Dexter

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 herehere, 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?

Dexter-1

Have you ever had a sociopath in your life?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

A sociopath April 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Um…. You do realize Dexter is a poorly written show that doesn’t actually behave like a sociopath. Our empathy does not make us “remorseless killing machines” we are different but not inherently evil. I just live by rules and logic.

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Jana Miller November 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Chloe-this made me think about 2 friends in particular who just at one point disappeared from my life. I guess it’s always easier to do that than to be honest but it still hurts. I doubt they were sociopaths because they kept in touch with other mutual friends. It made me really insecure for quite awhile. Do sociopaths know they are that way?
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Chloe Jeffreys November 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Jana, I’m so sorry your friends hurt you. It has to be upsetting to have happened without any explanation. As far as whether or not sociopaths know they are different or not, I think many of them know somehow they aren’t like other people, but maybe don’t know why or how. I do know that sociopaths almost never seek help for their disorder, nor is there really is any treatment that will cure it and make them feel feelings like normal people.

Believe it or not, when I was in my 20s I worked for a man who was a very good therapist. He told me that he himself was a sociopath, but that he’d found someone much like Dexter’s step-father, Harry, who gave him a code of ethics to live by. He told me that he’d once been a very serious alcoholic and drug addict and that he’d met this man in AA. For him, the reason he changed is because he believed if he didn’t he’d drink or drug himself to death. He was motivated to change by that. But he still said he didn’t feel feelings like other people.

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Jane Gassner (@MidLifeBloggers) November 12, 2013 at 11:14 am

You’re conflating two different personality disorders here, Chloe. Antisocial Personality Disorder is the one commonly that gets called sociopathic. Dexter has APD. The personality disorder that we see in our relationships is Borderline Personality Disorder. Check out what the DSM-IV-TR has to say about each; it’s fascinating.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I discovered that there are entire websites devoted to Dexter’s diagnosis and whether or not he’s really a sociopath. Dexter calls himself a sociopath, but I personally subscribe to the school of thought that Dexter is actually suffering from a form of PTSD, and that his step-father, Harry, is the real sociopath of the story. Harry is the one who trained Dexter to be a ruthless killer in order to wreak justice upon the evil. In truth, Dexter DOES struggle with what he calls his “dark passenger” and his “addiction”.

I did spend some time rummaging through the DSM-IV-TR on this topic. But what fun is there is that?

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Lib November 12, 2013 at 5:16 am

Wow. The time couldn’t have been better on this.

I recently experienced a very abrupt and painful breakup with an on and off friend of over 10 years. I have wondered over and over how I could be discarded after it seemed we had moments of very genuine intimacy over the years. It just became crystal clear to me that he is a sociopath. Everything you described is who he is. I need to take steps toward not blaming myself for having believed in him – I never realized I was a means to an end. Again: wow.

Thanks. And I hope this ain’t riddled with errors. Typing on my phone is a challenge!

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Chloe Jeffreys November 12, 2013 at 5:35 am

Hey Lib, no errors that I can see. I am so sorry for your pain and the loss of your friendship. Of course you believed your times together with your friend were genuine and intimate. Why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t occur to emotionally normal and trusting people that another person is using them for personal gain. It seems that’s what sociopaths rely on, that normative people people will trust in their motives.

I’m glad this article helped you clarify what is happening with you and your former friend. It’s very painful to face the fact that someone really was just using you when you thought there was a real relationship there.

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Pamela Mason November 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I am addicted to Breaking Bad. We’re watching the series and trying to stretch it out to make it last.
*ahem* Sociopaths: Yes, I think I’ve encountered a few in my life – working and personal areas. Scary and hard to spot until after the damage is done. The part of me that makes me loyal to my friends makes me vulnerable too.
Your question about social networking is interesting and I’m going to pass it along to a friend or two who practice psychiatry. I believe there is a limit to being able to hide behind a front – in my opinion there are no misspellings, only Freudian slips.

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Chloe Jeffreys November 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Sadly, Pamela, the parts that make us the most human also make us the most vulnerable to those who would prey upon our humanity for their own gain. I guess at some point we have a choice, and choosing to put too high of walls around us lets them win, huh?

Once you are the sadder but wiser girl you can never go back. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But still. People like this are hard to fathom if you’re not one of them.

I’ve certainly had at least one boyfriend who was likely a sociopath. Dang it, but he was sexy. These people usually are filled with charms like sex appeal or great social skills. How else would they hunt and stalk without the bait?
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Beverly Diehl November 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Not addicted, but have watched Dexter a few times. What makes it/him so addictive is he is dealing justice to other sociopaths; there’s a certain satisfaction like when the Big Bad Wolf “gets it” at the hands of the Woodsman, or when the evil stepmother in Snow White/Cinderella “gets hers.”

Have known (and sometimes dated) other people with toxic mental disorders. My father was a Narcisstic; my latest ex is OCPD (not be confused with OCD, though it usually is.) Outofthefog.net is a good place to go for info on dealing with a person who is bad/wrong/disordered and you’re beginning to wonder what’s wrong with YOU.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Dexter fulfills our sense of justice. He kills bad guys (mostly). And he’s especially cute while doing it. And he really does have emotions; they are just all backed up and wonky.

Thanks for the link, Beverly. There are several online support groups out there for people recovering from a sociopath in their lives. I didn’t go onto any of them because that seems like a perfect place for sociopaths to go to find new victims. I’m growing more cynical in my old age, it would seem.
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Sandra Sallin November 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Well, it you’re watching Dexter you must watch Breaking Bad. My husband and I were absolutely consumed by that series. I think you’ll find some sociopathes hanging around there.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Sandra, Breaking Bad is definitely next on the list.
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