Step 1 — Know that sociopaths exist
Millions of sociopaths live among us. I am not exaggerating that number.
I use the word “sociopath” as an umbrella term for three serious personality disorders. They are:
- Antisocial personality disorder /psychopathy
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
Although there are clinical differences among these disorders, there are many similarities. People who have these disorders are usually superficially charming. But they also tend to be exploitative, manipulative, deceitful, impulsive and lacking in empathy.
So how many people have these disorders? Experts estimate that:
- 1% to 4% of the population are antisocial / psychopaths
- Up to 6% of the population are narcissistic
- 1% to 2% of the population are borderline
Add these figures up, and as many as 12% of the population may be sociopathic. In the United States, that’s 37 million people.
Plus, there are additional people who have antisocial, narcissistic or borderline traits, but not the full disorder. Believe me, you don’t want to get involved with them either.
Sociopaths can be male, female, old, young, rich, poor. They come from all races, religions, walks of life and segments of society.
Unfortunately, most of us are clueless about personality disorders, and how widespread they are. Anyone who is uninformed is vulnerable.
So this is the first step in protecting yourself: Know that sociopaths exist.
Step 2 — Know the warning signs of sociopathic behavior
As my research for my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud: 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath, I conducted an Internet survey that was completed by more than 1,300 people. According to the survey results, most people see the warning signs of sociopathic behavior. They just don’t know what the signs mean.
So what are the warning signs?
- Charisma and charm. They’re smooth talkers, always have an answer, never miss a beat. They seem to be very exciting.
- Sudden soul mates. They figure out what you want, make themselves into that person, then tell you that your relationship was “meant to be.”
- Sexual magnetism. If you feel intense attraction, if your physical relationship is unbelievable, it may be their excess testosterone.
- Love bombing. You’re showered with attention and adoration. They want to be with you all the time. They call, text and e-mail constantly.
- Blames others for everything. Nothing is ever their fault. They always have an excuse. Someone else causes their problems.
- Lies and gaps in the story. You ask questions, and the answers are vague. They tell stupid lies. They tell outrageous lies. They lie when they’d make out better telling the truth.
- Intense eye contact. Call it the predatory stare. If you get a chill down your spine when they look at you, pay attention.
- Moves fast to hook up. It’s a whirlwind romance. They quickly proclaim their true love. They want to move in together or get married quickly.
- Pity play. They appeal to your sympathy. They want you to feel sorry for their abusive childhood, psychotic ex, incurable disease or financial setbacks.
- Jekyll and Hyde personality. One minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch.
People who have one or two of these traits are not sociopaths. For example, someone can be charismatic and sexy without being disordered. For someone to be a sociopath, you need to see pretty much all of these symptoms.
If you do see this complete pattern, get the person out of your life.
For more description of each of these traits, read the Red Flags of Love Fraud, which is available in the Lovefraud Bookstore.
Step 3 — Trust your intuition
According to Gavin deBecker, author of The Gift of Fear, our intuition has evolved over millennia as an early warning system to protect us from danger.
So if you get a gut feeling that something is wrong with an individual, or you just know there is a problem, even if you can’t put your finger on it, pay attention. That is your intuition warning you of danger.
Unfortunately, in Western society we are taught to value analysis and evidence over intuition. So even though you may have an internal siren blaring about someone, you may believe that you need proof of wrongdoing before taking steps to remove yourself from the situation.
This happens all the time. In my research for Red Flags of Love Fraud, I asked survey respondents whether they had an intuition or gut feeling early in a relationship that there was something wrong with the individual.
The result: 71% of people said yes. But most of them — 40% — went ahead with the relationship anyway.
Why? They doubted themselves. Or, they wanted to give the individual the benefit of the doubt. Or, they wanted to believe the best about the person.
Generally, when a person is bad news, your intuition will warn you. The important point is to act on the warning.
Protecting yourself from sociopaths is a matter of awareness.
(The exception is when you’re born into a family with sociopaths. Obviously you have no choice about who your relatives are, so the process of becoming aware and protecting yourself follows a different path.)
You may still meet a sociopath. After all, millions of them live among us, so it is likely that you will cross paths with a disordered person sooner or later.
But by knowing sociopaths exist, knowing the warning signs of sociopathic behavior, and paying attention to your intuition, you will protect yourself from inviting a sociopath into your life.