Search Box

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How sociopaths keep you off balance

"Isabelle" described her recent experience with a sociopath on the Red flags for sociopathy post last night. She taught me some things about sociopaths I had been unaware of before. Here's her comment (with my responses not in italics):

I had an encounter with a sociopath yesterday which made me think of adding to this post. Duping delight, couldn't keep it off her face no matter how hard she tried, kept me off balance by asking inappropriate questions and if I tried to deflect her line of questioning, she would contradict me under her breath, obviously not all sociopaths are that overt I realise but it surprised me how grossly entitled she'd have to be to supply her own commentary.

She also complimented me inappropriately not long after meeting which had me on red alert since the timing and everything was off, usually when people notice my good qualities they would never bring it to my attention, but she was bombarding me with compliments within 15 mins of meeting, equally she turned it around and was calling me schizophrenic 15 mins later. Compliments followed by criticisms is a sociopath favourite as well as advertising their punches, at one point saying that she wasn't sadistic, which given everything she was doing, conning me out of large sums of money, was in fact what she was.

The too premature flattery I'm familiar with, but I hadn't realized that sociopaths would follow that up with insults right afterward as a way of keeping you off balance. That makes perfect sense though: it means they get to play offense while you're completely occupied with defense.

Volunteering that she wasn't sadistic was a definite tell: no one ever issues an unprompted denial unless what they're denying is in fact true. That's a little reminiscent of the guy who tells you, without being asked, that he has a lot of integrity and honesty. (Guard your wallet.)

Her calling me schizophrenic also had me on guard since sociopaths love labelling people as crazy, mad or schizo - partly as projective identification but also because it gives them duping delight to talk about themselves so openly without anyone knowing it's really themselves that they are referring to. So they get to advertise their punches and project at the same time. There was the constant communication misunderstandings that she would fall back on, as if she had misheard or misunderstood what I had said when she was being inappropriate or made me uncomfortable, despite understanding all the subtle nuances when I would try to deflect her line of questioning. The psycho stare of course which is a favourite and the watching of micro movements on your face and the paying attention to the smallest nuance in body language, all signs of a social predator at work.

I don't think that accusing Isabelle of being mad was projection; sociopaths aren't crazy themselves, they're simply evil. I think what the sociopath was doing was merely trying to keep Isabelle on the defensive, and also "gaslight" her, making her doubt herself. The intent was to soften her up and make Isabelle more vulnerable to the next line of attack.

However the one thing that made it certain for me that she was a sociopath was her asking about my abuse history, in the context of the massage therapy session it was highly inappropriate, but the feeding frenzy look that literally appeared in her eyes when I mentioned that I had cut away from my parents. I didn't say anything about sociopathy but she assumed that I was a good victim and when I was unclothed, she asked about further abuses that had occurred. I know the particular fascination sociopaths have with abuse histories and that alerted me wholesale to the fact that she was a sociopath but I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had read the inappropriate questioning and compliments faster. The completely over the top compliment at the start was the only thing that had me concerned since it was to lower my guard and it made me wonder why she wanted to lower my guard.

"Feeding frenzy look that literally appeared in her eyes" -- what a perfect description of what happens when sociopaths get to vicariously enjoy the abuse that someone else inflicted on you. Their eyes just light up as they savor your pain. And yes, they are great at reading people.

It was only after reading this paragraph that I realized that the sociopath was Isabelle's masseuse, so the "inappropriate" compliments bit made more sense to me, they must have been about her body. That situation must have made Isabelle feel doubly vulnerable, lying their naked while the sociopath passed judgment on her (even if the first judgment was a positive one).

What we tend to do is minimise all their eccentricities because we don't want to judge, but even we get over that hurdle there is still the social contract that makes it so hard to behave out of context once we realise we've walked into a trap. There is also the tendency to suspect one's own suspicions, partly because the statistics on sociopaths are not accurate. They seem to be much more common then is officially touted and partly because I also don't want to think that they are everywhere, so when I first encounter them I tend to dismiss the red flags but I have done that to my detriment on too many occasions, after all 5 mins of discomfort is better than 4 hours in their company. It seems breaking the social contract goes against our nature and is probably the most difficult part to master given that people are social creatures and are bound by empathy, even if the person you're dealing with doesn't have empathy, you tend to act out of that place and not let them know you know their motivations.

People DO tend to assume other people are like them. So decent people will automatically make the baseline assumption that others are decent, and sociopaths will always suspect the worst of everybody. And it IS hard, even if you know you're dealing with a sociopath, to just slough off the social contract and play the game by their (lack of) rules.

I also agree that the number of sociopaths is underestimated. Most textbooks say that they comprise roughly 1% of females and 3% of males. I'd guess it's more like 3% of women and 4% of men. (I have no hard facts to back that up, it's just a general impression.) Women are likely underdiagnosed simply because they are less likely to be violent; but that doesn't mean they're any the less predatory by nature.

