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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.