Dr Jane McGregor and Tim McGregor set up the Society for Research into Cruelty, Empathy and Sociopathy (SoRECS), a registered UK charity after writing a book about recovering from sociopathic abuse, ‘The Empathy Trap: Understanding Antisocial Personalities’ (Sheldon Press).

“We wrote about this subject because although it’s a significant problem with a huge public health burden attached to it, it remains one of the last taboos”.

Sociopaths are people with little or no conscience or ability to empathise with others’ feelings. It is thought that sociopaths constitute one to four percent of the population, although estimates of sociopathy in society vary considerably. Even at the more conservative end of the spectrum, this translates into a possible worldwide figure of around 70 million.

Sociopathy is a disorder of personality. A sociopath’s relationships with other people are generally dysfunctional. As well as being responsible for over half of all serious crime they cause considerable devastation in the form of physical, psychological and financial damage for people who have been exposed to them.

Sociopaths frequently perceive threats from others as acts of disrespect, disloyalty, criticism, or disobedience and seek retribution. The more severe the personality disorder, the more severe, persistent and pervasive the harm done. One sociopath in the course of his or her lifetime will affect many, many people in myriad harmful ways: bullying work colleagues, abusing children, instigating domestic violence, traumatising friends and family through a sustained campaign of emotional abuse.

The Society for Research into Empathy, Cruelty and Sociopathy (SoRECS) stresses the importance of harnessing empathy as a way and means of reducing cruelty in culture. The charity supports the view that if empathic concern was more widely approved and more commonplace it could provide a powerful antidote to sociopathic abuse. SoRECS trustee, Tim McGregor says: “Empathy is the most valuable arsenal we have against sociopathic abuse. It is everyone’s business to stop abuse. Indifference and blindness to abuse perpetuates it”.

“After our book, ‘The Empathy Trap’, was published we were inundated with requests for information on sociopathic abuse, so we set up a Facebook page and wrote a series of articles for Welldoing.org in which we highlighted the issues,” Jane McGregor explained.

Although still in its infancy the charity raises funds to support people and organisations who work at the cutting-edge of cruelty prevention and empathy building. By funding high quality research and projects and building a stronger evidence-base about what reduces everyday cruelty, it hopes to help people educate and help themselves.

SoRECS aims to advance research and education in the areas of cruelty prevention. It aims to relieve people who find themselves the targets of abuse and supply them with the necessary know-how to better safeguard their wellbeing. The charity also promotes individual and collective knowledge of specific areas of everyday cruelty; for instance, it focuses on the issue of apathy in society, because apathy on the part of bystanders perpetuates abuse and is a significant problem. To that end, SoRECS funds and supports research, publishes findings and produces articles on empathy, apathy, sociopathy and other forms of everyday cruelty. One of the first research studies SoRECS is supporting is a study on the subjective experience of emotional/psychological abuse. It is hoped the study will help steer the direction of future research on the topic of emotional abuse and trauma.

SoRECS also provides training, self-help resources, talks and presentations to interested groups and organisations anywhere in the UK. Additionally, it undertakes partnership work with other relevant charities, professional bodies, and front line staff working in health and social care. In a bid to raise awareness SoRECS also provides talks for the general public, including ‘living library’ events where individuals tell their stories as a way of bringing the issue of abuse out into the open.

The charity soon hopes to offer certificated training programmes to qualified therapists and counsellors in helping individuals recover from covert and overt forms of abuse. Qualified therapists and counsellors who complete SoRECS training will be eligible to apply to be listed on the SoRECS directory of therapists and counsellors. For more information, visit the SoRECS website.

The Society for Research into Empathy, Cruelty and Sociopathy (SoRECS) is registered with the UK Charity Commission, charity no. 1162218.