I am not a psychologist, a psychotherapist, or even an expert on human behavior.
What I am, however, is a person who has been in two relationships with sociopaths—one two years long and the second, thankfully, much, much shorter. It took me until a good while after both these relationships, and thanks to my own counselors and support groups, to realize that I had, in fact, been taken in by two sociopaths who saw my empathetic nature, and as a young woman who adores romance, I didn’t stand a chance.
If I can help at all, I want to make sure that other people do not go through the pain and devastation that I did. And if they have already done so, I hope they will come out the other side with me, knowing that they were not alone and that they have now truly stepped into the light to be rid of these people.
So how can one identify whether the person who acts just that tiny bit weird/unpredictably is actually worthy of that strange gut feeling you have about them?
1. They are intense and fast-moving.
Yes, I know it’s a whirlwind and it’s everything a lot of us dream of. We meet someone and you just know. Everything seems to make sense. You’re dating. Now you’re steady. Now you’re living together. Now you’re engaged. Now you’re married.
Whoa, slow down there! It’s only been a few months!
Sociopaths like to take up your world, and they can do this by committing really quickly. We, of course, may take this as a sign of Disney-like love that we hoped existed somewhere, out there, for us….but they are essentially trying to trap you. Mine would even say—he said it as a joke but was also deadly serious—”Got to trap you as soon as possible/when we’re married, you’ll be trapped/when we’ve had our babies, you’ll be trapped forever.”
It is all a big ploy to become as involved with you as possible and to take up your life. It is such an ego boost for the sociopath to feel as if they are indispensable in your life. When they have found someone they can manipulate easily, they will be loath to let you go. The easiest way to trap you in their web is to commit to you and get you feel all your good feelings toward them, investing in what you believe to be genuine affection. But if you’ve only known them a month or two and they’re talking about rings and such, you need to ask yourself why.
Trigger claims include them testifying that you are the love of their life/they’ve never felt this way about anyone/they’ve never done any of the things they do with you for another. All very sweet phrases. But in the first month or two, maybe they should have a little pin of “To Consider Later” put in them…
2. They need to control.
The sociopath may fake being a laid-back person frighteningly well, but trust me, nothing could be further from the truth. Their need to dominate their surroundings, their relationships, their home lives, their circle of friends—everything that they feel capable of dominating in, they will. If they feel they cannot impress or will not be the best at something in a certain circumstance, they will likely avoid that altogether. One of my exes claimed social anxiety; what this meant was that he knew others were doing better than him or were more confident than him, so he would avoid anything that would make him feel like he was not the best in a social circle; he avoided prolonged interaction with others because it made him feel bad.
Don’t be surprised if the sociopath wants to know/tries to find out your passwords to your social media & emails. They may claim that they trust you, but they want to protect you from others, whom they don’t trust(!)
Don’t be surprised if they get irritated or upset if you don’t pick up the phone the minute they start ringing you. They’re important enough to command your instant attention, dammit!
Don’t be surprised if they react badly to you having nights out with the guys/girls. They can’t control you when you’re with your friends. They want to spend all that lovely free time with you. Why? Because I love you, that’s why! Don’t you want us to spend as much time together as possible? So I can protect you, watch over you, make sure you’re only saying nice things about me, can look like the doting spouse to your friends, cut you off from people I don’t like or who threaten to make you see what I really am, make you depend all the more on me because eventually I’m the only person you know?
If you have kids, they will either relinquish all parenting responsibilities because they can’t actually get anything out of a child, or they will need to have such a specific set of rules adhered to, you will worry your child is about to drown in their own parent’s needs.
Don’t be surprised—but act NOW if—you turn around one day and realize you don’t seem to have any friends left (“You need better friends than that. You like my friends/my family, right?/Aren’t I enough for you?”); you’re at odds with anyone who doesn’t like him (“You act different with them, and they’re jeopardizing our true love. Get rid of them, please? For us?”); you are stressed to the max (“I need this, and this and this, and WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE THIS? I TOLD YOU…”) and when you wake up in the morning, your main concern is whether or not they will approve of you that day.
