Sociopaths in our lives: damage and coping.

Sociopaths in our lives: damage and coping.

Do you know someone who does bad things to you without conscience or feeling guilt? When confronted, they claim that the damage done is very minimal, even though the damage done might be serious. They want to dominate you. They use pathological lying and conning. Maybe they consider themselves above the laws, social conventions, and moral principles. Many of us know someone at least a little like this. This article will interest and help you.

The purposes of this essay are to help people identify sociopaths, to warn them, and to help their victims and the community.

Any discussion of collegial or interpersonal ethics should include sociopaths, those with a social pathology. Individuals with these behaviors can be a serious threat to our wellbeing and our community. They can be very difficult to control and treat. To describe these issues, the following 11 topics will be addressed. The materials herein are not about any specific individual or event, but they are gathered from different sources, both fictional and real. Some descriptions may be exaggerated to emphasize a point.
  1. Sociopaths and personality disorders: Why bother with this?
  2. We discover that sociopaths are REAL and can hurt us.
  3. Labelling someone as a sociopath. When is it justified?
  4. “I had to use them to get to him/her.”: lack of conscience.
  5. “Make your worry a goal.” How to crush a conscience.
  6. “Those accusations are lies.” Dishonesty, deflection, and no guilt.
  7. “You had better not tell them or you’ll be sorry.” Bullying and controlling others.
  8. “No one can defy me!” Grandiosity.
  9. How do they survive? The “feel sorry for me” pity play.
  10. What to do with sociopaths? Can they be helped?
  11. How do we protect ourselves?


DSM-5. Antisocial Personality Disorder. P 659. American Psychiatric Association. 2013.  accessed on 10/14/2021.. accessed on 10/14/2021.

Eddy, B. 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life. (New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2018).

Hare, RD. Without Conscience. (New York: Guilford Press, 1999).

Mastering lying:  accessed on 10/27/2021.

Stout, M. The Sociopath Next Door. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005).

Stout, M. Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door. (New York: harmony Books, 2020).

1. Sociopaths and personality disorders: Why bother with this?

What is a sociopath? Well, without getting too terribly technical, we can think of sociopathic and antisocial people as those who have a disregard for others, and who lack a conscience. They will take advantage of you, hurt you, and create suffering. They show behaviors such as lying, breaking laws, impulsivity, ignoring their own safety and the safety of others. Estimates say that the frequency of occurrence in the population varies but range up to about 4 %, or to about one in twenty-five, which is enough to have an impact on all of us sooner or later.

A sociopath would have no trouble hurting you if it gave them something they wanted. Their brains are different. To various degrees, they just don’t feel remorse and guilt. It might not occur to them that their actions might hurt you. Many of us have a hard time believing this, but it is true. There are people like this among us. Also note that they are not all the same. The degree of symptoms is on a continuum and vary. Some are worse than others at various times. Even if you are the only target, this essay should help you.

Consider the following which is an extreme case. Someone asked an anti-social person, “Have you ever committed a crime?” The shocking reply was, “No, but I had to kill someone once.” This highlights how different they are. The following essays will elaborate on the characteristics of what I refer to as sociopaths.

A note on terminology. Many “personality disorders” are known. To avoid getting overly technical, let’s refer to the problem-people described herein as sociopaths. From the text, it will be clear what is meant. A psychiatrist might diagnose such individuals with antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder or other. Several personality disorders are often found together. But for the sake of this writing, to keep it reasonable, we use the term sociopath as described herein.

There are many who do not like diagnostic labeling or calling someone a sociopath. If this is you, then every time you see the word sociopath, think sociopathic-like behaviors, and focus on the behaviors described here rather than the overall diagnostic label. The behaviors are the real problem and are addressed here.

2. We discover that Sociopaths are REAL and can hurt us.

Consider the following individual. Suppose somebody (SOC) meets a person (VIC) they dislike. The dislike can be based on various slights, or gut reactions including jealousy. SOC starts to verbally disrespect VIC, damages VIC’s property – maybe by gouging paint – and inflicting various kinds of other damage. When confronted by you, SOC denies doing it and even threatens you when you imply you may tell someone about this. SOC doesn’t feel guilty about the threats.

