WASHINGTON, February 11, 2014 —The word “sociopath” is used prolifically in popular culture. Television series like Criminal Minds, True Blood, Law & Order, and even the popular comedy Girls use the term often and overtly from episode to episode.
Yet, the word “sociopath” is rarely, if ever, used to describe real-world personalities and criminals despite the ever-increasing proof in society of sociopaths and sociopathic behavior. From denial of sexual abuse by the now incarcerated Jerry Sandusky to the most recent denials made by alleged child-molester Woody Allen (who was, incidentally, described by a judge in his case as being self-absorbed and lacking judgment), how can society ignore the glaring reality that sociopaths exist, they are not fictional, and they walk among us?
According to Dr. Martha Stout, author of “The Sociopath Next Door,” sociopaths make up 4 percent of western society—that is roughly 1 in 25 people walking around among us without a conscience, without the ability to empathize and without a strict moral code guiding their decisions and actions.
Would you know how to identify a sociopath if you saw one, met one, started an intimate relationship or entered into a business contract with one? More than likely, your answer is no, because unlike what we read in the news or see in Hollywood movies, sociopaths are not just serial killers and murderers. Rather, they are members of our communities who we would never suspect of evil or wrong doing and who seamlessly blend into society with the rest of us.
Sociopaths are the charmers and manipulators. The sociopath might be a neighbor, a coworker, a friend, a family member, and sometimes a “soul mates.” Sociopaths are the people who often appear too good to be true and are overly agreeable and engaging. They are the people who appear together and well-groomed, at first glance, but hide many secrets and lies underneath their mask of sanity.
Sociopaths use language that intoxicates and hypnotizes unsuspecting targets. In intimate relationships, sociopaths use an approach commonly referred to as love bombing. Love bombing occurs primarily in the beginning stages of a relationship with a sociopath and serves to expedite the natural bonding process.
It’s not uncommon for a sociopath to declare the following within hours or days of meeting someone new:
“You are the love of my life.”
“I have never known anyone like you.”
“You are perfect for me.”
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“I never want to leave your side.”
“You are the most beautiful person I have ever met.”
“We are perfect for each other.”
“You are exactly what I have been looking for my entire life.”
Outside of specific language sociopaths use, how can potential victims learn to spot a sociopath before falling prey to one, and how can current victims come to the realization that they have been victimized and betrayed by a wolf in sheep’s clothing–a sociopath?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to identifying sociopaths. Drawing blood will not provide the answers, and many times trained psychiatrists get fooled by the manipulations and lies sociopaths expertly weave to appear justifiably righteous and true.
In addition, there are no physical attributes that set sociopaths apart from non-sociopaths. Sociopaths can be of any gender, race, nationality or age. Sociopaths are found in all demographics and careers. Sociopaths are doctors, nurses, teachers politicians and entrepreneurs. Sociopaths are spiritual leaders and clergy.
Above all, sociopaths do not discriminate when it comes to whom they choose to victimize. Anyone with a conscience, the ability to be remorseful, to love and to empathize and feel deep shame is a potential victim. More often than not, the victims of sociopaths are highly educated and/or skilled, highly compassionate, highly successful and highly accountable. Depending on the resources a particular sociopath covets and desires, anyone with some form of asset is a potential target.
The best way to protect yourself is to understand patterns of behavior and the red flags of sociopathic seduction in any relationship, including platonic, business, familial and romantic.
Sociopaths, like all predators, have a formula they follow, a modus oporandi. Each and every person that crosses a sociopath’s path is processed by the sociopath according to the following steps:
Assessment – “What does this person have that I want?”
Idolization – “If I praise this person, he’ll have no other choice but to feel obligated to give me what I want.
Devaluation – “I have what I want and now this person has the audacity to ask me for something in return? It’s time for the blaming and shaming. I answer to no one.”
Discard – “This person is dead to me. Next!”
Depending on the sociopath’s needs, this process could take hours (business transactions) or it could take many years (marriages). There is really nothing a target can do to stop the process once it has started. However, victims can learn to accept what happened and accept that the fault lies in the perpetrator, the sociopath, and not within the victim.
Besides the sociopath’s standard MO, there are other key indicators that can be measured. The most easily identifiable trait of all sociopaths is their need to be revered and praised. This need is a highly narcissistic quality and easier to detect than a sociopath’s absence of a conscience.
Stout suggests that although not all narcissists are sociopaths, all sociopaths are narcissists. Therefore, identifying a narcissist, can take us one step closer to recognizing a sociopath.
Below is a definition of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and a list of narcissistic traits taken directly from the website of Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love.
The DSM-IV-TR defines NPD as “an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts,” such as family life and work.
1. Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates accomplishments, talents, skills, contacts, and personality traits to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);
2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion;
3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions);
4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply);
5. Feels entitled. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her unreasonable expectations for special and favorable priority treatment;
6. Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends;
7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with, acknowledge, or accept the feelings, needs, preferences, priorities, and choices of others;
8. Constantly envious of others and seeks to hurt or destroy the objects of his or her frustration. Suffers from persecutory (paranoid) delusions as he or she believes that they feel the same about him or her and are likely to act similarly;
9. Behaves arrogantly and haughtily. Feels superior, omnipotent, omniscient, invincible, immune, “above the law”, and omnipresent (magical thinking). Rages when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted by people he or she considers inferior to him or her and unworthy.
The next list of traits specific to sociopathy is taken from Dr. Robert D. Hare’s highly praised book, “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.”
1. Glib and superficial charm. The tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Sociopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A sociopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example.
2. Grandiose self-worth. A grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Sociopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
3. Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom. An excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Sociopaths often have low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.
4. Pathological lying. Can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
5. Conning and manipulative. The use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.
6. Lack of remorse or guilt. A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims.
7. Shallow affect. Emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
8. Callousness and lack of empathy. A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
9. Parasitic lifestyle. An intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
10. Poor behavioral controls. Expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
11. Promiscuous sexual behavior. A variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.
12. Early behavior problems. A variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home.
13. Lack of realistic, long-term goals. An inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
14. Impulsivity. The occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
15. Irresponsibility. Repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions. A failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.
17. Many short-term marital relationships. A lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
18. Juvenile delinquency. Behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
19. Revocation of conditional release. A revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.
20. Criminal versatility. A diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
Paula Carrasquillo has been featured as a panelist on HuffPost Live show “Learning to Love the Sociopath” and is the author of “Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath.” Learn more about Ms. Carrasquillo and her other work and interests on her website.
In addition, websites like LoveFraud.com and PsychopathFree.com provide first-hand stories of victims and survivors of sociopath abuse and control. These sites also provide recovery support, legal references and resources for those seeking to move beyond victimization, acquire acceptance, improve their lives and find justice.