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What is a Sociopath?

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Fact From Fiction...

Dahmer, Bundy, Gacy.

The very names of these selected sociopaths have the power to send chills down our spines.

They are the people of nightmares and horror films, but thankfully they are relatively rare in real life. These sociopaths are at the extreme end of the spectrum of sociopathic disorders; on one end, we find the sick and twisted, but on the other we find people who appear mostly normal, and are often quite successful.

A sociopath is not necessarily evil, though fiction tends to portray them as such.

We are familiar with Hannibal Lecter as the sociopathic stereotype, but if you have ever seen the television show "House," you may not realize it but the snarky main character is also a classic sociopath. Or consider Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, Batman, Yes, Batman.

In her book, "The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless vs. the Rest of Us", author Martha Stout Ph.D. claims that 1 in 25 people are sociopath, the National Institute for Mental Health believes that number to be more like 1 in 100. There could easily be a sociopath in your neighborhood and you would never know it. As long as you learn to recognize them and avoid them as much as possible.

Please keep in mind that even professionals can';t diagnose all sociopaths. Many therapists have been taken in by them as well. Just because you don't particularly like someone does not mean they are a sociopath. Some people want to diagnose anyone who has hurt them as a sociopath, but this really isn't the case. If they feel guilt or remorse, then they are not a sociopath. Some people can be just plain jerks!

However, the book "The Sociopath Next Door" by Martha Stout can help you recognize a possible sociopath, and tell you what to do if you suspect one has wormed their way into your life.

Rule One: Keep Your Distance

Entering into a relationship with a sociopath can be physically, emotionally and even financially exhausting. You never truly have a relationship with a sociopath, you give and they take, it is that simple. So what exactly is a sociopath?

Diagnostic Criteria

In order to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, (DSM-IV), the following diagnostic criteria MUST be met:

1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those rights considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:

A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.

B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.

C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.

D. Repeated assaults on others.

E. Reckless when it comes to their or others' safety.

F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.

G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.

2. At least eighteen years in age.

3. Evidence of a conduct disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.

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4. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.

Sociopaths have what is known as "antisocial personality disorders," marked by a blatant disregard for and violation of the rights of others.

They are people without a conscience, and no real regard for right and wrong. Deceit and manipulation are often present. Inability to love or have meaningful interpersonal relationship is also common.

Other symptoms may or not be present, including:

Ability to appear normal on the surface

Truly see nothing wrong with themselves

Nothing is ever their fault

Justifies their actions

Deep need for the respect, love, and gratitude of others

Superficiality, false charm

Inflated sense of self and superiority

Narcissism, excessive self-love

Self-importance not based on achievements

Lack of emotional depth, surface only

Incapable of normal human attachment

Relationships are a tool to get what they want

Lack of empathy

Contempt for those who seek to understand them

Authoritarian and domineering

Secretive and paranoid, worst fear is to be found out

Lack of remorse, guilt, or shame

Need for stimulation

Impulsive behaviors, lack of personal control

Irresponsible and unreliable

Promiscuity, infidelity

Parasitic lifestyle, they live off of others

Goals for life are inflated and unrealistic

Possess a wide range of skills used at the expense of others (criminal and/or entrepreneurial)

Seek total control over the lives of chosen victims

Attempt to create a willing victim

Assign their own behaviors to their victim

Sociopaths and Psychopaths

Are they the same thing?

In the strictest sense, a psychopath and a sociopath are not the same thing, though many use the terms interchangeably.

Psychopathy is generally considered biological in origin, while sociopathy is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental influences. In other words, psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made.

Some also make the distinction based on the severity and extent of the sadism. Where a serial killer would be considered a psychopath, your neighbor probably wouldn't, at least one would hope not.

So in some circles it might just depend on the extent of danger they pose to their fellow man. A run-in with a sociopath might be painful but tangling with a true psychopath could very well be deadly.

