When looking at the profile of the sociopath, there are a couple of important factors to keep in mind. First of all, there is no stereotypical sociopath. Some sociopaths put in the time and effort to become the CEO of a major corporation while some sociopaths are pure parasites who have never done a days work in their lives but have a mother or a girlfriend who provide everything they need to be able to spend all their time on the sofa watching TV. Some sociopaths are involved in frequent brushes with the law while other sociopaths seem like they are upstanding members of the community. Some sociopaths want to have big groups that they control (cult leaders, politicians) while others may be happy to dominate only one or two people. Some sociopaths are very sexually active and others have little or no interest in sex at all. Some of them are continuously honing their manipulation skills and others are too lazy to bother.
It's very common that a person who has been caught in a relationship with a sociopath thinks that they know what a sociopath is like and how they behave. They are on the lookout for anyone who is like their ex and they will avoid them like the plague. The problem is that the next manipulative man that they meet may not be like their ex partner and before they know what's happening they end up in another abusive relationship.
The second, and equally important, issue is that if you are dealing with a sociopath, and you have not undone the control and manipulation, when you look at the profile of the sociopath you may think that some of the traits or characteristics don't actually fit the sociopath that you are currently with. This is very significant. It is vital that you can recognize that your partner is a sociopath because it has a profound effect on how you need to deal with the situation. Being involved with a sociopath is not the same as being involved with someone who is jealous, or a person who is a 'player' or someone who simply has difficulty expressing their emotions. Being in a relationship with a sociopath means the rules are different.
The reasons the victim cannot see that their partner fits the profile of the sociopath are several. Many people still believe that a sociopath is a serial killer or a serial rapist. They don't actually know what a sociopath is. If someone tells them straight out that their partner is a sociopath it is typically too big a leap for the victim to make and they will just dismiss the information outright.
Another aspect of this is that the victim is programmed to believe that the sociopath is a nice person who loves them and is taking care of them. The victim's first impressions of the sociopath are very strong because of the love bombing they were subjected to at the start of the relationship. The beliefs that the victim has are very strong, typically stronger than other normal beliefs, strong enough that the victim will often even deny reality to keep their beliefs intact.
The victims of sociopaths have had their personalities destroyed and a new, false one superimposed on them. You can read more about this pseudopersonality here. This pseudopersonality is programmed to believe the sociopath, to trust them and to think that the sociopath cares about them and is actually helping and taking care of them. The pseudopersonality is also programmed to defend the manipulator and cannot tolerate criticism of the manipulator. It will typically defend the sociopath if anyone else tries to point out the nasty side of the sociopath. The pseudopersonality has all sorts of reasons and justifications for the abuse being doled out by the sociopath. This programming makes it very difficult for the victim to recognize how their partner actually fits the profile of the sociopath.
The thinking of the victim has also been severely narrowed and distorted by the sociopath so that it's often incredibly difficult for the victim to see the contradictions in the words and the actions of the sociopath. They may be unable to recognize that the sociopath's calling them horrible names does not belong on a list of 'loving behaviors', or that when the sociopath apologizes for something but then does that very thing again 5 minutes later that this is incompatible with the idea that the sociopath has any respect for them.
All these things make it extremely difficult for a victim to recognize that the person that they may still love is actually emotionally abusing them. They literally cannot see that the behavior they are forced to tolerate is abusive and doesn’t actually fit with what they think about the sociopath.
Hervey Cleckley, a psychiatrist, wrote the Mask of Sanity in 1941. In it he outlined 16 key characteristics of the sociopath and his work is as valid today as it was then. Robert Hare, a psychologist, built on the work of Cleckley and in his book Without Conscience he lays out 2 groups of characteristics of the psychopath, the personal and emotional characteristics as well as the aspects of the antisocial lifestyle. He also established the Hare Psychopathy Checklist which is a 20 point test used to diagnose psychopathy.
Rather than just go through the lists again, let's have a look at some of the things in the profile of the sociopath and how they appear in real life.
The sociopath is said to have an answer for everything, is an expert on everything and has a story about anything and everything. But some of the sociopaths are not so good in this department and sometimes when they are with their partner in public they stay very quiet.
Their relationships with others are indeed superficial, confined to comments about the weather and answering any questions they are asked without actually giving away any information about themselves.
However, what they are doing is gathering information about people to use later in private against their partner. For example, they may use the information to criticize the partner's friends as a way to further isolate the partner.
The lies can be very subtle and manipulative, they can be bare-faced lies, they can be mixed with half truths, they may be such that there is no way to verify if they are lies or not and the important thing to keep in mind is that the whole relationship with a sociopath is a lie. The sociopath has created the ideal partner for you at the start of the relationship in order to trick you into starting a relationship with them. The person you got involved with initially doesn’t actually exist.
