I hear a lot of words such as “sociopath” being used as a slur when talking about someone they think is mean or selfish. But, if you have ever had a run in with a honest to goodness sociopath, you are very clear on what they are and are not. A few years ago, I had such a run in with a sociopath. Having a sociopath use you, then when found out, target you for retribution is an experience unlike any other. Throughout my blog post, I include excerpts from ‘The Sociopath Next Door’. If you believe you might be entangled with such a person, I HIGHLY recommend this book.
“People without conscience experience emotions very differently from you and me, they do not experience love at all, or any other kind of positive attachment to their fellow human beings. This deficit, which is even hard to ponder, reduces life to an endless game of attempted domination over other people.”
A sociopath first and foremost lacks the ability to emotionally attach to others. They cannot love, they do not have true empathy, they are absolutely unable to feel these emotions. They can feel the need to win, to dominate, to hurt, to lust-their reptilian emotional centers are intact-but something happened to them; a strange confluence of genetics and upbringing that destroys the higher emotional functioning that most humans have and exhibit on a daily basis.
“The only emotions that sociopaths seem to feel genuinely are the so-called “primitive” affective reactions that result from immediate physical pain and pleasure, or from short term frustrations and successes.”
For these reasons, a sociopath is completely and utterly unlike someone who has a Narcissist Personality Disorder or even someone who is Borderline Personality Disorder. Topically, it might look similar but look below the hood and you will see that you are dealing with an entirely different animal. Both people with NPD and BPD are able to attach to others emotionally. Ever meet someone who has no emotions in their eyes? They smile or laugh but their eyes remain cold? Watch out, you might be in the midst of a sociopath.
What would you do if you had no conscience?
That is hard for you to actually grasp, isn’t it? But that is the reality sociopaths (1 in 24 in the American population) live with daily. Because they cannot ‘feel’ like you and I they are unable to feel things like regret, guilt, shame, or remorse. Because they cannot feel (many sociopaths claim to feel empty inside) they take on risky behavior in order to feel something. They look for a rush, to win, to dominate to show others how much better they really are because it is all they have.
Sociopaths learn early that they must pretend to have feelings for others. They learn to mimic the attachments that most humans have and so sociopaths are often not the monstrous murderers that most people think. Sociopaths can create a family, have a job, create an audience (they don’t actually create friends but they do have an audience). Until finally their behavior creates difficulty. Sociopaths often shift from one thing to another.
I was befriended by a sociopath. It was an online friendship and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I believed her and her back story. I called her my little sister, I helped her and gave her loads of advice and help on both personal, financial and professional levels. For me, she was the closest friend and colleague over the period of about a year. Sure she said some things that did not add up, I wondered if I was hearing the whole story. But I could not yet understand who I was dealing with, what I was dealing with. Like all sociopaths, she targeted someone who is good, someone who is open and someone looking for a friend. Sociopaths discard people, using and then hanging them as they go up and up whatever ladder of winning they have in mind.
“For the sake of the game, she may devise schemes and perform acts that most of us would consider outrageous and self destructive, even potentially cruel. And yet, when such a person is in our lives we are often oblivious to her activities. We do not expect to see a person direct a dangerous, vicious vendetta against someone who in most cases has done nothing to hurt or offend her.”
All of that came to a screeching halt when I finally met her in person. She was mean, she would take these verbal jabs against me. She wanted all of the attention from others and I think she honestly expected me to fall in line like others did because of her charisma. She took issue with the fact that I did not fall for her pity play. That I did not faun all over her with pity and understanding. She was embarrassed in a small group session when I did not let her dominate the conversation. She was enraged when I pushed open the curtain and saw who was really there.
“...the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”
After that she stopped talking to me completely. But, she was out to ruin me. I began to get rumors about me. Things I supposedly said or did or thought-horrible narratives about who I might be attracted to, that I was a thief, that I was jealous of her, jealous of others, she used words and sentences we had shared completely out of context. I realized that everything she was- a jealous, attention seeking person who lacked morals- was what she was telling others about me.
“And charm-though the link may seem counterintuitive-is a primary characteristic of sociopathy. The intense charm of people who have no conscience, a kind of inexplicable charisma, has been observed and commented on by countless victims.”
Meanwhile, half of our community believed her. She was so charismatic, she played the pity game very well. They saw me as some kind of hateful, evil influence over her, just a young girl new to the field. She was so charismatic, so convincing, her lies so incredibly believing. She worked very hard to destroy my social standing as well as my business. She did this all while at the same time taking what I taught her and used it to compete against me directly. She told others not to work with me. She took mutual friends and turned them against me. She changed reviews from glowing to less than ordinary. All of this, when my literal last words were that I loved her. All of this, because I told her that she should leave her abusive marriage. (I now believe that that narrative is also untrue, another fake narrative to gather pity).
