“The Sociopath Next Door” explores the sociopathic personality and how these individuals can “control and psychologically shatter” the lives of those around them. The author, Martha Stout, is a psychologist and clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has worked with survivors of psychological trauma for over 30 years. Well-written and informative, the book provides valuable insights into the mind of a sociopath.
When we think of sociopaths, we automatically think of serial killers, but like everything else, they fall on a scale. If serial killers are at 10, what about all those that fall between 1 to 6? They probably will not kill you, but they can do a lot of damage to your life.
These are everyday people you meet through work; they could be friends, relatives, or someone you are dating. I, being the highly sensitive person that I am believed that if you treat people with respect and kindness then that is what you get in return. There may be the odd person who's not like that but the majority have to be.
If nothing terrible has happened to you in your life, it is easy to believe you can spot them because there HAVE to be some red flags. But, no, that is not the case; a lot of the time, you don't know and only realize who they are after something terrible has happened.
Sadly I think you have to be burned by one of these individuals to truly get that people like this exist. Because, look at the world through the eyes of a highly sensitive person, it's truly hard to imagine someone who has no empathy what-so-ever.
As a person with high sensitivity, you have probably met a few of these individuals and tried to understand their motives without success. And, being the empathic person you are, you thought they were having a bad day or something along those lines and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, because highly sensitive people are highly empathic, they tend to become targets.
Empathy is crucial in humans and plays a massive role in our social lives. It allows us to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, understand what they are going through, and sometimes compels us to help them.
The downside of empathy is that you feel sorry for the assholes too. It is both a superpower and a weak spot. The weak spot is that they can manipulate your empathy to a high degree. While some may be obvious, and you can stop it, others are so good at what they do you won't see it coming.
A relationship with a sociopath always ends badly for the empath by being manipulated, abused, exploited, and of course, lots of gaslighting.
To give some examples, look at all the people in the world that have been conned out of their life savings, married only to find the person they married is not at all what they thought, or got thrown under the bus at work for something they did not do. Look at those revenge porn websites, which can completely shatter someone's life. Or, the person who steals someone else's identity – how many fake emails or phone calls do you get these days. It seems like it's all the time.
The list goes on and on of the many ways sociopaths can shatter your life. Most people who are highly sensitive are too trusting, they want to help make the world a better place. And, while this is a lovely place from where to view the world, it's also not a safe place.
I also feel that you only truly learn anything by going through it or doing it yourself. I wonder if I had read any of these books earlier in life would they have helped me? What if they thought this in school?
A term you should become familiar with is The Dark Triad; it refers to a trio of negative, antisocial personality traits.
- Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
- Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulating and exploiting others, an absence of morality, unemotional, and a higher level of self-interest.
- Psychopathy is characterized by continuous antisocial behavior, impulsivity, selfishness, and callous and unemotional traits.
I'm using the word sociopath, but it can be interchangeable with Narcissism and Machiavellianism. While each has distinct traits, they all seem to have a similar roadmap, being callous, manipulative, and doing anything to stay in control.
While sociopaths may seem charming and successful on the surface, they are master manipulators who lack empathy and emotion. You know that feeling you get from someone who seems great; everyone loves them, but something is holding you back from trusting or liking them. If, like me, you ignored that gut feeling and thought you imagined things, it ended with you finding out the hard way that your first impression was right.
After one bad episode in my life and going through that experience, I started to read more about antisocial personalities to understand what I was dealing with and to protect myself in the future. Why was I so naive and not see the red flags? Looking back, they were so easy to see but then, isn't everything in retrospect?
While sociopaths make up 4% of the population, their impact can be far-reaching and devastating. Stout describes sociopaths as charming, intelligent, and often successful individuals. They are also manipulative, callous, and lack empathy. And yet, many of them can fly under the radar due to their ability to charm and deceive those around them.
Have you ever watched a show or documentary about anything where someone was taken advantage of by someone else and left to deal with the consequences? You sit there and think, what an idiot, how could you not see that coming? It's so easy to do that with other people's lives. One thing I have learned, when you are in a situation, you cannot see things as clearly as someone else might.
The book includes real-life examples of sociopaths in action, which I always find helpful. She also provides advice on how to protect yourself from their manipulations. One important thing to understand, you can never win with any of these personality types. If you are in a situation where you must deal with a sociopath, remember the critical rule: don't engage.
