As a psychotherapist, I entered the field of psychology because I wanted to help people. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity. I wouldn’t disagree that I can be naive at times. I want to believe in others even if lied to repeatedly. However, I am reminded periodically of the fact that not everyone wants to be good or do good. Sociopaths, also called psychopaths, exist and walk among us. Sociopaths have a defining characteristic of a lack of conscience. They lack the moral compass that the rest of us live by.
Martha Stout wrote in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” that one in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Not all sociopaths are convicted killers like Ted Bundy. Others could be your boss, your ex-spouse, or your neighbor.
They could be women who fall in love and marry only to find that they are victims to financial scams; they may be victims of severe abuse by the hand of a parent; they may embezzle millions from their workplace; they may be a family member who cheats their siblings out of an inheritance; they may be a parent who uses their children’s identity for financial gain. And generally speaking they are lovely, charismatic people whom you are drawn to.
So if they can do anything they want without feeling guilty, what do they want? They want to manipulate you for their own gain. They are rarely seen in counseling unless court ordered and it is said that there is no cure. They are difficult to spot until they have created havoc in your life.
So what can you do to protect yourself from a sociopath?
1. Give up the naive assumption that they just need to be loved. In fact, they have an incapacity to love. You will be easily manipulated because you want so much to heal them.
2. If they are violent, leave immediately. Seek physical safety by changing your locks, set the security system, change your phone numbers, screen your calls and if you are stalked, call the police and tell others about it.
3. If you fall prey to a financial scam, freeze your accounts, change your account passwords, notify the bank and IRS, and file forgeries with the police.
4. Protect, avoid, cut communication with them absolutely necessary. Don’t give them information about you. They have an uncanny ability to zero in on your emotional vulnerabilities.