 So, let’s examine this. SOC’s reaction is excessive, maybe impulsive. SOC shows no conscience or remorse after damaging the VIC, and disregards the law by slandering and inflicting damage. SOC’s personal safety is ignored during the crimes. When suspected and questioned, SOC lies about it. Suppose someone sees and confronts SOC. SOC then says that the disliked VIC deserved it for such and such reasons. This is a reasonable picture of sociopathic behaviors.

What can we learn from such an experience? Let’s say you have seen it firsthand. Well, the first important thing is that such disordered people really exist, albeit in varying degrees. Many of us, honest and with a conscience, find it hard to believe that someone like that is around. People feel that they have gone through their lives and not experienced anything like it. Not much in our life prepares us for such an irresponsible and unscrupulous person. We don’t want to believe it. We might (subconsciously?) prefer to ignore it. But the first thing to learn is that they do exist, and they exist in our world. For example, think back to some leaders in World War II. In our everyday world, we are likely to need to deal with them at some point. The “readings” above show that they been recognized officially and are in fact out there.

3. Labeling someone a sociopath. When is it justified?

It is a serious thing for any of us to call another person a sociopath or someone with a personality disorder. After all, most of us are not professionals who diagnose such disorders. To be totally credible, such a diagnosis must be made in the end by a qualified and experienced professional. But there are certain personality traits and behaviors that ordinary people need to watch out for to protect themselves.

Even though labeling of people/personalities happens at cocktail parties and the like, it is something that is not to be taken lightly. Labeling someone can have consequences. But, if someone really behaves like a sociopath as described here, then that person can be a danger to the community. There must be a way to give a label/signal that will alert others and prevent damage to the community. It suggests that professional help is needed.

So, what are our guidelines for this? When can we feel OK about naming someone as possibly being sociopathic? Well, it seems that the actions of the person must be serious and sustained. A single action by someone does not define their character. But many repeated damaging actions over say decades is a worry. Consider the following cases.

Suppose someone becomes very focused on you for whatever reason. Then, when an opportunity randomly arises, they find a way to go into your house when you aren’t home, without permission. But they feel very guilty and badly about it, and they don’t do it again. They respect privacy and personal boundaries. This is a simple one-time mistake with few consequences. It doesn’t seem right to label such a person as having a serious problem.

            In another situation, suppose that someone (SOC) enters the home of another (VIC) many times without permission (literally breaking and entering). They “borrow” things that are not returned. They plant fake evidence of a crime. Then they talk about the VIC in ways that are distorted and damaging, and they threaten bystanders so they will not interfere. SOC also recruits other vulnerable people (USED) into this illegal activity. When the community discovers the activities of USED, they might vilify and avoid them. The original culprit, SOC, doesn’t really care about the USED very much and feels no guilt and offers no real help. SOC’s actions damage those used to the point where some even lose their jobs. Overall, SOC’s behavior might go on for years or even decades.

It is clear that this long-standing pattern of improper behavior by SOC is antisocial. It shows they tend to lie, break laws, damage others, lack a conscience, and that they lack regard for their own safety and the safety of others. They should seek help. Even though, by the nature of the disorder, they probably feel that they have done nothing wrong!

4. “I had to use them to get to him/her”: lack of conscience.

Suppose someone with a history of irresponsible behavior (SOC) convinces another person (USED) to enter another’s office or home or car (VIC) and carry out some damaging actions. USED, who for various reasons is vulnerable to SOC, carries out these damaging acts under the direct supervision of SOC. Then USED is found out and USED’s actions become known in the community. USED is justifiably avoided and distrusted by others in accordance with those actions.

            But SOC who directed USED refuses to accept blame because SOC says, “I did not actually do the crime! USED did it, I didn’t do it. USED never really had to do anything. USED was never forced.”  Of course, USED, as a duped perpetrator, is still looked upon with suspicion and as someone to watch out for.

