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Sociopaths are Superb Natural Psychologists

Natural Psycholgist

Sociopaths are superb natural psychologists, but they use their insights about human behavior to control and erode.

Past Frameworks Bias How We Perceive New Information

The world is not black and white; it includes countless shades of grey. To create meaning and clarity out of the grey, we use past frameworks (e.g., my ex-husband, “Paul,” is a good, honest person) to process incoming data (the fact that he so often works late reflects his dedication to his career and commitment to support his family). Yet, once this framework has been established, and once we create an explanation (accurate or not) for how an event fits into the framework, we have created a pathway.

Repetition Increases The Speed Of Mental Processing

At first, this pathway is weak and inconsequential. Yet, like all learning, if you visit this pathway repeatedly, what started off as a goat path in your brain becomes a dirt track, a country road, and then a two-lane highway. Ultimately, the connection in my brain between Paul working late and the excuse I provided for Paul based on the false assumption that he was an honest, wonderful man has become a superhighway, allowing me to travel on it automatically, at lightning speed.

The same learning process that allows an elite athlete like Peyton Manning to throw a football accurately under pressure (i.e., lots of practice that creates super-fast neural connections) was likely at work in my brain, making an instantaneous connection between Paul’s behavior, such as working late, and the excuse I made for him in my mind when I was 100 percent convinced he was a great guy.

Old Pathways Remain

The way our brains work, we cannot blow up that super highway even when we realize the assumption on which it was built is faulty (i.e., that Paul is not a good, honest, loving man). The highway remains. The best you can do is to erect a “STOP” sign in front of the highway’s on-ramp and start the difficult process of making other connections and methodically reinforcing them instead. Doing this is hard, because even when you get information that is screaming at you to put up that STOP sign, sociopaths are experts at dampening those screams and reducing them to whispers. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Did I see what I thought I saw? It is not always easy to tell. The world abounds with uncertainly. Consciously and unconsciously, we all attempt to validate our perceptions by seeing how they compare to others’ perceptions, and these adjusted perceptions become part of our unique reality.

We Tend To See What Others See

Sociopaths, and others who strive to control people, fashion their victims’ world so that the sociopath is the main source of their victims’ continuous, automatic calibration. This is another reason why abusers attempt to eliminate or minimize their victims’ contact with other people. If you doubt that people can influence others so easily, a psychology experiment performed by Solomon Asch in 1958 may shock you.

In Asch’s study, subjects were asked to look at eighteen sets of cards. The first card in each set showed only one line and a second card in the set showed three lines of various lengths, one of which was exactly the same length as the line on the first card. The other two lines were of noticeably different lengths. These cards were shown to groups of eight to ten students, but only one of these students was an actual subject. The others were in on the experiment.

For each pair of cards, the students in the group were asked to indicate which line on the second card was the same length as the line on the first card. The first two times, the confederates gave correct answers. This gave them initial credibility. Then, for later trials, the confederates all gave the same incorrect answers. The actual subject in the experiment always went near the end so that he or she would hear the other students’ faulty answers.

The disturbing result of the study is that we tend to see what others see. About seventy-five percent of the subjects conformed to obviously incorrect answers at least once. About thirty percent conformed on seven or more of the eighteen trials. This happened in groups as small as three to four people. Interestingly, if just one other person gave the correct answer, the subjects conformed to the false majority view only one-fourth as often as they did if no dissenter was present.

Isolation Works

In light of this, is it any wonder that sociopaths and others who seek control isolate their victims physically or emotionally? If you tend to see what others see, the sociopath wants to be the only other opinion available, since having just one other person who sees things the way you do gives you confidence in our observations and convictions.

Keep in mind that the confederates in the experiment were just students of a similar age whom the subject neither knew nor held in particularly high regard. Imagine the impact if the other members of the group comprised people the subject held in high esteem or viewed as an authority or an expert.

Perceived Authority Matters

We know from the Stanley Milgram experiments conducted at Yale in the early 1960s that human beings are influenced strongly by those viewed to be in authority. In this experiment, subjects were asked to deliver an electric shock when a person in another room did a task incorrectly. (The person in the other room was a confederate of the experimenter and no shock was actually administered.)

At the direction of a man in a white lab coat, someone who was viewed by the subjects to be in charge and knowledgeable, subjects were instructed to increase the voltage as punishment for wrong answers, ultimately reaching dangerous levels (if the shocks had been real). Even with screams of protest coming from the person being “shocked” in the next room, many subjects continued to deliver high level shocks for incorrect answers. The experiment is considered a disturbing classic in demonstrating how easily most of us are influenced by someone we consider an expert or authority.