In studying serial killers and sociopaths in general, you will find a need for power and control at the root of the disorders. The sociopath lives in a fantasy world of their own making, and they have a real problem with anything that causes them to break that fantasy hold even for a moment.

In their fantasy it always goes perfectly, and the victim is a passive part of that fantasy. Many serial killers don't necessarily begin with the intent of killing someone. They begin with a fantasy of total control, often seeing the victim as a doll or other object worthy of no more respect than a cockroach.

Unfortunately for most victims, they break that illusion, and it angers the sociopath so deeply that they unintentionally kill their first victim. Only then can we tell the true psychopath from the sociopath.

Each article you read on the subject has a different qualification for this difference, and some deny a difference at all, only qualifying different levels of sociopathy. Either way, the last thing you want to end up as is the victim of someone who only views you in terms of their own fantasy world. The minute you act contrary to that fantasy, things get ugly fast.

The Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door

Your Experiences

Have you ever dealt with a sociopath?

Since sociopaths are takers, they tend to be attracted to givers.

If you are assertive and can stand up for yourself, they wont want to tangle with you. Don't live your life as a doormat, or they will take the invitation to wipe their feet on you.

Let's say you are pretty sure you have had a run-in with a sociopath. What do you do about it?

Do your best to avoid them socially.

If it is someone that you are in a more intimate relationship with, cut off ties. It sounds harsh, but you have to take care of you, and a sociopath will do everything in their power to see that that does not happen.

If it is someone you cannot escape, such as a family member, limit your contact with them and seek help from a professional in dealing with them.

There are various support groups both online and off. Find one and participate.

Sociopaths thrive on being the center of attention. Don't give them that opportunity. It may be your life, but to them it is just a game, and they will find a way to win it at all costs. You will lose, so don't willingly lose any more than you have to.

Sociopaths seek drama. Do not give it to them. Conversations will get twisted, actions will be misconstrued, and you can bet they will come out looking like the victim. No matter what you do, they will insist that you have violated them in some way, so don't even give them that chance.

Don't wait around for a sociopath to experience guilt, shame, or remorse for their actions. It will not happen. They don't see anything wrong with themselves. They may fake emotions for a short time, but will continue the same behaviors.

Do not ever give a suspected sociopath access to your money or belongings.

That seems pretty obvious, but this is where most people get conned.

Many sociopaths are pros at conning people. They have can't-miss business opportunities, financial troubles that only you can cure, they just need a little bit to see them through.

Be on the lookout for those red flags and don't ignore them.

Sociopaths often present themselves as experts and work very hard to earn your trust. Before you give anyone your money, check them out. This is especially important online where you can't always get a real feel for them.

Don't just accept the references they give you. Do a search and find out for yourself if they have any skeletons.

Criminal records are public record. Call the courthouse and get a copy of their record before you do any sort of business with them. Don't forget to check in other states where you know they have lived.

A sociopath is very good at only allowing the world to see what they want to be seen. Beware if they present themselves as perfect and never making any mistakes, and are secretive about their past.

If you can avoid it, never get into a legal battle with a sociopath. They are accomplished liars, and will have the court eating out of their hand in no time. It will cost you a great deal of time and money, and in the end all it does is further your stress.

If you begin to suspect you are dealing with a sociopath and things are getting ugly, document, document, document. Save every bit of correspondence from them, carry a tape recorder, and videotape their tantrums. Keep a journal record of all interactions no matter how small; they are admissible in court.

Finally, whatever you do, do not try to get even with them.

You are playing by a set of rules, they are making up the rules as they go. While you may be a law abiding citizen, they will have no problem breaking the law. While you are bound by conscience, they have none.

As soon as you begin to suspect you might be dealing with a sociopath, RUN.

Sociopath Support Groups

If you are struggling to survive with a sociopath in your life, or trying to recover from a relationship with one in the past, there are many support groups online to aid you. You don't have to deal with it alone, nor should you.