First, I had to deal with the blows of a sociopath of had targeted me. It was as if I was her worst mortal enemy, not a kind and truly loving friend. But later I learned, many people called her a ‘sister’. Later I learned that I had fallen down a well worn hole of her manipulation. The second pain was seeing how she worked over my community, how even good friends and colleagues did not believe me, or thought I was exaggerating things. I felt deeply abused and victimised. The slashes coming from the shadows while publicly she was well loved, worshipped, even.
“Just as conscience is not merely the present of guilt and remorse, but is based in our capacity to experience emotion and the attachments that result from our feelings, sociopathy is not just the absence of guilt and remorse. Sociopathy is an aberration in the ability to have and to appreciate real (uncalculated) emotional experience, and therefore to connect to other people within real (noncalculated) relationships.”
But, in the way that it is with sociopaths; their very inability to maintain anything for long, their
dislike of work, and their inherent chaotic natures begin to unravel. They start to slip up and the curtain falls ever wider so that more can see.
What I came to realize was that this sociopath had hurt others, stolen others’ intellectual property, that in fact nothing she made, created, or launched was actually hers. She collated what she stole from others and rebranded it as her own. Like a tree struck by lightning, the inside is hollow, it does not hold. People started catching on to the new business, the new name, the new identity every 6 months. People begin to finally see what they are dealing with, and who they defended, and also who they victimised in the misguided belief that the sociopath is an innocent and needs to be protected.
“In general, there is an aversion to sustained effort and organized projects of work, and of course, this preference for ease is extremely self-limiting where success in the real world is concerned. Getting up every single morning and working a long succession of hours is almost never considered. Sociopaths feel that the easy scheme, the one shot deal, or the clever ambush is much to be preferred over day to day commitment to a job, a long term goal, or a plan...In such settings, a smart sociopath can sometimes keep things going with an occasional splashy performance, or by schmoozing and being charming, or by being intimidating.”
As we live ever more online, it is truly the playground of sociopaths. Able to image craft using their incredible charisma and ability to manipulate, they can cause true harm to people and communities.
Beware the person who is constantly and repeatedly creating narratives so you feel sorry for her. Beware the person who uses their “victimhood” to pull others closer to them, this extends not only to her victimhood but also being the so called champion of others' victimhood. Beware the person who shifts name, identities, failed projects but always seems to have a plausible excuse. Beware the person who whispers in your ears from the shadows, telling you who has done what and why. Beware the person who seems constantly outraged. If she can make you feel, then she has you.
Martha Stout's 13 rules for dealing with sociopaths:
1: Swallow the bitter pill of accepting that some people literally have no conscience.
2: In a contest between your instincts and what is implied by the role a person has taken on—educator, doctor, leader, animal lover, humanist, parent—go with your instincts.
3: When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the responsibilities he or she has. Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy. One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior. (This is key, my sociopath was forever promising things to me and fell through on every single one blaming me when I got upset about it.)
4: Question authority. At least six out of ten people will blindly obey authority to the bitter end. The good news is that having social support makes people somewhat more likely to challenge authority. Encourage those around you to question too.
5: Suspect flattery. Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere. In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our ego in unrealistic ways. It is the material of counterfeit charm, and nearly always involves an intent to manipulate.
6: If necessary, redefine your concept of respect. Too often, we mistake fear for respect. In a perfect world, human respect would be an automatic reaction only to those who are strong, kind,
and morally courageous. The person who profits from frightening you is not likely to be any of these.
7: Do not join the game. Resist the temptation to compete with a seductive sociopath, to outsmart him, psychoanalyze, or even banter with him. In addition to reducing yourself to his level, you would be distracting yourself from what is really important, which is to protect yourself.
8: The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.
9: Question your tendency to pity too easily. Pity is a socially valuable response, and t should be reserved for innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune. If, instead, you find yourself pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath.
10: Do not try to redeem the unredeemable. Second, third, fourth and fifth chances are for people who possess conscience. If you are dealing with a person who has no conscience, know how to swallow hard and cut your losses.
11: Never agree, out of pity or for any other reason, to help a sociopath conceal his or her true character. “Please don’t tell,” often spoken tearfully and with great gnashing of teeth, is the trademark plea of thieves, child abusers—and sociopaths. Do not listen to this siren song. Other people deserve to be warned more than sociopaths deserve to have you keep their secrets.
If someone without conscience insists that you “owe” him or her, recall what you are about to
read here: “You owe me” has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite literally, and is still so.
We tend to experience “you owe me” as a compelling claim, but it is simply not true. Do not listen. Also, ignore the one that goes, “You are just like me.” You are not.
12: Defend your psyche. Do not allow someone without conscience, or even a string of such people, to convince you that humanity is a failure. Most human beings do possess a conscience. Most human beings are able to love.
13: Living well is the best revenge.
Sociopaths are not super people. Despite this person's best efforts. I was able to continue to have a successful career. I still have good standing in my community. I let time show others who I was. I continued to be at heart a loving, trusting person, but one far wiser to the predators out there.
May this guide and my story help you should you be or ever find yourself in the line of sight of a sociopath.
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