Editor’s Note: A Mumbai-based psychologist we spoke to says that she sees many more women who fall prey to men (usually men, according to her experience) who appear charming, but display “dark triad” traits, which includes psychopathic, everyday sadistic, narcissistic traits. We aren’t all conditioned to recognise emotional abuse for what it is.
With what’s known as gas-lighting, for example, it is difficult to know that you are being taken advantage of, that you are the victim, as you are often being manipulated into doubting your thoughts and your very self. You start to believe what the other person is telling you, that you misunderstood, that things are not what you think they are.
How come this following piece is on the Health Collective? A survivor is sharing her trauma, looking for patterns and signs that can help others recognise sociopathic (or antisocial personality disorder) tendencies.
* IF any of these signs described below sound familiar, please seek out help from a trained therapist or psychologist to help with a diagnosis.
DEALING WITH A SOCIOPATH
By Akancha Srivastava
Here is what happened with me even though I am often described as strong, independent, mature & balanced:
I met a sociopath & fell into the trap
I lived through a hell of emotional abuse, lying, cheating, manipulation & grief
I sought help from my trusted circle of people. I shared my experience honestly & with confidence.
I told myself that I was damaged but not broken. I fought to reclaim my life & strength.
I took help from professionals to understand and accept that I was dealing with a sociopath
I took time to heal myself.
I am a winner. Not a survivor. Because I choose to win over the trauma rather than wallow in self inflicted pity.
I choose to write about this topic instead of simply moving on as its on my conscience to help others who may not even be aware of what they are experiencing.
The entire traumatic episode is described HERE. I have spoken to several experts thereafter about case studies from across the world on this topic. I am also surprised at how little is being written on the subject in India. I would therefore like to share whatever I have gathered from my research. I am not an expert on mental disorders. I am just another person like you working hard & living a disciplined life. I hope that my experience will not only help but also inspire a few others to share their stories. It takes courage to share trauma. But this courage is what we need to change a few other lives.
DEFINITION: WHAT IS A SOCIOPATH
Sociopaths are people who have anti-social personality disorder and demonstrate a pattern of disregard that is pervasive, particularly in terms of the feelings and rights of others. They are characterised by lack of conscience, empathy, fear, regret/remorse & love. In many parts of the world, sociopaths are categorised as “disabled” since a part of their brain which triggers several emotions integral to social living, is not functional. Therefore, it is not entirely possible to reform a person with sociopathic trait.
HOW SOCIOPATHS OPERATE: TYPICAL TRAITS
1) MIRRORING: Sociopaths (often) have a decent IQ. They are able to read you by your body language, speech, how you dress & (unfortunately) now, by how you conduct yourself on social media. They are predators who will stalk every aspect of your living until they have understood your deep-set needs. They use it to give you a false sense of security, make you believe they are just like you.
Once they have assessed what you really want, they will lie to offer you exactly that:
If you are financially unstable, they will offer stability
If you are lonely, they will pretend to be the dream companion
If you miss having a family, he will be the ideal family man
If you have been hurt by your ex, they will be the every adoring lover
Assessing your needs & then giving you exactly what you need is called mirroring.
- TO DO: Watch out if someone sounds like a dream companion who has every single quality you have ever looked for in your partner. If they cant see a single flaw in you, its alarming. Nobody mature enough should be so blinded that they love every bit of your existence.
That perfect ‘soulmate’ could be a your worst nightmare. There is no magic to relationships. Some one who sounds too good to be true probably isn’t true.
2) COMPULSIVE, PATHOLOGICAL LYING: Sociopaths have no real identity of themselves. They are continuously building perceived realities for their victims. In the process they find themselves lying on a daily basis with sole agenda of confusing or convincing the other person.
They are master actors. They will have you believe incidents that never happened. They will cry real tears to stories of how they might have cancer or their mother is suffering. They are known to lie about their careers, educational background, financial stability, friends circle & almost anything around them.
It’s not unusual for them to create personas of their colleagues, family who don’t actually exist. They will send you emails from different ids to make believe this existence. You might even hear them on fake calls pretending to have long engaging conversations with these supposed non-existing people.
If you do happen to suspect any such lie & confront them, you will be met with emotional abuse. In fact, he will pretty much convince you that its your controlling nature or how he didn’t want to hurt you so he lied through all those years. Do not expect apology or regret.
Remember that they can weave intricate web of lies that are almost difficult to call out. He might get ready every morning and go to a job every single day for years. There might not even be such a job. He could be roaming the streets.
At the end of it all, it’s like peeling an onion. You keep uncovering one lie after another. It leaves the victim in shock & grief.
- TO DO: Do not take people at face value. Whether at work or in relationships, do a background check. That office they claim to have, colleagues, house they own in another city, ex- wife….it may all be a big fat lie.
