In order to deal with a sociopathic friend there are certain aspects of the sociopath that you need to keep at the front of your mind. Also important are the circumstances of the friendship, for example, it may be that you have been friends since childhood or you were in an intimate relationship with this person and you remained friends afterwards and you have just realized recently that this person is a sociopath.
I am assuming here that you know the characteristics of a sociopath and that you have already decided that your friend is a sociopath so I won't be talking about how to spot a sociopath.
If you have to deal with a sociopathic friend, it's important to understand how the sociopaths think about friendships. When you read what they write about these things, a common theme is that relationships are like possessions to them. Other people are like objects to be owned, used and disposed of when they are boring, broken or no longer of benefit. They think like this, obviously, because of their lack of socializing emotions, their lack of empathy and caring for others.
They often say how they calculate the usefulness of somebody to them and then maintain the relationship as long as the person continues to be of benefit. If the victim becomes more trouble than they are worth, if the sociopath considers that the effort they are expending is more than the benefit they receive, then the sociopath moves on to the next person.
One sociopath pointed out that when bullies gain power they actually make enemies but a sociopath gains power by making friends! There are a couple of important points here. Firstly, this does not mean that many bullies are not sociopaths or psychopaths. (It is after all a sociopath's opinion.) Secondly, it gives a good insight into how sociopaths think about others. If they can make friends and get people to do things because of that, it gives them not only a sense of power but also real power over people. After all, we like and trust our friends and we believe that they have our best interests at heart. This does give them some power over us because we believe what they say and will often follow their advice. We make concessions and compromises for our friends and expect that they will do the same. (This is, in fact, one of the ways that sociopaths take advantage of others, by not actually returning the favors.)
Robert Hare, the author of the seminal work, Without Conscience, points out that psychopaths do not have friends, they have victims and accomplices, and eventually the accomplices become victims, too.
One psychopathic cult leader explained how he thought of relationships like this. He said that the level of the relationship was actually at the level at which the person who was contributing the least was working at. So if one person is giving 99% to their relationship and the other person is giving 15%, then the level of relationship is at 15%, not 99%, irrespective of what the person giving 99% thinks is going on.
This perfectly describes a cult situation where the members can be giving their all to the group/the leader and the leader is doing the bare minimum to keep the members engaged. The same thing applies in families where a parent is a sociopath, or in a work situation, or in a friendship with a sociopath. It indicates that the sociopath is fully aware of what they are doing, that they are knowingly calculating what they need to do and say in order to keep the 'friend' involved in the relationship.
This idea is also seen in the writings of other sociopaths where they describe how they hide some aspects of themselves from those they want to keep around. They understand that if they treat the people closest to them very badly then they will lose out on certain benefits and favors so they train themselves to 'tone it down' a bit so as not to appear too callous and calculating.
If you are wondering about how to deal with a sociopathic friend, it's important to understand how your 'friend' is thinking about you, because chances are that it's worlds apart from the way you think!
An important characteristic of sociopaths is irresponsibility and this shows up in various ways. They have no sense of obligation in keeping their word, they don't think that societies rules and regulations apply to them and they take significant risks.
All these things significantly influence any relationship they have. If you have to deal with a sociopathic friend you can expect that they will commit to things but then change their minds if it suits them, they will lie to you and there will be no loyalty whatsoever. Sociopaths are typically only loyal to themselves and this is often built into their own personal code of conduct, whenever they admit to having such a thing. This lack of loyalty often feels like a betrayal to the so-called friends of sociopaths where the sociopath may spend time with someone you have fallen out with, they drop you at the last minute to go and do an activity with someone else just because they fancy it and so on.
Ignoring societal and legal rules means that the sociopath may be involved in illegal things or ethically questionable stuff. This often causes problems for their friends where the friends are actively involved in questionable behavior or the friends are blamed for said behavior.
And, of course, getting caught up in the sociopath's risky behavior can also have severe consequences for the friend.
