Sociopaths are people with antisocial personality disorder. The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in interpersonal and self functioning along with the presence of pathological personality traits. In particular, to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5) states that the following criteria must be present:
Impairments in self functioning:
- Ego centered identity
- Goal setting based on personal gratification
Impairments in interpersonal functioning:
- Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others.
- Incapacity for mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of
relating to others.
Pathological personality traits:
- Risk Taking
“If you do not have a close friendship with your children, I will.” –Type 1 Sociopath, on the child molester
Sociopaths have separate and very distinct personas or “sub-selves.” They are commonly known as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” When a sociopath switches from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, his victim does not see it coming.
Oftentimes the victims wonder what triggered the other person to “flip” or switch from good to bad. The truth is the triggers could be 100% internal and may have had nothing to do with outside circumstances. Of course, the sociopath will blame the other person, because that’s what they do, but the triggers are internal and have nothing to do with anyone else.
On the surface, when you meet a sociopath you will think that he is very charming, warm, engaging, and interested. You will not realize that he is only expressing a very shallow level of emotions, and his primary reasons for being this way are for underlying ulterior motives.
Studies have been conducted on the monoamine oxidase (MAOA) gene; a gene which encodes an enzyme responsible for catabolising the “feel good” neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline (Sohrabi, 2015).
It was found that male individuals possessing an MAOA-L version of the gene have an increased propensity to be violent because they tend to be hyper-sensitive and prone to “over-react.” Paired with childhood abuse, those with the MAOA-L gene were found to commit more crimes than those without this gene (Sohrabi, 2015).
MAOA-L individuals displayed significantly higher levels of aggression in a high provocation situation. A further gene-by-environment interaction was found in a long-term study performed on large number of children. Those with the MAOA-L genotype paired with maltreatment in childhood were correctly predicted to commit crime.
Evidence suggests that anti-social personality disorder is caused by biological, environmental, and social factors.
How to Protect Yourself from a Sociopath:
According to Konrad (1999,) to protect yourself from a psychopath, you need to “realize your own potential and maximize your strengths.” Make sure you know your vulnerabilities and insecurities because a sociopath will become, “an image of what you haven’t done for yourself.” At some point the sociopath’s mask will begin to slip, but the damage will have already been done and victims will have already been damaged, most likely both emotionally and financially (Konrad, 1999).
“There comes a time when you just need to realize that there’s no point in searching for answers and the best thing you can do is move on” (Konrad, 1999).
Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do not try to reform a sociopath.
- Avoid them.
- Do not express your weaknesses.
- Do not believe a sociopath. They will lie and will do so convincingly.
- Document any negative encounters/conflicts and notify others.
- Protect yourself. Put a strong invisible barrier around yourself. Don’t let them inside.
- Do not show your true emotions to a sociopath; keep a “poker face.” Any and all emotions will be used against you.
- If you must engage, turn the conversation back on them. Ask, “Are you feeling well?” Try to get away as soon as possible.
- Do not share any personal information.
- Don’t share your plans with a sociopath.
- Do not put yourself in a “one down” position; do not put yourself in a place of indebtedness to a sociopath.
How to get out of a relationship with a sociopath:
Do not delude yourself into believing that the sociopath can or will change. Give up that notion completely. The best thing you can do is take the focus for solving the problem off of the other person, placing it squarely on yourself. It is your job to change and rescue yourself. Period. The other person is not the key to your happiness.
I have many people calling me asking me to change their partners. They want to bring their pathological loved one to therapy to be fixed. The harsh reality is that no therapist can fix a sociopath. But the person wanting help can be “fixed.” He/she has all the power needed to break free and live well.
It reminds me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as she realizes that she had the power within herself the entire time she was in Oz to get home. You, too, have the power within yourself to be free and live a good life. The other person is not the source for your contentment or security. You may believe he/she is, but this is a false belief.
Sociopaths have no conscience. Many appear to be “normal” members of society and may never physically harm anyone. This does not mean the person is safe to be around. If you suspect that you are having problems in your relationship because your partner is a sociopath do whatever you can to escape.
This will require great strength as I’m sure you have been brain-washed by this person. You will probably be in a trauma bond and are experiencing a form of Stockholm syndrome. Because of the manipulative nature of the sociopath, your relationship will be harder to break free from than other, more “normal” relationships.
The best way to accomplish this is to go “no contact.” Completely cut this person out of your life. Remove him/her from all social media and outlets of communication. File a restraining order if possible.
At first, going no contact will be difficult; but, this will save your life. Going no contact is a “game changer” when it comes to relationships with sociopaths. The manipulative input can no longer come your way when you stop having any contact with the person.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself. Sociopaths can manipulate anyone. It’s not your fault. You were operating out of the range of “normal” relating. Sociopaths don’t do that, but most people are unaware that the other person does not have normal relating skills, but rather uses the techniques of seduction and exploitation. The sociopath uses people’s weaknesses to gain control. Remind yourself that it is okay to be weak and that the emotional abuse you’ve experienced is not your fault.
Build your reservoir of self-compassion and self-love. These are essential ingredients for recovery.
Build your personal power. Tell yourself you can be strong and you will be strong. Personal empowerment is the key to recovery. Do whatever you can to empower yourself. This removes your sense of security from an outside source. (The only “outside source” a person needs to be okay is spiritual and should never be placed on another person.)
Move on and build your life. If you find your mind drifting off to thoughts of responsibility for the relationship or feelings of guilt regarding the relationship, practice thought stopping. Don’t allow yourself to feel sorry for the sociopath. Remind yourself that sociopaths are masters at hurting others while at the same time manipulating their victims into feeling sorry for them.
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American Psychiatric Association (2012). DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria for the Personality Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.psi.uba.ar/academica/carrerasdegrado/psicologia/sitios_ catedras/practicas_profesionales/820_clinica_tr_personalidad_psicosis/material/dsm.pdf
Konrad, C. (1999). The Malignant Personality. Retrieved from: http://lifewochaos.blogspot.com/p/sociopath-profile.html
Putman, C., 20 January, 2008. The Unburdened Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.damninteresting.com/the-unburdened-mind/
Sohrabi, S. (2015 Jan 14). The criminal gene: the link between MAOA and aggression (REVIEW). BMC Proceedings. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4306065/