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Overcoming the hype to educate people about sociopaths

Lovefraud recently received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Eleanor.”

Thank you for your wonderful site Lovefraud! It has helped me tremendously. I am still with my sociopath husband, but am quietly and surely planning on leaving. We have a few children so it really makes it more complicated.

He has now gone up to the next stage in what I’ve read sociopaths love to do. I’m so thankful that I read about it before he did it and know how to react and what to expect! He’s started to call up my family, giving them a sob story about how broken he is and how I won’t get any help (we’ve gone through a few counselors, with no obvious results — as they’ve all been taken in by his acting abilities).

Now my question to you is, knowing he’s doing this, how can I have my close family not be influenced by him or believe him? To know it’s useless to fight him — that’s a given (except in court, I will do whatever I can so that he doesn’t get custody of the children). But what can I say to my family to let them not take sides, realize he’s lying to them, and have them not believe him? I tried to tell them this but his authentic depressed behavior got to them more. I don’t want to be left alone without any support and want to catch this in the bud.

After I read your wonderful site I realize he’s been doing this for years. He’ll see I’m talking to a specific friend too much, and suddenly she’ll stop calling. I tried hard to think if I did anything to offend her, and I didn’t. Before I just had vague suspicions, but now I see clearly that he probably called her or her husband and spread lies that I told about her (I have only said good things about her, so there’s nothing truthful that he could say that would be bad). This has happened with past counselors also. One I finally had the courage to call and told her what he said that she said, and she was very upset and said she never said that about me and she’ll clear it up.

People don’t know

The problem Eleanor faces is that people in general do not know that sociopaths exist. They do not know what sociopathic behavior looks like. So because people do not understand that there are people who intentionally feign distress and unhappiness, casting themselves as the victim, they do not realize that what they are witnessing is nothing but an act, and they are being conned by a sociopath.

Eleanor needs to educate her family about sociopaths, but she needs to do it carefully. If she rants and raves that they should not to believe her husband because he is a sociopath, they will probably look at her like she is nuts. In fact, her husband may already be telling them that he’s very concerned about Eleanor, because she’s becoming mentally unglued. The family may begin to think that the husband is right, and Eleanor does, in fact, have mental issues.

Why would they think this? Because they probably believe that sociopaths are all deranged serial killers. If Eleanor’s husband hasn’t killed anyone, or if he isn’t violent, then she must be nuts.

Silence of the Lambs

A few days ago I watched The Silence of the Lambs. This is, of course, the movie that features Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychopath.

Even though the movie came out in 1991, I’d never seen it. I don’t like horror movies or scary movies, so I never wanted to. But since we spend so much time talking about how people don’t understand what a psychopath really is, I figured I needed to see the movie that created so much misinformation, so I ordered it from Netflix. I was so apprehensive that I actually had nightmares several days before watching the film.

Two things struck me about Silence of the Lambs. First, Jodie Foster was really young in the movie. Second, no wonder people think psychopaths are all brilliant, cold-blooded serial killers.

The movie won five Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Actress for Hopkins and Foster, along with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Hopkins, as the number one film villain of all time.

In the beginning of the movie, the medical director of the prison where Lecter is kept says, “Oh, he’s a monster. A pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive.” And Lecter does display psychopathic behavior. But his behavior is so off the charts that I don’t know if there are any real-life cases as bad as he is.

Lecter is highly manipulative. The problem, however, is that his manipulation is obvious. His evil is obvious. And, of course, the guy is in prison for crimes so heinous that they put him in a straight jacket, strap him to a gurney and put a full mask on him to prevent him from literally biting someone’s head off.

I can see how the image of a psychopath from The Silence of the Lambs could be seared into someone’s brain. Unfortunately, the cartoon image of Hannibal Lecter may prevent people from identifying the real psychopaths who live among us.

After watching this movie, I feel like my decision to use the term “sociopath” on Lovefraud, instead of “psychopath,” was correct. No matter how many academic papers psychology researchers publish about the behavior of psychopaths, they’ll never be able to overcome the image of Anthony Hopkins ripping a cop’s face open with his teeth.

Red Flags of Love Fraud

Lovefraud’s goal is to educate people about sociopaths and what they’re really like, especially in intimate and family relationships. Towards that end, today I am sending my second book to the printer. It’s called, Red Flags of Love Fraud — 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath. Here’s the description from the back cover:

What everyone who wants a loving relationship needs to know about social predators

Charisma, charm, so much in common and sexy too—is your romantic interest a dream date, or a sociopath? Millions of these social predators live among us, and they don’t look or act like serial killers. Rather, they present themselves as the love you’ve been waiting for all your life. Red Flags of Lovefraud identifies the clues and patterns of behavior that may indicate your partner is actually an exploiter. This book explains why you may be vulnerable, how the predators seduce you, how you become psychologically bonded, and how to break free of the trap.

