I earned my master's degree in clinical psychology several years after I graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was in graduate school during a grueling course of self-discovery and study of psychological development that I learned more about acting than I did in acting school. But recently I realized I've learned even more about psychology by being in the industry.
We all know this business is rife with narcissism. I have come to quickly recognize and rather enjoy narcissists. Many are quite entertaining, unique people who are aiming their career efforts in the right place—bravo for them. They won't make the best listeners; they believe in white lies, know how to manipulate to their advantage, and may often annoy or deplete you. But when they cross the line into deceptive, even despicable behaviors to attain what they want, they have left the narcissist building and stand firmly on the ground of a sociopath. These people I find spine-chilling. These are the people who do not have a conscience, and they exist.
According to Martha Stout, Ph.D., in her book The Sociopath Next Door, as much as 4 percent of the population fits the profile of a sociopath. That is one in every 25 people you meet, who are willing to do anything at all to get what they want, and I'm willing to bet that the percentage is greatly higher in the industry. Don't get me wrong: I am not making a broad-stroke statement about everyone in this business. There are many people who maintain their integrity and still find success. But the evidence of sociopathy pervading the entertainment industry is clear if we look at the values that have come to be accepted.
The phrase "It's just business" is a sociopathic flag in my book, although it sometimes just denotes a bitter but fair beat. However, sociopaths believe that integrity is for the weak and naive, and they will break any moral code in order to gain footing in the name of "business." To a sociopath, this is just being smarter than the competition; it's survival of the fittest, and the rest of us are fools. What chills me to the bone is how common it has become to give this kind of philosophy a pass or to even reward the behavior with admiration or projections of brilliance onto their skills in knowing how to get ahead.
It's an interesting dichotomy to ponder, acting and the business of it. Their origins of action seem so diametrically opposed. Acting emerges from the soul, and the business surrounding it has come to accept, if not embrace, many who don't seem to have one. I'd like to believe I'm not living in some fantasy land when I wish that those of us who do our best to proceed with a conscience would rise up and kick those who do not out of the game. I'm not talking about perfect altruistic behavior; that would be naive of me, and besides, we don't want to get rid of the narcissists, as they are too entertaining. We just want to have a cutoff point, a limit to what we find acceptable, no matter what a person was "able to accomplish." Let's draw a line in the sand and make the sociopaths stand on the other side of it. But be careful, because they will move it when you aren't looking.
Cathy DeBuono is an actor who holds a master's degree in clinical psychology and is currently a registered intern with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Her new Web series about a couple who are therapists in their own couples therapy, We Have to Stop Now, as well as other programming and information about her, can be found at www.cathydebuono.com.