Get Out and Stay Safe

"Never wrestle with a pig. You will both get dirty, but the pig will like it."

A sociopath can and will destroy your life if you let them, and they will enjoy doing it. The most important thing of all is take care of yourself. Do not allow stubbornness or pride to take you in even further. Knowing when to walk away can be your most important tool when dealing with a sociopath. Use it, and live to fight another day.

Nobody should be involved in a relationship that continually drains them of time, energy, or money, and gives nothing back. No amount of vindication is worth it.

Just trust me on this one.

10 Tips for Dealing With a Sociopath

EDon't Feed the Drama Queen

As I have already said, not even professionals can diagnose a sociopath, so I wont even begin to say, "Yes, I certainly have dealt with a sociopath personally."

I do however have some experience with sociopathic behaviors.

I know what it is like to be sucked into a paranoid delusional nightmare where someone else is King, and I am merely a pawn. Just when I think I know the rules, the whole game turns upside-down.

I tried everything to cope with it, and nothing seemed to work. I felt like I was living in the world's longest episode of The Twilight Zone. I could not trust anything I saw, hear, spoke, or experienced. Anything could and would be turned around and used against me.

My life was totally out of my control for a time. I was afraid to leave my home, afraid to drive my car. I gave into fear and it ruled me.

So I finally figured out what did work.

1. Grow a thick skin - The things they are saying are intended to hurt, so why should I give them exactly what they want? They can and will attack, but it is up to me whether I am going to take it to heart or not. Yes, it hurts. Some things hurt worse than others, but just because someone hates me does not mean I am not loved, or unworthy of love.

2. Keep yourself accountable - If I slip up, break the law, or even say something I shouldn't, they will be there pointing their finger at me. So I've learned to watch my step in everything I do. They keep me accountable, and that isn't such a bad thing.

3. Be responsible for your actions - If I do slip up, I can make excuses and place the blame elsewhere, or I can take the adult route: I can take responsibility for my own actions. It really isn't that hard to say, "Yes, I did this and I shouldn't have. I really screwed up!" I've had to do it a lot, but so far it hasn't killed me!

4. Let each person decide for themselves - Some people are going to believe the things other people tell them about me. I have no control over that. Yet it turns out most people are far smarter than other people give them credit for. Most people see right through it on their own!

5. Be proactive instead of reactive - At first, I just waited for things to happen, then reacted. Now, if something seems fishy to me, I respond to it. I head it off at the pass. I protect myself first, and try to avoid it if I can. If I can't, I try to be proactive, to contact people myself and clear up misunderstandings before they have a chance to get blown out of proportion.

6. Know the truth - I used to ache to prove that someone was lying, and so often I could prove it if someone, anyone would just listen. I discovered that most people really and truly don't want to be a part of it. So, I have learned that as long as I know the truth, that is enough.

7. The power of choice - Just because I have been invited to play the game doesn't mean I am required to respond. I have the choice as to how I will react no matter what the situation. I can respond, but I can also walk away, ignore it, or channel that energy into something more constructive.

8. Detach yourself emotionally from the situation - Learning how to observe the situation from a position of emotional detachment relieves a great deal of the stress. Seeing a grown adult scream and call you names is really rather silly when you can avoid taking it personally.

9. Live your life - Even if they refuse to go on with their life, you can always go on with yours. Some people just seem to get stuck in a certain phase of their life, the revenge phase, the seek and destroy phase, the victim phase... whichever phase it is, they need you to keep it going. You don't have to play. You can pick up your toys and go home anytime you wish. Yes, they will keep trying to pull you back in, but they need your permission to do it. Keep your focus on your life where it belongs, and the rest fades into the background.

10 Succeed - It took me far too long to realize this, but the best revenge really is not just going on with your own life, but actually succeeding. The last thing they want is for you to be happy, so the best revenge is just making the most out of your life. Be happy!