After that, it's just lies on top of lies. But some of the lies are so big that it's often very difficult to see that it's a lie. A major one is the idea that the sociopath loves you. By definition the sociopath is basically incapable of love.
Normal, feeling people live in a world where people start relationships, fall in love with each other and often spend the rest of their lives together. This is what they expect and they consider that this is how the world works. They often don't realize that there are people who don't have emotions. So if they get caught by a sociopath, they believe that the sociopath loves them and cares for them and has their best interests at heart. Accepting that the sociopath was lying when saying 'I love you' is very hard for a victim to get their head around, especially when they are still in love with the sociopath. Their whole relationship is based on the lie that the sociopath loves them. It is such a huge lie that at first it's genuinely difficult to accept that it is a lie.
Another example of a big lie that is so huge it's difficult to untangle is where a person meets a sociopath in a religious group. The victim believes that the sociopath is, for example, a christian and is living according to the bible. The sociopath uses the ideas of the church to pretend that this is how he is living his life. He (or she!) will also use the ideas of the church against the victim to control and dominate, insisting the victim follows the laws of the church. However, the sociopath will typically have twisted and distorted the ideas in order to use them to get the victim to do what he or she wants. It can be very difficult for the victim to recognize these distortions and to understand how the religious ideas are being used against them. The sociopath may say to his wife things such as, "God says that you have to love and obey me forever," or "The pastor agrees with me that the things that you did before you met me were sinful and that you need to work on yourself and repent and that you should be grateful that I put up with you." I won't get into the technicalities of how these things work but you understand how they have the potential to be used in a very controlling manner.
Sociopaths have a very shallow affect, which means they have little or no emotions. By definition they don't have empathy for others, there is no guilt, remorse or embarrassment and they don't feel bad for anything they do. This means they can basically do anything to others and not feel bad about it.
However, the good manipulators learn how to fake emotions so it may seem to their victims that they do actually have feelings. They do this be learning what to say in certain circumstances as well as by practicing facial expressions and using subtle gestures that are normally used to express emotions.
So while they don't have emotions themselves, they are often experts in the manipulation of the emotions of their victims. At the start of a relationship they can get their victims to feel incredibly good about the sociopath even to the point that the victim will quickly fall in love with the sociopath. Later in the relationship, the sociopath can make the victim feel incredibly bad about themselves. They know the weak points as well as the strengths of their victims and they know exactly how to destroy a person and how to pick them up again, only to knock them flat once more. This combination of compliments and criticism is one of the factors that creates dependency in the victims.
One of the difficulties in seeing the cold, cruel and calculating aspect of the sociopath is that most people don't suspect that there are people who don't actually have emotions. This gives the sociopath a tremendous advantage because they don't have to hide this fact, they just have to act enough at the start of the relationship to not arouse suspicion. Later on, when the victim has been well and truly captured by the sociopath and has a pseudopersonality in place, the victim is programmed to believe that the sociopath is looking out for them and this belief is often so strong that the victim may be unable to recognize how nasty and cruel the sociopath really is.
The other thing to remember here is that the sociopath typically has an excuse or justification for anything they do. The excuse could be that they supposedly have had a terrible childhood and that is still affecting them, or they have an illness and they can't change, or it's the fault of the victim. A very common idea that victims have is that the sociopath has difficulty expressing emotions and that's just the way he or she is. This is a kind of catch-all and allows the sociopath to get away with all sorts of things.
If the victim complains the sociopath will often remind the victim in no uncertain terms how much they have actually contributed to the victim's life. This is another trick and should be a warning to anyone who is fed this line as an excuse for bad behavior. No amount of nice things ever excuses abusive behavior. However, the control of the sociopath over the victim is such that this kind of reasoning makes the victim feel bad for complaining.
When someone leaves a controlling relationship with a sociopath, it often takes them months to get their head around the fact that the person they loved did not actually love them and did not even have emotions. It is very upsetting to realize that the person you loved, did not care about you at all.
One emotion they will have no difficulty showing is anger. This can be very sudden, explosive, violent, unexpected and then it disappears as rapidly as it came. Everyone around can be shocked and stunned but the sociopath can carry on as if nothing happened. This latter aspect can be as disturbing as the rage itself. How can someone be so angry and then moments later answer the door or take a call and act all normal? This is typical of a sociopath.
The anger can be unpredictable in that one day something happens and the sociopath does not react but the next day the same thing sends them into a rage. This unpredictability keeps people on edge around them because no-one knows when they might go off again.
