What do you think of when you hear the word sociopath?
I always thought of a sinister man behind bars mimicking the sound of slurping a liver. I thought of serial killers and thriller movie characters—until now.
I’ve realized from some of my relationship experiences that is quite possible to date someone sociopathic or with sociopathic tendencies.
It is nothing like the movies and “NCIS” episodes, so I share some examples of what “real life” sociopathic behavior can look like. It could be a neighbor, a friend, some tendencies might even be found in ourselves. The trait is sometimes subtle, but it is also highly destructive.
Psychology Today has a long, detailed lists of sociopathic traits and below I list the ones I have personally dealt with in my past.
I fell in love with a sociopath. I fell for his perceived openness and concern. I fell for his good looks, sexuality, and seemingly strong self-confidence. He was funny and willing to play into the fantasy of Prince Charming and do superficial things that had no real cost to him. It is a subtlety often overlooked.
Emotional apathy, lack of shame:
The biggest red flag that is easy to subconsciously turn a blind eye to is apathy. Whenever a sociopath’s behavior causes someone immense pain or difficulty, he will find ways to vilify the “other” party and rationalize or revise the situational story to gain empathy.
Most sociopaths are incredibly intellectual and even emotionally intellectual, so manipulation comes quite naturally. Someone sociopathic, or with such tendencies, does not engage in shame or accountability on a deep level. They can appear to say the “right” words when conversations that don’t involve them call for it, but they will never meet circumstances where they have been a source of hurt, pain, or discomfort to someone else with compassion, empathy, or seriousness.
Inability to feel or show true remorse:
This is key: A sociopath will say the words:
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Sorry this happened”
“Sorry we are here.”
The use of the most general forms of apologies are their second nature, and they will say them…often. It is important to realize that the depths of true apologies, sincerity, and willingness to change—to show true remorse—is never present.
Lack of a “life plan” and absence of “stick-to-it-ness”:
A sociopath will change jobs, lose interest in projects, and have no desire to finish things started. He or she will most likely flip from one interest to the next with no care for the chaos left behind. This includes human relationships as well.
In my relationship(s) with a sociopath, I noticed seemingly huge life changes were handled with a shoulder shrug of indifference and an, “It is what it is” attitude.
I wasn’t able to see these things as “signs” because, individually, there were characteristics that I felt were unwarranted for judgment.
So I loved harder and instead focused on allowance and acceptance. I am fallible too, so loving more seemed right, and how I wanted to be treated when my own flaws were out in the open.
Unreliability in every sense of the word. At times I would feel infuriated with the constant lateness, changing of plans, and not showing up. Some of the kindest and most genuine people I know have issues with time management. So this too can be easily overlooked when viewed on its own, yet if any of these other traits are coupled with extreme unreliability, both emotionally and physically, you may be dealing with a sociopath.
Sexuality as power or relationship currency:
The second biggest sign, I now see in hindsight, is the matter of sexuality. Physical and sexual behavior can be a currency to a sociopath and is often of the highest priority. In my experiences with sociopathic behavior, sex was the only “love language” spoken.
Everything came down to either my being a “good girlfriend and respecting his needs and wanting the same” or “rejection.” Everything. This can often go unnoticed for a long time if you too are very physical and enjoy physical expression of your feelings. For me, it was not until the ramifications of some of his more dismissive, painful, and emotionally vacant traits came through that my lust and interest waned.
A sociopath does not handle empathy well. If a partner feels lonely, unappreciated, or angry, thereby making them less inclined to share and show physical affection, it is most often perceived as “punishing,” or “being disrespectful.” It can be the most frustrating aspect of loving a sociopath, because despite anything you could say, explain, or try to communicate about how feelings affect actions, it will be met with accusations of “playing a power game” or “withholding.”
It is important to make a distinction here. Everyone lies a lot of the time.
“Yes, you look great.”
“No, I can’t go to drinks tonight; I have work to do.”
“Yes, the tooth fairy exists.”