            Now on the defensive, SOC who directed USED’s actions, further says that “I had to direct USED to get at the person/target (VIC)“for various personal reasons. That personal “need” to get at the VIC seems to be a complete justification by SOC for the damage done to USED. Obviously, it is NOT a justification. But this is how a sociopath feels. SOC’s needs supersede any social or legal convention. SOC can feel this way because there is no conscience or feeling of guilt. Without that, anything goes! And sometimes anything does go. Sociopaths will use young people, old people, institutions, and even children.

            In another situation, a community has caught on to SOC’s behavior and avoids and vilifies SOC. An angry SOC might say, “Somebody has to pay for this (SOC’s bad reputation).” SOC wants to blame just anybody for what people think, whereas it is really SOC’s own fault due to the sociopathic actions. Blaming just anybody, instead of a proven, guilty person, seems like something a sociopath would do. SOC is NOT even trying to be fair and just.

            This pattern of SOC’s controlling and using others to do inappropriate, dirty deeds is found in other situations that include VIC’s medical care and professional activities. Others do the dirty work for SOC who claims innocence! It’s like a mastermind/planner bank robber saying that they have no guilt because they weren’t there when the bank was robbed.

            Hopefully, the community will understand the situation and make sure to avoid/prevent any future interactions with SOC. A community might be best for controlling SOC. Maybe help can be found. Professionals would provide such help.

5. “Make your worry a goal.” How to crush a conscience.

Consider that someone, who has many of these sociopathic tendencies, says, “If you worry about the effects of your sociopathic behavior, make your worries a goal.” For example, if you are worried that someone might commit suicide because of your damaging sociopathic actions, then make it a goal that that person should commit suicide. Another example might be if you are concerned that someone will withdraw from life because of your sociopathic actions, then make it a goal to get that person to withdraw.

            Yes, this is unusual. How does this fit in? It obviously makes things worse. But here is an interesting thought. Maybe this sociopath not only has no conscience, but also has a drive to crush or suppress conscience. If you worry that some of your actions will have a bad effect, then one way to suppress that feeling of responsible guilt is to turn it around and hope for it to happen. This suppresses a conscience! Could it be that the brain of a sociopath somehow does not have a conscience because it is suppressed? Could this be a valid insight?

6. “Those accusations are lies.” Dishonesty, deflection and no guilt.

Suppose someone (AWARE) knows about a long series of improper actions by a sociopath (SOC). AWARE realizes how damaging SOC’s behavior has been and tells various people how SOC has been hurting members of the community. SOC then realizes what AWARE is doing and decides to stop AWARE in any way possible. SOC decides that denial of the charges is essential as a first step. Second, SOC decides that the best defense is a good offense and plans to accuse AWARE of many wrongdoings that deflect from SOC’s own guilt.

            Consider the first strategy of countering AWARE with lies. SOC is an intelligent person and considers how to lie best. SOC discovers an article in a major media source which says that the best liars are those who appear totally convinced that what they are saying is true. The article goes into the psychology of it and SOC becomes convinced that lying is a skill that must be mastered. SOC then practices and studies how to lie in a totally convincing manor, and it seems to work! When AWARE accuses SOC of unscrupulous behavior, SOC immediately says, “I didn’t do that” in a very believable way.  Practiced and confident lying without regret or guilt is a strong tool of the sociopath. Remember, they do not experience guilt like the rest of us. Maybe something is missing in their brain so lying is no big deal.

            Now for the second part which consists of blaming AWARE to deflect from the wrong doings of SOC. If somebody says to SOC that, “Hey, you did this to AWARE and cheated him.”  SOC would reply, “No, AWARE is lying, and AWARE has done worse, such as….”  This doesn’t really address the accusations against SOC. Nevertheless, this deflection or distraction may be done often and well enough that SOC avoids having to answer for many wrongs. Combining the strategy of practiced lying with accusations and deflection is unfortunately powerful. Be careful.

