In my last blog I asked the question, are all abusers sociopaths? That is unclear, but they certainly have similarities. According to Dr. Martha Stout in her book The Sociopath Next Door, 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath! Yikes!
How do we protect ourselves from these people?
First we need to accept that we are surrounded by sociopaths. If we assume everyone is good, they can take advantage of us. Everyone isn’t good. Good people don’t want to believe evil people exist, but they do.
Second, we must search for the signs of sociopathy. Dr. Stout says you can spot a sociopath by their appeal to your sympathy.* Why? If sociopaths can convince you they are pathetic, you will look past their evil actions. When we pity others, we let down our defenses.
An abusive husband beats his wife senseless, then sits at the table, head in hands, sobbing that he is a wretch and cannot help himself. Can she ever forgive him? His wife, bruised and bleeding, wants to believe him. She looks past her own emotional and physical pain, and takes care of HIM!
Jordan, a nice guy, meets Jessica, a beautiful sociopath. Jessica is from a good family and has a master’s degree from Harvard, but somehow can’t get her life together. Her parents are “cruel,” her boss a “jerk,” and she has many physical ailments. Though she is highly educated, she can only get low-level jobs and lives in a tiny, dirty apartment. Jordan feels sorry for her. Even though she sometimes throws terrible fits of rage when she doesn’t get her way, he looks past those because she is so needy. They are planning their wedding, (for which he will pay).
Sociopaths have no regard for the social contract we all live by, but know how to use it to their advantage. Dr. Stout says, “I’m sure … the devil would want us to feel sorry for him.”** Like the examples above, sociopaths love you to pity them, then you are defenseless.
When deciding whom to trust, look for the combination of bad behavior with frequent plays for your pity. This is as close to a warning mark on a sociopath’s forehead as you will ever get.Tweet This
Can sociopathy be cured?
Dr. Stout says no. Sociopaths have no desire to be cured. They might go through the motions of change and therapy, but will not stick with it. They see going to therapy as one more way they can gain your sympathy and “win” as I described in my last blog.
What if you are already in some kind of a relationship with a sociopath?
Realizing his/her behavior is sociopathic can help you fight against your urge to believe or pity him/her. Dr. Stout lists several ways to spot a sociopath.***
Trust your instincts. If a still small voice is telling you a person is not who they say they are, believe yourself over anything the other person says, or any “evidence” s/ he presents. Question those in authority. Most of us are taught as children to respect certain types of people such as parents, doctors, teachers, government leaders or pastors. This is fine as long as the person behaves well. When someone begins behaving like they have no conscience, question their actions and make your own decision.
Redefine your concept of respect. We often mistake fear of a person for having respect for them. The playground bully is treated with awe because of his strength and seeming fearlessness. But he isn’t someone to respect and admire.
Suspect a flatterer. All of us enjoy a sincere compliment. In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our ego. E.g. “You are the smartest (prettiest or hardest working) person in our company.” This person might be trying to manipulate you.
Question your automatic responses. Question your tendency to pity someone too easily. Pity should be reserved for the kind and morally courageous. If you find yourself pitying someone who consistently hurts you or others and then asks for your pity, you are probably dealing with a sociopath.
Question your decision to be polite to everyone no matter how they treat you. Sociopaths love to exploit your kindness. Don’t be afraid to stop smiling and speak plainly to a person like this.
Make the “rule of three” your personal rule. If a person lies or breaks a promise to you once, this may be a misunderstanding. Two may be a serious mistake. Three lies or broken promises is a sign of a sociopath. Don’t give your money, time, secrets or affection to a person like this. Cut your losses and run for the door. (If you are in relationship with a sociopathic abuser, be careful how you do this. See my blog on safety planning.)
How can you protect yourself from a sociopath?
The best way is to remove him/her from your life completely. See my blog on “No Contact.” Don’t worry about hurting a sociopath’s feelings, sociopaths have no feelings to hurt, even though they may pretend otherwise. Your family and friends may not understand how you could break up with “such a nice person,” but avoid the sociopath anyway. You don’t need to please everyone all the time. If you can’t cut this person completely from your life, remove him/her as far away as you can.
Don’t try to redeem a person who is irredeemable. How many abuse victims do you know who feel they must protect or “fix” their abusers? Does their abuser’s behavior get better or worse? You know the answer to that! Decide to help only those who want to be helped.
A sociopath’s behavior is not your fault, or your mission. Your mission is your own life.Tweet This
Never agree to help a sociopath conceal her/his true character. Don’t react to a tearful plea to “please don’t tell.” This is the mark of thieves, abusers and sociopaths. If they say “you owe me,” remember that has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years. “You owe me” isn’t true, nor is a sociopath’s claim “you are just like me.” You’re not.
Peter aptly describes sociopaths in 2 Peter 2:17:
These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.
Question: What do you think of Dr. Stout’s advice on how to protect yourself from a sociopath?
I pray the Lord will give you discernment when dealing with people like this. May He bless you today and always.
* Stout, Martha PhD, The Sociopath Next Door, (New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2005), 107.
** Stout, 109
*** Stout, 156 – 162.