7 reasons why regular people enable sociopaths

Jerry Sandusky

Three former administration officials of Penn State University were sentenced to jail last Friday because they failed to report signs that Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was sexually abusing boys.

This is right and just. They should be held accountable.

The former university president, Graham B. Spanier, will spend at least two months in jail, followed by two months of house arrest. Gary Schultz, the former athletic director, and Tim Curley, a former vice president, will also spend time in jail, followed by house arrest.

On October 9, 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for assaulting 10 boys. However, more men also came forward, and Penn State offered settlements to approximately 30 victims.

Penn State University has paid out nearly $250 million in settlements, legal bills, fines, public relations and other costs as a result of the scandal. Much of this would have been avoided if the administrators had acted appropriately when they learned about Sandusky’s behavior.

The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Prosecutor Laura Ditka’s statement about the president, Spanier:

“He was a complete and utter failure as a leader when it mattered the most,” Ditka said during Friday’s hearing. “He made the choice to protect his reputation, the reputation of his friends and the reputation of the university above the well-being of these children. And that is inexcusable.”

Read complete coverage:

Penn State’s Spanier gets jail for role in Sandusky scandal, on Philly.com.

Jerry Sandusky is a sociopath (although as part of his defense he said he suffered from histrionic personality disorder). The three university officials failed to do what was right when they became aware of his sexual abuse, and therefore enabled Sandusky to keep on preying on boys.

Unfortunately, plenty of normally good, upright people fail to take action when we become aware of sociopathic manipulation, exploitation, and crimes. Here are seven reasons why.

  1. We lack awareness about sociopathic behavior.

This is a major blind spot that applies to almost everyone — including all of us, before our personal encounters with sociopaths.

Society teaches us that we’re all created equal, we’re all God’s children, we all just want to be loved, and everyone has good inside. This is true for 84% of the population. But no one tells us about the approximately 16% of the population — those with exploitative personality disorders, for whom none of these platitudes apply.

Therefore, even when we see evidence of any kind of abusive behavior, we doubt ourselves. We can’t imagine that the people are actually doing what we think they are doing. We must be wrong, we must be imagining things, so we do nothing.

  1. We are deceived.

Sociopaths lie. They lie a lot. They lie about incidents large and small. Unfortunately, for a very long time, we don’t know that they are lying.

This is especially true because sociopaths engage in impression management. In the beginning of any kind of involvement, they are friendly, helpful, charming, reliable and thoughtful.

They are creating a trustworthy image. We see the behavior, and because all human beings are designed to trust, we have no reason to second-guess the authenticity of their actions.

So when sociopaths make the switch, and embark on manipulation and exploitation, we are pre-programmed with their trustworthy image, and assume the bad behavior must be some kind of mistake.

  1. We want to protect an organization or institution.

This is clearly what happened in the Penn State case — jurors were shown emails that prosecutors said the three administrators hatched a plan to keep the issue quiet.

This also happens in the cases of military spouse abuse. When wives, and some husbands, are abandoned, military commanders have an obligation to make sure the soldier does what he is supposed to do for his family. But many commanders are more focused on the mission and the reputation of the services. If some individuals are getting trampled in the meantime, well, that’s just too bad.

In any kind of cover-up, doing what’s right loses out to doing what’s good for a certain person, group or organization.

  1. We don’t want to get involved.

We all have our own issues and problems. Making a report may mean that we become involved with a criminal or legal matter, or with someone else’s problems. We tell ourselves that we simply don’t have the time or energy for another situation.

It’s easier to just stay out of it.

  1. We fall for the spin.

Perhaps we actually stage an intervention about the sociopath’s unacceptable behavior. Immediately, the sociopaths start spinning it. They have excuses; they have reasons; they tell you it’s not what it appears to be.

Or, they admit the error of their ways, and promise to change. And they may appear to change — for a little while.

We don’t really want a partner, friend or co-worker to get in trouble — we just want them to stop the abuse. So we fall for the spin and give them another chance. Eventually, however, the bad behavior resumes. In fact, it may be worse than ever.

  1. We are caught in the web.

Sociopaths are expert at pulling people into their plots and conspiracies. Of course, they do not announce their intentions. They draw us in bit by bit. Sociopaths convince us to overlook one thing, and then something else. They push us to violate a boundary, and then another one. Before we know it, we are in over our heads.

This is a standard practice when sociopaths are bleeding us for money. They borrow a little bit, and may actually pay it back, in order to establish trust. Then they keep asking for money — not for themselves, of course, but because there is some crisis that requires cash to fix.

When the bank account is empty, they ask about credit cards. Or a second mortgage. Or borrowing money from friends and family.

Then we realize something illicit is going on. But if we report the matter, we ourselves are complicit.

  1. We fear retribution.

Sooner or later, we learn that sociopaths are highly vindictive. If we take a stand against them, we know that their wrath will be turned on us.

This often happens in divorce and child custody situations. This partner who was once so loving becomes the most vile person in the world. There is no amicable split. There is no doing what’s best for the kids.

Many sociopaths approach divorce with scorched earth tactics. They don’t just want to leave you; they want to crush you. And typically, they’ve been planning their escape long before you even knew there was a problem, so they’ve depleted the money, eroded your support system and perhaps even framed you for crimes.

You may want to do what’s right, but the sociopath doesn’t. So all you can do is figure out how to survive.

How to stop enabling

The key to putting an end to enabling behavior is to understand that a sociopath, once an adult, will not change. It doesn’t matter how much we cajole or appease, the sociopath will continue to exploit and manipulate.

Therefore, enabling behavior like those listed above may work in the short term, but over time, they are likely to backfire — as it did in the Penn State case. Therefore, the sooner enabling stops, the better.



Comment on this article

36 Comments on "7 reasons why regular people enable sociopaths"

Notify of

A gynecologist at a university in so. CA was being inappropriate. the president is now resigning. psychopaths are still victimizing people. more education is needed.

Lack awareness.

they are just not aware.

Send this to a friend