            Another example of exaggeration and distortion might be that VIC, who is not much of a drinker of alcohol, did get slightly tipsy (3 drinks) on an occasion, and SOC finds out about it. SOC then tells people that VIC is an alcoholic and has a DUI on this record, and this is known because SOC saw VIC’s medical records. But none of this is true. Of course, it is against HIPAA regulations for anyone to have access to another’s medical records. SOC lies a lot.

If VIC sees a counselor for a minor problem and SOC hears about it, Then SOC claims VIC has a catastrophic mental illness, which is of course a practiced exaggeration and intentional lie. They see no problem with “gaslighting,” which is trying to get someone to doubt their own sanity.

If VIC writes something revealing about SOC, then SOC immediately points out all of the grammatical errors in the writing. This a deflection from the content or real message of what is written.

            On another occasion, SOC becomes aware that many women at VIC’s workplace are attracted to VIC. VIC sometimes pays attention to them, perhaps ogling the most attractive (which is very annoying). SOC, who doesn’t like this, then claims that VIC is a philanderer and even a sex offender! But a check reveals that VIC is not a sex offender and has not had any relationships with women at his workplace. Such unfounded accusations are damaging to VIC. But no apologies are made by SOC because, of course, this is an intentional strategy by SOC.

Also consider this. When you ask a sociopath why they did a terrible thing, they might twist it, blame you, and say, “Well you didn’t stop me, so I assumed it was OK. It’s your fault just as much as it is mine.”

Deflection is a powerful tool that can prevent any useful conversation. But don’t go for it. Stay focused on your question.

            You can never trust what a sociopath says or implies. Even if it sounds true, be sure to check it out, especially with the victim. Lying and distortions are major tools of sociopaths. Beginning to see the lies and distortions is a step in protecting yourself and the community. Many of us tend to believe what we hear, which is a problem.

7. “You had better not tell VIC or you’ll be sorry.” Bullying and controlling others.

While SOC often uses hurtful lies about VIC as part of the plan to discredit VIC, SOC eventually learns that threats that create fear work better in controlling others, and that threats may be a more effective tool against VIC and others. Lying is OK, but threats are better!!

            Threats seem most effective when combined with some knowledge of the person being threatened. Perhaps that person has something in his/her background that is embarrassing. SOC will threaten to make that known. SOC wants to control others by any means.

            Another means of controlling and bullying might be for SOC to convince others in the community to somehow belittle VIC. It could be by keeping secrets from VIC, or by doing some repeated damage to VIC, perhaps minor. AND, once someone has done something to VIC, then SOC controls them with threats of making their actions known to VIC. “If VIC finds out what you did, VIC will really retaliate and hurt you, so don’t help VIC!” Control, control, threats, threats.

            SOC was feeling confident of these sociopathic methods, and was not seeing anything wrong with them. SOC goes on to tell others how effective lies and threats like these can be. SOC recommends using lies and threats and sees nothing wrong with it as a strategy. SOC is actually annoyed with people who like to tell the truth. SOC tells others they can use SOC’s strategies to become powerful. “Don’t you want to be powerful? Do it my way. Use lies and threats.” SOC says create fear in others and they will leave you alone.

More examples of other controlling maneuvers:


a. A controlling opening to a conversation might be something like “I have been investigating VIC for years and I know the VIC best. VIC has done ….” This is a claim of infallible expertise which may even be partly true, but the SOC may still use information in an inappropriate way. For example, SOC may violate promised confidentiality or distort and exaggerate the findings. SOC wants to control your opinion of the VIC.

b. Yet another maneuver is to get bystanders to repeat, out loud, things that SOC wants bystanders to believe. It has been shown by psychologists that if someone simply says out loud something that they did not fully believe before, then they are moved in the direction of believing it. So, SOC might have someone say, “I dislike VIC;” then the bystander will be moved in the direction of disking VIC even though it was not totally true before the statement. Beware if you are asked to repeat something out loud, particularly if it is something that might influence your opinion of someone.

