Are You the Target of a Sociopath? Part I of 2

Anti-social personalities want to dominate people. Don’t let it be you.

Posted Mar 09, 2018

Have you ever wondered if someone purposefully wants to take advantage of you? Someone you don’t even know or just recently met?

In today’s world, there are many people with difficult personalities who can impact your life. But sociopaths have one of the most hidden personality disorders (antisocial personality disorder), which is one of the most dangerous. They slip under our radar because they put so much energy into deceiving us. But most people don’t know what to watch out for and are shocked at how they were manipulated. Anyone can be a target for a sociopath.

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Source: Shutterstock

For the past 30 years, I have worked with clients who were dealing with people with difficult personalities, as a therapist, lawyer and high-conflict consultant. I am still surprised and concerned about how many people are shocked by the behavior of people they thought they knew. In this Psychology Today blog series and in my books, I want to warn people about dangerous personalities, how to identify them quickly and what to do if you have to deal with them.

In this Part 1 about sociopaths, I’ll describe some of their potential patterns of extreme behavior. Then in Part 2 next week, I’ll discuss how to quickly identify them and how to deal with them if necessary.

Warning: The examples in the sections near the end, starting with Playing the Victim, are very disturbing.

Masters of Deception

People with antisocial personalities can be highly effective at getting you to overlook the warning signs you do see or sense. That’s why they’re called con artists. They take you into their confidence. You doubt yourself and trust them.

In a dating relationship, a sociopath may be the most loving, charming, affectionate and giving person you have ever met. But it’s too good to be true! They may be secretly dating several other women or men. They may use one person’s credit card to buy flowers for another. They are very promiscuous and loyal to no one.  

They are also fast talkers. To cover up their secret activities, they may say: “I do some contract work for the CIA, but I can’t tell you anything about it. I’ll be gone all next week on a secret mission. I really, really wish I could tell you about it, but I can’t. And don’t ever ask me.” Or they may quickly lose interest in you, but keep you hanging on with a few words of love, so that they can still have sex with you, borrow money from you (which won’t be returned) and maintain access to your house or car.

They may even marry several women (or men) at the same time. (Yes, while most sociopaths are men, there are also many women—approximately 25%.) In marriage, they may pretend they are going to work at the office, when they’re actually going out to deal drugs. Or they may be stealing money from your father’s company. They may be seeing several other women (or men) for sex. Or secretly using an escort service. Or gambling away their paycheck, then saying they were robbed. All of these activities have gone on under the radar for hundreds of people in these relationships. They are always shocked, because the sociopath was so good at living a lie.  But that’s what they do.  

In some cases, they have married in order to have access to a teenage daughter for sex while mom was at work. In at least one case, the teenage daughter fell in love with her abuser, he was so persuasive. Finally, she helped put him in jail, so that no one else would go through what she did.

At work, they may be stealing inventory and re-selling it.  They may cook up lucrative schemes as a business owner (remember Enron?). As a supervisor, they may bully their employees on a daily basis until they quit. Or they may bully their new supervisor, especially if they are older and more experienced at the job and think they can get away with it. If confronted about it by upper management, they will often successfully claim innocence.

In a neighborhood, one woman resented losing out to another couple on a bid to buy a new house. So she placed an ad saying that she had a secret fantasy of having a stranger come to her house and aggressively seducing her in the front doorway.  She gave the address of the house she wanted to buy and gave the best times when the new woman owner would be home alone. Then a man who saw the ad attempted to fulfill this “fantasy,” by assaulting the woman who answered the door. Somehow it was traced back to the neighbor and she gave the excuse that she was under stress because she had a disabled adult child. The jury didn’t buy her excuse and she was sent to prison.   

Any Occupation

They can be criminals, con artists, drug dealers, heads of drug cartels, human traffickers and serial rapists. But they can also be politicians, wall-street traders, CEOs, business owners, lawyers, police, in the military, housewives, doctors, teachers, priests, home remodelers, therapists, social workers. And they could be one of your family members. They are about 4% of the U.S. population, which is one in twenty-five people.

They can be extremely smart (think of the serial killer Ted Bundy). Or extremely not smart, like the burglar who snuck into a vacated home that was being fumigated—he died on the lawn from the powerful chemicals inside, with a bag of jewelry in his hand.

Playing the Victim

Many sociopaths will tell you a story about how someone else took advantage of them, or life circumstances treated them very badly. You will feel sorry for them. You will want to help them.  But this is a ploy to help them prey on normal, healthy people who naturally care and want to help a stranger. For example, Ted Bundy used to put a fake cast on his arm or leg, then drop a bunch of books by an isolated young woman on a college campus. He would ask them to help him carry his books back to his car, then when they were leaning into the car to put the books in his back seat, he would shove them into the car.

Getting Revenge

When sociopaths are also high-conflict people (HCPs), they can be especially dangerous. HCPs are preoccupied with blaming others, have all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions that drive their behavior and extreme behavior that 90% of people would never do. Sociopathic HCPs are preoccupied with blaming a “Target of Blame” for not accepting their dominance. They may seek to punish them in ways that are particularly vicious and sometimes fatal. While some sociopaths do not have Targets of Blame (their targets may be banks, art museums or internet schemes), most sociopaths are potential HCPs because they can become so outraged at anyone who gets in the way of something they want.

A teenage sociopath wanted the coat that another teenager was wearing. When the owner of the coat wouldn’t give it up, the sociopath killed her and took the coat.

The worst two stories I have read, which were surely about sociopaths, were about marriages. In one case, the wife had an affair and apparently was thinking of leaving her sociopathic husband. He was furious, so he decided to pour on the charm to keep her in the marriage. Then, he told her he wanted to have a child with her, and they did. Then, when the child was 2 years old, he killed the child as his punishment for her affair and wanting independence from his control. 

In a divorce case, a sociopathic woman decided that she would get sole custody of their 3-year old son. She lured her separated husband back in to have sex with her one day. After he left, she scooped out some of his semen and put it in the boy’s anus. A medical exam and DNA test quickly discovered the father’s “sexual abuse” of the child and the father’s life was permanently ruined.  

Conclusion

I don’t want to scare you, but rather inform you of this widespread pattern of deception, constant lies and extreme behavior without remorse.  Greater awareness and a healthy skepticism will help you protect yourself and your loved ones.

In Part 2 of this two-part blog, I will give some tips for identifying them quickly and dealing with them if you must.