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The pity play

Tip-off trait of a sociopath
Look for the pity play

Is there any mannerism, any type of behavior, any use of language, that can identify a sociopath?

According to Martha Stout, Ph.D., author of The Sociopath Next Door*, the best clue that you are dealing with a sociopath is the pity play.

“The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness,” Stout says. “It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”

The combination of consistently bad or inadequate behavior and frequent pity plays, Stout continues, is the closest thing to a warning you’ll ever get that you are being manipulated by a sociopath.

Sociopath manipulation techniques

In her book, Stout also describes other techniques that a shameless sociopath will use to keep the rest of us in line. They are:

  1. Charm
  2. Risk-taking, and convincing others to do it with them
  3. Recognizing a person who is decent and trusting—the perfect target
  4. Sexual seduction
  5. Crocodile tears—especially when sociopaths are about to be confronted
  6. Righteous indignation—Plan B when sociopaths are about to be confronted
  7. Exploiting social and professional roles
  8. Gaslighting—making victims doubt their own perceptions

The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight, in which gold-digging husband marries a rich, innocent woman and tries to make her feel like she is going insane. Sociopaths are experts at it.

For a sociopath, winning is all

A sociopath has no conscience, no emotional attachment to others, and no ability to love. For a sociopath, Stout says, “life is reduced to a contest, and other human beings seem to be nothing more than game pieces, to be moved about, used as shields or ejected.”

So what does a sociopath want? According to Stout, a sociopath wants only to win.


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