I asked a former employee, whom I hadn’t spoken with in many years, to proofread the book. It turned out that she, too, married a sociopath. She told me, “If I’d read this book 10 years ago, it would have changed my life. Literally.”

My hope is that people will read the book, recognize the behaviors and realize that they’re dealing with a sociopath. My bigger hope is that people will read the book, learn the warning signs, and avoid becoming involved with a sociopath in the first place.

Explaining the behavior

But back to Eleanor — she’s dealing with a husband who is full manipulation mode, trying to remove her support system by lying to her family and friends. My guess is he’s also running a smear campaign, subtly disparaging Eleanor to make her less credible.

First of all, I am really glad that Eleanor had the nerve to tell one of the counselors what her husband said.  I’d be interested to know how that situation plays out —does the counselor start to get what is happening? Or does she fall for the husband’s lies again?

As far as the rest of her family is concerned, I think Eleanor needs to thoroughly educate herself about exactly what a sociopath is and how they behave. One way to do it is by reading Lovefraud carefully. She should learn about the key symptoms. She should even be able to quote some statistics about how many millions of sociopaths live among us.

Then, when appropriate opportunities arise with individual family members, she can present this information coolly and calmly. In fact, when her husband does something right out of the sociopathic playbook, she can explain how it is typical sociopathic behavior. For example, his sob story about how broken he is is an example of the pity play.

It’s important not to get upset or angry while conveying such information, because that would create the image that Eleanor is nothing but a scorned woman.  People can’t listen to someone who is upset; they put up their defenses. And, presenting this information while upset could play right into the hands of the husband, who is probably saying that Eleanor is mentally unbalanced. So the best way to communicate this information is dispassionately.

What else can she do or say? Do you have any suggestions for Eleanor?



114 Comments on "Overcoming the hype to educate people about sociopaths"

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  1. 20years says:

    and an afterthought… you ARE more computer savvy than he is, right? He can’t follow your tracks on the home computer? Sorry to mention that, but a few of us have been burned that way.



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  2. Eleanor says:

    20years, thanks for your validation! I did’t think you were pressing me, I just felt after you asked me twice in a round about way, that I should explain. Don’t feel bad at all, you’re helping me! I’m thankful to you!! This site is a real Godsend for me.

    I have some single moms that I speak to, but as they also have small children, they don’t have much time.



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  3. Eleanor says:

    That’s a good point – computer – it’s taken care of.



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  4. Molly says:

    Ok question. When you have tangled with a sociopath and they have hurt you , stolen from you, manipulated you and left you raw, bleeding and wondering WTF just happened in my life? …it is easy, at that point, to be open to learning about who they are and what they do, but how do you educate people who have not been down the dark and ugly road??

    In my experience, people who have not tangled with sociopath’s don’t get it, don’t want to hear about it and just don’t believe what you are saying.

    So the question is, how do we reach the uninterested? (And these include our family and loved ones?)



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  5. darwinsmom says:

    Little by little, in my experience, Molly. I give tidbits of information around. I have noticed that at some point people start to ask questions… when I mentioned a tidbit something that they suddenly recognize in someone they knew once. Then they will often start to querry what other red flags there are. People become curious and interested once they can relate a tidbit to their own experience. Then they have an example in their head and realize that maybe that person may have been a spath and that they too may have had a spath experience.

    My parents started to relate because they once had tried to help out a colleague of my dad once for a few night in having a place to stay. But something had always felt fishy about it to them. I never had even heard of the story, until I started to tell them about the ex being a spath.

    If you want to teach people, you need to make them curious about the subject, and most people only get curious if they can associate it with an experience of their own, no matter how small.

    Since so many people are in fact often conned by spaths somehow chances are big that they do have a relatable experience.



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  6. liferaft says:

    madhanna
    I know what you mean about the use of strategic lying. When i was moving out of my spath’s house I “stole” one of the cats, the one he wanted to keep. When he later said he couldn’t find the cat and asked if I’d taken it, I pretended concern and said no, suggeting it had probably run off in the process of my moving out, etc. I even went looking around the property with him calling the cat’s name. My ex looked convinced for a while but then suspicious, but his arrogance seemed to have lost its edge, knowing he was at the mercy of MY claims and actions for a change!
    I do not believe that any spath deserves the truth…because they use truth as a weapon against us.
    If I may hazard a truism, I guess I’ve always believed that virtue should be served only to the point where it begins to enable evil. Beyond that, it may be better to find another aproach, a kind of “tough virtue”, like “tough love”, or something like that…



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