3. They will boast.
Their ego needs to be massaged. If you’re not doing it, they will be doing it for you. They will boast about things that you probably don’t think need to be sung up, or about things which other people can do, because their need to feel important is great. Of course, many people feel the need to talk about themselves when they’re proud of what they do, and that’s a beautiful thing. If it starts to feel a little overboard however…
4. They will criticize you, subtly or otherwise.
As long as there is someone around to make them feel good, they are content. If you are falling over yourself to tell them how much they are loved all the time, you should be fine. If, however, it’s been a day or two and the compliments have dried up, be prepared for a comment on your job. Or your body. Or your age and what you’re doing with your life. Or how you raise your kids. Or even how you do your hair. The sociopath is happiest when he feels like he’s the best person in the room. If you can’t make them feel that, they will do it themselves, through you.
5. They will project.
The sociopath can’t admit they have problems. They can’t admit that they are stuck in their job, or they feel like they’re getting older, or they’re not always able to approach a situation rationally. So what happens? “You’re mad at me cuz you have a crappy job you’re not happy with, and you’re getting too old to change it, and you’re acting crazy because of it.” None of which is true. But it takes the focus off them if they can accuse somebody else of it.
They may also accuse you of doing things they themselves are guilty of. If they start to accuse you of cheating or wanting to cheat when you’re not, for example, you may have to wonder what’s triggered off the suggestion. If they’re bad with money, they’ll accuse you of overspending. If they drink too much, they may accuse you of the same, or tell you your life is about to fall apart because of one of your supposed bad habits.
The blame has to go somewhere, and it CANNOT stay with them. They cannot deal with it.
6. Every breakup they’ve ever had has all been down to their exes.
Huge warning flag here. If your potential sociopath has a chip on their shoulder about absolutely every relationship they’ve ever had, you need to ask yourself why.
The stories always sound plausible enough. I gave them everything. I did this, that, supported, loved, blah blah blah. Note that they will often not talk too much about the emotion they felt for their exes. (I don’t know whether this is because there was nothing there or because that wouldn’t be the best in controlling you, but it’s something I’ve noticed!) Essentially, they had a great relationship, but then the other person buggered it up. It was their fault. They took all the good things that they did for that person and disregarded it.
The image that comes to mind here is of a person acting crushed, peering out at you between their fingers to see if you have fallen for it.
When every one of their stories is like that, there are two possibilities. Either this person has the worst taste in partners possible, or you are not being told the whole truth. With sociopaths, it is the latter. Lying comes easily to them.
The main reason this is the case is because they cannot accept blame, because that would force them to admit they were not perfect. They may tell you stories about themselves while they were in past relationships and talk about their own outrageous behavior (i.e., they had cheated multiple times on their ex, perhaps because they were “unfulfilled/they deserved it/unhappy and didn’t know how to get out” etc. etc.), only for them to then tell you why it was all their ex’s fault that they actually broke up. If a person is unable to accept any blame or cannot be positive about any of their past relationships at all, you may have a sociopath on your hands. This ties into the next point…
7. They are always the victim. Nothing is their fault.
Breakups? Ex’s fault. Credit card debt? Job doesn’t pay enough, and they need a raise. Argument with a friend? All the other person’s fault, every time. Didn’t keep up with repayments? You should have reminded them or done it yourself. Haven’t gotten as far in their career as they wanted? It’s all their bosses and colleagues fault; they’re so jealous and they’re out to get them…
Pay attention. The person who cannot accept blame will not do so if they do something against you. They WILL find a way to make it your fault. Acting abusive? You wound them up. Acting hysterical? Your fault, you shouldn’t have X, Y, Z. They cheated? You drove them to it, what did you expect with how you act with them…
8. Their emotions are more important than yours, whether they act like it or not.
The way the sociopath gets to you is to act like they’d do anything for you because they love you. However, something that threatens their security and emotions is not acceptable. That love vanishes real damn quickly.
Let’s say you’ve had an argument and you’re pretty upset about the things they’ve said, and you feel justified in that. Nope. Get over it. It wasn’t that bad. It was your fault anyway (seeing a pattern here?); you brought it on yourself. What, that thing? We’ve talked about that, we need to move on immediately, and I can’t believe you’re making a big deal over this, you’re acting crazy. Wait, what are you talking about? No. That never even happened, what are you talking about?