3) GASLIGHTING: Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. (Source: Wikipedia)
Gaslighting is a hallmark trait of a sociopath. It is a technique used to fool, manipulate, control & confuse the victims.
Long periods of this practice have been known to drive people onto depression, insanity and even suicide.
Gaslightling involves confusing the victim’s mind through outrageous lies or make-believe situations. Sociopaths have the ability to lie without flinching and that confuses the victims who might want to understand the situation logically.
It might be a cycle of unbelievable lies like if you find them lying and confront them, they might apologise for part of it but blame you for the experience.
For example: yes, I was texting this other woman, I am really sorry. But, why are you so insecure? You should know I wont actually do anything. You are always making me apologise, I feel controlled. Though I never wanted to hurt you but she’s chasing me and you ask too many questions. She’s in my past, I was only flirting in a healthy manner. Do you not want me to have any female friends?
Go over the above paragraph once more and see if it makes any sense at all. However, repeated arguments like these over prolonged periods change our hardwiring. We are so confused with such behavior combined with rage, deflection, lies and disrespect that it makes one imbalanced. You will begin doubting your own judgments.
- TO DO: Have faith in yourself. Look at things in an intelligent manner like you have, all your life. Do not accept anyone’s version of reality if there are loopholes. At the first sign of rage, aggression, abuse or disrespect, set clear rules for what you are willing to accept in the relationship.
4) TRIANGULATION: After the initial period of showering affection & mirroring your needs, comes the phase of triangulation. Triangulation is the process of creating competition where they make themselves sound so desirable by many others that you will always be fighting to win them over.
There will always be an ex-lover, a lonely married woman or a female colleague who will seemingly be chasing them. They might even make sure you see glimpses of these make-believe scenarios through texts/ letters intentionally meant for you to find. It will send you into a fury of emotions. You will fear losing your person, detest the other woman and always be fighting for a place in his life.
Sociopaths love turning people against one another. They will continuously drop hints that they may be cheating. This is a very confusing behaviour as people in normal relationships actually work hard on proving that they are trust-worthy. Such instances confuse a normal person and they begin questioning their own reasoning.
Social media makes it even easier for them to torture their victims. They will ‘accidentally’ flirt with an ex, ‘like’ someone’s post, stalk another’s updates, sings songs to random women and drive you completely insane.
If you are lucky enough to break out of this relationship, they will immediately declare how happy they are on their own. They will begin publicising how unhappy they were with you. They will flirt openly and almost immediately after you call it quits. This is ultimate torture by triangulation.
- TO DO: If you find yourself always insecure with your partner, playing detective, ask yourself if its really worth it. Appeal to your self-respect.
5) MANIPULATION AND CONTROL: Sociopaths have little to no conscience. They also have no emotions of love or fear. This makes them master manipulators of their victims. They are so full of deceit that their manipulation will almost destroy the victim by the time they are done.
They have already established trust by mirroring you. They have established what a good companion, stable partner, and reliable colleague they are. Each time your gut points to an unusual behaviour, they will confuse you into trusting them even more. Your gut is drowned in this web of lies.
Their primary tool is love & fear. Exactly the emotions they don’t possess. Its like flying a kite. You let go & then pull back. They will flood you with love right after playing your emotions for a few days. They will abuse your trust but wipe that memory out with one sweeping gesture of supposed love.
They will fly into rage and call you names, abuse you publicly and just when you decide to call it off, will make a dinner and apologise to you looking straight into your eyes. Ofcourse they will promise to never repeat that behaviour. And of course, it will happen again. This cycle will repeat itself endlessly.
- TO DO: Trust your gut. If you find that there’s something not quite right. It probably isn’t. Speak to a friend/ family and build a circle of support around you. People who love you will always watch out for you. Never ignore a pattern of behaviour.
6) LACK OF EMPATHY, CONSCIENCE, REMORSE OR REGRET: These are a sociopath’s most powerful tool. Since there is a lack of these basic human traits, they get away with behaviour one might find ‘inhuman’. In case you are walking on the street & you accidentally step on someone’s toes, you would spontaneously apologise. In their case, they would continue walking or even blame the other person for being in their path.
If you ever confront a sociopath about their abnormal behaviour, you will be met with rage, abuse, deflection, emotional blackmail, moral indignity or even blame on yourself for their behaviour.
They may even build up fictitious past childhood abuse or lack of parents’ love to justify their behaviour. They will blame YOU for their promiscuity. Society at large would be responsible for their anger. Remember, it’s never them! They never take responsibility for their action.
They only think of themselves. They don’t care for how others are impacted by their actions. Lack of conscience can be incredibly powerful in the way they manipulate victims. They will rather question your motives, they will appeal to your morals, they will talk endlessly to confuse you, and they will cry or threaten to walk out. They will do anything that helps them achieve their own end goals. That’s all that matters to them. They never think long term. They only want to supply to their current needs. Whatever works in current scenario. They also never learn from their past mistakes.
