As a science teacher in a public high school, Amanda was well liked by her students. Not only was she young, beautiful, and a good communicator, but she also had a way of interacting with the students that was a bit different yet very effective. Everyone loved her – teachers, administrators, students, and parents – which, in many ways, made her feel like she was above following the rules.
Then one day, when a parent accused her of improper texting with their teen son, some of her comments were found to be sexually suggestive in nature. Even though Amanda was able to explain communicating with the student through text to administration (she lied and said it was part of the curriculum), which somewhat satisfied the concerned parent, still Amanda was out for blood. Behind the scenes, she went after the administrator that confronted her by spreading untrue gossip just to watch him squirm. And as for the parents, she intentionally engaged in an improper relationship with their son just to get back at them.
What on earth would make someone do this or participate in other, similar behaviors? Ever wonder how a person was able to earn trust so quickly and then exploit it for their own benefit? Perhaps they were someone who stole money, took over a business, or openly violated ethical conduct codes. One day they were considered as a best friend and now for no apparent reason, they purposefully go out of their way make themselves your enemy. And even after the betrayal, it is hard to imagine that this person is anything less than what they originally presented. How were they able to be so deceptive?
Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) is the technical definition for sociopathic and psychopathic behavior. Imagine ASPD as a spectrum where there is evidence of subtle to extreme versions of the behavioral dysfunction. Sociopaths are generally thought of as a milder type than psychopaths. This makes them harder to recognize in the average work environment. So how do they do it?
- Survey– Sociopaths begin their deception by carefully observing their new environment. Since most sociopaths burn through relationships fast, they are frequently forced into new surroundings in order to survive. They look for potential targets: those with money, power, position or anything the other person has that the sociopath wants. Sociopaths scrutinize the target’s friends, work habits, routines, family, strengths, weaknesses, and social affairs. Basically, they are stalking their prey.
- Scoping – After choosing the target, sociopaths scope out an informant. This person usually has the dirt on everyone, likes to gossip, and puts themselves in the middle of things. The sociopath will quickly become best buddies with this person in an effort to glean as much information as possible. In the future, they will use this relationship to disseminate bad intelligence about others.
- Chameleon– Sociopaths literally transform themselves into the most attractive version of self for their target and the informant. For instance, if their prey likes to rescue people, the sociopath will need to be rescued. If their victim likes independent gregarious people, they will become that. The interesting part is that sociopaths can be two completely different personalities within the same environment.
- Seducing– Once the sociopath feels they understand their target, they begin a seduction. It usually starts with making small talk about a hobby or other interest. Then they use that incident to initiate further contact alternating between praising the target and asking for their advice. Shortly thereafter, the sociopath shares some made-up secret personal fear or anxiety to draw the target further in. If the victim responds with any degree of kindness, they proceed to the next step. If the prey repels the sociopath, one of two things happens: either the sociopath will move on or they will refine and intensify their approach.
- Courting– This is a one-way dance where the sociopath does all of the work. They magically appear where the victim is, they seem to be friends with the same people, and they often invite themselves to meetings, projects and events. The sociopath escalates the praise to a level of adoration which draws in the target even more. Their charm is enticing and disarming so the prey begins to feel at ease with the sociopath.
- Isolating – The sociopath begins to use the data gathered from the informant to isolate the target from friends or co-workers who may try to protect them one day. These are subtle non-flattering comments made about the friends or co-workers which are easily countered if confronted. The intent is for the victim to feel betrayed by their friends while learning to solely rely on the false loyalty of the sociopath.
- Vengeance– Anyone who tries to stop the sociopath along the way will be met with swift and severe revenge, threats, or punishment. They will use tactics such as inappropriate rage, the silent treatment, intimidating stares, twisting the truth, and playing the victim card to manipulate others into compliance. By this point, the sociopath has too much invested in the deception to walk away. So instead, they push away protectors while pulling in the target.
- Projection – Here is where things become tricky. The sociopath now secretly turns on the victim to the victim’s friends and co-workers by projecting the sociopath’s selfish motives onto the victim. This completes the betrayal cycle. When the sociopath removes themselves from the environment, everyone’s fingers will be pointed at each other with none pointed at the sociopath. This sets the stage for the final act.
- Deceit– Now the sociopath is free to embezzle, exploit, take over a business, and/or commit acts of fraud or felony because all eyes will be on the fight between each other and not on the sociopath. By the time the dust has settled, the sociopath will be long gone with whatever money, power, position, or prestige they desired.
At any point in the game, this can be stopped. But it usually takes an outsider looking in on the situation to bring about clarity. Sociopaths should be taken seriously and treated as potentially dangerous. If you believe you, or someone you’re close to, may be facing a situation with a sociopath similar to the one described, do not hesitate to seek help.