Sociopaths will typically cause chaos in the lives of those around them and you can expect to be on a permanent roller-coaster in terms of emotions when you are in a relationship with a sociopath. The sociopaths often use this as a way to keep people off balance, reeling from one problem to another and unable to think. When you are experiencing strong emotions it's almost impossible to think rationally or critically and this prevents you from reflecting on the relationship as a whole and whether you actually want to be in it or not.
The other thing you may notice is that you are constantly busy in the relationship, both mentally trying to figure out what exactly is happening as well as physically, doing things for the sociopath as well as running around after them trying to fix things for them.
You have realized that you have been taken advantage of, used, lied to, criticized, humiliated, made to feel bad for speaking up and so on, but a very significant aspect of all this is that you have been programmed to accept all of this.
Your family or other friends may have said to you already that you should get rid of this person, or you have thought it yourself. But despite all the abuse and upset, you kept coming back to this person hoping that things would improve even knowing at some level that there would be more problems in the future. Why is this? It's because of how the sociopath changes you at quite a profound level.
What sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists do in relationships with others is to destroy the victim's personality, impose changes and then freeze this new personality in place. All the criticism of who you are, blaming you for anything that goes wrong, the humiliation, the belittling, the arguments about the same thing over and over, all of these things destroy your self esteem, make you feel bad about yourself and cause you to doubt yourself. Your identity, your personality takes a severe beating and lots of people end up not liking themselves very much.
The manipulator also puts in place a system of rewards and punishments in order to change your behavior, your thinking and your decision making. When you do something that they don’t want or like, there is a punishment of some sort. This can be anything from a shouting match to withdrawal from you to physical violence. When you do as the manipulator wishes, there may be a reward or simply the absence of punishment. In this way the manipulator teaches you how they want you to be around them.
In this way, your behavior changes, your actions change and your thinking and decision making changes according to the wishes of the sociopath. The constant reinforcement from the sociopath begins to freeze these changes in place so that your friends and family begin to tell you that you have changed, and not for the better, since you started with this so called friend.
This new personality is called a pseudopersonality, or false personality because it is imposed upon you by the manipulator and it dominates but never completely destroys your real personality. If you have ever felt that you are at war with yourself because of having to deal with a sociopathic friend, then this description of the pseudopersonality helps to explain that. Your real personality wants to get away from the abuse but the pseudopersonality is programmed to be dependent on the manipulator and you have to stay because you can't imagine not being with the sociopath. The real personality does not trust the sociopath but the pseudopersonality is programmed to believe everything they way and not to question or criticize them and this causes internal conflicts.
The real personality wants to do it's own thing sometimes but the pseudopersonality is programmed to put the sociopath's wants and needs first. This is why many people who have to deal with a sociopathic friend have difficulty saying 'no'. You will also find yourself revealing a huge amount about yourself to the sociopath while they may tell you very little about what they do or where they go when you are not around.
The sociopath won't necessarily be thinking in terms of pseudopersonalities or mind control but the actions and effects of sociopaths have so much in common that these ideas or descriptions of what happens are a very useful way to explain what goes on in a relationship with a sociopath.
Many of these programmed patterns work in all areas of your life and not just in relation to the sociopath. The reason is that the pseudopersonality and the programmed responses are put in place with very, very strong influence techniques and they literally take over your life and every aspect of it. You may find that you have drifted away from your other friends and even your family to spend more and more time with the sociopath, or just waiting for the sociopath to get back in contact with you. To a large extent the sociopath dominates your life and may even have become the purpose of your life. Even when you are not together, the sociopath is in your head a lot of the time!
This pseudopersonality means that you are literally programmed to tolerate the abuse of the sociopath and much of the bad behavior becomes 'normal' for you because there is so much of it. You actually get used to the abuse and your criteria change so that you no longer consider it abuse but rather it simply becomes the way life is. Even when others tell you that things are not right you may even defend the sociopath. This is also part of the programming of the pseudopersonality.