c. SOC might say “I’ll get VIC when VIC gets old (and helpless).” This maintains the feeling of control and bullying even though they can’t get VIC right now.

d. SOC might get others to say annoying or hurtful things to you (VIC). This is another means of showing that they are in control. They want to be able to bully you and “rattle your cage.” But everyone needs to be careful; don’t be used by a sociopath or become an accomplice.

e. SOC, who is very clever and uses every trick in the books, wants to win, and they win by lying, manipulation and control. They might say, “I won it fair and square.” But fair and square to them likely means lies, deceptions, distortions, threats, and damages of various kinds. The sociopath needs to feel in control.

8. “No one can defy me!” Grandiosity.

Grandiosity is a trait that psychotherapists take note of. Grandiosity refers to an unrealistic sense of superiority in which someone considers themselves unique and better than others. Grandiosity is a symptom of various mental health disorders.

It is almost ludicrous when someone says emphatically, “You can’t stop me. No one can!”  Or “No one can defy me!” People may wonder if, in fact, it is true. But after a short time, people will see through the grandiosity. Remember that individuals with personality disorders believe many things that simply aren’t true. Maybe these disordered people just can’t see it with the brain they have. Don’t be taken in by such groundless and manipulative braggadocios even if they clearly believe it.

9. How do they survive? Narcissism and the pity play.

How do sociopaths get along in life? If they are so troublesome, why are they still around? The answer is an important one for us to be aware of.

            Imagine that someone is aware of the unfair and damaging tactics of a sociopath and speaks up about it. They confront (CONFRONTER) the sociopath and bring up point after point very emphatically. But then they notice that SOC is sobbing quietly, yes sobbing (Can they sob at will?). So, CONFRONTER stops berating and listens. SOC goes on to say how they are the real victims. It’s so bad that they can’t get a job, their children avoid them, and they have few friends. These comments may be so convincing that the CONFRONTER may be affected and converted to a supporter who is rooting for SOC! Sociopaths can be pitying, engaging, authoritative, and very believable. They will turn you around by manipulating you.

Remember, the pity play is an essential tool of the sociopath. Regular people find it hard to accept that it is a tactic rather than sincere. Watch out for this and don’t fall for it.

They also survive, or even thrive, on the approval of others. They may present a picture that is false, but if you show belief or even a little sympathy, they get nourished. Avoid those situations and avoid sociopaths all together to be safe.

            There is a story associated with this topic. Maybe the root cause of sociopathy is a brain that is wired differently, and this aberrant wiring is caused by faulty inherited “sociopathic genes.” Well, because the sociopathic person is not responsible, they hardly care about birth control or the circumstances of their partner. They just think of themselves, want immediate gratification, have sex, and procreate. Thus, the hypothetical “sociopathic genes” stay in the gene pool and are passed on and on by irresponsible partners. The hypothetical sociopathic genes produce the kind of behavior that keeps them around.

10. What to do with Sociopaths. Can they be helped?

Can they be cured? Many feel that a cure is very difficult. Counseling and psychological help is a mainstay of treatment and a place to start. The exact treatment plan will vary with the person and circumstances. But the very nature of the illness can prevent serious engagement in treatment. They might feel that there is no reason to be there. A sociopath might be recommended to treatment, and they may go. But they are likely to manipulate the therapist. The therapist may then feel that the patient has been wronged by others, and then praise the sociopath for being a survivor. Nevertheless, a therapist who specializes in sociopathy and is willing to do a long-range treatment plan could be helpful and may be the sociopath’s best chance. As a human being they deserve a chance, and they should have it. Treatment of co-existing problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and others are likely to be helpful to the sociopath. Many would pray for them.

Maybe the family therapy approach would be helpful. Get all the sociopath’s acquaintances involved in the treatment. They can help keep the patient out of trouble. A community can be quite effective in controlling some of its members. Maybe an admission of wrongdoing by the sociopath and an effort to make amends for damages is an important part of rehabilitation.

