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Spotting sociopaths by intuition

Russell Williams was a colonel in the Canadian Forces, a pilot who flew dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II, and commander of the largest airbase in Canada. That is, until he was arrested for breaking into women’s homes and stealing their underwear, sexual assault and murdering two young women.

Lovefraud has written about Williams before: For Halloween: A real monster who liked to dress up.

The question, of course, is how did such a predator achieve the rank of colonel? Should he have been flagged along the way? How was it that Williams received nothing but stellar reviews, and turned out to be a murderer?

The Canadian Forces, stunned by what happened, launched an inquiry into how candidates are selected for senior command positions. Could enhanced psychological testing have revealed Williams’ true nature? Here’s what Macleans reported:

The answer, sadly, is no. Among hundreds of pages of internal military documents, obtained by Maclean’s under the Access to Information Act, is a draft version of that review. It confirms what leading experts have long maintained: there is no off-the-shelf exam that employers, armed forces or otherwise, can use to detect sociopathic killers. “Given the recent events in CFB Trenton, it is natural for the CF to question whether or not the organization could have identified a sexual sadist or predicted that an individual would become a serial sexual murderer,” the report says. But that “would be unrealistic to expect.”

Read There’s no way to spot another Russell Williams on Yahoo.com.

It’s probably true that no one could have spotted Williams. His case, however, is highly unusual. As I wrote in Sudden psychopath: The horrifying yet strange case of Col. Russell Williams, this case is unique in that Williams showed no signs of disorder before he suddenly became a sexual pervert and predator. Unlike most sociopaths, he didn’t have a history of lying, cheating and abusing. That’s why his case is so weird.

Judged by behavior

Although I don’t know much about the various psychological tests that are available, I doubt that any self-report inventory, where the subject answers questions about himself or herself, would work. After all, sociopaths lie.  They lie about everything, so of course they’re going to lie on a personality test. Even if the test is designed to spot inconsistencies, how would anyone know which part is true?

To diagnose sociopaths, you need to know about their behavior. Most sociopaths leave a lifelong trail of destruction, ranging from overt crime to subtle emotional and psychological abuse. Dr. Robert Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), and it has become the gold standard for diagnosing psychopaths (the term he uses). The PCL-R has two parts—a semi-structured interview, and a “file review.” This means that the individual’s criminal and psychological records are included in the evaluation. In other words, the psychopaths are identified by their behavior, not by their answers on a test.

The Gift of Fear

We, of course, don’t want to experience a sociopath’s behavior. We want to avoid them, so they don’t have an opportunity to inflict any damage of any kind. Can we do it?

I believe the answer is yes. The way to avoid a sociopath is to listen to our intuition.

Several people on Lovefraud have posted about a book called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. Oprah Winfrey called de Becker the nation’s leading expert on violent behavior, and his company helps hundreds of people, including celebrities, stay away from stalkers and other predators.

De Becker’s whole point in The Gift of Fear is this: Your intuition will tell you about danger. Listen to it.

I can back this assertion up with data. In the Lovefraud Romantic Partner Survey, conducted earlier this year, I asked the following question: “In the beginning of the involvement, did you have a gut feeling or intuition that something wasn’t right about the person or the relationship?”

Seventy-one percent of respondents said yes. Let me repeat that: 71% of people who became involved with sociopaths knew early on that something was wrong. Unfortunately, most of them stayed in the relationship anyway.

Trust your intuition

I think it’s unlikely that an accurate paper-and-pencil test for spotting sociopaths will ever be developed. However, we all have a built-in early warning system. The system isn’t designed to identify sociopaths in an abstract sense; it’s designed to warn us when we are in the presence of danger.

Here are the three steps to protecting yourself from sociopaths:

  1. Know that sociopaths exist.
  2. Know the warning signs of sociopathic behavior.
  3. Trust your intuition.

The key is to pay attention to the warning signals that we receive. But often we don’t. We doubt ourselves. We give the person another chance. We wait for hard evidence. In the end, we are damaged and filled with regrets.

Would listening to their intuition have saved Russell Williams’ victims? We’ll never know. But Gavin de Becker did relate a story about a woman who was assaulted in her apartment. The assailant told her to be quiet, promised he wouldn’t hurt her, and left the room. The woman, filled with fear, didn’t listen to him. She listened to her intuition and slipped away. The guy returned with a kitchen knife, intending to kill her. But she was gone.



543 Comments on "Spotting sociopaths by intuition"

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  1. New Beginning says:

    Oxy, I hear that. I left behind what I considered my sanctuary as well. My home of 23 years, my son still living there, my dog, my cat (later delivered to me because she wouldn’t stop howling…..left her there initially because it was her life long home…..turns out I am her home), my furniture and things that were purchased for me by my parents. I still have clothing there and all my cookware/bakeware/serveware that I’d collected over the years. Home and family meant EVERYTHING to me. It was a rude awakening to find my husband didn’t share in this and things only went down hill from there as realizations go.

    I was grateful to be able to move into my childhood home and though there are warm memories here there are also many ghosts of all the holidays and celebrations with my ex. Mind you, I never would have left my son with the ex if he were younger but he’d lived on his own for awhile before that and was old enough to make his own decisions. Not that I could have influenced him at the age of 22!

