Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How To Tell if You're Dating a Sociopath

There are a lot of labels for people and behaviours. Labels help us define things, and to know how we should think and feel about certain people and situations. They serve as a road map for how to behave and react. Psychology is still a relatively new science, with new conditions discovered all the time. Sometimes, these conditions are genuine, and a diagnosis can be highly beneficial, and sometimes they’re used to justify actions that wouldn’t normally be tolerated or acceptable.

IThe definition of a sociopath is “a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience. “ Sociopaths are everywhere, unfortunately, and it’s likely that in our lifetime we will have encounters with these people. Often times, we won’t know the person is a sociopath, especially not initially, but their characteristics will present themselves once we establish a deeper, more ongoing relationship with them. It is then that we realize that something is not quite right. We still may not know that they’re a sociopath, but we instinctively will distance ourselves from them because of their behavior.

Here are some of the tell-tale signs that you’re in a relationship with a sociopath:

Being swept off of your feet/moving quickly: This is a bit tricky, because in the early stages of most relationships, we are in the honeymoon stage. We see the good, we can’t get enough of the other person, and it’s blissful. But there’s a fine line. A relationship with a sociopath is all consuming.  It takes over your life. They want to be with you ALL the time, or talk to you ALL the time. They make declarations and promises very early on. People are supposed to take time to get to know each other. Sociopaths don’t do that because they want to ensnare you and don’t want to give you the time or space to think about what’s happening. It’s all part of their game. What to look for: saying they love you after a few weeks, wanting to marry you within a month, wanting to spend every non-working minute together, insisting on lengthy and constant conversations when you're apart.  

Excessive Charm and the “Soulmate Factor”: Sociopaths are incredibly charming, at least initially. They’re great at getting what they want and know how to make people feel special. Your early encounters with a sociopath will leave you thinking they’re fun, interesting, very likeable, and many cases sexually attractive.  In these encounters they listen to you and study you. They find out exactly how you think and what you want and then they give it to you. You are overjoyed because you think you’ve finally found someone who shares your values, thinks like you, wants the same things. They feel like your soulmate and probably even refer to themselves as such. They give you EXACTLY what it is you were looking for and make you feel happy, stable, and excited.  They also win over (most of) your friends and family. Their charm is only on the surface though, sociopaths have an agenda and use their charm to get something from people. None of it is real, in a way, they are con artists. It doesn’t take too long for their behavior to change which will be highly confusing and sometimes scary. . What to look for: someone who is excessively charming; someone who can happily exist in isolation for weeks at a time (this is because, despite the charm, they are deeply antisocial); someone who changes from delightful to cold in the blink of an eye; someone who seems to know exactly what to do or say to gain your confidence or affection.

Lack of shame/Blaming everyone else/Smear Campaigns. Sociopaths often do or say things that are terrible and heartless. While a non-sociopathic person would feel guilt or remorse for their actions, a sociopath has none. Many sociopaths are highly successful people but they got there by stepping on and hurting people to achieve their goals.  They might proudly recount the ways they achieved their successes, which is often at the expense of others. They are also blameless. With a sociopath, there is always an excuse for why things went wrong and how it was no fault of their own. It’s because sociopaths don’t believe they are doing anything wrong, they do not accept blame, they blame other people, and they’re not sorry. If they say they’re sorry it’s a lie. They will also actively run smear campaigns against people, usually those who threaten them in some way. What to look for:  If the person you’re dating brags about the people they stepped on while aiming to accomplish; if every failure or stress in their life is someone elses fault; they run smear campaigns, they feel no remorse (remember, saying sorry doesn’t mean you’re sorry. Real remorse is when people take action to rectify their wrongdoings.)

Constant Lying: Sociopaths lie all the time, and a lot of the time, they actually believe in their lies, or believe that by keeping the lie going, that it will somehow become the truth. Everyone tells lies here and there, but a sociopaths lies are on a grander scale, and if they’re caught in a lie, they will go to great lengths to cover up the lies or make you believe them. They are obsessed with image and appearing a certain way, so these lies are usually to keep that image intact. The lies can range from from little to massive, and, calling them out will only result in some long explanation or excuse. Never an admission of guilt, sociopaths don’t do that.   It is also common, for, when a lie if about to blow up in their face, that the sociopath will seek you out to confess. This is to gain trust or garner sympathy, when in actuality it should have the opposite effect, as they are only doing it because they have no other choice. What to look for: inconsistencies, lies, and their reaction to being caught in a lie (do they keep lying to cover it up?)