In any case, the bit about keeping you off balance was what was most interesting to me. That's what sociopaths do: they flatter here, insult there, get you wondering about yourself, and make you dizzy and a little defensive. And all of that coming at you from different angles, nonstop, combines to make you just a little more suggestible, and a little more susceptible to their wiles. I'd seen it -- and felt it -- before, but had never quite put my finger on it the way Isabelle did.


Anonymous said...

this is a really good post

"telegraphing the punches" is a good psychopath tell, I would say sometimes it is not a slip but rather part of the dance, a style point ("NO I AM NOT A SNAKE ABOUT TO EAT YOU" = just hamming it up for all of the other imaginary snakes in the audience elbowing each other and saying YOU SEE THAT, VERN? THIS IS GOOD STUFF (I know, snakes don't have elbows, that would be a good name for a bar THE SNAKE'S ELBOW))

"People DO tend to assume other people are like them. So decent people will automatically make the baseline assumption that others are decent, and sociopaths will always suspect the worst of everybody." is 100% correct.

a whole bunch of other good stuff in this post


John Craig said...

Thank you. (Though I don't think I'd be drawn to a bar called "The Snake's Elbow.")

Anonymous said...

My dream is for all sociopaths to be abducted by aliens or to disappear by spontaneous combustion, leaving the rest of humanity in relative peace.

- birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
That would be nice.

Anonymous said...

I think the official percentages are probably correct more or less. There's a lot of personality disorders which are similar, extremely stressed and depressed people can behave like sociopaths and the disordered make a big splash, get around more, meet more people, etc.

Social media is a big problem too. Five months after me and my friends got on Facebook I had acquired a stalker and couldn't keep her out of my life.

One day I went to a gathering at a friends house and there she was. She said "I'm XXX's friend and I'm so glad he decided to make me part of his life!" She crouched down and jumped up and some of my friends cheered.

I pulled some of my friends aside and told them "She's not my friend. She's a violent stalker. I'm afraid of her. I think she wants to batter me."

Saying this didn't do me any favors. She had already been spending months telling all of my friends (no privacy settings in those days) about our wonderful relationship. She's had thousands of conversations about me since. Ultimately I had to leave that social circle because of a years long smear campaign.

I always saw through her and most people do but there's always a few people who are cult followers and those people are key people in the social circle and outnumber me.

You talk about duping delight. I would see a lot of that, often the display was conspicous but only for me. Sometimes she'd put her head in the small of someone's back and make a face at me in such a way that nobody else in the room could see it.

When I first met her she convinced me that she was some extraordinary scientist or science nerd. She actively maintained that deception for three "dates" but it eventually fell apart because I was genuinely interested in her views on science. She managed to fake it up to a point by saying vague and profound things. But eventually she tripped up and I realized that it was all fake and then refused to see her again.

I've always found it odd that she would fixate on somebody who didn't like her and could see right through her. I couldn't understand why she was pursuing me and eventually I came to believe the innocent explanation she was repeating to me endlessly.

Eventually she took my life apart with a smear campaign and violent stalking that went on for years. I still have painful encounters from people she manipulates and sends my way nearly five years after no contact. I never had much contact with her.

To anyone who is still reading this and can empathize with what I'm saying. I highly recommend deactivating your social media accounts (you can always reactivate them later). The damage being done to your life is incalculable and invisible. The privacy settings on social media are easier to circumvent than you might think. Facebook Events for example is largely public and is full of untagged photos (so your blocks won't work). So it doesn't take any hacking for a stalker to get a photographic record of your life.

But more importantly social media creates a different social reality, something more plastic, more malleable in the hand of bad actors. I think a lot of the complaints/awareness of increased sociopathic activity in recent years is largely due to social media empowering these people with a longer reach. Being a sociopath is hard work and fraught with risk. Stalking used to be time consuming and dangerous (exposure was a near certainty) for the stalker now it's largely risk free and as easy (the other person won't know you're doing it).

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank your that excellent description of how a stalker operates.

Yes, it's true that it's easy to mistake one disorder for another. I've made that mistake twice (that I know of), thinking that people with Borderline Personality Disorder were sociopaths. Once I got to understand BPD, I realized, in retrospect, that they were not sociopaths.

And yes, sociopaths can make your life hell. The advantage they have over the rest of us is that they are utterly shameless and utterly dishonest (the two traits are closely related) and while we restrict ourselves to telling the truth about them, they will tell all sorts of lies about us, and do so in often diabolically clever and plausible ways. They'll even tell others that we've been talking trash about them (the others) when we haven't. I've had that experience with two sociopaths.

True enough about social media.