This is a challenging Post to write, especially in a Blog format, since I can only brush the surface of this very complex and adversarial personality disorder, also known as Anti Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). We all suffer, individually and as a society, from the devastating effects of sociopathy. This is why I believe it is important to be educated on how to avoid becoming the next victim of the sociopaths who live among us.
Dr. Martha Stout’s book, “The Sociopath Next Door — 1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Who is the devil you know?” equips us to better discern the manipulative and deceptive actions of sociopaths. While the percentage of sociopaths vary among those who study them, most agree that it ranges between 1% to 5% of the general American population. Emphasis is put on “American” because culture influences the rate of sociopathy. When we think about it more deeply, it is easy to understand that the percentage of sociopaths increases greatly among: those involved in criminal activities (remember, sociopaths have no regards for social rules), the prison population, CEOs of banks and corporations, head of telemarketing agencies wanting to sell you the bridge to the promise land, cult and political leaders, etc.
This said, we put ourselves at great risk when we forget that sociopaths live among us and are parts of our daily lives. They too go to the gym, to bars, they shop where we do, work at our schools and with us… some even lead the religious, spiritual and personal growth organizations we attend. If we are to move into the world as safe as can be, we ought to know how to recognize these skilled, slick manipulators and not get ourselves ensnared in their webs of superficial charm and deceitfulness.
While there is no need to be paranoid and render a verdict of sociopathy on everyone we don’t like, disappoint or hurt us, pretending that we are special and therefore immune from anyone on the spectrum of sociopathy would be plainly foolish. Too many good people have made that traumatic mistake. Consequently, it might be wise to keep in mind these thirteen rules Dr. Stout encourages us to make our own. They will help us avoid undue financial, interpersonal, physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual pain. The traumas sociopaths inflict on all of us while they move on to their next victims warrants we know how to protect ourselves from them.
Thirteen Rules For Dealing with Sociopaths In Everyday Life
A great percentage of the following is composed of direct excerpts from Dr. Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door (page 156 and beyond).
1) “Swallow the bitter pill that some people literally have no conscience.
They live among us and look like us. Physical attributes alone will never allow you to identify them. Some are rough on the edges while others are really polished, smart and very attractive. Remember, charm is one of their most powerful weapon. If you have low self esteem and trust everyone at face value without vetting a person first, you are an ideal prey for them.
Continued from Newsletter…
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, religious/spiritual figure, parent, even mental health providers— go with your instincts.
Your best self understands, without being told, that impressive and moral-sounding labels do not bestow conscience on anyone who did not have it to begin with. Bottom line, trust your guts and the message they give you! I often ask my clients, “when did you know this person was wrong for you?”. Sadly so, most people knew it right away, but didn’t trust themselves.
3) The Rule of Threes: 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.
On 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. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you can. Leaving, thought it may be hard, will be easier now than later, and less costly.
Do not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to a three-timer. Your valuable gifts will be wasted. Don’t let a three-timer shower you with tear jerking excuses that will have you give into his reasons why he failed you. Doing so will be a confirmation that you can be manipulated and have weak boundaries to be exploited.
4) Question authority and motives.
Trust your own instincts and anxieties, especially those concerning people who claim that dominating others, violence, war, or some other violation of your conscience is the grand solution to some problem… Having a strong and ethical social support makes us more likely to challenge authority. Encourage those around you to question authority too.
5) Be suspicious of flattery.
Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere. In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways. It is the material of counterfeit charm, and nearly always involves an intent to manipulate. Peek over your massaged ego and remember to be suspect of flattery. Just as an individual pumped up on the flattery of a manipulator is likely to behave in foolish ways, exaggerated patriotism that is flattery-fueled is a dangerous thing that can harm countless innocents.
6) If necessary, redefine your concept of respect.
Too often, we mistake fear for respect, and the more fearful we are of someone, the more we view him or her as deserving of our respect. When we mistake fear for respect we ensure our own victimization. Let us use our big human brains to overpower our animal tendency to bow to predators, so we can disentangle the reflexive confusion of anxiety and awe.
7) Do not join the game.
Intrigue is a sociopath’s tool. Resist the temptation to compete with a seductive sociopath, to outsmart him or her, to psychoanalyze, banter or save his or her soul. In addition to reducing yourself to his or her 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/her, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.
Psychologists do not usually like to recommend avoidance, but in this case, it is the prescription. This is a very deliberate exception. The only truly effective method for dealing with a sociopath you have identified is to disallow him or her from your life altogether. Sociopaths live completely outside of the social contract, and therefore to include them in relationships or other social arrangements is perilous. You will not hurt anyone’s feelings. Strange as it seems, and though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any such feeling to hurt. You may never be able to make your family and friends understand why you are avoiding a particular individual. Sociopathy is surprisingly difficult to see, and even harder to explain. Avoid him/her anyway. If total avoidance is impossible, make plans to come as close as you can to the goal of total avoidance.
9) Question your tendency to pity too easily.
Respect should be served for the kind and the morally courageous. If you find yourself often pitying someone who concisely hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, changes are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath. I recommend that you severely challenge your need to be polite in absolute all situations. Sociopaths take huge advantage of our culturally encouraged reflex to be polite and “civilized”.
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. At some point, most of us need to learn the important and often disappointing life lesson that no matter how good our intentions, we cannot control the behavior —let alone the character structures—of other people. Learn this fact of human life, and avoid the irony of getting caught up in the same ambition he/she has—to control.
The sociopath’s behavior is not your fault, not in any way whatsoever. It is also not your mission. Your mission is your own life.
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…. If someone without a conscience insists that you “owe” him or her, recall what you are about to read: “You own me” has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite literally, and is still so. 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 conscience. Most human beings are able to love.
13) Living well is the best revenge!”
Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©