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.



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

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Wow. This is all so factual.

Great post.

The sad thing about this story is the fact that it went on so long & there were so many young victims who lives have been forever changed negativity by this pure evil sociopath & all the people who choose to keep the foot ball program top priority & not the children.

I remember there was a young assistant coach who was 28 years old and he witnessed Sandusky in the University locker room showers having sex with a young boy. He left & went to his fathers home & asked for his advise. His father advised him to go to the head coach. From what I remember I believe they went that night to his home. But no one called the police! Not one person! I get this young assistant coaches position & wanting to keep his dream job & handed over the event to his supervisor. Once this story died down in the press this young assistant coach was fired by the University. He did the right thing & was still fired. Now I bet he wish he would have gone directly to the Police because he would have had the law on his side.

This article is excellent. We have all been sucked into these evil peoples con games. Who knows what our ex’s really did on a daily bases as we only have unraveled a fraction of what they did behind our backs. I do remember my ex right in the beginning of the relationship at a dinner party telling a story that was a flat out lie (I was present at the event he was talking about). I was absolutely flabbergasted as his blatant lying that I kept silent.

But internally I just remember that I wanted to get up and leave the table & run from him. Never in my life at that point had I had someone sharing a story that was 90% a lie. I did not know how to respond. I think this happens with everyone that encounters a sociopath. It’s so out of our norm, out of our own behavior, out of our mindset that you don’t know how to respond. Throw in the fact that you don’t want to make others upset i.e. being at a dinner party that you end up going against all your own personal beliefs & not speaking up because you don’t want to ruin the night for others. This is what a sociopath counts on & they are masters at pushing people over their integrity boundaries & they get joy out of this too.

The ripple effect of a sociopath is endless. So many lives in this story that were ruined by Sandusky.

This is one of the reasons I am pro telling the new romantic victims about your ex sociopath. Somewhere you (we all) have to take a stand. Obviously you can only warn the new romantic victims or any victims about a sociopath if you are safe from any of their physical harm.

Thank you Donna for taking the time to write this excellent article.

I agree with you, Jan. I agree that we should warn the new people that come into the spaths’s life…however, I have never had the courage.

I have been afraid to appear crazy, to others. I have been afraid to be accused of ruining or sabotaging lives. It is such a terrible quandary…a position that is unenviable.

Instead I have had absolutely no contact for two years so far…

Whether and how to warn other potential victims depends on so many factors that are unique to each situation. When you discern that trying to warn will result in you appearing crazy or falsely accused, in those cases the warning won’t serve to protect new victims. It may be helpful to tell the new victim that if s/he ever has any questions about the spath, you would be happy to provide information. When the new victim gets exploited, gaslighted, abused, etc., in the future, and requests advice it will be understood and be helpful.

Now, there is a good idea.

I am here if you ever want to talk, type thing.

I exposed this man to 6 people he was playing. Every one of them thanked me. I don’t think he expected me to have the balls to do that. Guess what? Balls.

I know some regular people who I think are enabling a sociopath. They are just not aware. Sad.

I know some regular people who I think are enabling a sociopath. They are not aware.

Since my experience with a sociopath came from an online dating site I, too, feel the need and want to get involved and WARN others. BUT, like Bev’s comment…how? It comes down to he said/she said if I was to try to say anything. However, there are websites that you can mark a phone number as safe or unsafe which I did for my predator. Marked UNSAFE. I also made a comment on it for women to beware of this person. Wish I could post names!!! My only hope is that women who are online dating, do some investigating on their persons name, their phone numbers etc and maybe, just maybe. one person will look it up and see the warning and take heed.

It would be helpful if every dating site included information on spaths and other exploiters and links to more detailed information for more information (and a link to Lovefraud.com!) Before posting a profile, posters would acknowledge reading the information. Not everyone would read or understand, but the information would reach some people who would be otherwise uninformed, and would be available to people encountering situations that tend to bring out spaths.
6 months into ‘marriage’ to my ex psychopath, after a year’s ‘courtship’ (targeting, including him mentioning marriage on the second ‘date’), I did not know what hit me. He went out of town for a few days, leaving me time to think. In a daze I googled ‘abuse.’ Prior to that I really didn’t know what abuse was. I’d heard of it, but I didn’t really understand. It took me years of reading excellent materials on sociopathy and psychopathy, including Lovefraud, before I finally got it. It is just not in vogue in this day and age to recognize that their are people who are simply bad and exploitive. Children are not taught that, instead they are taught that there is good in everyone, etc, which is an admirable attitude, but not the reality.

There was a paratransit scheduler who got a sexual thrill from being dominant. I stopped using the service for No Contact. Now there is a female volunteer who delivers food who does the same thing. I will go No Contact with her.

Psychopaths in work are nice to people above them. Abusive to those below. I complained about a female volunteer in an organization. Her supervisor said she was nice. She was probably nice to her supervisor. I’ll see if the supervisor believes the abuse.

I heard from the supervisor. She said she’s sorry I feel there was abuse and that this gal is one of her best volunteers. This psychopath is a good actress at acting as though she wants to help and keeping a large supply of potential victims. I said I do think there was abuse and I will take a break from the service with the agreement this volunteer not be sent again when I come back. I may write the supervisors boss.

We lack awareness about spath behavior. I am sending info on female spaths to a woman who supervises one and has been conned.


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