Being “Taken Care Of”/Sharing: Sociopaths are very good at presenting a front of equality and strength. They will often use words like “ours” to make you feel like you’re in this together, “our apartment, our money, our future” and they will go to great lengths to cultivate that image and to make you feel as though they’re providing for and taking care of you. It could be as simple as bringing you cups of tea every morning or on a larger scale like offering to financially support you.  They will help fix problems in your life all under the guise of partnership and “us.” It’s not real, and they will take it away as quickly as they handed it over.

Being calm in every circumstance. Now, not everyone who is unflappable is a sociopath, but some of them are. Sociopaths tend to have little or no reaction to highly emotional events or circumstances. This might seem appealing at first but is actually concerning if they do not seem to be bothered by anything. What to look for: lack of outward anxiety or stress ever; remaining unflustered in dangerous or volatile situations; the same emotional reaction to everything.

Intelligence. Most sociopaths are incredibly bright. They use this intelligence to further their agendas and to manipulate people. Sociopaths are usually very successful.

Manipulative: Sociopaths use their charms, brains, and observational skills to figure out ones weakness, and use this for exploitation. They like to be in control of every situation and tend to avoid other strong willed people. They are comfortable deceiving people to get what they want. They are good at reading situations and people and then saying or doing whatever needs to be said/done to continue getting their way. What to look for: someone always needing to be in control; someone who will lie to get what they want; someone who surrounds themselves with “weaker” or more vulnerable people.

Abuse:    Let’s for a second look at the definition of abuse:  1. to use something for the wrong purpose in a way that is harmful or morally wrong. 2.  to treat someone cruelly or violently 3. to speak to someone rudely or cruelly. So basically, purposely hurting someone. Being mean to them, insulting them, neglecting them, criticizing them, all with malicious intent. Of course, people say mean things to one another from time to time, it happens. But emotional and mental abuse is doing this repeatedly and without remorse. The bottom line is: relationships are supposed to make us feel happy and secure. If we are with someone who makes us feel bad about ourselves and who we are afraid of, that is abuse.  What to look for: angry, violent outbursts; emotional, mental, or physical abuse; someone who is outwardly calm but who could-and does-snap at any moment; walking on eggshells and stressed out by their inflicted abuse; someone who insults or hurts you regularly.

A massive ego. Sociopaths believe that they are the greatest thing in the world. They have a huge sense of entitlement and truly believe that they are better than everyone else. They are completely narcissistic, have an inflated ego, and are unresponsive to criticism.  What to look for: narcissism; a person with a large superiority complex; a person who can’t handle or doesn’t recognize criticism; someone who only cares about their own opinion; someone who spends a lot of time in front of the mirror; someone who has an unrealistic view of their abilities.

Uninterrupted eye contact: Sociopaths usually give intense uninterrupted eye contact, whether it is a way to further their own means or to make you feel uncomfortable.

Lack of REAL friends and connections: If someone has very few or no real friends to speak of, they may be a sociopath. Most people enjoy human interaction and feel it is essential to their lives, whereas sociopaths few people merely as tools to get something they want. When they’ve achieved that, they have no use for the other person and drop them. If they do have “friends” they will be superficial as sociopaths lack the ability to have meaningful connections. They can often go weeks or months with little to no contact with their family or friends. They don't really like to really talk about themselves or share things with friends. They also might encourage you to not share personal things with your friends and family. What to look for: someone with no friends from their high school or university days; someone who has a distant or non-existent relationship with their family; someone with very few friends, or friends that they only have a superficial connection with; someone who doesn’t seem to need to be around people; someone who is intensely present and then drops off of the face of the Earth; someone who chooses friendships based on what the other person can do for them.

Lack of empathy: Hand in hand with their hugo ego and superiority complex, sociopaths lack empathy and don’t feel sorry for people. One of the most fundamental and necessary qualities one should possess is compassion and a sociopath has none. Perhaps they will feign interest but not actually care.  Often they will belittle or blame the person for their hardships or they simply do not care. Why would they? It’s of no consequence to them. (At some point, this will be directed at you and it will be confusing and scary because it is unrecognizable from the person you once knew.) 

