As a psychotherapist, I’ve spent much of my career studying interpersonal relationships and personality disorders — and even trained personnel in the US military, FBI, and CIA.
One topic that I find most interesting is sociopathy, which is a term used to describe antisocial personality disorder. Sociopaths can wreak havoc in your life and they can be harder to spot than a psychopath.
Psychopaths tend to be more manipulative and risk minimizing in criminal activities. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are generally more erratic and prone to rage – and therefore, more dangerous.
Here are some of the most common signs to look for:
1. They know right from wrong, but don’t care.
When it comes to delineating right and wrong, for the sociopath, what is right is simply what is in their own best interest. If it serves them well, they believe their actions are completely justified.
This means sociopaths feel no remorse no matter who gets hurt or hurt in the process, and they move with little anxiety because they live without fear of disconnection.
2. Their personality is designed to engage and enchant in order to bond and manipulate.
Some sociopaths lack impulse control and suffer from a range of addictive and self-destructive behaviors and habits.
But those who are able to delay gratification and play the long game are the most harmful because they are meticulous and polite. They usually make an exceptionally good first impression and seem warm, empathetic, and even selfless.
3. They don’t always seem genuinely honest.
A sociopath doesn’t really have a sense of self, so they have a hard time maintaining the impression they create and project into the world. They are already wearing a mask, and dishonesty is yet another mask.
This means that when lying, they may sound like a caricature of an honest person rather than a genuinely honest person.
For example, a sociopath may sound like a broken record and use absolute sentences (eg, “I’m 100% not guilty” or “I promise I’ve never done this”) in an attempt to sell the truth.
4. They know how to boil your blood.
Sociopaths know how to press the right psychological buttons to take control of a relationship. Once they have achieved a certain degree of compliance, they will seek to undermine their target’s emotional stability.
This is why they like to be unpredictable (most personality disorders have this in common). Sometimes their behavior — like running hot and cold — is due to a particular disorder. Other times it’s purely tactical.
5. Their worst tendencies quickly surface when they feel like they are losing control over you.
When a sociopath discovers that you are not “obedient”, he goes into attack mode.
Say goodbye to the veneer of civility. They will throw all the accusations against and about you to anyone who will listen – friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers.
6. They show false humility.
Another gift is false vulnerability. Sociopaths can show “great humility” by coming across as gentle and unassuming.
The untrained observer may believe it to be the unmasked sociopath. Yet this is just another mask. Again, the advice is that they go overboard as they struggle to calibrate their impression management.
The above indicators can be helpful, but they are hardly definitive.
If for some reason you find yourself in a relationship with a sociopath, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid disagreeing with them publicly. This can lead to humiliation, and any word or action that makes them feel shame cuts them very deeply and can trigger serious reactions.
- Don’t call them a sociopath. Work slowly to disengage from the relationship.
- Having a sociopath in your life can be very difficult and can make you feel isolated, so consider seeing a therapist or joining a support group. Having someone to talk to can be very helpful.
We can’t always change someone’s behavior, but we find ways to set boundaries and cope.
Ultimately, regardless of personality or accompanying disorder, our emotional well-being is inextricably linked with the quality of our relationships.
David J. Lieberman is a psychotherapist and author of “Mindreader: the new science for deciphering what people really think, what they really want and who they really are.” With years of research on human behavior and interpersonal relationships, David has trained personnel in the US military, FBI, CIA and NSA.