back, dig deep, and relive many episodes of my life that, quite honestly, I would much prefer to bury forever. As the months passed and I worked on this project—recalling many painful and humiliating incidents, some buried so deeply that only old headlines jolted them back into my consciousness—my family and friends grew concerned. "Why now?" they asked. "Why rehash all of this seventeen years later?" The answer is simple: by sharing my story, I hope that my experiences will save others from similar heartache. I wouldn't wish marriage or an intimate relationship to a sociopath of any kind onto anyone; my hope is that this book will inspire others to "get it" and get out far sooner than I did. I promise, there is a great new life on the other side!

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