Suddenly, it hits you. Something’s wrong. Why did you miss it? Because you’ve been mesmerized by the charming stranger who flattered his way into your life recently. Maybe you caught him in a lie. Maybe he insists your best friend isn’t good enough for you, and you stop hanging out with her. Maybe he brings you jewelry even though you asked him not to. Maybe he looks at you with an “I’m-gonna-eat-you-for-lunch” gleam in his eye. Something inside you screams, DANGER! You feel anxious. You’re being targeted by a sociopath.
How do you defend against such a blood sucker and stay safe at the same time? And how do you go about kicking him out of your life?
- If the sociopath is not a coworker or someone you must interact with for legal reasons, your best strategy is avoidance and SILENCE. Stop engaging with him or her. Period. If he gives you a controlling statement or demand? Silence. Approach you nicely or compassionately, argue with you, or push, yell or try to make you panic? Doesn’t matter the approach – naughty or nice gets the same result – no response, simply silence. The confirmation that he is affecting you is what he’s after. He’ll get bored and move on when he doesn’t get it. The most danger comes in the heat of a moment when you DO engage. COMPLETELY ignore any attempts the sociopath makes to reach out to you. He will ramp it up when you respond. That’s what he’s looking for. If he quits, that’s the best thing for you.
- Seek help, whether legal or psychological. Whatever you do, do not let the sociopath isolate you.
- At the old ball game and when dealing with sociopaths, three strikes equals an out.1 If an engaging stranger tells one lie, breaks one promise, ignores you once when you tell him “no”, etc., it could be a case of miscommunication. If he does it twice, be on the alert for further signs of deception. The third time it happens, know that this person is a deceitful liar at best and a sociopath at worst, and banish him from your life NOW. The most effective way to cut the connection with a sociopath is to stop interacting with him.
- But if you must connect with him, be boring, and appear as poverty stricken as you can. If you have few visible assets he can con you out of, and if you distance yourself from his uproar and drama, the sociopath will eventually lose interest and seek a less boring and richer victim.
- Avoid being in the presence of someone who might harm you. Find out the strategies predators use when grooming and persuading their targets.4 DO NOT confront and NEVER enrage him! That’s one thing I learned from Jaku, the sociopath coworker who murdered my dear friend Vic. I was warned not to confront him, so I didn’t. But nobody warned Vic. It cost him his life.
Sociopaths don’t usually kill unless they are confronted (as Jaku was). Engage with them as little as possible. If you must interact with them, don’t reveal personal details or your true feelings; sociopaths are master manipulators and will use these against you. Protect yourself; know that sociopaths make people miserable. Because they’re hard to recognize, they often victimize their prey before he or she knows what hit them. Most of us do not expect a person to be a pathological liar who cannot feel and needs to dominate in order to feel alive.
Because sociopaths crave stimulation in general and domination in particular, they often indulge in high-risk behaviors and get involved with drugs, are accident prone, and experience violence. Eventually, most destructive criminals get caught and punished.
Can sociopaths be helped? Only if you catch them young. If you don’t, counseling won’t help because sociopaths don’t take responsibility for their actions—they blame the other guy, and don’t believe they have a problem. To arm yourself against the sociopath, suspect flattery and do not pity them; they will use your pity against you.3
How a Sociopath Victimized Kelly—A True Story
We women need to recognize the manipulations male predators use to gain control over us so we can defend against them. We’re raised to be polite and deferential toward men, but when dealing with sociopaths these qualities translate to giving away our power. Even if it’s against our upbringing to respond rudely, we must defend against attempts to grab our power. Listening to our intuition and heeding our fear can literally save our lives.
If you read the first six chilling pages of The Gift of Fear3 (using the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon), you’ll discover how a sociopath conned his victim Kelly into letting him into her apartment after one of several grocery bags she was carrying broke on the stairs. (Personally, I consider him to be a psychopath because psychopath’s crimes tend to be carefully premeditated, while sociopaths are likelier to explode in rage and commit crimes on the spur of the moment. However, many experts use the terms interchangeably.)
The man scrambled to grab the scattered cans and carry them up the stairs even though Kelly said she’d get them. Thus, the man dominated her by appearing friendly and helpful. Author Gavin De Becker calls this “loan sharking”—it’s hard to say “no” to someone who helps you.3 Remember, if a man acts nice that doesn’t mean he’s good, and YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE NICE BACK. He ignored Kelly’s “no” (he was taking control.) Don’t let a stranger ignore your “no”. LOUDLY REPEAT, “I SAID ‘NO’!”)
Kelly quietly repeated “no” but then let him pull a second grocery bag out of her arms after he said, “There’s such a thing as being too proud, you know.” (A slight insult to get the woman to respond; as the bag passed out of her control into his, so did she.) He chattered on, distracting her so she wouldn’t focus on what was happening. Sociopaths are pathological liars; their tales don’t sound credible even to themselves so they keep talking. For a third time, he disregarded her “no”, this time about entering her apartment, offering to keep the front door open and promising to set the bags down and leave. She’d felt uneasy the entire time, but told herself she was being overly suspicious, that he seemed friendly and helpful. She ignored her uneasy feelings once again and let him in.
This serial rapist/murderer lied. He raped Kelly painfully and repeatedly, then said he would get a drink of water in the kitchen and leave. She knew he was going to look for a knife. Overwhelming fear forced her to act. She silently followed him from the bedroom and ran out the front door while he searched the kitchen. Listening to her fear saved her life.
Learning sociopaths’ manipulative ways and how to defend against them will go a long way in preventing us from becoming victims like Kelly.
Celebrate Your Humanity
Our humanity is cause for celebration. Remember, we are the normal ones, trusting our fellow human beings.1
Don’t believe people who tell you that you drew a sociopath to yourself because you’re too trusting, too naïve, too much of an empath. You didn’t understand his manipulative ways, but you can change that by educating yourself.
You have advantages over sociopaths. You can feel, you have a conscience, and you’re a caring person. The tools at your disposal are ones that the sociopath doesn’t have because the best he can do is study normal people and try to imitate them.
Because an emotional attachment is missing, sociopaths can suddenly reject a person even if he or she is their most valued person. But a sociopath must dominate that person because that’s what gives a sociopath juice. If he loses the people he dominates, he loses himself.
I know how disappointing, hurtful and frightening it can be to be fooled by a sociopath. Please don’t let your experience change you other than to be a bit more cautious about new people.
- The book The Sociopath Next Door by clinical psychologist and former Harvard faculty member Martha Stout, PhD
- The book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker
- As told in my true crime memoir Angel Hero, Murder in Hawai’i, A True Story