- TO DO: If something doesn’t make sense to you as a logical person, do not doubt your intelligence. Question it and do not put it down until you are convinced of the answer. Don’t be confused with counter-attacks on your morality. You are never responsible for anyone else’s misbehaviour.
7) SOCIOPATHS ARE VERY ‘NORMAL’: It’s only in movies that you find oddly dressed, mentally disturbed characters. In real life, these people appear to be very normal & extremely charming. In fact, a bit too normal. They are dressed in clean clothes; appear to have good hygiene habits. They are careful about doing things & make themselves invisible in a crowd. Though they are attention seekers, they are wary of being in limelight.
If you look closely, you will barely find any great long-standing friendships in their past. Even if they do have a couple of friends, those will be out of town, far away from their place of current residence. Sociopaths cant nurture any relationship. As they age, this pretence gets harder to maintain. All their friends are merely superficial or distant.
- TO DO: Always know the social circle your partner keeps. Ask for introduction in person. Know the kind of friendships they nurtures. If you can’t connect with even a couple of friends/ trusted colleagues, it is a certain red flag.
8) MYTH: INTELLIGENT, SUCCESSFUL, STRONG, HAPPY PEOPLE CAN NEVER BE VICTIMS: Absolutely wrong. You couldn’t be further away from truth. It’s only the intelligent, seemingly successful and strong people who are most attractive to a sociopath. It’s the challenge and conquest that gives them validation for their existence.
They are parasites. They love to feed on you financially, socially, emotionally and psychologically. They will assess if you have the money to support them. They will live off your resources while continuously promising contribution when that elusive fund hits their bank. They get a high in damaging an intelligent person by first gaining trust and then destroying it brick by brick. They will go to any extent to gain confidence of a rational person- hire an office space, introduce them to the family, go on a vacation. But all that’s a pretext to their game.
When they see a strong, successful individual buy their ridiculous stories, they gain sadistic pleasure. Their ego is satiated by conning empathetic individuals who are more forgiving in general.
Sociopaths have an overpowering need to control, destabilise a strong individual. This serves as a supply to their own sense of being. Key reason why empaths fall prey to sociopaths is because they have been brought up with principles of right and wrong, conscience and rationality. When we meet someone who has gained our trust, we are totally confused by lack of these basic human values.
- TO DO: Never devalue yourself by questioning your own intelligence. If you have had an experience with a sociopath, its probably because you are loving, intelligent & empathetic person. Thank your stars that you are out of it.
10 Things To Do If You Realise That You Are Dealing With A Sociopath:
If you can identify with a couple of traits in combination, as mentioned above, here is what I recommend you do:
1) Disconnect Immediately. Sociopaths cannot be rehabilitated. There’s a part of their brain, which isn’t functioning. You cannot repair that. No amount of therapy can fix it.
2) Maintain NO CONTACT. Respond to no form of provocation or apologies. They will try to berate you in common circle of friends, post humiliating stories on social media, claim to be in relationship with their ex. What ever may be the case, you need to cut all contact and stay unreachable.
3) Do not communicate with anyone closely attached to him including his family.Remember that the disorder might even be genetic. Or the family might be so manipulated by them that they cant see reality. Don’t believe anyone in his close circle. You do not owe any explanation to them either.
4) Tell your friends & family. Share all details of the experience in complete honesty with your trusted circle. The support system you create will go a long way in helping you recover from this trauma.
5) Seek professional help. Speak to a therapist or psychiatrist.
6) Do not seek answers to their irrational behaviour. Remember that sociopaths have no conscience, empathy, regret or remorse.
7) Read. Knowledge is power. There is a lot of information available on the subject around. Read so that you are aware and strong for future.
8) Introspect. All of us have vulnerabilities. Introspect on what human emotion is most wanting within us. Just being conscious of it will make you powerful.
9) Never blame yourself. You were targeted cos you seemed like a wonderful person. Your empathy and kindness are strengths not weakness.
10) Do not let one person define relationships forever. Not everyone is out there to get you. The world is full of fantastic, loving, generous people. Believe in that.
My purpose of writing this piece is to help anyone reading it in identifying if they are in a dysfunctional relationship. Sociopath men & women are dangerous. They are known to destroy careers, deplete finances, and drive people to insanity or even suicide. I spoke about my experience & set an example for some. Please reclaim your life by standing up against anyone who takes away even a bit of your happiness. Life is beautiful. Its full of infinite opportunities.
Wishing you love & luck.
About the Author:
Akancha Srivastava is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur. She has run a strategic Brand Consulting Firm for 14 years. She coaches organisations, and is also a motivational speaker. You can find more about her here.
Views Expressed are Personal. Material on The Health Collective cannot substitute for professional mental health advice from a trained professional.