Maybe in some cases the sociopath has been very hurt by another and has a real grievance. This could be factored into the treatment. But even if the sociopath has been hurt by someone, it does not give them the right to use unscrupulous sociopathic behaviors and methods to retaliate. Resolving hurts in appropriate ways is important.

11. How do we protect ourselves?

Well, let us summarize what we are up against. Sociopaths are different. They do not seem to feel guilt, remorse, or empathy. They may not feel the difference between right and wrong. They won’t respect the feelings and emotions of others. There are calloused and arrogant. They have difficulty appreciating the negative aspects of their behaviors. They do not feel that they miss positive ethical qualities; rather they operate in a self-serving world where they sometimes think they are the victims!! They take advantage of people around them and use them. When confronted, they will minimize the damage they did, even though the damage might be serious. They have a good ability to identify someone they can use and take advantage of. They employ pathological lying, conning, distortion, and deflection. They consider themselves above the laws, social conventions, and moral principles. They want to dominate you and sometimes play with you. We need to be aware of the pity play which is their best tool for survival. Many of them are amazingly clever actors.

It is to be emphasized that sociopathic behaviors vary in intensity from individual to individual, from time to time, and perhaps from situation to situation. Many people feel that they have never met a real sociopath. A damaging behavior can be a onetime occurrence or an honest mistake. Perhaps many sociopaths are relatively harmless, and the term “sociopath” should only be applied with great care. But if someone is sociopathic towards you, even if not to others, then you have a problem, and hopefully this essay will help. These behaviors do occur at least to some degree, are hurtful, and cause suffering. There is a reason why they are recognized and described in the “readings” above. You may need to deal with them.

            Collectively, many victims and mental health professionals have spent decades thinking about this. How can we defend ourselves? Some strategies are as follows.

a) Avoid sociopaths. If you don’t need to be involved with them, don’t be. Define boundaries in your life that excludes them in all ways possible. Don’t be used. You must protect yourself and your community even if you feel sorry for them.

b) If you must have contact with such people, keep it to a minimum, avoid personal disclosures, and don’t be alone with them.

c) Sociopaths want your approval and sympathy. They feed and thrive on it! Be aware it is fuel for their evil actions.

d) Talking with them about the situation is dangerous. They will turn it around to their unscrupulous advantage. It will end up being about you.

e) Because sociopaths cause a significant amount of damage and suffering, you should notify your community. Don’t be guilty of failing to warn your neighbors.

f) Express disapproval to sociopaths. If you don’t, they may say that their actions are your fault because you didn‘t say, “Don’t.” Also, if you don’t disapprove, you may be partly responsible for the damage they do. If what they say sounds true, be sure to check it out, especially with the victims.

g) Be especially careful if they are very unstable, prone to violence, or simply can’t stop doing damage. Consider going to the police, getting restraining orders, or exploring committing them to psychiatric care. A sociopath’s comments like “hurt them” or “burn their house down” obviously cross the line. Include enablers in your concerns. Invite witnesses to come forward.

h) Do not let sociopathic attacks ruin your life. Stay emotionally positive. Consider that you are on a mission of good against the evil of sociopaths. But be aware, they are likely to label you as the evil one and them as the victim.

i) If you are kind, supportive and good to others, consider that a sociopath will use you, and you may be your own worst enemy. Recognize when you are offering some good that is helpful to another versus offering some good that ends up feeding a devil.

j) Try to forgive and sooth other victims of sociopaths, especially when they are decent people who have fallen for the deceptions of the sociopath.

k) If you are attacked, don’t go it alone. Find supporters who understand what you up against. A community can help control its members. Supportive therapy may be useful.

l) Help what we are calling a sociopath when you can. Professional help may be the place to start. All human beings deserve a chance to do better. But keep your distance, especially if such help can somehow be twisted against you.

“Beware the person who stabs you and then tells the world they’re the one who’s bleeding.”  (Jill Blakeway. Brainy Readers)

“…when we condition ourselves to see only the good, we… leave the door open for evil to rise.” (David Roppo. Picture quotes)