    As you know, I have decided to purchase this house. I’m not ready to let go of it and I feel safe here. As a matter of fact, a spiritual intuitive who I didn’t share any history with told me it was important to stay safe and suggest I STAY where I am currently living……that I would be safe here. Some force has repeatedly saved me for years, there must be a spiritual protection here……..that and my ADP alarm system along with the close proximity of the police station! LOL

    Sometimes I wonder if I’ve caused myself more heartache by being here but it’s going through my mother’s things and painting, etc. which I still would have had to do if I put the place up for sale. Worse case scenario is that I stay here for a few years and move on should I feel the desire. It’s been a slow process getting through it because many days I am paralyzed by it all but at least now it’s not EVERY day. Progress is a good thing!

    I agree, the most important thing to do is stay safe. Our homes are within us, it is our soul. I guess we’re sort of like turtles and we take our home with us! ;-)

  2. parallelogram says:

    Heh – a “doggy dentist“ is new to me. Do they tack on your surname to your dogs’ name and then call him by this full name when he’s up? My vet office does that and it always makes me chuckle. I even gave my pet a middle name because of that. “Can’t explain color to a dog.” Or a sociopath.

    Recovering: Have you read “The Gift of Fear”? It’s really good for that shaky relationship with the world feeling you describe. It has very true answers. In addition to the content, his tone is terrifically pragmatic and non-dramatic, and is somehow really effective at restoring equalibrium. At least, that’s how I have felt during and after reading it.

    Ox Drover: thank-you for the kind welcome, v. pleased to be here posting now. “And we can tell it….maybe not every time, but many times.” THAT’S the message we should be given. How hard is that?! I will take “not every time, but many times” in a second. It’s quite socially irresponsible the way the media handles jerk-offs like “Russell Williams.” In an article on him in a Canadian magazine, a whole page was dedicated to a color picture of all the panties and bras they found when his home was searched! Maybe this media instruction on how to handle a sociopath would make a difference when it comes to identifying smaller versions of Russell Williams, which the world is swarming with and is the larger problem. I think it is a problem that the stories about sociopaths that tend to get published or are given center stage are the truly dramatic ones, which somehow creates a kind of unbelievability and distance from it ever happening to oneself. They need to report on the pesky ones so that you and me can go, “ah, ok, that looks kind of familiar.” I’m actually still miffed at myself for being swindled by the spath, given how much fiction and non-fiction I have read in my life. And yet, I was utterly sideswiped by this sociopath thing. I had no idea., but how could that be? For instance, I used to buy a series of books called “Best American Crime Reporting” which came out every year. It would compile all the best non-fiction magazine articles about criminals that were written in various publications during that year, and I had about five or six of them. I recently went through them out of curiosity and was pretty disgusted when I found article after article after article on sociopaths – sociopaths in the workplace, in church, marriage, family, etc. Every article I had read and more than once. Also awful was how much I looked forward to the new volume every January. How I’d run out immediately and buy it. How I’d save it for the weekend. How I’d hunker down with some oranges and black licorice and read it cover to cover. Kind of a terrible memory.

    “Emotional detachment” – that works, thank-you, sharing the journey. It’s a good place to be and I’m happy, but I wish that sounded more victorious, less bloodless. I think we should all get purple hearts when we get there.

    Yup, agree about throwing garbage in the garbage, but I did something slightly different. Every time I came across some dumb thing he gave me, I’d toss it off my 25th floor balcony. This was extremely satisfying. The only item that wasn’t satisfying to throw off the balcony was that stupid heart-shaped leaf he gave me once – it kept landing back on my balcony after I threw it. I finally had to flush it down the toilet. Which reminds me, what a loser. I was so often worried about hurting HIS feelings. I really wish I had laughed harder when he picked A LEAF up off of the sidewalk and presented it to me as if it were a red ruby.

  3. parallelogram says:

    Recovering: re getting a puppy. I’d encourage it. I got my first pet (cat) when my spath and I broke up. I was given her and I thank God for her often b/c no way would I have ever guessed how much I needed her. I really really needed her. I would say that loving this cat was just as important to my rehabilitation as doing the research and all the other things we do to become whole again or – for me – for the first time. I read in a magazine once (“O”, maybe) that part of why pets are emotionally healing is because in all relationships, we need not only to give affection but to see that affection reflected back to us. And we want to know that the other being enjoys it, so a purring cat (for ex.) closes the relationship loop for us in a very profound way. Loving my cat made me treat myself better. For one, the sleeping on your bed is quite an extraordinary salve. My cat had been treated badly before she came to live with me and I don’t know that I can explain it well but the fact that she had been abused and neglected in the past infuriated me. It spurred me to love her quite hard, to let her know that I wldn’t let anything like that happen to her again if I could help it and then all of a sudden I was thinking of myself in that same way and understanding the essential difference between saying and doing, esp when it comes to loving and caring. Once I was sick and threw up and fifteen minutes later my cat did the same thing. Look, I know that’s totally ridiculous, placing any sort of meaning on something like that. But it was funny and cute and it made me laugh, and if I was laughing it meant that I wasn’t sobbing into my pillow.

    New Beginning, how your neighbours are interacting with you is so shabby! I think you’re lucky to have that fence between you and those uptight oddballs. You know what would be fun? Get a trampoline. See how high they’re willing to build that fence.

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