I think what could be done is to look at how a 'sociopath' might be diagnosed. Ok, so we may not be qualified psychologists here, but we are interested in psychology generally and read on the subject. Some of us have had experience enough that have led us to look into psychology for ourselves.
Personally, I'm not into classifying people. A friend of mine and I were in discussion once and he said 'in all of us is the schizophrenic', and so if you can follow what I'm saying here, there's the capacity in all of us to exhibit behaviours that at some time, by someone or other, it could be interpreted in such and such a way as to be classified as some mental illness. Stress conditions might also make someone appear 'tag' worthy. Do you get what I'm saying?
We learn from a young age how to socialise with others, how to properly empathise with others and attempt not to step on their toes ie 'trespass'- this is so we all get along without too much hullaballoo. And yes, we ourselves have done selfish things that have hurt others - and they have hurt us. That's life, chum.
And then there are those that are without this social conscience that I have briefly described above. Whether
that lack of social conscience comes about by nature
(genetic, brain function for eg.,) or nurture
, the latter possibly contributing to the former mentioned possible cause that I have put here, is for the experts to write research papers on.
As for we that have had dealings with such people, we may be able to recognise patterns of behaviour in those we may now call 'sociopath' - and we can compare them to others in our sphere of relationships - and with even some practicality of judgement - see the difference between people who are more normally socially adjusted and those who are too strange and can be known by the negative pattern of effect they have on others, those exhibiting the sociopathic traits (see below). Stout's is one book, and this other title you mention also, VS, and there's Hare's book "Without Conscience".
Here's his list:
Glib and superficial charm
Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
Conning or manipulativeness
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callousness or lack of empathy
Poor behavioural controls
Promiscuous sexual behaviour
Early behaviour problems
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for actions
Short term marital relationships
Revocation of conditional release
For a fuller explanation of Dr Hare's checklist as listed above, here's one site:http://www.sociopathicstyle.com/traits/classic.htm
The problem with people who exhibit these behaviours in pattern form is that they tend to make victims, something that the topic poster here is trying to avoid being. Something that I myself have been - and are more the wiser for it. This has not made me in any sense fearful of having future relationships, so the implication that it creates fear can be argued against.
As far as Stout's book goes, it has its worth, and you cannot assume people could be so stupid as to misinterpret helpful information that may be found within it. At the time I read the book along with other texts - I made myself sure. And like I said, the term 'sociopath' can be misused.
Nontheless, the sociopath exists, and he/she could live right next door to your Aunty Mavis - they've got to live somewhere and yes, they do have families, and they are not only found in crime tv shows featuring serial killers. They are people with personality disorder, capable of such parasitical behaviour as to do harm to others inc. financially and emotionally.
People with personality disorders exist, people with mental illnesses to whatever degree the DSM- IV might classify accordingly. The sociopath exists. And the other thing about them is, they are good at hiding what their real intentions are. They're out there tho'.
Don't get me wrong...it wasn't easy to accept what I had discovered about this person that I now know as a 'sociopath' - aka the antisocial personality disordered. It took time to gel.
Consider this, VS, if you would. Just how difficult can be family relationships at times with their peculiar relationship dynamics, and in a family there's a sociopath playing on the emotions of people and getting away with the 'act' while being a total parasite (and rest of Hare's checklist of traits). Things about people aren't so cut'n'dried, and it takes a hellovalot of effort to 'compete' with a sociopath. Who needs the constant bs?