Since I’ve been home from Haiti, I’ve been on a Dexter binge. It’s weird that I like this show so much because I’m definitely not the sort of girl who normally enjoys morally ambiguous tales about serial killers. I don’t even watch CSI, for cripes’ sake. (Okay, I’ll admit I’ve seen the episode about the furries.)
But for some strange reason–that I can’t quite pinpoint–there’s just something about the character of Dexter that fascinates me. Out of curiosity, I started researching sociopathy and stumbled across the book The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us by Martha Stout. According to Stout, 1 in 25 people are sociopaths. And contrary to popular belief, women can be sociopaths, too. In fact, female sociopaths are more difficult to spot simply because we aren’t looking for them.
All this thinking about sociopaths got me wondering: Have I ever known a sociopath?
Sociopaths Among Us
The vast majority of sociopaths aren’t serial killers at all, but people who look and act just like you and me. But they aren’t anything like you and me.
Sociopaths are masters of disguise masquerading around as fully-functioning human beings when in fact they are really just emotionally hollowed out versions of human beings pretending they have feelings and a conscience. How they pull this off is that they are consummate actors who have learned how to externally mimic human emotions they don’t actually feel inside.
This is kinda scary because it means that anyone could be a sociopath. Your husband, your parent, your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Even your best friend could be a remorseless sociopath, and you wouldn’t even know it until it’s too late. Oh my!
What Do Sociopaths Want?
According to psychopathfree.com:
“The ultimate purpose of every sociopath’s life is to do whatever it takes to get what he or she wants at that moment. Since they do not understand love, they view other people as objects to be obtained, used, and then discarded. And so in all their interactions with others, they follow a particular pattern—idealize, devalue, and discard—over and over and over again.”
How to Protect Yourself Against a Sociopath
I started to wonder how a person can protect themselves from a sociopath. Of course, the Dexter kind of sociopath who sneaks up behind you with a garrote is going to be hard to avoid. If that sort of sociopath wants you, you’re probably doomed. But what about the run-of-the-mill, day-to-day sociopaths who just want to use you to get what they want in the moment?
First of all, in order to know whether I could be a potential victim of a sociopath I figured I’d need to understand what type of person sociopaths prey upon. Research shows that while anyone could become the target of a sociopath, those who are more trusting and have a strong fundamental belief in the goodness of others are at an increased risk. (Check out here, here, and here for more information on how sociopaths find their victims.)
Next, I wanted to know how to spot a sociopath. Since they spend their lives creating the masks they hide behind so well, that’s not easy. But the one common trait to look out for is charm. Like Dexter, successful sociopaths exude oodles of charm. And while they don’t feel love themselves, sociopaths understand how to exploit other people’s need for love in order to get what they want. In other words, sociopaths know how to spot your emotional weakness, stick their finger right into it, and twist.
How do I spot one before they get their finger in?
One thing I know I could get better at is taking Maya Angelou’s advice:
“The first time a person tells you who they are, believe them.” Maya Angelou
If someone tells you they are a “mean girl” or “vindictive” believe them. If someone betrays your trust by their actions, that’s them telling you who they are, too. Listen.
I know this is a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again. Even Oprah admits that it’s been a rough lesson for her to learn.
How to Get Rid of a Sociopath
Avoiding a sociopath, like avoiding a bad case of head lice, might not always be possible. If you think one is in your life the first thing you need to do is to get them out as soon as possible. This will not be easy, especially if you are still useful in some way.
More than likely though, your first realization that you’ve been had by a sociopath is when they get rid of you after you’ve served your usefulness. This can be heart-breaking, especially if you believed you were in a real relationship with a person with normal emotions. You might be tempted to try to win the sociopath back, but that will only lead to more heartbreak. If you want to be free of the pain, you need to look with open eyes at the truth of your relationship with this person.
You must first realize where the sociopath’s emotional foothold is over you, and remove it. These ruthless people prey on emotional insecurities. They are experts in finding some emotional need that they then can appear to fill.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from a sociopath is to learn how to seek your worthiness and value from inside yourself, and not through flattery or validation from others. If your self-concept is dependent upon on how other people view you, you are in danger of falling victim to a predatory sociopath.
Could Social Media Predispose Us to Being Victims of a Sociopath?
All of this led me to wonder if social media–which is all about getting outside validation and recognition in the form of “likes”, mentions, comments, and/or retweets–could predispose us to sociopathic predators?
I don’t have an answer, but it’s an interesting question.
Recent studies show that the use of social media is causing increased anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Could sociopaths exploit these emotional vulnerabilities to their advantage? It seems plausible to me that increased anxiety coupled with how easy it is for someone to mask their true nature online would lend itself to this possibility.
In the olden days of social media we all wondered if ax murderers might be out to get us. That doesn’t seem to have happened. But are there soul-murdering, manipulative, emotionally exploitative people out there looking for victims? Most likely.
For now, I’m glad that the only sociopath I’m currently aware of in my life is in the delectable and fictional form of Michael C. Hall as Dexter. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?
Have you ever had a sociopath in your life?