Self Importance And Confidence Are Proxies For Authority

The sociopath’s inflated, grandiose view of him or herself, the extreme confidence and clarity in his or her convictions (due to lacking doubt and fear), and the sociopath’s ever-present self-confidence tend to elevate the sociopath’s status in other people’s minds. Undermining the credibility of other potential sources of influence also enhances the relative influence of any sociopath (e.g., “Your father just doesn’t know how things work in the real world.”).

These are just some of the reasons why living with a sociopath like Paul made me question my perceptions, lose confidence in myself, and fail to come to obvious conclusions—even when relevant information was staring me in the face for a long time.

As these experiments demonstrate, it’s likely that the same fate would have also befallen many other smart, capable people under similar circumstances. Hence, victims of sociopaths are not especially weak or naïve, their main flaw is that they are human.

As sociopaths are such good natural psychologists, exploiting how people automatically process information and how learning takes place in the brain, these are among the reasons it can take victims of sociopaths a very long time to see what has been in front of them all along as well as to act on the information.

Notes

My own cautionary tale of unwittingly investing almost twenty years of my life into a relationship with a sociopath and sometimes diverting from the best path, is chronicled in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via Amazon.com, just click on title above). As I don’t get a “do over,” hopefully some of my painful lessons can help others impacted by these toxic people.

 Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.

 



20 Comments on "Sociopaths are Superb Natural Psychologists"

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  1. O.N. Ward – Great article! Thank you for this very helpful explanation of why we believe the sociopath, even when we know we shouldn’t.



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  2. missymooz says:

    I read this great article too that reinforces everything that Donna (&everyone on here) has taught us.
    https://psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com/tag/red-flags-youre-dating-a-sociopath/
    Just another great reminder of why we got duped. I know personally that i beat myself up for a long time (& probably still do) over “why did I stay with him even when I did see some red flags?”



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    • Diane111 says:

      That’s where I’m at right now, Missymooz, not understanding why I’m still there … red flags are all over the place to get the heck out.

      Thanks for the link … just read it and yes, my h has all but maybe three of the characteristics.



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      • Getoutofmyyard says:

        Ain’t it the truth! Those red flags are like the heavy garden rakes, the big one that if you leave it on the ground, tongs side up and unerringly step on it, will send that heavy handle airborne, directly to your face, THWACK! Did that really happen? Nahh… Must be my imagination, because he would never…yah yah. Looking for a silver lining in the duped department, we did expect that our partner would be honest – we went in with a positive attitude, every reason to believe them and the pathway begins. Our expectations and their responses unfold naturally as did the multitude of times I turned a blind eye to the red flags. Yesterday, after giving in to a good pathetic cry, told myself that had I been any more blind, I’d have had a cane and a dog. Still struggling, the little voice hollers to “be strong!”.



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        • nokarma says:

          OH thank you for making me laugh so hard
          u are a great writer! I CAN actually laugh now been so long & yes all I needed was a blind dog!! Still chuckling I sent your comment to many of my friends, few in same boat. I am 3 years out now went throught hell & back Just beginning to feel better & more me ….out of the tunnel !!!n yes u all will get there too have hope.

          well to give me credit ///I did see & I did point out & I did argue & fight…AND I was assured …its not what you think, see, hear or feel!
          ,,,,you are crazy, u are too sensitive
          u are too jealous,,,u can’t be serious I have to cut off friendships with these other women who I have known for fill in the blank years who are “just friends”?
          only he cant & he wont… no matter how much it hurts & u cry…

          & who are u any way (hmm wife?) to tell him to have to do any thing,,,

          does what he wants,,, when he wants,,, Unilateral decisions & u are last to know …usually by a third party or bc something goes wrong…the harm caused to u not important does not care …

          from what I hear he is happy continuing on his
          in his ways nothing has changed

          can u believe these guys still doing this crap into their 70’s & beyond???
          yes
          NEVER stops same game! ,,,just bc u see them old & gray haired does not mean they have learned one thing or have learned how to love or care ,,,become more dangerous predators bc they look less harmful as they age ….
          gpa right?

          once a roach always a roach

          thanks again, so appreciate your style ,,,
          made my day



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          • Getoutofmyyard says:

            Thank you for the positive moment, especially in the mid of the night! Because the fun never stops – I’m up with aches from falling and breaking my arm yesterday, moving his belongings (I want to say “crap” but I’ll be civil; he does “belong” somewhere else) into the garage, and cleaning up. When the dissonance of our thinking becomes too much, we shame ourselves. How could I have been so stupid? Unlucky? We’re human, most of
            Them are so good and they pick us for a reason — we might’ve done something different
            Re those red flags if we were someone else – but we learn and keep on.