That sounds simple, but it's pretty hard to practice when living it. It takes time, but the more you learn not to be reactive, the easier your life will be.
Sometimes you cannot avoid interactions with someone you believe to be a sociopath. In that case, minimize the interactions as much as you can, and give them nothing they can use. There is no advantage in arguing, reasoning, negotiating, threatening, or bantering with a sociopath – it will only result in further manipulation.
Sociopaths love to manipulate and control people; to them, it's a game. So, they live for your reactions and emotions. They love to dominate you and enjoy your helplessness. They love if they caused something terrible to happen in your life, to see you fall apart, it's entertainment to them, something any empathic person finds hard to understand. In this case, you have to block your feelings, don't try to understand the why; know it's happening and do something about it.
So, what's the trick? How do you deal with them if you can't get them entirely out of your life? You become a rock. You become the most boring person on the planet. No reactions, either positively or negatively – you don't give them anything. After some time doing this, they will try to up their game to get some reaction out of you. Again, stay neutral; eventually, they will get bored with you and move on to find their next target.
Of course, that is easier said than done, but you are halfway there in recognizing what they are doing and starting your journey to be boring. Educate yourself; there are many books out there from academia, as well as people writing about their experiences. Knowledge is power; the more you know, the more you can read people, and the better off you will be.
Another interesting book I read was “The Empathy Trap” by Tim & Jane McGregor. Here we have another triad – the Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad.
The Sociopath-Empath-Apath Triad describes the psychological abuse by sociopaths and how it plays out. They use one or more apaths as pawns in triangulation to target the empathic person. I've seen this play out in one of my previous jobs, but I didn't click what it was until I read this book. It's mad that when you have a name for something, you seem to understand it more.
Through manipulation, lies, and all the usual tricks, they turn people around the empath against them. Generally, this is because the first person to figure out the sociopath is an empath. Once an empath gets past believing everyone is good, they can figure out quite quickly what the sociopath is doing. Now in saying that, it's not always the case, don't believe you will be able to spot all of them quickly. But, mostly you should figure them out before other people.
The main aim of this triangulation is usually to neutralize the empath so they can do whatever they want, and the apaths will always go along with it. At that point, the empath has no support system, and people won't believe what they say. I found the book very interesting and included real-life scenarios, which always help you grasp the concept a little easier.
I often wonder why we don't learn about things like this in high school. They don't teach you personal finances, how to balance a checkbook, or about antisocial behavior, two things that would help you out in life. You only delve into the topic when you've been traumatized by someone.
Takeaways from books I have read:
- The Pity Play: they play the victim; they had a bad childhood, a boss, and a lousy ex-partner, and everyone is out to get them. As an empath, you will think that is wrong, but before you jump in to help, hold back and think about it; this is how they can manipulate easily through your empathy.
- People who tell you too much too soon are a red flag. The second time I met one woman, she told me her brother raped her. That's a horrific story, but something held me back; I kept thinking, you don't know me; why would you share something that personal with a stranger? It was a pity play. Later I found out more about her which made me happy I had listened to my gut feeling.
- Another reason they tell you too much too soon is to do a quit pro quo – you feel you have to confide in them as well (whether you realize it or not). If you do, they now have information on you and can use it against you. You would be amazed at information you think is minor that they end up using against you.
- Very quickly after meeting them, you feel you have met your best friend or the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Everything moves too quickly.
- They flatter you a lot and agree with your opinions.
- They are incredibly charming and persuasive. They want to control and dominate you, so they have to make you trust them first.
- Gaslighting; this is a manipulation tactic to make you think what you experienced didn't happen.
- They have no empathy and feel superior to others.
- You get that uneasy feeling but have nothing to back it up with; it's about time you started trusting that feeling.
- Focus on their behavior and ignore their words because they lie. One of the most important things to remember because they tell you what you want to hear, only pay attention to people's actions.
To put it all into perspective, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a population of 3,318,000 in 2022. The current consensus by academics is that 1 in 25 people or 4% of the population has no conscience, no sense of right or wrong, no empathy, no ability to understand emotion, and no soul.
That means that there are approximately 132,720 sociopaths where I live.
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