This is called gaslighting and the minute someone does this to you, you need to exit Stage Left.
Cuz they’ll do all this and then they’ll come home with flowers for you the next day, just to confuse you and make you forget all about it.
9. They are hysterical creatures.
This goes back to their need for control, and my mentioning that while they may appear to be calm people, even shy or retiring people at first, this is again a front for a capability of great swaths of irrational behavior and hysteria. For example, my first sociopathic ex found texts on my phone between myself and another man, complaining about how harsh my soon-to-be-ex was being to me, and telling him how much I enjoyed this other man’s company. (I had insidiously been forced to sever all ties with most of my male friends because of my fiancé’s paranoia.) What should have been a sit-down-let’s-talk-about-how-we-got-here situation couldn’t have been more extreme. He gave me twenty minutes to pack a bag, then bundled me into the car we shared together and drove me for two hours up the road to this man’s house (bearing in mind, I’d actually met this other guy only once before!).
When sociopaths see something that they do not like or cannot control, they will act like toddlers trying to get what they want. They will blow everything out of proportion, blame things that you don’t think of as a problem on you, give you the silent treatment even when you’ve done nothing wrong (they are often punishing you for what they themselves have done, but remember that they are incapable of accepting blame) and—here’s a biggie—they threaten the relationship over things which definitely should not jeopardize an adult relationship.
10. When they feel they can no longer control you, they will control the way others see you.
Again, I can think of no better example than what my ex did with me. “I’m gonna tell EVERYONE what you did…” Emails to my mother, my brother, my friends with a fake apology that he wished he could have been the person for me, but I had “made my choice.” Mother and brother both, thankfully, saw straight through it. Friends, however, were a little harder to win back, but this was, as I discovered, because a very select set of circumstances had been presented to them, and some of them were convinced that I was a terrible person who had done unforgivable damage to a person who was actually “a really nice guy” and had “done everything for me.”
They hate the loss of control, especially when they’ve found it easy to control you in the past. But again, you cannot look better than them. If you recover unblemished from your relationship, other people may start to think that they weren’t all that important, so you need to be made out to be the bad guy.
11. Once the relationship/friendship is over, you are officially dead to them.
Okay, maybe not exactly dead. They may occasionally call you up to use you as their emotional punching bag, or maybe they’ll get in touch to show you how “wonderful” their life is without you. But that nice person they might have pretended to be long ago instantly goes down the tubes. They’re not getting anything out of you, so why bother? If you share things, be prepared to never see those things again, or have a fight on your hands for it. If you share kids, the kids will either be completely ignored henceforth, or used as weapons to turn against you, no matter how graceful you were about the breakup.
12. They will replace you as soon as they possibly can after you break up.
They say that the sociopath cannot be alone for too long because the hollow emptiness of their shell-like existence is enough to drown them. While this may or may not be true, a pattern with them is to replace a person they have lost in their lives incredibly quickly. This is actually one of the easier ways to discern a sociopath if you already have your suspicions. If they are acting angry and treating you like the worst person in the world, or have severed all contact with you, yet three weeks after the breakup they’re engagement-worthy deep with another person, you can assume that the cycle of abuse has begun again with their new victim. Especially if the person is possibly desperate or easy to control, because the sociopath will do with them what they may have even done with you—They will waltz into this person’s life, put on their best acting face of I Am The Answer To All Your Deepest Dreams In A Partner, and make themselves indispensable to them. Sound familiar? Do not take this personally. The love that they used to drug you with was a fantasy, and now the dream and ensuing nightmare are over. This is what they do, for the sociopath’s ego is based on feeling needed, like the center of the universe to someone. And woe betide anyone whom they give the gift of themselves to in order to shut out the screaming void from within.
This is in no way an exhaustive list of the behaviors that sociopaths are prone to. I’m pretty sure I could punch out a short novel based on a few years’ worth of a toxic relationship, but these are some of the biggest factors. If you even suspect after looking through this list that you know or are in a relationship with a sociopath, get out of it. ASAP. If that’s impossible, and it certainly can feel that way sometimes (because they’re clever like that!), get some more advice, get a plan together and monitor interaction with this person. Good luck to you.