  3. Delores says:

    We all know now that optical illusion can make one line look longer. I doubt this study just as I doubt sociopaths make good psychologists. They may think they make good psychologists but they are really just manipulators and scam artists. Brainwashing is not psychotherapy. I hope we all know the difference.



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    • dismantled says:

      I agree. Since I
      am still trying to get the SP from breaking and entering even after a year of no contact, I couldn’t force myself to read in detail. Obsessive,
      unhealthy, manipulative psycho comes to mind.



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    • O.N.Ward says:

      Hi Delores:

      Thanks for your comment. I did not mean to suggest that sociopaths make good therapists, as that usually requires many characteristics, training and skills including empathy (which we know sociopaths lack).

      Yet, I do think that sociopaths have a good understanding of human nature, perception, influence, decision making, etc… This is what allows them to manipulate, scam and brainwash without the target catching on sooner. Many psychologists study human influence, decision making, perception, bias, love, attraction, etc. This is what I meant by sociopaths being superb natural psychologists–that they probably already know most of what is taught in college-level introductory psychology classes and they know how to seamlessly apply these concepts to their advantage in real life.



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  4. Canuck says:

    Or why my father was able to turn his side of my family against me, to alienate and scapegoat me.

    WOW! JUST WOW…
    ‘This is another reason why abusers attempt to eliminate or minimize their victims’ contact with other people.’

    I had no contact with my relatives unless it was orchestrated by father and then it always went very wrong.

    For example the time my father insisted I share in the driving to my cousin’s wedding, from Toronto to Boston.

    Non of my relatives were thinking how did I find out to come and how was I good enough to do half the driving but the brother of the groom missed his brother’s wedding because he decided to take me out on the boat that day instead. So initially I should not have gone to Boston. I had done nothing out of the extraordinary to deserve such special treatment to be taken on a boat ride, it was my father who made a huge fuss about me. I was embarrassed when he insisted I could not eat their food and took me grocery shopping when we got there ~ as if I were picky. How were they to know I am the most low maintenance people pleasing co-dependant person on this planet? Makes sense now… probably he was feeding the pathway to his lies I was unaware of and knew I was too polite to make a fuss. Countless situations that took that crazy pathway in their brains which led to my cousin missing his brother’s wedding now make sense. These are cousin’s who were educated at Harvard, no kidding, yet they were and still are bamboozled (BS baffles brains) by a now deceased sociopathic uncle.

    Such a shame that 7 years after my father’s death those pathways can not be undone. I have tried to connect and get to know them as an adult now the meddling father is out of he way and explain but to no avail. Offered documentation to show one of them to undo father’s lies, can not even imagine how much of the smear campaign has not come to light for me after his death, but got the ‘it’s all water under the bridge’ without a hint of wanting o know the truth…. at erasing those lies, hence pathways. Abuse by proxy is the legacy of my father to his kids and grandchildren. I seriously could write a book about the insanity of our parents and ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ would apply. Am now incredulous about how much strangeness was accepted as normal without question.

    Thank you for this understanding of what is going on. Shall forward to their email addresses. Or is that a good idea, don’t know? It has been as if I am battling a loosing battle by trying to undo the damage done by a whispering smear campaign started when I was 12. At least if we had committed a real crime we would know who our accusers are, would get a judge jury lawyer and be heard. If found guilty the time would be done and that would be the end of that but instead the telephone game is played on lies and guessing who the liers couod notmpossibly be because they are so nice to your face, like father who nicely invited me to my cousin’s wedding only to hurt me by making me feel unwelcome so much that to this day I choke trying to breathe while remembering.

    If these pathways are that hardwired perhaps we need to wait for the next lifetime to connect with those whose minds have been poisoned?



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  5. satya says:

    This reminds me of what I was thinking about the other day. Spaths ridicule your emotions for the same reason they isolate people-to maintain their charade. Your emotions are the enemies of the spath because they are telling you something is wrong even when consciously you are still falling for their”logic”, games or lies.



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    • Getoutofmyyard says:

      Satya – isn’t it remarkable, though? And it seems to take so long to unfold, the revelations, the understandings. I and how many others hate the moments lost – the days we should have been living, enjoying, just embracing some authenticity! Damn!
      Mine used my emotions as a lead in to….you got it, sister, a cruel remark. Delivered on ice. And then back to his book. My fave (today) is, “I’m lonely sometimes.” Dear husband, “Get a dog.”
      Ok. How bout a pit bull – he’s not gonna like you, though..nooo. Out! out! Bad thought.
      The worst, I think, is when the person is truly quite intelligent. It makes it easier for them to deliver the goods.



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  6. Barb says:

    My horrifically clueless and narcissist parents set me up for disaster in this life. The ‘spath’ came into my life in the fourth grade. She saw me in the classroom and said to herself, ‘That one’. She even admitted to me years later that this was how she picked me as her victim.