So bearing in mind that the sociopath is abusing you, doesn't care about you, is incapable of love, is never going to change and has destroyed your personality so that you take care of them (even if you can't see all these things yet), you really have to make a choice. And the choice is whether you stay in the relationship or end it.
This is not an easy thing to do when someone has been manipulated by a sociopath but it's very important to do it. Some people cannot make the choice and end up losing years more of their life to the sociopath. Some people choose to stay, despite knowing all the above, and the fact is that they continue to suffer. It doesn't matter how much you know or how much you try to protect yourself, being in a relationship with a sociopath means that you will be abused and taken advantage of.
A person who continues to deal with a sociopathic friend loses. Despite any benefits you think you may be getting from the relationship, the price you pay for that is very high, too high. I know that this is black and white thinking but sometimes in life things are actually black and white and this is a situation where it pays to be judgmental. There are lots of ideas out there about 'managing' the sociopath or narcissist and all they do is set you up for more abuse and heartache.
To decide that you no longer want to deal with a sociopathic friend, that you want out, is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes people need to learn more about the characteristics of sociopaths and how they use mind control to manipulate before they can even make that decision. Others may be at the point where they can tolerate no more and leaving is easier for them. Others may actually be in danger and they need to run away and just pick up the pieces later.
Once you decide to leave, a complete break is by far and away the best thing to do. This means no contact, no meetings, no calls, no emails, no messages, nothing! Not even messages through friends. The reason is that as long as you have contact with the sociopath it means that they have the opportunity to reinforce your pseudopersonality and this makes it very difficult to get away altogether.
They have spent years manipulating you to be the way they want you to be and they often they won't give up easily. They may try all sorts of things to get you back. Most of what they say is lies and it's all designed to tug on your heart strings and make you feel bad for abandoning them. But keep in mind that you are not actually abandoning them, you are escaping them to protect yourself, to stop the abuse and to get your life back.
Working with someone who is an expert in this field is important if you want to get rid of that pseudopersonality that was imposed on you. Remember that it was put in place with very strong influence techniques which means that it does not disappear on it's own just because you are away from the sociopath. It actually persists and causes problems of all sorts, trust issues, memory and concentration problems, emotional problems, sleep disturbances, difficulty making decisions and so on. Some of these may improve a bit over time but unless you work to get rid of the pseudopersonality it doesn't simply undo itself. In fact, it is programmed to protect itself and stop you from finding out what the sociopath was really like.
I mentioned earlier that the context of the sociopathic friend was important. If you met the sociopath when you were 25, for example, then you will have had 25 years where your real personality was allowed to develop and grow. Leaving the relationship means that you can look back on those 25 years to see how you really were before the sociopath began to change your personality. If, however, you have known the sociopath since you were very young, they will have been molding your personality since then and your real personality won't have been given the chance to develop. This means that re-establishing your identity is more complex and requires more effort on your part. Again, an expert in this area is invaluable in leading you through this process.
This will feel strange to you because you are so used to looking after others but you really need to ask yourself what is best for you. And right now, it's best to make this decisions logically and not emotionally. The sociopath has trained you to make decisions emotionally, if it feels bad, don't do it and if it feels good, do it. This typically works to the sociopath's advantage.
Breaking up with the sociopath will feel bad, often very bad. But you have to override those bad feelings and think about what is best for you. Ask other friends and family members what they think is best for you. When they say that splitting up with this friend is what you need to do, pay close attention. They do actually have your best interests at heart. Because your own decision making may be so distorted as we have seen above, it's important that you give weight to the decisions of those who have not been affected by the sociopath.
One more (significant!) thing about the pseudopersonality... sociopaths are very good at reading people and Robert Hare says that your face, words and body language are your autobiography, written in large type. If you have a pseudopersonality it is as obvious to a sociopath as if you had it tattooed on your forehead. This makes you a very easy target for any sociopath, psychopath or narcissist you meet in the future. You need to undo the damage done to you in order to avoid being captured again in the future.
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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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