Isolates you: This kind of falls into the sweeping off your feet category. Sociopaths want all of you all the time. They are enigmatic and mesmerizing so it’s not hard to fall under their spell and find yourself spending less and less time with other people. It doesn’t feel like isolation at the time, it feels like you’re living in your own little bubble. Now, it’s common knowledge that, once in a relationship, we do have to balance our time so see our friends and family less than we used to. Sociopaths are fine with you not seeing them at all. Or being present every time you do. If you’re in a social setting, they will find ways to isolate you, whether it be pulling you into an intense conversation or being overly affectionate. They see you as theirs. You might find yourself missing events or parties because friendships felt less important and necessary because you have everything you need. This is what a sociopath wants you to believe and think.  What to look for: An all consuming love, someone who wants to be with you all the time, doesn't like sharing you with friends, encourages you to stay in with them (or go out just the two of you) someone who dissuades you from sharing your life, feelings etc with anyone else.

Immature:  Sociopaths are immature, even if they appear not to be. This is highlighted by their selfishness, lack of reliability, pathological lying, and inability to deal with confrontation. They can’t be told they’re wrong or handle any kind of comment that could be deemed as a criticism. They will walk away, throw a fit, storm out, change the subject, berate…whatever it is to prevent them from having an adult conversation which would require them to either be honest or apologize. They also have an unrealistic view of themselves and life. If life or people don’t behave exactly the way that they want or expect, they can’t handle it and withdraw. Mature adults work through challenges. They face the, head on, and come up with real solutions. They don’t run away or give up. They don’t quit when things aren’t perfect, because you can’t.

Promiscuity: All kind of people cheat, not just sociopaths but it is one of the defining characteristics of a sociopath. 

 Extreme selfishness: Sociopaths only care about themselves. It won’t be evident at first as they will shower you with love and attention initially but at some point, their true colours show. They won’t do anything that they don’t want to do. They won’t take your needs, desires, or feelings into consideration, and it will be very evident in their actions. They’ll act the way they want to act even if they know it hurts or upsets you. They’ll expect you to conform into their life exactly the way they want you to and will be angry and resentful if you don’t. They will not make an effort to fir into your life. What to Look For: when it’s all about them. It could be something small like, only sleeping at their apartment or only going out with their friends and coworkers.  Or it could be much bigger like missing events important to you, blatantly disregarding your feelings.

Neediness: Sociopaths come off as strong, and they are but their power is fueled by their control over others. They NEED it. They will demand a lot of your time and energy and expect you to be available and receptive whenever they want you to be. If they feel like you’re slipping away they will take drastic measures to not lose you because they enjoy the game and power.

Unready for responsibilities: When we first meet sociopaths, as I said, they come off as charming, successful and together. We’re drawn to them and they make us all kinds of promises. They might even seemingly take steps follow through on  these promises. The problem is that they can’t actually commit to the things they say they can.  Whether it’s them being unwilling to give up their 100% selfish lifestyle, or simply the inability to hold up their end of the bargain, they are unreliable, and can’t be responsible to anything other than themselves and their own agenda.

While I am not a medical professional, I have researched sociopaths, as well as spoken to experts about them. What I can offer is first hand experience as I was deeply involved in a long term, serious relationship with a sociopath.

The thing about sociopaths that is tough is that they are amazing when you first meet them. They’re loving, and charming, and a total dream come true. They make you feel things and think things that you never did before. They sweep you off your feet and make you feel like the most special person in the world. Then they flip out. It happens without warning and then all of a sudden, they’re a completely different person. Unrecognizable. Sociopaths CAN’T be in romantic relationships, especially not serious ones, because it requires them to behave like a normal human being. They are forced to do things like communicate, compromise, and commit, none of which are possible for them. They don’t like people. They only like themselves and the unrealistic existence that they’ve created for themselves. They immediately start to panic and lash out in a destructive and abusive (mental, emotional, physical) way. They will morph from a dream come true into a monster.

While every relationship has issues and rough patches, a relationship with a sociopath doesn’t get better, it only gets worse. It doesn’t matter how strong or confident you are, sociopaths will break you down and destroy you if you stay. The only option is to leave, not look back, breathe a sigh of relief, and try and be more aware next time. If someone seems to good to be true: they probably are. If something is moving at lightning speed:  it will probably crash and burn, if someone has very few real friends: there’s probably a reason.  The list goes on and on. As I said, spotting sociopaths is hard at the beginning, but there are signs to look for, and once things start popping up, it’s essential to just GET OUT AND FAR AWAY. Date someone who actually likes people.

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