These examples are not what I’m talking about. The most frightening part of this trait is that he actually believed his lies enough to sell them, remember them, and stick to them.
In a personally heartbreaking example from my past, a sociopath and I had been broken up for several months for many reasons, one of which was that he cheated on me. We had gone our separate ways. He was aware I had not yet moved on or healed, and he came back confessing love, missing me, thinking of me often, and so on. I believed these words because I needed to at the time. As we all know, love is far harder to undo than to fall into.
In a matter of days, I had let my guard down and we jumped back into laughing, lovemaking, and the charming traits that initially wooed me. The very next day, I found out that he was leaving on a beach vacation with a new girlfriend that he had introduced his kids to only days before seeing me.
A sociopath will lie about huge emotional feelings (see above) and small things like their whereabouts or the timing of things—even if there is no apparent risk to telling the truth. I dated a man who would literally make up a story to explain a behavior rather than simply conveying the harmless truth.
Extreme calm in chaos:
I’m not talking about how an ER doctor can perform a tracheotomy while blood spurts everywhere and people are screaming. A sociopath can stand in the biggest emotional storm of an imminent divorce, emotional tirade, or absolute chaos and be calm, crack jokes, and even behave as if nothing is happening. Depending on the situation this can be viewed as “bravery” or “stability,” but the key is context with this sign.
Poor judgment and lack of ability to learn from experiences:
A true sociopath is incapable and unwilling to learn from past mistakes. In one example from my past, he cheated when he met me, when he left me, and a month into his new fledgling relationship with the next woman.
I’m not saying all sociopaths cheat. I am saying there are distinctly destructive patterns that most people would reflect on and avoid. There is a grandiose quality to sociopathic behavior that is biting and very clear to see if you are willing to look closely.
A true sociopath is disinterested in being self-aware because most are not sure who they actually are. The honest identity of a sociopath is a fluid concept—morphing and pandering to whatever they need to be to get what they want in order to play to their advantage.
Lack of close family ties and a small circle (if any) of friends:
When a sociopath has shown his/her true colors to anyone—be it a partner, a friend, or family member—and is met with disdain, disappointment, or confrontation (which is even worse), they will abandon that person and situation completely because it does not work with their perception of themselves.
I have seen a sociopath dismiss and drop an ex-wife with zero shame, remorse, or pain because she saw him in his truth. In hindsight, I realized it happened with his family members that have called him to the carpet. After time, and many nights of deconstruction, I saw that having held the mirror up, I was also dismissed. Anyone who shows the human quality of feeling pain or disappointment due to a sociopath’s actions, words, and behaviors are considered “liabilities” to them.
No matter how open you stay, nor how much love you throw at them, a sociopath is impenetrable. You can use forgiveness and even practice admission of your own faults to show vulnerability to create a safe place—it most likely won’t matter, or worse, may be used against you later.
I have had immense trouble truly letting go of the hurtful sociopath or sociopathic behaviors that have presented themselves in my love life. My first instinct is to give the advice to run! It sounds easy, but it isn’t really a well-rounded solution. I truly believe if you recognize these traits in a lover, friend, or someone close to you and find that it is not healthy for you, then yes, run. But I have found it important to recognize the need for forgiveness.
If you can forgive yourself for loving a sociopath and be gentle with your handling of that subject, you can most likely forgive them. Yes them. I found peace in realizing that the wounds deep enough to cause a man or woman to effectively shut off most (if not all) emotional response is worthy of my compassion.
I guess I’m saying that you can choose to no longer allow a space for a sociopath to cause you pain and lovingly disengage with them. You can also choose to allow the space for compassion knowing that they are most likely doing the best they can with the tools they have.
I’ve said this mantra to myself so many times it plays on repeat every time a thought of my past resurfaces, or I find myself berating my seeming ignorance:
“I love myself enough to put him (or her) behind me for good. I love him enough to forgive and have compassion, but loving me means letting him go.”
Author: Laila S. Lyons
Image: The Talented Mr. Ripley still
Editor: Travis May