    But by the last year in high school, I was on to her…I recall telling her off so that I could avoid hanging out with her the summer after we graduated. She went on to her college and I went on to mine. She used a flimsy excuse to reinitiate contact the summer after our first year at school. It is too bad I simply did not say to her, ‘I don’t have your book…’ (she asked about the Michener book, “Hawaii”) and I hate myself for letting her stop by my parents’ place to retrieve it. I should have just told her we did not have her stupid book.

    So she took over my life…again. The pain was surreal that particular summer. Why did I not speak up? This article about the ‘superb psychology’ of spaths is very helpful in this regard.

    The ‘second telling-off’ came about a year later…this time I really lit into her. It was like a mental ping-pong game…she neatly ‘tried’ to return each volley I shot at her, but to no avail. I was the smart one, and was able to volley back one thing after another…and she ended up speechless. I told her about her ‘gloating’ episode, when she showed up at my parents’ place (thinking she was the hottest thing around).

    I was always told how beautiful I was. She managed to change all of that, and my physical appearance actually went downhill after hanging around with her for 10 years. It is amazing that when we reject these horrid creatures, even our beauty (both inner and outward) can return. In my mid-20s, I lost a ton of weight and became a very petite size 5. I wore adorable clothes that were very unique…many were American Indian in design. Her pet peeve was that I looked like an Indian and she did not.

    Of course, we never totally heal from the devastation of a spath in our lives. But we can ‘regroup’, and I like to think that we all will.



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  7. dismantled says:

    Until I cried out to the Lord for truth, I was in flux.
    The Lord told me to go to the computer, type in what was happening, and read. No other site except lovefraud and the question, “Are you dating a sociopath?” A great weight was lifted. The Lord had answered my prayer with rapid fire. I read everything for weeks. Little by little I was breaking down the barriers and attachments.I needed to read
    God’s word and eventually was able to transform my mind. He still is breaking in and has me followed. I
    pray and view this as a spiritual battle, BUT God will have victory. We are called to pray for our enemies to bring God into our crisis. Focusing on God and his deliverance keeps me out of the pit and in a better place. What do you have to lose? It is totally worth a try. He will send a comforter to you. Once dismantled, but rebuilding. Love you all.



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    • Getoutofmyyard says:

      Dismantled,
      If he’s breaking in – do you mean breaking into your home? Might want to think about cameras, security systems, saying. Oh what the hell and perhaps letting your neighbors know, just in case they see something? If you’ve been able to break from him — oh my, that just fries them. You took his power away? Yikes. Just as God will lead you in a direction of understanding (very much the same in my case) he’s also given you some tools to protect yourself. Don’t underestimate the (potential) rage of a psychopath – malignant covert narcissist (my situation) – I watched my soft spoken, gentle as a baby lamb husband try to kick down an exterior door last week. At age 65 — and my first thought was – that he might injure himself. Even as the frame was moving with each kick, showing signs of giving way. Yep. In all seriousness, I had to ask myself: just how sick is my brain? Still finding out. But I catch myself within seconds, not days, or years…



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    • still waiting to get my lifeback says:

      Jezebel is a spirit, but it finds access through uncrucified flesh.  Although the Jezebel spirit is described in the Bible as being a woman, it does not actually have a gender. There is no doubt that it functions just as proficiently through men.

      1. Refuses to admit guilt or wrong

      A Jezebel spirit is never wrong, unless it is a temporary admittance of guilt to gain “favor” with someone. To accept responsibility would violate the core of insecurity and pride from which it operates. When a Jezebel apologizes it is never in true repentance or acknowledgment of wrongdoing but rather “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.”

      2. Takes credit for everything

      While a strong trait of Jezebel is to never take responsibility for his wrong actions or behavior, he also is quick to take credit for benefits for which he contributed no effort.

      3. Uses people to accomplish its agenda

      The Jezebel spirit lets others do its dirty work. The Jezebel gets another person’s emotions stirred up, then lets that person go into a rage. The Jezebel sits back looking innocent, saying “Who me? What did I do?” This behavior makes it difficult for even the most ardent truth seekers to pin one down. The Jezebel spirit is clever in its agenda.

      4. Withholds information

      This is a form of control. A Jezebel wields power over you by knowing something you don’t know in a situation. In the eyes of a Jezebel, having information you don’t have is a powerful weapon of control.

      5. Talks in confusion

      It is impossible to converse with a Jezebel in logic. One pastor wrote a six-page letter to his elders about a situation in the church. The context was so vague that no one was without confusion. This is a way to maintain control and domination. When confronting a Jezebel, the subject may be changed five times in one minute. Confusion keeps them “undiscovered” and unexposed.



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