The sociopath often uses this rage as a way to control people by going into a rage every now and then, even faking a fit of rage so as to make people afraid of them. Then can link this to a particular 'look' or a tone of voice and later they only have to put that look on their face again or use that tone of voice and those who recognize it will give in or do what the sociopath wants in order to avoid another explosion.
Sociopaths may be very secretive about their pasts or they may be very vocal about it. The secretive aspect is seen when a serial killer is caught and the neighbors talk about what a nice person he seemed to be, but they have no idea about the past history of cruelty to animals and delinquency and so on. Some sociopaths just refuse to talk about their pasts, not wanting people to have such information about them.
Others will rattle on about the great things they have done and had in the past and will have any amount of stories about things they have been involved in and people they have known. Others have a past that is full of suffering, misery and abuse at the hands of their families and ex-partners. Much of what they say is exaggerations and lies but there are often elements of truth in it, too. For example, a sociopath may tell stories of being harassed and bullied by a brother, but if you talk to the brother you find that it was really the sociopath who was bullying the brother. The sociopath therefore has loads of material to talk about and it will seem genuine but the stories are distorted to make the sociopath out to be the victim.
When a sociopath is telling his current partner stories about previous relationships, what his ex did or did not do, these are often instructions for the current partner as to how the sociopath expects to be treated. For example, a story about what an ex partner did that upset him will usually be interpreted by the current partner as information about what not to do because it will probably upset him again. Because of the nature of the controlling relationship, there is often no critical assessment of the story by the current partner as to whether, for example, the actions of the ex were appropriate or not, or whether the sociopath might have been overly demanding.
One thing to keep in mind here is that if you think about a child with antisocial behavior, which is called conduct disorder in children, with the worst cases having 'callous and unemotional traits', it can be a living nightmare for the parents. Here is a child who doesn’t care about being punished, who does what he or she wants irrespective of any rules or regulations and who is capable of doing the same bad stuff over and over again knowing they will be caught and punished for it. More than one set of parents have resorted to smacking such a child. The child will then use this as the basis for "a history of childhood abuse". This is typically another lie, because the child does something to provoke a reaction in the parents, then when the parents respond as the sociopath wants, the sociopath then criticizes them for it. This is actually a very prevalent pattern with the sociopaths and if you go looking for it you will find many examples.
There are lots of ways that the sociopath lives off other people. They can get people to do their work, they borrow money and don’t pay it back, they outright con, swindle and defraud others, they trick their boyfriends or girlfriends into buying them things and paying their bills, they return to their parents over and over again with sob stories about how the world is against them and they need to be bailed out again, they tell great stories to investors, they steal and on and on and on.
Some would even prefer to spend 20 minutes manipulating someone into making them a cup of coffee rather than spending the 3 or 4 minutes it would take to do it themselves. They are actively seeking for others to do things for them as evidence of their control over other people.
This also shows up in many ways; they don't pay bills, they often don't show up for appointments, they miss work a lot. There is no sense of obligation for the sociopath in keeping their word either. Whether it's a big promise or a little one, they will break it in an instant if it suits them. Even though they get caught in lies, they act offended when you don't trust them.
They are risk takers, with no consideration of potential dangers or consequences. Originally it was thought that they didn't learn from mistakes but this was shown to be incorrect. They simply don't care about future consequences. They will drive dangerously, put their children or partners at risk, do drugs, break the law and generally act as if the rules for mere mortals don't apply to them.
Even with court orders against them, you cannot trust that they will stick to it. A sociopathic husband who has a restraining order against him may try different tactics to get back into the house, even if it's to collect his things or have lunch. A father who has to pay child maintenance will give various excuses as to why he cannot pay, he may delay payments to cause hardship and so on.
There is often even little consideration of their own health, with some sociopaths waiting several days in severe pain before going for medical attention, for example. And of course, there is the damage that they do to themselves with drink and drugs without the least worry about any harm they might be doing.
One way or another, with a sociopath, it's always your fault. Anything good that happens around them they are willing to take credit for, but if anything goes wrong the blame is always put on someone else. They can be very inventive with their excuses and justifications but you always come off the worst for it.
This happens so often with the sociopaths that the victims end up thinking that anything bad is their fault, even things that they are absolutely not responsible for. This pattern, one of the signs of mental abuse, becomes very deeply ingrained and is very destructive for the victim.
In order to get free of the damage and hurt the sociopath caused, it's important to understand how you were caught, what mind control techniques were used against you and what effects they are still having on you. This is best done with someone who understand the subtleties of mind control and sociopathy. It will actually save you a lot of time and effort.
You can read more here about Robert Hare's profile of the sociopath. And even if you are not married to one, the following articles will explain a lot about the nature of relationships with these creatures... what happens in a marriage to a sociopath, rules for dealing with a sociopath and how to divorce a sociopath.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
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.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?