Most of the people who will be bad for us are not sociopaths, and so we want our radar to be sharp, not specifically for sociopaths, but for wrong, bad people of every stripe.
True, sociopaths will be terrible people with whom to enter relationships; in the end, though, they will represent a small fraction of a much greater majority of very wrong people for us.
As I suggested in a prior post, there are two keys to protecting ourselves from Mr. or Mrs. WRONG: The first is developing intelligent radar; the second is acting wisely on that radar.
After all, good radar, no less than good CIA intelligence, is useless if it’s ignored or devalued.
Now, are there cases of sociopaths (and the lot of devious personalities) so slick as to be undetectable until after they’ve wreaked their havoc? Of course there are; to suggest otherwise would insult anyone unlucky enough to have crossed paths with such destructive individuals.
Nevertheless, in most cases, the wrong person—sociopath or not—will and does leave clues much sooner than most of us want to admit (until much later).
WRONG, by the way, for whom? The answer, of course, is, YOU!
It is tempting and, at some point, I suggest, unfruitful to get stuck on the suspected psychopathology of a partner (present, or ex). Because when you get right down to it, there are only two diagnoses that really matter: Is this person, for me, RIGHT, and GOOD? Or WRONG, and BAD?
Only we can make this assessment, and it’s our responsibility, of course, to make it as soundly as possible. By soundly I mean being as honest with ourselves as possible, and keeping our best long-term interests uppermost in mind.
What, then, is the first—and, for that matter, second—telltale sign that someone is wrong, and really bad, for you, sociopath or not? (And speaking honestly, should we really need more than a sign or two?)
The answer is, ANY EXPRESSED BEHAVIOR or ATTITUDE that leaves you feeling disarmed or disoriented by its inappropriateness, selfishness and/or insensitivity.
Take great heed of such an experience, because almost always, it is a sign that more are sure to follow. In other words, preparing to bail at this point is a wise consideration.
Specifically, what behaviors and attitudes am I referring to? For starters, how about the first, surprising flash of rage, contempt, arrogance, selfishness, coldness, presumptuousness, dishonesty, indifference, ungratefulness, even denseness; shocking acts of abuse, verbal or physical; and startling failures of empathy, or compassion.
It is really less the behavior or attitude, per se, that screams ALARMING…prepare to BAIL!, than the experience of it as, “Where did that come from?”
I stress: It is our job, first, to register these signs; and then immediately to register them as alarmingly ominous.
The question is, Will you be willing to see what you’ve seen? Will you be willing to acknowledge the sobering portent of the display? Or instead, for any of a hundred conveniences, will you find ways to pretend you didn’t see it, and/or minimize the ramifications of what you’ve seen?
It is perfectly fine to ask, What, in a new relationship, should I be watchful for? What are the signs that my new interest may be someone different than advertised? I hope I’ve addressed these questions.
Then again, such questions tend, I think, to promote a view of the world as waiting to unleash upon us ruinous new bogeymen and predators, instead of encouraging us to examine what can be harder, but perhaps more honest, useful, retrospective questions, like, What did I miss? Why did I miss it? And if I registered it, why did I choose to ignore or minimize it?
Insight into, and resolution of, these latter questions can confer the best insurance against future exploitation.
In most (certainly not all) cases, it may be less important to be wary of the next nightmare disguised as Mr. or Mrs. SENSITIVE, than more careful of our always lurking capacity for defenses like denial, rationalization and minimization to blind us to what we don’t want to see, and do.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)